UO struggled against Avalos' defense in Las Vegas Bowl loss to begin Mario Cristobal era

Over a year later, the Ducks took something positive from the Las Vegas Bowl.

Boise State’s defensive coordinator.

Mario Cristobal, whose debut as Oregon’s head coach was the 38-28 loss to the Broncos on Dec. 16, 2017, at Sam Boyd Stadium, has tabbed Boise State defensive coordinator Andy Avalos to replace Jim Leavitt, The Register-Guard confirmed.

The Idaho Statesmen was the first to report the hire, which neither school has officially announced.

Avalos played linebacker at Boise State from 2001-04 and has been assistant at his alma mater since 2012, including defensive coordinator for the past three seasons.

“When I got into coaching college football as a graduate assistant, you kind of work your tail off and try to figure out the thing you can get better at, the things you need to learn, and you just keep working,” Avalos told reporters after ascending to the defensive coordinator position at Boise State in 2016. “The opportunities and stuff that come your way, you never know what they’re going to be or when they’re going to be, but you just keep working.”

Oregon and Leavitt agreed to “part ways” on Feb. 14. The financial settlement will pay Leavitt a maximum amount of $2.5 million.

Leavitt was the Pac-12’s highest-paid assistant with an annual salary of $1.7 million. Avalos was scheduled to make $350,000 at Boise State in 2019.

Oregon safeties coach Keith Heyward was thought to have the inside track to replace Leavitt. He shared the co-defensive coordinator title last year with defensive line coach Joe Salave’a.

During an interview with The Register-Guard before packing his bags and leaving Eugene, Leavitt said he designed the game plan and made the defensive calls during the Ducks’ 7-6 victory over Michigan State in the Redbox Bowl.

Oregon ranked 48th in points allowed (25.4 per game) and 55th in yards allowed (385.9 per game) during a 9-4 finish in 2018.

“I’ll miss the guys (players) with my whole heart,” Leavitt said. “I’ll be rooting for them. I think they have a chance to win it all.”

Boise State was 12th in sacks (39), 20th in forced turnovers (24), 30th in scoring defense (22.1 ppg) and 39th in total defense (355.9 ypg) last season.

Avalos will inherit a talented group that returns seven starters, including senior linebacker Troy Dye and junior nose guard Jordon Scott.

Defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux, rated by ESPN as the No. 1 overall prospect in the 2019 recruiting class, is among the touted newcomers expected to have an immediate impact.

Avalos’ defense held the Ducks to 14 first downs, 47 rushing yards and 280 total yards during the postseason meeting shortly after Cristobal replaced Florida State-bound Willie Taggart.

Justin Herbert was sacked four times and finished with 233 yards passing, two touchdowns and two interceptions in the Las Vegas Bowl.

As of Tuesday, Avalos’ profile picture on his Twitter account was an image of former Boise State star and current Dallas Cowboys linebacker Leighton Vader Esch making a big hit on Herbert.

Oregon’s disappointing performance was highlighted by Leavitt’s defense, which scored two touchdowns — an 86-yard fumble return by Dye and a 100-yard interception by Tyree Robinson — to prevent a more lopsided defeat.

Avalos’ hire completes Oregon’s staff of 10 full-time assistants.

During this winter’s coaching carousel, Cristobal previously hired Jovon Bouknight as the wide receivers coach (Michael Johnson Sr. left for Mississippi State) and Ken Wilson as the linebackers coach (Leavitt coached inside linebackers, outside linebackers coach Cort Dennison left for Louisville).

The Ducks will begin spring practice next Thursday and will play the annual spring game April 20 at Autzen Stadium.