Oregon’s defense deserves some credit

Oooooh, Oregon beat a 5-6 team with its best receiver on the sidelines and a banged up defense that’s 77th in the nation against the run and 102nd in pass efficiency defense … oooooh.

Wow, the Ducks got by a team with the 95th-ranked offense in America and couldn’t stop you and a motivated girlfriend from hitting its quarterback … GLENDALE HERE WE COME!!!

I’ve been on Oregon all year long for beating up on a fat load of jack squat, with the only win of significance a home victory over Stanford, whose only win of significance was Notre Dame. I still don’t believe the tippy-tappy-toe finesse offense will work against a team with a legitimate run defense, and I still don’t believe this team gets through the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big Ten, Big 12 or Southeastern Conference without at least one loss, but here’s the nice part about it: We’ll finally get to find out.

I promise, Ducks fans, to give this team all the due respect and all the credit it probably deserved all along if it gets by Auburn. The Tigers have the defensive line and the run defense I’ve been waiting to see Oregon go against. They have an offense with real, live talent that can keep pace for a full 60 minutes, and they have a mental makeup that’s not going to run in the corner and hide once adversity/LaMichael James strikes in the second half. Yeah, win in Glendale and I’ll vow to become a card-carrying true believer. If you’ll have me.

  • The most underappreciated aspect of the Ducks has been the ability to come up with soul-crushing takeaways. With the four forced turnovers against the Beavers, Oregon has come up with 35 takeaways on the year. It’s impossible to pull off upsets without winning the turnover margin, and the Ducks don’t let that happen.

  • Oregon State didn’t have the offensive line to make it happen. Ryan Katz played well considering he was rocked on the first play of the game, but he was under too much pressure. Jacquizz Rodgers rarely had enough room to move to make anything happen.

  • James will win the Doak Walker, but Kenjon Barner would come up with the same stats if he got the same amount of work.

  • Oregon can’t get off to its patented slow start against Auburn. It’s not going to be so easy to come back on the Tigers.

  • Jeff Maehl always seems open. Always.

— Pete Fiutak

The only knock on the Oregon offense this year is the way it’s overshadowed the Oregon defense.

Nick Aliotti’s crew has been one of the better-kept secrets all season long, creating turnovers, getting pressure on the quarterback, and generally stuffing the other guys when it matters most. The 114th Civil War was no different, with the Ducks holding the Beavers to one meaningful touchdown and picking off four passes. James and Darron Thomas may make most of the headlines, but defensive end Kenny Rowe; linebackers Casey Matthews and Spencer Paysinger; and safety John Boyett, among many others, have been nearly as instrumental in Oregon’s championship run. They’ll need to elevate even further in order to stop Cam Newton and Co.

  • In a feature role, Barner would rush for at least 1,200 yards in a lot of places.

  • The Ducks were dominant once again in the second half of a big game, testament to their superior conditioning and halftime adjustments.

  • In terms of batted balls for Oregon State QB Ryan Katz, I stopped counting at around eight. He has upside potential in this system, but will need to use his extended offseason wisely.

— Richard Cirminiello

Oregon State coach Mike Riley is noted for taking risks. You might recall that Riley went for two at the end of the 2006 Sun Bowl to beat Missouri 39-38. Riley – among the 120 head coaches in the Football Bowl Subdivision – is regarded as one of the sport’s bolder decision makers and game-day tacticians. He has enabled Oregon State to overachieve over the past several years and win eight or nine games with regularity, tucked in the little town of Corvallis.

On Saturday, however, Riley turned timid while the single best risk-taker in all of college football ate him alive.

When USC ruled the Pac-10 in recent years, Pete Carroll never met a fourth-and-3 gamble he didn’t like. USC played aggressively because it approached the game aggressively. The attitude of the play-callers and strategists carried over to the young men engaged in the competition on the field. This is something that is overlooked and underappreciated when it comes to identifying good coaching. Setting a tone with your decisions often does a lot more to fire up your players – and succeed as a result – than any motivational speech or point of emphasis. Chip Kelly coaches to cut your heart out, and that’s what his fake punt – from his own 28, on fourth-and-3, with a tenuous nine-point lead – achieved.

Riley, meanwhile, kicked two field goals inside the Oregon 10 when he was trailing by at least 13 points. Against Oregon’s offense, that’s basically asking to lose. The Ducks weren’t at their best, but they still crafted the same “struggle-for-40-minutes, explode-in-the-last-20” motif that’s characterized so many of their games this year.

Newton won’t have every third pass get tipped at the line of scrimmage the way Katz did, but enough of the Oregon-Auburn stories that will be written over the next five weeks. For now, the story is that Oregon has brought the Pac-10 back to the BCS Championship Game. Why? Because the spiritual successor to Carroll wears that big yellow “O” on his cap and has the studs in the stable who can wear down teams in the final 20 minutes of regulation.

And execute fake punts on demand.

  • It’s one of the great mysteries of the season: Oregon State lost James Rodgers, a huge blow to the Beavers’ offense, but just how (or why?) did Katz lose any and all confidence in the third quarter of OSU’s game in Seattle against Washington on Oct. 16? Katz looked like a leader in the huddle for a period of time, even without his best receiver. Somehow, the freshman’s poise abruptly deserted him in 2010, and he never reclaimed it. As a result, the Beavers won’t go to a bowl game, a shocking result for a program that normally sets the bar high and reaches it.

  • No 2001 this year. Oregon will not be jobbed in its attempt to play for the national championship. No Nebraska pole-vault over the Ducks. Somewhere, Mike Bellotti and Joey Harrington are smiling.

— Matt Zemek