Oregon’s offense makes noise, but defense is sneaky good

Oregon linebacker Tony Washington forced a fumble by Jameis Winston in the Rose Bowl, recovered it and went 58 yards for a touchdown.
Oregon linebacker Tony Washington forced a fumble by Jameis Winston in the Rose Bowl, recovered it and went 58 yards for a touchdown. Getty Images

The last thing the Oregon defense needs Monday night is recognition for a job well done.

It’d be nice.

But it’s not necessary.

“We don’t need credit,” defensive coordinator Don Pellum said during Oregon’s Media Day session Saturday at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center.

“What we need is to continue to do our job every opportunity we get, continue to back them up, try to take it away, keep supporting the offense.”

That’s what’s gotten Oregon to the College Football Playoff national championship game. Two weeks ago in the Rose Bowl, the Ducks’ defenders forced field goals in the first half and takeaways in the third quarter in holding a powerful Florida State offense to 20 points.

If that wasn’t a convincing case that Oregon is more than a product of its offense, it’s hard to imagine what is.

“They’ve kept us in a few games that people haven’t realized,” tight end Evan Baylis said. “It’s just been big for us. We kind of had a slow half to start out in the Rose Bowl, so for them to be able to hold them like that, it really helps us out, our confidence, knowing that if we don’t have a good drive, our defense can go out there and stop them and we can get rolling.”

The Ducks did not put up splashy numbers on defense.

They were only middle-of-the-road in the Pac-12 in yards allowed (421.9 per game), rushing defense, passing defense, interceptions, sacks and red-zone defense.

In fact, they were near the bottom in first downs allowed and third-down conversion percentage allowed (41.6 percent).

But when it came to scoring defense, Oregon was second in the conference (22.3 points per game). And in takeaway margin, the Ducks were plus-20, tops in the conference (18 fumble recoveries and 12 interceptions).

“Has it been as consistent as we’d like it to be? No,” Pellum said. “But looking at the stats and what we’ve done, I think we’ve done it pretty well. We don’t look at it as taking a back seat. We look at it as a team. And our job, if the offense is not moving or the game is stalling, is we need to take the ball back. We need to make a play on special teams. That’s the team concept. That’s how I see it.”

Oregon’s top tackler, safety Erick Dargan, was not in the top 20 in tackles in the conference. And its sacks leader, linebacker Christian French, had a modest 6.5.

But Dargan led the conference in interceptions, and cornerback Troy Hill led in passes defensed.

As the Rose Bowl victory showed, when it came to critical moments, the Ducks made the plays they needed.

“In order to win football games, we’ve got to take the ball away,” said linebacker Tony Washington, who had a fumble forced and recovery on the same play in the game-changing third quarter against Florida State. “Because if we take the ball away, that means the other team can’t score. That’s something all our coaches have really harped on all year.”

“Once they get close to the red zone, you’ve got to keep them out,” nose tackle Alex Balducci said. “That’s really our strong point.”

Maybe the Ducks will get credit for that Monday night.

Carlos Mendez, 817-390-7407

Twitter: @calexmendez

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