The Oregon Ducks football team has won 42 games over the last four years and only a fool would argue how it has been done. It’s obvious–their fast-paced, high-speed, where-the-heck-did-the-guy-with-the-ball-go offense. In 2011 they rank 6th nationally in yards per game, 2nd nationally in points, and 4th nationally in rushing yards per game. The Ducks averaged 46.8 points per game in 2010 during a season that saw them reach the national championship game.
The strongest unit on this team is indisputable. But an offense alone does not win games and this Oregon defense may be better than most believe. On the surface the defensive numbers are far from astounding. But dig deeper into the issue and one will see that the Ducks are more than just an extraordinary offense. ESPN’s Ted Miller did just that:
Oregon is 64th in the nation in total defense (384.7 yards per game), 47th against the run (135.6 ypg), 43rd in scoring defense (23 ppg) and 34th in pass efficiency defense. The highlight is sacks, where the Ducks rank sixth with 3.25 per game. The Ducks’ yards per play — 4.94 — however, ranks in the nation’s top 25. That is meaningful and is the measure coordinator Nick Aliotti most often points to.
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LaMichael James and Darron Thomas have led an offense that makes up for the pedestrian defensive statistics. While the per game numbers typically receive the most attention, there is an explanation for Oregon’s defensive mediocrity: their offense. Despite running the ball and keeping the game clock active more than passing and risking stopping the clock, the Ducks rank 120th out of 120 teams in time of possession. Due to their offense’s ability to score so quickly, they average roughly 25 minutes of possession which means that their opponents typically have the ball for ten more minutes per game. More possession means more opportunities, more opportunities usually means more yards and points.
As Miller stated, the meaningful statistic is the 4.94 yards allowed per play. That figure ranks much higher than their other stats on defense. It shows that the Ducks defense is actually quite efficient.
Think about it in basketball terms. Say a team takes 75 two-point shots and makes 50 of them for 66% shooting, they would end up with 100 points. Say their opponent takes 100 two-point shots and makes 55 of them. While the second team made a lower percentage of their shots (55% compared to 66%) they still scored more points (110 compared to 100) than the other team. The second team was less efficient but scored more because they had more opportunities which is the same reason why Oregon’s yards and points per game statistics are forgettable.
No offense to the offense, but the Ducks are almost as stellar on defense as they are on the other side of the ball.