The best kept secret west of the Mississippi has to be just how good Oregon’s defense is. They’re ahead of Stanford, USC and Utah in every defensive statistic and they shutout the vaunted Arizona Wildcats’ offense, a feat that sounds better and better each week.
Defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti has always been a forward thinking coordinator, as evident with his rapid fire substitution mentality the fusing of a defense predicated on speed and quickness. But even with a defense that’s churned out dynamic players like Haloti Ngata, Patrick Chung and Cliff Harris, this group of Ducks has a near-perfect blend of senior leadership and talent that has allowed them to out-shine their predecessors so far this season.
The 4-3 defense is anchored by stellar play at linebacker, where the Ducks had to replace current Miami Dolphin Josh Kaddu, a 2011 All-Pac-12 first teamer. Weakside linebacker Michael Clay and middle linebacker Kiko Alonso have been solid, as the duo leads the Ducks in tackles with 43 and 42, respectively.
Clay is the defense’s captain and senior leader, while Alonso could be the most dynamic player on defense with his ability to make plays both in pass coverage and against the run, where he leads the team in tackles for loss.
Alonso’s value was highlighted last week, when the senior was forced to miss the Colorado game with a forearm injury that required him to be fitted with a hard cast.
Concern in Eugene over the health of Alonso has been somewhat suppressed however, as the Oregonian reported that both Alonso and defensive end/linebacker hybrid Dion Jordan returned from injuries to practice on Wednesday.
Oregon senior linebackers Dion Jordan and Kiko Alonso both participated in practice Wednesday and appear to be preparing to play against No. 18 USC on Saturday, according to a team source.
Jordan, an all-Pac-12 selection last season, injured his right shoulder in the first half of the Ducks’ victory over Colorado last Saturday. His participation in Monday’s practice was limited, but he “looks like he’ll be ready come kickoff,” the source said.
Taking into account the fact that Chip Kelly is as difficult with injury news as Lane Kiffin, the news of the practice status of the two seniors is surprising. Kelly had Alonso in uniform despite playing him last week, a tactic that Kiffin deployed on Khaled Holmes at Stanford.
Nonetheless, the status of Jordan and Alonso is huge for the Ducks, especially with the Trojans finally starting to move the ball through the air and their ability to attack the screens and force linebackers into pass coverage, a facet that Alonso thrives in.
Jordan has a team-high five sacks and his health should force USC’s young left tackles to be prepared for a speedy pass rush, something that Max Tuerk didn’t have to face at Arizona.
In the secondary, the Ducks have the most youth on defense, but with two junior safeties and a pair of sophomore corners, it’s not like the Ducks are green, pardon the pun.
Junior free safety Avery Patterson has a had a standout season, leading the Ducks in interceptions, while being third on the team in tackles.
Given Oregon’s 4-3 scheme, Patterson will play a big role in stopping the run as the Trojans will surely attack them with Silas Redd and D.J. Morgan with hopes of killing clock and keeping Oregon’s ‘O’ off of the field. Patterson told The Oregonian that the run game is going to be a huge factor for the Trojans, emphasizing Oregon’s need to use him in their defense of it.
“Their run game helps out their passing game a lot,” UO safety Avery Patterson said. “If they get their run game going like they did last year it could cause some problems for us.”
The Trojans are the biggest test for Oregon on defense to date despite having already played Arizona, as USC brings a style that the Ducks haven’t seen exactly, as opposed to continually facing the spread in practice.
If the Ducks can get a healthy Alonso, a spirited Clay and a mobilized Patterson, the Trojans will be in for an absolute dog fight.