Originally posted on The Duck Stops Here  |  Last updated 7/18/13
In the BCS era no one has dominated college football the way Alabama is now. Under Nick Saban the Tide has won three of the last four National Championships, and the one they lost went to cross-state rival Auburn. Saban's teams have done it with stifling defense. Playing an aggressive 3-4 with a host of future NFL players, they allowed just 10.9 points a game, finishing near the top in every measure of defensive superiority, pass defense, rush defense, red-zone defense. They annihilated opponents, allowing just 250 yards a game, 153 points all season.  Meanwhile, the Ducks gave up 51 to USC and 34 to Arkansas State. It's no wonder that Southern fans chortle and guffaw when the fancy-pants team from the West is mentioned among the game's traditional powers, the majority of whom strap on their forearm pads on their side of the Mason-Dixon line. The South rose again; they just did it with blitzes and 320-pound defensive tackles. The SEC has won the last seven National Championships, and most of those weren't close. High and low: Oregon does play a punishing, athletic, physical brand of defense; it's just no one knows about it. The dominant offense and fast pace skewers the numbers and overshadows an aggressive unit that forces turnovers and make big plays. (oregonlive.com photo) So it's not surprising when they snort, "Y'all don't play much deefense." Oregon doesn't stifle and dominate teams defensively. The Webfoots rarely achieve the kind of crushing physical superiority the Crimson Tide did last year against #8 Michigan (41-14), Arkansas (52-0), #11 Mississippi State (38-7), and #1 Notre Dame (42-14). The National Champs shut out archrival Auburn 49-0, plastered West Carolina 49-0, demolished the Razorbacks, and whitewashed Western Kentucky five touchdowns to none. Four shutouts, and two other games where the opponent scored just once. The fierce, unrelenting excellence can't be written off to a plodding ball control offense. While way more deliberate a pace than Oregon's (like fellow SEC coach Brett Bielema, Saban has criticized the trend of up-tempo, hurry-up offenses publicly, citing safety concerns) the Tide scored a healthy 38.7 points a game last season, 12th in the country. A.J. McCarron tossed 30 touchdown with just three interceptions while throwing for 2933 yards, better numbers than Marcus Mariota. Eddie Lacy ran for 1322 yards and 17 tds, 6.5 yards a carry. T.J. Yeldon added another 1108. The plainly-dressed denizens of the nation's most feared football conference had an 85-yard passing touchdown and a 73-yard run. They were explosive and entertaining, dominant and deadly. With a few key wins over Washington, UCLA, Stanford and Oregon State, Oregon can make it to the National Championship Game this year, but they'll have to up their game to best Alabama, Texas A&M, or Ohio State, especially defensively. Championships are rarely won in a shootout. The Buckeyes, coached by Urban Meyer, are an SEC team in disguise. Why can't Oregon play defense they way they do in the SEC? Part of it is a difference in philosophy. Back in the '80s the Denver Nuggets were one of the most explosive and entertaining teams in the NBA, employing a run-and-gun style that featured almost no set plays, just fast breaks, motion and cuts to the basket. Led by Hall of Famers Alex English, Dan Issel and David Thompson, Moe's teams ran opponents silly in the mile-high air, sometimes almost not letting the ball touch the floor as they soared, bombed and swooped, topping out with a Western Conference finals appearance in '85, and a franchise record 54 wins in '87-88. They'd win games 121-119 with their relentless offensive pace. Kiki Vandeweghe and Kelly Tripucka joined the scoring onslaught, and there were nights the Nuggets rained in baskets like sleet on an icy Colorado road. The Nuggets never won an NBA Championship. They wore flashy uniforms and they were riveting to watch, but the Showtime Lakers and the fundamentally sound Boston Celtics won the titles. At Oregon, the ball rarely hits the ground as it comes out of the bottom of the net. The Ducks play fast, leading the nation in touchdown drives of less than one minute (22) and two minutes (44). According to collegefootballstats.com, the Ducks had 80 offensive plays of 20 or more yards. That's good, but A&M had 100, and Georgia had 90. The Ducks are committed to a video-game style offense that scores in a hurry and pushes the pace until they lead by three scores in the 4th quarter. It's part of their brand. In Eugene, the most talented and athletic players wind up on offense, and everything is geared toward being entertaining and attacking. At an SEC school Colt Lyerla would be a middle linebacker, and Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas would have played cornerback. Jeff Maehl would never have been moved to wide receiver. The Ducks want to score first and score often, and they lead with talent and innovation when they have the ball. Another part of the deficiency in their defensive image is perception. The Ducks do play pretty good defense. They shut out Rich Rodriguez's high-powered offense last year 49-0, an offense that featured the country's best running back and scored 35 points a game. For the season Nick Aliotti's squad allowed just over three touchdowns a game, holding Stanford to 17, Colorado to 14, Washington and Arizona State to 21. They led the nation in interceptions with 25, and returned those picks for 488 yards and four tds. They forced 18 fumbles and had 28 sacks, attacking, hard-hitting, and flying all over the football field. Except, it's hard to look like a dominant defense when you're defending 90 plays a game, and the second and third-unit guys play most of the third and fourth quarters. Part of the trouble is a lot of Duck games, particularly last season, start at 7:30 at night. All fans and sportswriters from the eastern half of the country saw were final scores. Most wouldn't notice the gift touchdowns USC and Oregon State tacked on in the game's last 20 seconds, or fourth quarters in which Oregon's safeties were 20 yards off the ball, leading by 28. They only see the raw numbers, and rarely look inside them. Aliotti's squad held opponents to 4.94 yards per play last season, a very respectable number. Yet, if the Ducks want national respect and college football's biggest prize, they'll have to take their aggressive and athletic hybrid 3-4/4-3 to another level in 2013. (Video courtesy of Mike Wines from Oregon Duck Soup, Youtube channel madmike1951.)
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