For all the flash and modernism that surrounds the Duck’s program, for them the game will come down to one of the oldest axioms in football: the team with the better running game wins the game.
The Ducks are ranked 8th in the nation in rushing, averaging 232 yards per game. However, Oregon State only yields 98 yards per game to opponents. So what gives? To answer that question, I had to look through the Beaver’s body of work to determine if that average of 98 yards is legit, or if it’s a matter of teams passing on the young, untested secondary.
Game 1: Portland State does not have a DI back, and they run a pass-first offense.77 yards rushing.
Game 2: See above. 82 yards rushing.
Game 3: Cincinnati was all over the secondary (especially #28). There are only so many yards to gain in game, and when you give up 332 in the air that only leaves 76 on the ground. It’s not that the Beavers stopped Cincy; it’s that Cincy wanted those yards via the pass.
Game 4: This was the first real test for the rushing defense. Arizona is definitely a run first offense with a good DI back. They also run a spread. The Beavers gave up 134 yards rushing on 33 attempts. If you remember, Foles was throwing bubble screens much of the game, keeping the Beavers around the line of scrimmage. I’d say 134 yards is an average day and does not suggest a top 15 rushing defense.
Game 5: Sun Devils. This was a dominating performance by the Beavers. 31 carries for 68 yards. They gave up 338 yards through the air, however, suggesting that when they sell out to stop the run their secondary becomes vulnerable.
Game 6: 149 yards to the 11th best rushing offense in Stanford. That’s pretty good. However…
Game 7: 227 yards to USC, the 40th best rushing offense is horrendous.
Game 8: UCLA is ranked 98th in rushing. The Beavers gave them 51 yards, less than half their average. That is dominating.
Game 9: 31 yards to a very good Cal rushing attack. However, Best was injured early so this game sheds little light.
Game 10: 30 attempts for 121 yards. Most notable is that Locker was held to -13 rushing on 6 attempts with a long of 16 yards. Locker is probably the QB most similar to Masoli.
Game 11: 59 yards to Washington State. The Cougars pad all numbers.
So, how good is the Beavers rush defense? I’d look at 3 games–Arizona, USC, and Stanford–to find the answer to that question. There’s no reason to consider the Cal game because Best was injured and the Bears did not try to run the ball after that. In those 3 games, the Beavers gave up a combined 510 rushing yards on 98 carries for a 5.2 average. That is not very good. Additionally, in the same 3 games the Beavers had 7 tackles for a loss resulting in -23 yards rushing, meaning the Beavers actually give up 5.4 yards per carry versus competent rushing attacks. Why does this number matter? It paints a more accurate picture than the 5.2 average because the Ducks have only give 12 sacks all year and the Beavers have only earned 15 sacks, so you have to figure the Beavers will have no tackles for a loss or sacks.
The bottom line is that the Beavers run defense numbers have been inflated by bad opponents (Portland State, UNLV, Washington State), teams with injuries (e.g. Cal), or teams electing to pass and take advantage of the secondary (e.g. Arizona, Cincy, Arizona State, UCLA). Having watched almost every play of every game this year, I can say with confidence that this is a very erratic and average run defense. It just goes to show you how stats can paint a picture, yet when you dig deeper you reveal a scene entirely different.
The Beavers do have an edge in the passing game, but is it enough to overcome the Ducks advantage in the running game? Stay tuned–tomorrow I will analyze that match up…