The Key to Ohio State's Matchup Against Oregon Isn't the Ducks' High-Flying Offense, but Rather the Elite Defense

By David Regimbal on May 28, 2020 at 1:05 pm
Ohio State coach Ryan Day

In each of Ohio State's last two matchups against Oregon, the Buckeyes faced the challenge of slowing down one of the country's most potent offenses.

On New Year's Day in 2010, the Ducks brought quarterback Jeremiah Masoli and a host of weapons in LaMichael James, LeGarrette Blount and Kenjon Barner to the Rose Bowl matchup against the Buckeyes. They boasted the No. 8 scoring offense in the country and entered the postseason averaging a hair over 42 points in their final six games of the regular season.

Five years later, Ohio State faced Oregon once again, this time in the first-ever College Football Playoff National Championship. That Ducks offense was even more potent with Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Marcus Mariota at the helm. The unit ranked third in total offense with 547 yards per game and fourth nationally, averaging 45.4 points per contest. Only one opponent kept Oregon below 38 points during the regular season, and it came into the title game on the heels of a 59-20 demolition of the reigning national champions in Florida State.

The Buckeyes kept both offenses in check. In the Rose Bowl, Masoli managed just 90 yards of total offense and the Ducks produced just 260 total yards in a 26-17 Ohio State victory. In the title game, Oregon got off to a hot start, racing right down the field with a 75-yard touchdown drive that barely took three minutes off the clock. Mariota threw for 333 yards and the Ducks ran for 132 total, but they only netted 20 points in the 22-point loss that gave Ohio State its first national title since the 2002 season.

If the Buckeyes are able to travel to Eugene, Oregon this September for their matchup with the Ducks, it'll be the first time the two teams faced off in the regular season since 1987. But unlike their recent run ins with Oregon, Ohio State has to worry about the elite defense it'll be going up against, not the offense.

Granted, grounding the Ducks is always a concern. Last year, led by quarterback Justin Herbert and a veteran offensive line, Oregon averaged a hair over 35 points per game during a 12-2 campaign that ended with a thrilling Rose Bowl win over Wisconsin.

But with Mario Cristobal as head coach, the Ducks have put an emphasis on playing solid defense, and the results were there last season.

Oregon surrendered just 16.5 points per game last year, good for ninth nationally, and an average of just 329.1 yards, which was only second to Utah in the Pac-12.

The senior-laden group got a huge boost when cornerbacks Thomas Graham and Deommodore Lenoir and defensive tackles Jordon Scott and Austin Faoliu all spurned the NFL to return for their final seasons with the Ducks.

The unit as a whole returns nine of 11 starters and an enormous amount of experience. The returning defensive tackles have 51 combined career starts, and defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux is coming off an extremely impressive freshman campaign in which he tallied 14 tackles for loss and nine sacks.

The linebacker unit has to replace Troy Dye and Bryson Young, but the return of middle linebacker Isaac Slade-Matautia provides a huge boost.

But the strength of the unit is a secondary that returns every starter from a year ago. The Ducks ranked second nationally with 20 interceptions last year, two of which were returned  for touchdowns.

That's the challenge Ohio State faces when it travels at Autzen Stadium this September. The offense is still a concern, but it has to replace a multi-year starter at quarterback and four of five starters along the offensive line.

The biggest challenge comes on the other side of the ball.

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