LINCOLN, Neb. — For a program as dominant as Oregon has been the past six years, the one thing that’s been the Ducks’ downfall is defense.
Historically, it has held them back.
In the 2010 national championship game, Auburn ran for 254 yards and QB Cam Newton torched the Ducks for 265 passing yards in Auburn’s 22-19 win.
In the 2014 College Football Playoff championship against Ohio State, Ezekiel Elliott ran for 246 yards in the Buckeyes’ 42-10 win against Oregon.
Last season, Oregon gave up, on average, 37 points per game and allowed TCU to score 31 straight points to win the Alamo Bowl.
Already this season, there are prominent holes in the Oregon defense. The Ducks gave up 28 points to UC Davis and 26 to a struggling Virginia team.
So the Nebraska offense should smell blood, right?
Yes and no, said Huskers offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf.
“I think that they’re really well-disciplined and sound,” he said. “I think they’ve really limited big plays in the first two games and I really think they’ve given up some yards here and there but they’ve done a nice job of keeping thing in front of them.”
Plus, former Michigan head coach and now-Oregon defensive coordinator Brady Hoke has kept Nebraska at bay in the past.
At Michigan, Hoke was 1-2 against the Huskers, but his defenses typically slowed Nebraska.
In 2011, Hoke’s defense suffocated the Huskers. Taylor Martinez only threw for 122 yards and Rex Burkhead only ran for 36 yards in Michigan’s 45-17 win.
In 2012, Nebraska took down the Wolverines 23-9 but the Huskers still didn’t really move the ball well. The Huskers had 160 yards on the ground and 166 in the air.
In 2013, the last time Hoke and Nebraska squared off, it was another grind-it-out battle. Nebraska won 17-13 but only ran for 128 yards and only threw for 145.
Hoke will be the first to admit Oregon isn’t where it needs to be defensively.
“We’ve got a long way to go to be a defense that’s going to be effective,” Hoke said earlier this season.
And after Oregon’s 44-26 win over Virginia last Saturday, he didn’t sound like the first two weeks of the season have changed his attitude.
“We gotta be more disciplined and more technically sound and be better at the point of attack,” Hoke said.
But with that said, Langsdorf doesn’t think this is a defense Nebraska will be able to just walk all over. The Oregon defensive front is formidable, he said, and the speed of the secondary could be an issue as well.
Oregon moves between a 3-4 and 4-3 defense, or shows a 3-4 look with 4-3 personnel, Langsdorf said. So it’s hard to decode sometimes what exactly is going on.
Plus, in that 4-3, Langsdorf sees plenty of ways for Oregon to put pressure on the quarterback. He anticipates Oregon will also throw things at Nebraska they haven’t seen before.
“It’s kind of like a first game,” Langsdorf said. “Especially with a new group you’re not totally sure what you’re going to get.”
Langsdorf and Nebraska are looking at Michigan film, too. That means the offense is studying two defenses instead of one, which makes it tricky to figure out exactly what Nebraska will see on Saturday, Langsdorf said.
Still, Langsdorf feels like he and the Nebraska offense have an upper hand since Hoke’s defense is so new. He doesn’t think Hoke has every single thing “all oiled up and ready to go,” which plays into Nebraska’s favor.
“I think there is an advantage in the sense that they don’t have everything they’re going to want to do going forward quite ready to go yet, but like I said, they’ll keep adding and therefore there will be stuff we haven’t seen yet,” Langsdorf said. “I think overall you just have to go off of what you’ve seen and take the information that you have and make our decision from there.”