First, let's be clear at the outset. Oregon State has had difficulty stopping a spread offense all season. And matching up last week against the pro-style set of Stanford was a disaster. So an offense ranked No. 1 in the nation has given Beaver fans serious pause this week in considering the Civil War. But that doesn't mean the Beavers are just throwing up their hands this week, sleeping late and watching Animal Planet.
Oregon's offensive prowess has been lauded far and wide. In fact, the glory of the Duck offense really took hold on the national scene in the run up to last year's Rose Bowl.
It was all Ohio State heard, over and over: The Duck offense, averaging 38 points and nearly 440 yards per game, could not be matched by the slow, physical Buckeye defense. Boise State, all offseason, heard the same thing before the 2009 season opener. Yet both those defenses stopped the Ducks cold, 19-8 and 26-17. How did they do it?
First and foremost, you have to take something away from Oregon's attack. And that means either the running backs, led by LaMichael James, or the quarterback, Darron Thomas. The quarterback option is perhaps the most preferred, and that template already exists from the previous season – times two.
Ohio State in the Rose Bowl assigned a player to the Oregon QB -- Jeremiah Masoli -- on virtually every down, forcing him to hand the ball off out of Oregon's zone read option rather than keep it. The Buckeyes also got some hits in on the Ducks quarterback and that's critical – because it slowed him down.
Ohio State went on to hold Masoli to 81 yards passing and nine rushing yards, stunning numbers based on what he had done in the regular season. Oregon was held to 260 total yards in the Rose Bowl — nearly 200 fewer hashes than they had averaged coming in. In the Boise State game, Oregon produced just 152 yards in total offense.
Of course, if stopping the Ducks was that easy, everyone would do it. That plan of defensive attack, taking away either the quarterback or running game, still has to be executed. And it also opens up other holes that need to be plugged.
Ohio State and Boise State executed and made sure tackles. And sure tackling has been a foreign concept to Oregon State on far too regular a basis this season.
But let's assume OSU improves in that area on Saturday and does a relatively decent job of wrapping up and allowing fewer yards after contact. What else must a team do to slow down Oregon?
Holding up on the back end is critical. Oregon will run far and long if back side defenders over-pursue and don't stay at home. And that's been a major problem all year for Oregon State. They simply must stay at home and not over pursue past the B-gap.
Playing even more man-to-man coverage than normal is probably necessary, in order to get more defenders in the box. Allowing Oregon ballcarriers too much space is to ensure the scoreboard operator gets a workout.
But the Beavers' spill-type of defense, meaning they try to take away the middle the field both in the pass and run game and force teams to work outside on the perimeter, has not produced the desired results this season.
And then there's this -- the Beaver offense also has to play defense.
Even against a top D, Oregon is going to move the ball and they are going to score. They are also capable of doing it in the most rapid fashion, with several drives this season taking less than two minutes. All of Stanford and Arizona's good work in the first half against Oregon went for naught in about four minutes. That's about how long it takes for Oregon to put a game out of reach.
And so the Beaver offense has to contribute to the defensive effort against the Ducks. They have to control the ball and the clock -- both game and play clocks, to be precise. That means Jacquizz Rodgers, and that's likely to elicit a collective groan from Beaver fans, who have seen far too many three-and-out this season, and far too many games in which Quizz has had few carries.
But what about mixing it up a little bit, exercising ball control via a passing attack, and also utilizing Quizz more that way on screens or quick hitters? Can that be done? Of course. Look at Ohio State.
Against Oregon in the Rose Bowl, Terrelle Pryor passed for career highs in pass attempts (37), completions (23) and passing yards (266). And here's the kicker -- Ohio State held a first-half edge of 22:02 vs. 7:58 in time of possession, and 30:13 vs. 14:47 after three quarters.
Another factor, alas, is one unavailable to the Beavers.
In two of Oregon's three losses last year, Boise State and Ohio State each had a world of time to prepare. The coaches had the luxury of time to scheme, and the players had the time to drill, over and over, and to work out all the kinks. In-season, you have about four days. That limited time span makes it especially hard against a team like Oregon, which utilizes a ton of unique looks, tweaks and funky formations.
Oregon State certainly has its work cut out. But if the Beavers want to exceed expectations on Saturday, a hard look at Oregon's games against Ohio State and Boise State, and the lessons learned therein, is a good place to start.
Can Oregon's offense be stopped?
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