Ducks defense finds footing in second half

No. 2 Oregon took care of business in the midst of a 48-14 win over Wyoming, but questions remain as to how consistent the defensive can be heading into Pac-12 play.

Three weeks into the season, there’s still questions as to how consistent the Oregon Ducks defense can be.

The No. 2 ranked Ducks beat Wyoming (2-1) 48-14 on Saturday at Autzen Stadium, moving to 3-0 largely on the back of six consecutive scoring drives over the course of the second and third quarter.

Statistically, the Oregon defense posted some impressive numbers by day’s end. The unit had 11 tackles for loss, five sacks and safety Erick Dargan collected two more interceptions giving him three in the last two games alone.

But judging by how the game started, it was unclear whether Oregon would reach those totals. Compared to the dominant second half display from a week prior where they held Michigan State to three second half points, the Ducks looked flat and unmotivated against the Cowboys to start.

Wyoming held a 7-0 lead after an 11-play, 98-yard drive spurred by five plays of 15 yards or better on the drive including Colby Kirkegaard’s 18-yard touchdown pass to Tanner Gentry. The Cowboys had 12 plays in the first half go for at least 12 yards and they thrived on third down early, converting of five of their first six attempts.

In short, Oregon looked sloppy and out of tune and the veterans noticed it quickly.

“They did a good job of playing to their standard and they played as hard as they could,” said cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, who finished with five tackles. “Some plays we didn’t. You see they have a guy slipping through and we have three guys that can make the tackle and nobody makes it. I mean, that can’t happen.”

Coming in with a revamped pro-style offense under head coach Craig Bohl, the Cowboys had averaged 317 yards of total offense per game in their two previous games. At halftime they had 283 yards already and defensive coordinator Don Pellum realized that the pace of the game needed to change in a hurry.

“The biggest adjustment we made was to sit and talk about our tempo,” Pellum said. “Because we weren’t playing hard or fast enough.”

While Dargan’s consecutive interceptions before the half turned momentum back on the Ducks side, Torrodney Prevot’s forced fumble and subsequent recovery by Christian French set the tone for a more aggressive second half up front.

Oregon recorded three sacks in the second half, forced two fumbles, held the Cowboys to 16 yards rushing and prevented running back Shaun Wick, who ran his way to 98 yards in first half, from doing any additional damage by holding him to 24 yards rushing in the second half. Safety Reggie Daniels ended up leading the team in tackles with eight, but seven players registered at least five tackles.

“The guys started to play a little bit faster,” Pellum said. “A little more energy came and all of a sudden you could see us making some plays.”

At the end of the day, the Ducks did what they needed to do and eventually looked good doing it. But seeing if they can consistently keep the effort up instead of finding it later in the game will be the real key with Pac-12 play set to start next week at Washington State.

Pellum believes that because Oregon has seen a variety of different set-ups during non-conference play, it’ll give them enough material to study in the film room to figure out why they’ve been exposed at various points for big gains.

“Now we need to sit down and really evaluate it and make some corrections,” Pellum said. “Obviously we would like to limit some of those big plays moving forward.”

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