Ducks Defense Lacks Luster in Nailbiter

Despite an admirable first half effort, the Oregon defense gives up 339 yards and 28 points in the second half as the unranked Arizona Wildcats come up short in their comeback bid to defeat the Ducks on the road.

(Photo) Chung returns an interception for a touchdown in the first quarter of Oregon's 55-45 win over Arizona. (Photo by Chris Wilson)

"I thought he may have had 20 catches," said Oregon Head Coach Mike Bellotti of Arizona's Rob Gronkowski after the Ducks 55-45 victory over Arizona on Saturday night. "He caught the ball exceptionally well and they probably threw the ball to him 20-25 times."

Gronkowski's 12 catch, 143-yard effort kept the Wildcats in the game even when it appeared that hope was waning. Though trailing 45-17 at halftime, Gronkowski and the Wildcats rallied huge in the second half scoring 28 points to come within three of tying the game late in the fourth quarter, with Gronkowski's third quarter touchdown providing the spark for Arizona's enormous comeback effort.

"We had coverage rolling underneath on him (Gronkowski) but he was just making plays," said Oregon safety T.J. Ward, who finished with 10 total tackles. "He's just a really good tight end."

While skill certainly had something to do with it, it appeared there also were numerous breakdowns in man-to-man and zone coverage that allowed Gronkowski and company to make so many plays all over the field.

"There were times where we got beat," said Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti. "We tried all sorts of things. They spread you out and make it difficult. There were times when the safety should have come down to help out, but we just made a lot of mistakes in general, as a team."

The veteran Oregon defense, whose play has been marked by peaks and valleys throughout the season, was exposed badly in this particular game by Willie Tuitama and the lethal Arizona passing game to the tune of 328 yards through the air. In particular, Arizona was extremely successful in exploiting the open seams and vacated zones in the middle of the field, where coverage responsibilities typically fall to linebackers and safeties.

"We should have come out in the second half and shut them down," said linebacker Casey Matthews. "They have a lot of weapons and they have the ability to come back like that, but it should have never happened. We need to go in on Monday and figure out what we did wrong and hopefully fix the problems."

Yet, despite giving up so many yards through via the pass, the secondary proved to be rather opportunistic at times, intercepting Tuitama twice, with senior rover Patrick Chung coming up with a number of big plays on Saturday that helped the Ducks keep the Wildcats at bay.

"He played huge," Ward said of Chung, "Pat is the leader of our secondary. We had kind of teased him about not getting a pick this year, but he had maybe the best play by the secondary this year with the touchdown."

Playing in his final home game in front of the Autzen faithful, Chung had arguably his best performance of the year, registering 9 total tackles along with a fumble recovery and an interception which he returned for an early Oregon score in the first quarter.

"It was definitely a little emotional," admitted Chung after the game, "I was a little teary eyed coming out of the tunnel knowing this was it. It's just good to go out with a win."

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