In the middle of his postgame conference, with reporters forming a half circle around him from left to right, Nick Aliotti flipped open the final Oregon-Oregon State stat book.
As he paged through it, from the final numbers to a quarter-by-quarter breakdown, Oregon’s defensive coordinator stopped to make note of all the standouts.
16 total rushing yards for Oregon State on 21 attempts. 0.8 yards per carry. Just 315 total yards, the majority of which were picked up in garbage time when Oregon had subbed out its starters.
The offense may have been the story of the day, with its 49 points and 670 total yards. But as it so often has this season, the defense came through with a stellar effort — quelling the Beavers’ attack from the start. On a day when Oregon’s offense suffered an atypically slow start, the defense’s importance could not be understated.
“I thought our defense played outstanding,” Oregon head coach Chip Kelly said. “They had one dropped coverage in the first half, but they set the tone for us early, and it took us a little while to get our rhythm offensively.”
Indeed, as Oregon’s attack was held to just seven points in the first quarter, the defense came up with two key interceptions (one from junior linebacker Michael Clay and the other by fellow linebacker Kiko Alonso). The Ducks pressured freshman quarterback Sean Mannion from the start and kept him from finding any sort of rhythm with an array of coverages disguises.
“He’s a young quarterback,” Clay said. “And if he doesn’t know what we’re doing, we’ve got the ball in our court.”
The only slip up came in the second quarter when Mannion found running back Jovan Stevenson wide open down the left sideline for a 58-yard touchdown. It was Oregon State’s lone score of the first half, and aside from that single play, Mannion was held to just 29 yards passing on six completions. With the rushing game all but eliminated (13 carries for 38 yards in the first half), the Beavers faced a steep deficit with no conceivable options to turn to.
“As a defense, we felt like we needed to step up,” defensive end Dion Jordan said. “Especially after what happened last week, we felt like we just had to step up. We just started off making big plays, and got the momentum going for our team.”
Jordan, for his part, returned from an ankle injury and picked up right where he left off with two sacks. Senior defensive end Terrell Turner added two sacks of his own, and the Ducks finished the game with a total of six. For Oregon’s defensive unit, it was all part of the plan to fluster Mannion and keep him from finding a comfort zone.
“We try to get in everybody’s head,” Turner said. “If not the quarterback, the running back. If not the running back, the offensive line. It starts up front in the trenches with the O-line and D-line.”
And so at game’s end, with his goal of rattling Oregon State fully met, Aliotti could look at the raw numbers and smile.
“The bottom line is we played very well today,” Aliotti said. “I look at this, and they had 16 yards rushing. Wow.
“Always nice when they can’t run … when a team becomes one-dimensional, it really helps you defensively.”
Banner day for seniors
Though they’ll play one more game at Autzen Stadium this week in the Pac-12 Championship, Oregon’s seniors knew nothing was guaranteed heading into Saturday’s Civil War matchup. From the onset against the Beavers, they made their presence felt.
Tight end David Paulson, in particular, had a career day with eight catches for 105 yards and a touchdown. Turner also came through with two sacks and three tackles for a loss, while safety Eddie Pleasant added three tackles of his own.
In Paulson’s case, there was no particular plan to throw his way on senior day. The opportunities just happened to be there.
“Going into it, I never really know,” Paulson said. “It kind of matters what they’re giving us on defense, and it just so happened they were kind of leaving the flat open, and we went for that.”