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UO Defense Opens Season to Mixed Reviews
Courtesy: GoDucks.com
Release Date: 08/31/2014
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by Rob Moseley
Editor, GoDucks.com

About the only bit of ceremony to Don Pellum's first game as defensive coordinator came afterward, when he was called up to the front of the locker room to break the Ducks' post-game huddle.

Other than that, Pellum and the UO football team were all business Saturday night. There was film to assess from Oregon's 62-13 win over South Dakota, judgments to be made and mistakes to be cleaned up before the Ducks move on to their highly anticipated showdown with Michigan State.

Both Pellum and senior linebacker Tony Washington felt the UO defense lacked emotion from the opening kickoff Saturday. Washington angrily got after his teammates while the Coyotes were driving to their only touchdown, in the second quarter, and perhaps not coincidentally the Ducks were better from that point on.

"There were some good adjustments that we made as we went along," said Pellum, the longtime UO linebackers coach who replaced Nick Aliotti as coordinator for this season. "We started stopping some of the things we were seeing, so I think we got better. … There were some spurts, some series, where it started to look right. But overall, that wasn't consistent enough."

The Ducks pitched a shutout in the second half Saturday, and limited the Coyotes to less then three yards per rush in the final two quarters. That was a better showing than the first half, when South Dakota had three scoring drives, aided by 120 rushing yards on 20 attempts for a six-yard average.

"I don't know what it was, but the energy level just wasn't there today," Washington said. "We just didn't come out ready to play today, and I think it was reflected in our play."

Washington said there was an early adjustment period, as the defense faced off against a more traditional style of offense in South Dakota's after a month practicing against Oregon's own spread-option. Saturday's experience will give the Ducks a stylistic head start on facing the Spartans, Washington said.

Coaches and players also acknowledged running very basic schemes Saturday, holding back packages they intend to use later in the season.

"We were trying to line up, get our eyes right, get our communication right and play fundamental football," Pellum said. "As it went along, I think we started to settle into that and play better."

In the first quarter, before the Ducks began substituting liberally, South Dakota managed only a field goal, and had 14 rushing yards on eight carries. The Coyotes mounted their touchdown drive in the second quarter after the Ducks began dipping deep into their bench, including some of the five true freshmen who played Saturday.

South Dakota had runs of 45 and 16 yards on its touchdown drive, prompting Washington to angrily address the defense during a timeout prior the scoring play.

Whatever he said didn't immediately help, as South Dakota ran for a short touchdown. But those were the final points of the day for the Coyotes.

"They caught us off-guard a couple times," safety Reggie Daniels said. "We've just got to fix those mistakes so that stuff doesn't happen. But they're all mistakes we can fix, nothing too big. It's just going to take some practice."

South Dakota's touchdown drive came with UO all-American Ifo Ekpre-Olomu on the bench getting an ankle re-taped.

Earlier, Ekpre-Olomu blitzed twice in third-and-long situations, examples of Pellum's calculated aggressiveness. A similar play helped the Ducks preserve their second-half shutout, as safety Juwaan Williams sacked the South Dakota quarterback late in the fourth quarter when the Coyotes had driven to the 2-yard line.

"We gave up some plays we shouldn't have given up," safety Erick Dargan said. "But you're never going to play a perfect game. We did some good things as a defense. We've just got to go back, see where we messed up and fix it."

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