It would only be fitting if the Oregon Ducks showed up to their next game wearing uniforms modeled after Spanish matadors to honor the “olé” defense they have been playing thus far this season.
Under the watchful eye of former Michigan head coach Brady Hoke, the Ducks are currently ranked 124th in scoring defense out of 128 FBS teams after Saturday night’s 70-21 drubbing by Washington.
Sadly, this isn’t anything new for Ducks fans.
Oregon’s defense hasn’t been the same since long-time defensive coordinator Nick Allioti retired following the 2013 season.
Aliotti’s retirement didn’t make a lot of news at the time because he was always overshadowed by Oregon’s high-flying offense, but he was one of the more underrated assistant coaches in the game. He spent 15 seasons in Eugene under three different offensive-minded head coaches and Oregon never would have become a college football powerhouse without him. In his final year with the Ducks, Aliotti’s unit finished 13th nationally in scoring defense and was loaded with NFL talent like defensive linemen Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner and cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu.
Not wanting to fix what wasn’t broken, Oregon promoted linebackers coach Don Pellum to Aliotti’s old position when the latter retired. That turned out to be a massive mistake. Pellum was able to hold the unit together for one season when the Ducks reached the inaugural College Football Playoff Championship Game while ranking 30th in scoring defense, but the wheels came flying off last fall. It started with a 62-20 loss at home to Utah in Week 4 and culminated with the defense giving up an average of 37.5 points per game, ranking 115th in the nation.
So what did head coach Mark Helfrich do to fix the problem in the offseason? Returned Pellum to his old job coaching the linebackers and hired Brady Hoke to run the defense despite the former Michigan Wolverines head coach becoming a caricature of ineptitude and cluelessness in Ann Arbor.
The defense hit rock bottom on Saturday in giving up 70 points to a Washington team that the Ducks had beaten the 12 previous times, as the box score looked straight out of a video game.
Washington QB Jake Browning completed 22 of 28 passes for 308 yards and six touchdowns. Running back Myles Gaskin averaged a first down every time he ran the ball with 12.3 yards per carry.
And things aren’t going to get better anytime soon.
Oregon’s next two games are against the pass-heavy California Golden Bears and Arizona State Sun Devils and at this rate, it’s quite possible that Oregon could lose its final six games to finish the season a dreadful 2-10.
But if Oregon has taught us anything as the trendsetters of college football it’s that if your program is going to implode, you might as well do it in style.
So ándale Oregon, ándale!
— Written by Jim Weber, a veteran college sports journalist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. Weber has written for CBS Sports Network, NBCSports.com, ESPN the Magazine and the college sports website he founded and sold, LostLettermen.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JimMWeber.