By Cameron Soran
Being that I live in Oregon (though not a Duck fan myself), I’ve had a sort of voyeur interest in watching both the collapse and rise of Oregon’s defense in recent years. For a decade and a half, the Ducks defense was guided by the adaptive hand of Nick Aliotti. Following his departure, Oregon enjoyed one more good year on defense before one of the most dramatic collapses I’ve ever seen in college ball. With the benefit of hindsight, it is clear that Aliotti’s presence was more critical than likely anyone – perhaps even Oregon’s own coaching staff – had previously believed.
Following the defensive disaster that was the 2016 season, Oregon snagged one of the better defensive coordinators in the Pac-12 in Jim Leavitt from Colorado. After his hire, the Ducks bounced back in a big way on defense, going from atrocious to fairly solid. But what intrigued me was the high-level of secrecy that surrounded Leavitt’s defense: beyond the fact that it was a 3-4, no one knew much of anything regarding the details of his scheme. And to the best of my knowledge, that has remained the case.
So I decided to take the opportunity to analyze a defense that didn’t already have a lot written about it previously.
Jim Leavitt’s defense, at bottom, is disguised simplicity. Operating on a 3-4 structure, Leavitt uses his ability to rush either, both, or neither outside linebacker to hide his intentions before the snap. This flexibility allows Leavitt to disguise what is an otherwise fairly straightforward coverage scheme. Leavitt’s central idea is to limit the information a quarterback can glean pre-snap and force them to make reads and decisions on the fly. And for the most part, it that works. But a well-coached quarterback (e.g., Chryst) can, at times, see through the disguise and capitalize on the built-in simplicity.