Gameday: Defensive backs use bye week to sure up mental and physical issues

Entering the season, Oregon knew it had to answer some serious questions in the secondary. Who would take over the opposite cornerback spot from All-American Ifo Ekpre-Olomu? Would this unit gel together and make some serious plays week-in and week-out?

With four games under their belt, the defensive backs’ unit is still trying to answer some of these questions and due to some unlucky breaks, has struggled throughout the season.

“It’s always good to be 4-0, so you know you’re doing something right,” starting safety Erick Dargan said. “We have too many small errors here and there that we have to control – some plays shouldn’t have happened that we let happen, but overall we’ve done a decent job.”

Troy Hill, the senior who earned the starting spot opposite Ekpre-Olomu in fall camp, was playing well early in the season before going down with an injury, thrusting redshirt freshman Chris Seisay into the starting role while Dior Mathis has also seen a lot of playing time this year.

Even with Hill’s injury, the unit was helping Oregon as it pushed itself to a 3-0 record, but its matchup against pass-happy Washington State is where the group struggled mightily.

Washington State scored 31 points against the Ducks, many of those points the result of missed tackles and miscommunication from the defensive backs. If it wasn’t for the play of Marcus Mariota, this team might have been 3-1 entering Thursday’s game against Arizona.

I think we had a bunch of issues as far as just communication on the back end against Washington State that are things that just simply can’t happen,” Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich said. “Unfortunately, it manifest itself to the tune of about 200 yards of missed tackles, lost leverage and lack of communication.”

For a unit that was supposed to be a focal point of the defense, the bye week couldn’t have come at a better time. It allowed Hill, Dargan and Ekpre-Olomu to all fully recover from minor injuries, while allowing Daniels and Robinson to become more familiar in the system and get as comfortable as possible entering the month of October.

“Anytime you get a week off, you get a mental break, even more than a physical break,” defensive backs’ coach John Neal said. “You’re not game-planning. You get back to playing really fundamentally sound defense.”

With this unit back and healthy, the defensive backs are poised to flourish, and Thursday night is the perfect night to do so.

Oregon faces an Arizona offense with talented receivers and a young quarterback who went 47-for-73 for 520 yards and five touchdowns in his last performance.

“They have four giant wide receivers and then the little guys they put inside, it’s a great system they have,” Neal said. “They have a freshman quarterback who shows poise, understands the offense already and is only going to get better and better.”

A dominating performance by Oregon’s secondary could prove that this unit is fully recovered and has solved the issues nagging the team in the first four games of the year. It could also mean serious trouble for the rest of the pass-happy Pac-12.

Follow Ryan Kostecka on Twitter @Ryan_Kostecka

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