Oregon’s secondary looks to build off last week’s solid performance

With six pass break-ups last week against Arizona State, Thomas Graham Jr. leads the Pac-12 in passes broken up


Scouting the pass defense: Last week, the Ducks faced college football’s most NFL-ready wide receiver in N’Keal Harry. Because of the massively improved play of cornerbacks Thomas Graham Jr. and Deommodore Lenoir, Harry was held to 105 yards on seven catches despite being targeted 15 times.

“I was really proud of Thomas and Deommodore… both of them did a really good job given the lumps they were given earlier in the year and last year," co-defensive coordinator Keith Heyward said. “I pat Thomas and Deommodore on the back, but not too hard, because we’ve still got business to handle. It’s the same way going into this week… Oregon State is dangerous… they’ve put up points and moved the ball… we’ve got to stress the same things."

This week, Oregon will face a much different attack with Oregon State.

The Beavers, although without a true No. 1 receiver who displays legit NFL traits, have a multitude of steady pass catchers and route runners who make the offense more dynamic because it’s difficult to key on one specific player.

“This [is] probably the best passing attack when it comes to balancing out their offense… they have three receivers with 50 catches or more — that’s the most balance attack all year,” Graham said. “They have a big play receiver in Isaiah Hodgins — we have to make sure that we go out and watch film and know what’s coming, so we can react rather than think and react."

Hodgins, Trevon Bradford and Timmy Hernandez are the top pass-catchers for the Beavers, all ranking among the conference’s top-11 is receptions. Hodgins leads the group with 743 yards and 14.6 yards per catch — Bradford is the team leader with six touchdowns — Hernandez’s 52 catches is the best of the bunch.

"They're very disciplined route-runners, No. 1. They understand their offense really well… they understand coverages… they set you up really well,” Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal said of Oregon State’s receivers. “They're explosive, they're guys that have legitimate speed… they're good with run after a catch — it's no secret why they're scoring so many points.”

After his performance last week, Graham is now the conference leader in passes defended and broken up, totaling 33 on the season. His running mate, Lenoir, is sixth in the Pac-12 with 19 passes defended and broken up.

Safeties Ugochukwu Amadi and Jevon Holland are still the conference’s top safeties when it comes to interceptions, totaling seven on the season. Their ability to cover ground while also winning 50-50 balls in the air is why the Ducks rank second in the Pac-12 with 13 interceptions.

To help take pressure off running back Jermar Jefferson, quarterback Jake Luton will have to continue to share the ball amongst his pass catchers and not take too many chances down in the passing game. If Luton can continuously move the Beavers down the field with a combination of short and intermediate passes, it could be a long day for the Ducks.