Oregon takes on Auburn in just four days from AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. You’ll read headlines about how Justin Herbert can take the next step, if Oregon’s offensive line can hold up against Auburn’s fierce pass rush, will the Ducks wide receivers improve from last year, and how will the play calling look from Marcus Arroyo. While all of those are intriguing, there is one topic that is going overlooked:
How will Oregon’s defense look in what is defensive coordinator Andy Avalos’ biggest game ever?
To find an answer, let’s look at how Avalos’ Boise State units performed under his coaching in some of their biggest games. I went through four of the highest-profile games the Broncos played under Avalos, and came across some interesting observations.
2016 Cactus Bowl vs Baylor:
Boise State didn’t have that many big games against marquee opponents this season, but Baylor was one of them. Although Art Briles was not coaching, his system and most of his players were still in place and it provided a big challenge for Avalos, then in his first season as DC. It wasn’t a great game for the Boise State defense. They gave up 515 total yards of offense and allowed 31 points. They couldn’t stop Baylor wide receiver KD Cannon who caught 14 passes for 226 yards and 2 touchdowns. They also allowed Baylor running back Terrance Williams to rush for 103 yards and Boise State lost 31-12.
Overall, it was hardly an impressive game plan from Avalos. Baylor came into the game 6-6 and was not an elite team. Boise State was 10-2 coming into the game and Vegas had them favored to win. Avalos took one on the chin this game, though Baylor still boasted better on-field talent than Boise State.
2017 Week 4 vs Virginia:
This one was just downright ugly. Virginia beat Boise State 42-23, giving the Broncos their worst home loss since 2001. The Cavaliers racked up 440 yards of total offense and didn’t turn it over. Boise State had trouble stopping a wide receiver once again, as Andre Levrone caught 5 passes for 141 yards and 2 touchdowns. Virginia also had 167 yards on the ground, essentially doing whatever they wanted against the BSU defense.
This was arguably Andy Avalos’s worst game with Boise State. There is no excuse for allowing 42 points to a Virginia team that, honestly, wasn’t very good. The Cavaliers went on to finish 6-7 that season and the 42 points scored against Boise State was their season-high.
The one positive that came out of this game was it seemed to jump start the Broncos’ season. They went on to win 9 of their next 10 games, including the Mountain West Championship game. The Broncos defense allowed 30 points in just one other game, and had a five-game stretch in which they allowed less than 20 points per contest. Boise State also went on to shut down Justin Herbert and the Ducks in the Las Vegas Bowl. Speaking of that game….
2017 Las Vegas Bowl vs Oregon:
Oregon fans will remember this game. After weeks of drama from the Willie Taggart-to-Florida State fiasco, Mario Cristobal was named head coach just days before the game. To say it went poorly for him is a massive understatement.
Leighton Vander Esch, now a budding linebacker star with the Dallas Cowboys, dominated the Ducks with 12 tackles, including three tackles for loss, and a sack. Boise State shut down the Oregon offense, allowing only 280 total yards, a measly 47 rushing yards, and forced 4 turnovers while jumping out to a 24-0 lead. The only reason the game ended up being respectable was because of two fluky defensive touchdowns by the Ducks.
There could be plenty of excuses from the Ducks for this one. Royce Freeman wasn’t playing, it was Cristobal’s first game as head coach, and the drama from the past couple weeks was simply too distracting. But none of that takes away the fact that Andy Avalos’ game plan worked perfectly, and Boise State absolutely pushed the Ducks around on the defensive side of the ball. This was arguably the best game for Andy Avalos and his defense during his tenure, considering the competition he was facing. Also, it had to have been a huge factor in why Cristobal ended up hiring Avalos to run the Ducks defense and replace the departed Jim Leavitt.
2018 Week 3 @ Oklahoma State:
This was Boise State’s only game against a ranked team from a Power 5 conference this year, and it did not go well, as Oklahoma State won 44-21. The BSU defense gave up 422 yards and the Cowboys moved the ball at ease. The Broncos were unable to force any turnovers, and they couldn’t stop running back Justice Hill who rushed for 123 yards and a touchdown on just 15 carries. Oklahoma State averaged 4.8 yards a carry on 35 attempts. The 44 points given up by the Broncos defense were the most points they gave up in a game all year.
The Broncos went on to win 10 games, eventually falling to Fresno State in the Mountain West championship game.
In the four biggest games facing Power 5 competition while Avalos was defensive coordinator, Boise State went just 1-4. It is hard to judge these games and criticize Avalos considering his side was the less talented unit in each battle with a Power 5 opponent. Against the Mountain West, Avalos and Boise State went 21-5 overall and had a top-two defense in the conference in each of his three seasons with the Broncos.
I loved the hire when it was first announced. Avalos is a young, energetic players’ coach. He has always been able to get the most out of his players (Re: Vander Esch, young Boise St star turned Cowboys 1st-Round pick). Reports out of Eugene suggest the players love the new system Avalos has installed, and the change from Jim Leavitt has been viewed as a positive from both players and coaches.
Avalos will be working with the most talented players of his career when Oregon kicks off this season. I can’t wait to see what he does with players like Kayvon Thibodeaux, Troy Dye, Jordan Scott and Jevon Holand. Although he still has to prove it on a new team, and his past experience against Power 5 opponents has been shaky, I expect the Oregon defense to shut down Auburn and go on to be a top 4 defense in the PAC-12 this season.