Stats that must improve: Run defense

Football will be back in Eugene, Ore., soon enough, but it’s good to reflect on 2013 and see what can be learned from last season and taken into next. Leading up to spring football, we’re going to be breaking down some stats that need to improve next season.

Stat that must improve: Oregon against the run.

Backing that up: The Ducks were not good against the run last season. They allowed 165.5 rushing yards per game (66th nationally) and 3.8 yards per rush (37th nationally). Stanford led the Pac-12, allowing just 89.4 rushing yards per game (and 2.9 yards per rush).

Oregon's numbers aren’t great. Top 100 or top 50 isn’t the echelon the Ducks are shooting for when the goal is a national championship. But Oregon only allowed 32 touchdowns all season, which puts the Ducks among the top 15 scoring defenses nationally. Of those 32 touchdowns, 14 were passing touchdowns, 17 were rushing touchdowns and one came on a fumble return.

So that statistics say that the the Ducks' rushing defense appears to be a bend-but-don’t-break group. When a team can give up more than 150 rushing yards per game but on average only about one rushing touchdown, that’s pretty good. But again, the Ducks aren’t looking to be “pretty good.”

In Don Pellum’s perfect world, the Ducks wouldn’t give up a single rushing touchdown. So which statistics would Oregon need to improve to get closer to that level?

For starters, the Ducks' third-down rushing defense was terrible. There were only three teams in the country that were worse against the run on third down: Memphis, Purdue and New Mexico, teams that combined for seven wins in 2013. Against Oregon, opponents converted on 65.5 percent of rushing attempts on third downs. The national average was 49.3 percent. On fourth down, opponents converted 66.7 percent (though that's an improvement nationally, to 73rd).

Opponents ran 563 rushing plays against the Ducks last season (43 times per game) as opposed to 480 passing plays. Of the 563 run plays, the Ducks only stopped 100 (17.8 percent) before or at the line of scrimmage. That efficiency rate puts the Oregon rushing defense, again, as one of the worst in the nation. Only seven programs accounted for a lower percentage, and again, they’re programs that are even close to Oregon's level: Middle Tennessee, Purdue, Eastern Michigan, Air Force, Navy, New Mexico and New Mexico State.

So if the run defense only accounted for rushes of zero or negative yardage on 100 of the 563 rushing plays, what about the other 463? Of the 563 plays, 190 gained at least five yards (33.7 percent). And of those 190 plays, 51 gained at least 10 yards. That means that 273 of the rushing plays that teams ran against Oregon gained between zero and five yards.

Overall, the Ducks defense was very good. And considering how much longer they’re on the field than most defenses, given the Oregon offense’s ability to score quickly, the total number of yards given up is impressive. However, if the defense gives up a lot of yards but few touchdowns, then that generally means they’re good in the short field, when the linebackers and secondary are more likely to be playing against the run. If a team is giving up a lot of yards, a lot of rushes between zero and five yards and struggles on third down, that’s on the defensive line. In 2014, the Oregon defensive line must step up, get into opposing teams’ backfields and stand tall on third and fourth downs.