As you may have heard, Jim Leavitt is no longer the defensive coordinator for the Colorado Buffaloes. The bountiful lands of Leavitt — with lavish Pepsi fountains everywhere you look — will head for the greener pastures of Eugene, Oregon. He is a just man, after all.
While this news is disheartening, Leavitt was never here to stay. His departure was something of an expectation after The Rise. It hurts that he left for
Nike Oregon, since he will likely improve them significantly, but he has a lot of work to do.
For those improvements, let’s look at where Leavitt will make a difference for the Ducks.
Under Brady Hoke, Oregon’s rush defense fluctuated between worrisome and unbelievable (not the good kind). Per S&P+, Oregon finished 126th in the nation in total rush defense and 128th in both efficiency and success rate allowed. Looking at the traditional numbers, it looks just as bad, if not worse, somehow.
On the season, the Ducks gave up 2,869 rushing yards and 34 rushing touchdowns in 11 FBS games. For comparison, Barry Sanders had arguably the greatest college football season of all time in 1988, and he rushed for 2,628 yards and 37 touchdowns, also in 11 games. Oregon’s rush defense basically turned the opponent into Barry Sanders.
Also for comparison, Colorado had the 20th best passing attack in college football (S&P+) and averaged 254 passing yards per game. The Oregon defense allowed 260 rushing yards per game. That is... not good.
Even if Jim Leavitt taught his new players to tackle with their feet only, he could improve upon those numbers.
Against Colorado, Oregon’s rush defense had one of their best games of the season as they allowed only 260 rushing yards. Steven Montez, in his first career start, had 135 rushing yards — impressive for a quarterback, but hardly anything compared to what Oregon usually allowed.
While Montez shimmied and shook his way to Player of the Week, Leavitt was surely appalled by the defense. Him looking at Oregon’s quarterback containment would be akin to Yo-Yo Ma listening to me playing the cello for the first time. If Leavitt taught his new players to stare at the sun instead of looking at the quarterback, he could improve their containment.
Oregon’s pass defense wasn’t apocalyptic like their rush defense, but it was catastrophic. Per S&P+, Oregon’s pass defense comes in at a sparkling 105th total pass defense and 125th in success rate allowed. If Leavitt taught his defenders that they could only play while holding hands with a partner, they could improve those numbers.
The Ducks’ raw numbers don’t look horrifying, but that’s because opposing teams didn’t bother to pass when they could run as easily as they did. Per pass, the Oregon defense is better than Texas Tech’s, a defense that allowed over 550 passing yards per game and gave up 66 points to Iowa State. (That second part doesn’t really matter, but oh my god Texas Tech gave up 66 points to Iowa State.)
Jim Leavitt probably saw footage of that Oregon defense and felt the need to confess at church for even witnessing such defensive sins. When he arrives in Eugene, Leavitt could convince his new players that they could only touch the ball with their helmets, they would see their defense improve.
Against Colorado, Oregon’s pass defense had one of their best games of the season as they allowed only 333 passing yards. Steven Montez, in his first career start, made some dazzling plays, but the Ducks picked him off twice. Montez was able to get the last laugh, however, as he hooked up with Devin Ross and Bryce Bobo for two spectacular plays.
Devin Ross (skip to 1:01, or watch it all):
Oregon will be able to see improvement all over the defense and Colorado will lose a wonderful coach, but don’t be too upset. After all, the defensive backs coach Joe Tumpkin may replace Leavitt, and he was responsible for coaching Ahkello Witherspoon, who finished off Oregon with this incredible play: