Bo Nix was great but the Ducks defense stole the show in 2023

Jan 1, 2024; Glendale, AZ; Oregon Ducks linebacker Jeffrey Bassa (2) with defensive back Evan Williams (33) celebrate.
Jan 1, 2024; Glendale, AZ; Oregon Ducks linebacker Jeffrey Bassa (2) with defensive back Evan Williams (33) celebrate. / Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Anyone and everyone who tuned into a College Gameday Saturday this year heard about the glory and lore of Bo Nix’s final collegiate season. He helped carry the Oregon Ducks to a 12-2 finish including a victorious Fiesta Bowl appearance. 

However, he wasn’t the true shining star of the Ducks’ season. That would be the defense.

Let’s hone in on Nix’s season first:

He set the NCAA completion percentage record, going 364/470 for 4,508 yards and 45 passing touchdowns this year. He also ran for 234 yards and 6 touchdowns – not too shabby considering the impressive runningbacks he had by his side.

Nix was also a finalist for the Heisman Trophy, finishing third behind winner Jayden Daniels and Pac-12 foe Michael Penix Jr. He brought home the William V. Campbell Trophy as well as being named the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year.

Aside from all of these honors, he was recognized as a leader on and off the field by his teammates, his coaches, and the rest of the Oregon football community.

Nevertheless, the defensive stats that came out of Eugene this year were truly jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring, and (I would like to say) the main reason the Ducks found such great success this season. 

To start, Oregon’s defensive squad only allowed 231 points all season, including the 6 points Liberty was able to eke out in the bowl game. That’s an average of 16.5 points per game which lands them as the 9th best defensive unit in terms of average points allowed.

The D-line forced 71 tackles for loss, including 34 sacks, leading to 367 negative yards for their opponents. Some key defensive linemen included Popo Aumavae, Brandon Dorlus, and Evan Williams.

Aumavae earned 3 sacks throughout the season, Williams had 4.5 sacks, and Dorlus racked up a total of 5 sacks plus an extra 1.5 tackles for loss.

The Ducks defense also forced 8 fumbles this year, recovering 6 of them, and picked off the other teams’ quarterbacks 12 times, earning 58 defensive yards.

Jeffrey Bassa, who had an interception and 12 quarterback hurries, has already announced he will return for the 2024 season and is set to be a leader on the defensive front.

Alongside Bassa, there are two more big returners for the team. Defensive end Jordan Burch and safety Tysheem Johnson will also be returning for their senior seasons.

One frontman that the Ducks are losing is Casey Rogers, a transfer from Nebraska who started in two seasons for Oregon. Rogers collected 55 total tackles in his tenure as a Duck and even had an offensive feature when he carried a fake punt for 18 yards against Colorado.

Opponents who faced 3rd down situations struggled to convert, passing the down marker on only 35.79 percent of attempts. The teams who dared to go for it on 4th down succeeded less than half the time, converting at 47.37 percent.

At home, the team’s overall success skyrocketed.

Undefeated in Eugene, the defense only allowed an average of 14.29 points per game in Autzen Stadium – holding three opponents (#16 Oregon State, #19 Colorado, and Portland State) to less than 10 points.

The Oregon defensive coordinator Tosh Lupoi, who had experience at the NFL level before he focused his sights on the Ducks, has a contract through 2025 and seems to be quite comfortable with this squad.

All this to say, Nix was good this season, for sure. As a Duck fan, I teared up when he left the field for a final time during the Fiesta Bowl, so I get it. But this season, the Oregon defense was great.