SEATTLE — When Chip Kelly arrived with Oregon’s snap-it-now offense in 2007, Ducks defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti knew big changes were coming for him.
He learned how fast the new offense would go. How many plays his defense would be on the field. And, most important, where he needed to store his ego — far away — to accept this new process for the Ducks.
“You can’t worry about stats,” Aliotti said. “We’re all proud of what we do and want to feel good about our side of the ball, but I’ve learned that, when you play a lot of snaps — and we play a lot of snaps, I’ll bet were top five in the country for snaps played for a team that’s 5-0 for sure — we just want to try to get the most important stat, effort, and try to get the ‘W.’ “
Kelly was still in high school when Aliotti was first on the Ducks’ staff as a graduate assistant in 1978 after playing running back at California-Davis from 1972-76. Aliotti’s coaching path took him to Oregon State, then Chico State, then back to Oregon in 1988. He left in 1995 to jump to the NFL with the St. Louis Rams, went to UCLA in 1998, then returned to Oregon in 1999. He’s been there since.
Aliotti had to figure out how to manage a style of defense usually attached to downtrodden teams. The dregs of the conference typically lose the time of possession battle while being knocked around. Oregon was doing it while smashing opponents.
Take a look at the past three years. In 2010, Oregon was ninth in the then-Pac-10 in time of possession, but went 9-0 in conference. Oregon State was eighth and went 4-5. Arizona State was 10th and went 4-5. In 2011, Oregon was last in time of possession at a paltry 24:59 per game, yet went 8-1. Arizona State (4-5) was 11th and Oregon State (3-6) was 10th.
This season, Oregon is 10th, ahead of Washington State (0-2) and Cal (0-2). Each of those years, Oregon has been the No. 1 scoring offense in the conference.
As much as Oregon’s offensive pace leaves opponents gasping, it also influences the Ducks’ defenders.
“We’re like a hockey team,” Aliotti said. “We change lines every three or four plays. We try to get anywhere from 20 to 23 guys prepared to play in each game, so it helps if you have that kind of depth. We don’t always have that, but that’s how we try to counter it.”
The upshot of the large, consistent rotation is Aliotti can tell recruits they will play half the game if they’re in the two-deep on the depth chart.
“I think when people watch us prepare and practice that they either say ‘Hey, I could do this,’ or ‘I don’t want any part of it,’ ” Aliotti said.
Oregon’s new offensive system wasn’t the only thing to cause Aliotti, 58, to evolve. Conference offenses have undergone expansive shifts during his time as a defensive coordinator. When he started, spread was just something you did with condiments. Now, it’s a model offense. Asked for an assessment of the changes in the Pac-12, Aliotti explains in a joking manner.
“They spread you out and do all kinds of BS stuff,” Aliotti said while emphasizing he’s kidding around. “Before, it would always be a tight end and two backs in the backfield with the quarterback, but now they’ve got all kinds of, again, I’m being funny when I say those kinds of things, they’re doing all kinds of just wild things.
“When we see a tight end and two backs in the backfield, sometimes we call timeout and players run over and say, ‘Hey coach, what is that formation?’ That’s how it’s changed.”
Aliotti said Sarkisian’s style has evolved, too, since Sarkisian was at USC. He sees more spread in his approach, but would not go into details.
“I like their offense,” Aliotti said. “I like what Sark does. I think they have a good plan. We’ll have our hands full with Sark and the group he brings down here on Saturday.”
It won’t be anything he hasn’t seen before.
Sarkisian reiterated Thursday that Washington is a “serious group” and had a good week of practice, putting the Stanford upset well behind it. … Sarkisian also said the Huskies practicing their own no-huddle the last two weeks should help its defense prepare for second-ranked Oregon.