EUGENE — Brady Hoke gave his defense a compliment that no coach wants to give.
“They practice better probably through the string of not playing well and losses than any team I’ve ever had,” Oregon’s first-year defensive coordinator said following a 52-27 Pac-12 loss to Stanford on Saturday at Autzen Stadium.
That’s been a common theme from Hoke and his players, that the closed-door practices are showing improvement. Yet when the gates open and the fans show up on Saturdays, the scores all look the same.
Oregon has allowed at least 40 points in all six conference losses, walking off the field looking up at 41, 51, 70, 52, 45 and 52 points again on the scoreboard against the Cardinal.
“I feel like we go out there and have real good practices and communicate and as far as the game goes, we have guys trying to do too much,” safety Khalil Oliver said. “That’s everyone on defense. Everybody is put in the position where they feel like, ‘I can make this play if I do this instead of reading my key and doing my job.’ At points where they pop a big play, it’s somebody not reading their key and trying to do too much.”
That happened just about 5 minutes into the game when Christian McCaffrey ran 61 yards for a touchdown. Later in the first quarter, Keller Chryst threw a 61-yard touchdown to JJ Arcega-Whiteside as the Cardinal took a 21-0 lead.
“Big plays kill morale,” Hoke said. “When a team makes big plays, it hurts everybody and we have got to play better.”
McCaffrey ran for 135 yards and three touchdowns, and the Cardinal scored a season high in points.
“They are always capable, especially when they’ve got No. 5 back there and the way he touches the ball, but I think from that standpoint, we just gave up too many big plays,” Hoke said.
Oregon gave up a season-high 38 points in the first half to continue another pattern. The Ducks have allowed at least 24 points in the first half of all six conference losses.
“It is just energy, that’s all it is,” linebacker Troy Dye said. “We came out too flat again. You can’t win a game when the other team comes out amped and you come out flat. It just won’t work.”
The Ducks focused on stopping Stanford’s running game, but the Cardinal ran for 282 yards with an average of 6.7 per carry. Chryst had 258 passing yards for a team that was averaging 142.8 per game through the air.
“I think at times there is a disconnect between practice and games,” Hoke said. “I think there’s a little bit of that. You also have to give your opponent credit. Over the last couple years, we have lost some pretty good players defensively, but I think we’re molding some young guys now that are going to be pretty good players.”
After honoring the seniors before their final home game, linebacker Johnny Ragin III was the only member of that class to start against the Cardinal. Cody Carriger was the only other senior with a tackle.
“We’ve got to improve and keep working our tails off,” Hoke said. “They stay together and fight together, and that’s important because that’s what we have to do. Then we have to have a hell of an offseason.”