Can Oregon Ducks slow Jack Colletto, Oregon State’s short-yardage run game?

Oregon State leaves little doubt about its plan of attack on short-yardage: Run.

The No. 22 Beavers (8-3, 5-3 Pac-12) have 31 carries for 145 yards and three touchdowns and 22 first downs on third-and-three-or-less compared just three pass attempts when facing such a short distance to convert. Yet even when opponents know full well what’s coming, especially when Jack Colletto enters at quarterback, OSU still manages to churn out yards and move the chains at a very high rate.

No. 8 Oregon (9-2, 7-1) is well aware of its rival’s tendencies and knows it’ll be up to its front seven to prevent it from continuing on Saturday (12:30 p.m., ABC) at Reser Stadium.

“For coach (Jonathan) Smith, third down, especially third-and-short, is second down,” Oregon coach Dan Lanning said. “They plan on going for it on fourth, they’re really aggressive on fourth and most of the time, a lot of those runs are QB runs. Whether it’s using Colletto or somebody like that. So when they use 11, you have to use 11 to stop them. If you want to be really aggressive on defense and get an extra hat in the box, he’s also proven that he’ll throw a bomb. So it’s tough to commit every hat down to the run.

“The key is really staying on schedule on first and second down defensively and not giving them those third-and-short opportunities. They’re going to run it on third. You have to be prepared for it. When they do, you want to have the extra hat, but again, it’s going to come down to somebody winning on one-on-one when they’re using 11 guys.”

For as poor as Oregon has been on third down defensively, it has fared well at stopping the run in short-yardage situations.

Opponents have run for just 51 yards on 23 carries with a touchdown and 14 first downs on third-and-three-or-less and Oregon ranks 21st nationally with 2.22 yards allowed per carry in those situations. On fourth down, UO allowed one meaningless long run late against Stanford but just five yards on three on fourth down runs.

It’s going to be up to the interior of Oregon’s defensive line to prevent Oregon State’s renowned offensive line from getting movement at the line of scrimmage.

“Up front we have to get tons of knock-back,” strong-side linebacker Mase Funa said. “D-line did a good job of it last week, so it’s got to carry over to this week. Then me, DJ (Johnson) and all us edge setters got to really set the edge to give the running backs a shorter edge to play with.”

Nose tackle Taki Taimani stressed the importance of pad level.

“They play really low, that’s what they’re really good at,” Taimani said. “I think that front five plays really good and real low. I think the biggest thing for us is having low pad level and making sure we stay low the whole time. They got big bodies so it’s like an advantage to us, I think a little bit, because we’re a little shorter than them.”

The Ducks can’t sell out entirely to stop the run when Colletto comes in though. He’s run 11 times on third-and-short with eight conversions and six times on fourth down with three conversions. But his only two passes have come on fourth downs and went for 16 and 37 yards.

Lanning recalls watching Colletto play when he was in junior college and appreciating his talent.

“Now you watch him on fourth down line up and carrying the ball and the intensity he carries it with and then he can turn around and sling the ball down the field too,” Lanning said. “He’s a dynamic player. He’s certainly different and a challenge for us to be prepared for.”

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