Oregon football defensive coordinator Tosh Lupoi wants defense 'respected and feared'

The last season of the Pac-12 Conference is gearing up to be the year of the quarterback.
Besides Oregon’s Bo Nix, Southern California has reigning Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams, Washington has Michael Penix Jr., who was second in the NCAA last season with 4,641 passing yards, with quality starters returning at Arizona (Jayden de Laura), Utah (Cameron Rising) and Washington State (Cameron Ward), and the addition of former Clemson starter DJ Uiagalelei now at Oregon State.
Limiting their production will be a tough task.
“This conference has an awesome reputation (when it comes to quarterbacks),” said Oregon defensive coordinator Tosh Lupoi, who was a defensive lineman at Cal when Aaron Rodgers was the Golden Bears’ quarterback. “Offense excels and it all starts with the quarterback. … And we love that challenge. And we're going to do our best to affect those guys.”
Improving the pass defense for the Ducks
Even with the presence of 2023 NFL first-round draft pick Christian Gonzalez manning one cornerback position, the Ducks still struggled in pass defense last season when they were ranked 102nd nationally with an average of 256.4 passing yards allowed.
Improving the pass defense was an offseason goal for Lupoi and the Ducks, who dipped into the transfer portal to sign proven players like safeties Evan Williams and Tysheem Johnson, and cornerbacks Nikko Reed and Khyree Jackson.
But, Lupoi said, the secondary wasn’t the only area of focus.
“We want to be a defense that's respected and feared and the only way we get there is what we do in the body of work every single day out here,” he said Thursday after Oregon’s second practice of preseason camp. “So we had a lot of things we focused on and improved and a lot of things that we need to get better at.”
Oregon's Popo Aumavae, Jordan Burch defense players to watch
An improved pass rush would certainly help the back end of the Ducks’ defense, and Lupoi touched on a pair of players up front who could do just that.
Nose tackle Popo Aumavae is back for a seventh season after missing all of 2022 when a preseason foot injury ended his year.
Oregon hasn’t yet released official heights and weights of its players for this season, but Aumavae was listed at 6-3, 304 pounds last summer.
“Anytime you ask me a question regarding a large man that can move fast and strike with violence and rush the passer, it’s going to excite us,” Lupoi said. “That's what Popo does.”
In 38 career games, Aumavae has 66 tackles, including 3.5 sacks. He was name first-team all-conference by The Associated Press and Pro Football Focus in 2021.
“What I respect about Popo is what he's been doing off the field with body preservation, the ways of attacking his rehab, his diet,” Lupoi said. “When you look at his weight, sometimes it's surprising what he is and then you see him move out there.”
Lupoi has also been impressed with junior defensive end Jordan Burch, a 6-6, 276-pound transfer from South Carolina who was once a consensus five-star recruit.
“Again, it's a guy with the right measurables,” Lupoi said. “There's quite a few individuals that play up front in the National Football League that look like him. So the big challenge to Jordan is to play with the physicality and to play with a relentless effort consistently. You see those flashes with him, and when you see it, you see greatness. Again, it's our job to really bring that out of him.”

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