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UO’s Dargan sets the tone for improving defense

EUGENE — The contest to see which college football team could go the longest this season without throwing an interception almost ended when Marcus Mariota’s first pass of the night went into the hands of Washington’s John Timu, but the ball fell to the ground.

So the competition continued until Oregon senior safety Erick Dargan picked off Cyler Miles late in the first half for the first interception that the Huskies have thrown all season. Dargan’s interception came on Miles’ 142nd pass attempt and the 171st of the season for Washington.

“With our pressure, we were able to get to them and I was in the right spot at the right time,” Dargan said.

That has become a familiar spot for Dargan, who ranks among the nation’s leaders with four interceptions. Despite starting for the first time this year, Dargan is Oregon’s active leader with 10 interceptions.

“Any time I am around the ball or can get my hands on the ball, I am going to try to make a play,” Dargan said. “Coming into the season I knew I’d get some interceptions, but I didn’t know how many.

“There is a lot of football left, but I can’t think about interceptions. I am just trying to make plays for the team. Whatever I can do for the team, I’m going to do it.”

Dargan’s interception led to Marcus Mariota’s 23-yard touchdown pass to Byron Marshall just before halftime that put Oregon ahead 28-6 en route to a 45-20 win over the Huskies Saturday night at Autzen Stadium.

Oregon’s defense drew criticism after giving up 31 points in back-to-back weeks against Washington State and Arizona, but gained praise for the second consecutive week after holding an opponent under wraps, at least while the game was still in doubt.

Last week, Oregon limited UCLA to 10 points through three quarters as the Ducks took a 32-point lead. On Saturday, the Huskies had only six points midway through the third quarter as Oregon built a 29-point advantage.

“We are just doing our jobs,” said senior cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, who had four tackles and broke up two passes. “The first couple of weeks, we were not doing our assignments. If we had the ‘A’ gap, we were not staying in the ‘A’ gap, but trying to play two gaps and overplaying routes and stuff like that.

“Now we are trying to simplify everything to make sure everyone is on the same page.”

Oregon has given up two touchdowns and three field goals during the first three quarters of the last two games to give the offense time to build a big lead.

“All the guys have stepped up,” Dargan said. “As the season goes on, you are going to get stronger and stronger.”

Washington finished with 317 yards, an average of 4.3 per play. The Huskies ran for 133 yards and passed for 184.

Oregon defensive coordinator Don Pellum praised his unit’s work in practice this week and stayed on that message after the game.

“We are definitely seeing progress,” Pellum said. “We are seeing evidence of what happened in practice manifest itself in the game. That is the goal here. We want to continue to practice great and then in games apply that and that is starting to happen.”

Pellum talked about the need for better communication on defense following the loss to Arizona and emphasized that in practice.

“It has improved,” he said. “A couple times we missed something today, but overall the communication has improved a lot. We have played more consistently and I think that is a byproduct of communication.”