EUGENE — Oregon defensive coordinator Don Pellum is seeing improvement each week from his defense. But yes, there's still plenty of work to do.
Oregon's overall defense is ranked 105th among FBS programs, allowing an average of 456.3 yards per game. Opponents have scored 14 touchdowns through three games, putting the Ducks' scoring defense at 104th in the country.
Pellum, a veteran in the 13th-ranked Ducks' system who this season moved upstairs to coach from the press box, said he's concerned with the big picture.
"Obviously we've got to work on it, that's how we look at it," he said. "We've got to keep grinding."
In last weekend's 61-28 victory over Georgia State, Oregon's defense was inconsistent. The Panthers were able to amass 431 yards on offense, including 318 yards passing. Freshman receiver Penny Hart had nine catches for 128 yards.
Georgia State pulled within 40-21 after halftime and scored three third-quarter touchdowns.
However, Oregon was able to force a number of key turnovers, including an interception and a fumble return for touchdowns. The Ducks also had four sacks and 11 tackles for loss.
"I know that we had a lull in the third quarter, and during that lull we gave up a lot of easy points and a lot of easy plays that we didn't have to give up," Pellum noted.
There were concerns about Oregon's young secondary following the season-opening 61-42 victory over lower-division Eastern Washington. In addition to those six touchdowns, the Big Sky's Eagles amassed 549 total yards on offense. And receiver Cooper Kupp caught 15 passes for 246 yards — both Autzen Stadium records — and three touchdowns.
Some of the struggles are the result of personnel turnover. Three of Oregon's starters at defensive back from last season have moved on: Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Erick Dargan and Troy Hill.
Against Georgia State, the Ducks were without sophomore cornerback Chris Seisay, so freshman Ugo Amadi got the start along with sophomore Arrion Springs. Sophomore Tyree Robinson is joined at safety by junior Reggie Daniels, the secondary's only returning starter.
Robinson did well against the Panthers with a pair of interceptions, including one that he ran back 41 yards for a touchdown.
His pick six, on Georgia State's opening drive, was the first of his career and the first for Oregon since Avery Patterson and Derrick Malone Jr. both returned interceptions to score against Texas in the 2013 Alamo Bowl.
"Going into this game, we knew we were going to be tested," Robinson said. "Everybody will try to test our secondary just because we're young, inexperienced. I went into this game just trying to make big plays and trying to help the defense out. The offense has been scoring a lot and keeping us in the game. We have to do our part as a defense."
Oregon (2-1) dropped slightly this week in the latest AP poll from No. 12 to No. 13, the program's lowest ranking in four years.
The Ducks now face the start of Pac-12 play, with the defense facing a considerable challenge in No. 18 Utah and running back Devontae Booker.
The Utes (3-0) are coming off a 45-24 victory over Fresno State. Booker ran for 156 yards and two touchdowns, helping Utah overcome the absence of quarterback Travis Wilson with a sprained left shoulder.
Pellum is well aware that the stakes are higher now that Pac-12 play is gearing up. The Ducks are the league's defending champions but the landscape has already been marked by upsets and surprises.
He said Oregon's defense will be ready.
"We have to be," Pellum said. "It's time."