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Football Practice Report: Oct. 27

Oct 27, 2021

Venue: Outdoor practice fields
Format: Full pads

DJ James waited for his opportunity. It wasn't always easy to be patient. But when the moment was right, he capitalized.

James, a sophomore cornerback from Mobile, Ala., had the game-sealing interception in Oregon's 34-31 victory last week at UCLA. After nearly picking off a pass earlier in the drive, James baited the Bruins' quarterback by playing off the receiver he was covering, then ran up and jumped the route for a pick with 48 seconds left on the clock.

James, who sat out much of preseason camp and the Ducks' opening game of this season due to an off-the-field incident, and who was in coverage for Stanford's touchdown that forced overtime in Oregon's only loss of the season, came up big in the biggest of moments at UCLA.

"They had run the same formation earlier in that drive, so I had seen it before," James said. "So I gave a different look, and it had a great outcome. It was great."

A backup for the UO defense the past two seasons, James had a breakout offseason for the Ducks and was a projected starter coming into this season. He had to get in workouts on his own will sitting out preseason camp, but has started the last five games at corner since returning.

Giving up the touchdown on the final play at Stanford stung. But James knew he had to learn from the play and move on.

"It's part of the game, playing corner," he said. "Having that next-play mentality in your head."

Through seven games so far, entering Oregon's home game against Colorado on Saturday (12:30 p.m., FOX), the UO defense is fourth in the Pac-12 at 22.4 points per game allowed. The Ducks are allowing 400.1 yards per game, which ranks 11th in the Pac-12, but they're averaging 5.07 yards per play surrendered, third-best in the conference.

Getting off the field more often on third down would bring down the per-game average closer to the per-play average. But the Ducks have done an exceptional job keeping plays in front of them — they're one of just five teams in the country to have surrendered six or fewer explosion plays of 30 yards or more.

The Ducks have achieved all that despite an unfortunate series of injuries throughout the defense. But last week at UCLA, they combined stout run defense over the final three quarters with an effective pass rush and some big-play instincts from James.

"It felt great knowing my guys up front were handling business, for sure," James said.

Practice highlights: Each side of the ball had something to celebrate after Oregon's weekly 2-minute drill in practice. The No. 1 offense had a winning streak coming into Wednesday, but the defense didn't allow a score this week thanks in part to a pass breakup by Verone McKinley III. … With the No. 2 units on the field, Isaah Crocker caught a pass to move the chains on the first play, setting the tone for a drive that ended with a touchdown pass from Jay Butterfield to Dont'e Thornton. Butterfield and Ty Thompson have traded opportunities in the 2-minute drill the last few weeks. …

Earlier in practice, Noah Sewell intercepted a pass in a good-on-good period. … Steve Stephens IV also came up with a turnover for the defense. … Jaylon Redd had a diving catch in one drill, and Johnny Johnson III had one during a red-zone period against scouts. … Camden Lewis was a perfect 6-for-6 in drill work for the week after nailing a 46-yard attempt on his final kick of that period Wednesday.

Other observations: The Ducks are still uncertain of center Alex Forsyth's status for the Colorado game as of Wednesday, head coach Mario Cristobal said. … Safety Jordan Happle will not play Saturday after being injured at UCLA. … Jeffrey Bassa, who moved down from safety to inside linebacker after a series of injuries at the latter position group, will move back to safety after the season, Cristobal said.

Post-practice interviews:

Head coach Mario Cristobal

Junior defensive lineman Popo Aumavae

Sophomore defensive lineman Brandon Dorlus

Sophomore cornerback DJ James