October 13, 2017
A football field measures 100 yards long, goal line to goal line, and 53 1/2 yards across. Those are the only constraints Troy Dye is willing to accept playing the game he loves.
Run routes as a receiver? So formulaic.
Carry the ball out of the backfield? Too repetitive.
Some people see football as a chess match. Troy Dye is not one of those people. Oregon’s sophomore linebacker approaches the game with unbridled passion, reveling in the game’s controlled chaos in a way only defense can satisfy.
“You really don’t know what to expect,” said Dye, Oregon’s leading tackler entering Saturday’s game at Stanford (8 p.m. PT, FS1). “Play in, play out, you’re always reacting, never initiating. That always drew me to the defensive side of the ball — you never know what you’re going to see.”
It was the same in Dye’s other youth pursuit, ice hockey. He played some right wing — imagine the net-front presence he’d now be, at 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds — but the Norco, Calif., native thrived at defenseman.
From the age of 4, when he started playing, until giving up hockey to focus on football prior to high school, Dye wanted to be the guy “on the back end, stopping goals.”
“There’s more energy, more juice, more passion when you’re on the defensive end,” Dye said. “You’re backed into a corner, and you have to fight your way out.
“It was always fun to steal someone’s thunder. They’re coming down on the fastbreak and then you lift their stick, take the puck and go on with your day.”
Dye grew up watching his older brother of six years, Tony, thrive on defense. Tony Dye played defensive back at UCLA, and signed with the Cincinnati Bengals as an undrafted free agent.
Tony Dye had an invitation to play high school hockey in Minnesota, but turned it down to focus on football, Troy said. The boys have a younger brother now starring in high school on offense, but Troy followed Tony’s defensive path.
Offensive players can have the adulation that comes with reaching the end zone, Dye said. His reward is the adrenalin rush of facing the unknown, and trying to shut it down.
“I don’t like a lot of attention, don’t like being in the spotlight,” he said. “If it happens, it happens. But I’m not trying to score all the touchdowns, get all the glamour and glory.”
The Ducks figure to need a big performance from Dye this week at Stanford. He’s one of the last men standing at an inside linebacker group decimated by injuries to Kaulana Apelu, A.J. Hotchkins and Blake Rugraff. And the Ducks this week are facing the nation’s most prolific running back, Bryce Love.
Love leads the FBS with 206.67 rushing yards per game. He’s a smaller target than former Stanford back Christian McCaffrey, and when he hits the open field, he’s gone — nobody in the country has more big plays than Love.
“Bryce Love just brings a different dimension to the game,” Dye said. “He’s smaller, more compact, very agile, and explosive when gets in the open field. We’ve just got to go out there and do our best, try to contain him.”
Dye is the centerpiece of new defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt‘s 3-4 scheme, playing the “Jack” linebacker position. He can also play “Mike” depending on who he is paired with — senior Jimmie Swain played extensively in place of Rugraff last week against WSU, and the Ducks have also practiced true freshmen Sampson Niu and Isaac Slade-Matautia with the travel squad this week.
With 52 tackles, Dye is in the top 25 nationally, one season after being named Oregon’s defensive MVP as a freshman edge player. He’s already the team’s active career leader in sacks (9.5) and tackles for loss (20.0), and is second in tackles (143).
“I’m having a blast in there,” Dye said. “There’s still a lot of room to improve — gotta get stronger, use my hands better — but that just comes with more time and more reps. Over time I’ll be a pretty good inside linebacker, and right now I’m doing fine.”
That seems to be his assessment of Oregon’s defense overall. The Ducks are markedly improved in their first season under Leavitt. But a couple of big plays doomed them early in the second half at Arizona State, and two one-play touchdown drives against Washington State last week put the Ducks in a hole out of which they couldn’t climb, in their first full game without quarterback Justin Herbert.
Given Love’s big-play ability, limiting explosion plays will be a huge focus Saturday at Stanford.
“Down in and down out, we’ve been playing pretty good,” Dye said. “But one or two plays we give up have a big impact on the game. A guy misses an assignment or is in the wrong place at the wrong time, and this is a game of inches — you misstep, it’s a touchdown. That’s something we continue working on.”
For someone who doesn’t care much for the structure and routine of offensive football, Dye will see a master class in it this week. When the Cardinal have the ball, there will be no secrets.
“It’s the same Stanford it’s been for the past 15 years or whatever,” Dye said. “Very physical up front. They want to run the ball, and that’s how they impose their will. They run it down your throat until you give up and quit. That’s going to be a big test of our strength and toughness.”