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Perhaps the biggest Pac 12 game of the season features the hometown Ducks, who are a miniscule percentage behind Florida State in the BCS rankings, and, poised to overtake Jimbo Fisher’s Seminoles squad with a win against UCLA this weekend.
Game Day is in town, further advertising that this is the Game of the Week, between two teams who have alternately been the class of the conference for years (Oregon) and are a resurgent unit under a new coach (UCLA).
No. 12 UCLA vs No. 3 Oregon
Coverage: Sunday 27th October, 10:00am on ESPN2 and ESPN2-HD. Check out our TV guide for details on all the college football on Aussie TV screens this week.
Some of the luster has left this contest because Stanford managed to slow down the terrific UCLA QB Brett Hundley – one of the truly great revelations of this season and last – last week, thus stamping out most of what the Bruins tried to do offensively en route to a 24-10 win.
It was the first time we’ve seen Jim Mora Jnr’s squad unable to execute much of what they wanted, and you can bet that the Oregon coaching staff would have broken down that film extensively over the week. Worryingly for the Bruins, Hundley may have a cobbled-together offensive line in front of him this week.
Of course, stopping Oregon’s incredible offense is a problem. QB Marcus Mariota is right up there in the Heisman Trophy race, and despite turning over the ball twice on fumbles last week, is yet to throw an interception on the season. He has nineteen touchdown passes and a further nine running scores. When he’s on, watch out. And with weapons like De’Anthony Thomas (returning from a 3-game absence), Oregon have many ways to exploit a defense.
You plan for stopping one guy and another pops up. This is as multiple an offense as there is anywhere in the nation. Truly, they are a giant threat to score on every single snap, even from one inside of their own 5-yard line.
Ultimately, it’s about speed at Oregon. Speed kills. The Ducks have speed to burn. It’s everywhere. They smack you in the mouth lightning-quick, then come back and do it again. Mariota’s as electric a runner as he is a passer: a dual-threat quarterback in the best sense of the word, and he’s been lighting up college football for eight weeks, providing highlight reel plays and rolling up video game-like numbers.
It remains to be seen whether any defense can slow him down, let alone stop him. Alabama’s would like a chance, and what a titanic struggle that would be. Can UCLA slow Mariota down? I don’t know. It’ll be difficult. It’s been difficult all year. Ask Washington.
In recent weeks, Oregon’s oft-maligned defense has really stood up to be counted, playing as well – and, arguably, better – than their offensive cousins in parts of the last games, and were particularly impressive in the big game against Washington two weeks ago. This is a unit on the rise, and with Hundley missing some of his big eaters up front, they may get a sniff of blood in the water, and exploit it.
Last week, Hundley was sacked four times, and held to a season-low 190 yards. Adding insult to injury, running back Jordon James was absent for a second consecutive week. Stanford’s defense held them to a paltry 74 total rushing yards, a season-low total.
Both running and passing, the Bruins just didn’t look like their usual selves against the Cardinals. If Oregon’s defense can achieve similar goals against UCLA this week, I don’t see how the Bruins can go up there and win.
With all due respect to Stanford, they aren’t as offensively capable as Oregon – at least, not in terms of quick scores – and if the Ducks offense gets a handful of possessions in the first half, they might put the game out of reach. Hundley has to find passing lanes. The offensive line, banged-up though it is, must allow the running game to function and to flourish.
A repeat of last week cannot happen, or UCLA will be embarrassed. It’s tough enough to win against Oregon, especially in Autzen Stadium, when everything’s going to plan, and nigh on impossible when it’s not. The Bruins need to score basically every time they have the football, and hope – pray, even – for some defensive miracles.
My tip: Ducks by fourteen, pulling away late.