-- UCLA travels to Eugene, Oregon, to take on the Oregon Ducks Thursday at 6:00 PST. The game will be televised nationally on ESPN and ESPN 3D with Rece Davis, Craig James and Jesse Palmer in the booth.
-- This week the 6-0 Ducks attained the #1 ranking in the AP and USA Today polls, and is #2 in the first BCS poll of the season.
-- The Ducks have beaten New Mexico (72-0), Tennessee (48-13), Portland State (69-0), Arizona State (42-31), Stanford (52-31) and Washington State (43-23).
-- UCLA currently has an edge in the all-time series between the two schools, 39-24. The Bruins, though, have lost the last two meetings, with its last win being in 2007 when the Bruins beat the #9-ranked Ducks 16-0.
-- That 16-0 victory was the last time the Oregon program has been shut out.
-- Last year Oregon beat UCLA 24-10. UCLA led 3-0 at half, but Oregon ran for a total of 221 yards, against UCLA's total offense of 211. It was the game, however, that included Akeem Ayers' leaping interception in the endzone for a touchdown.
-- Since 2000, UCLA is 2-7 against Oregon. In fact, it's the first decade in the last four in which UCLA has a losing record against the Ducks. In the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s, UCLA went a combined 19-6 against Oregon.
-- The Bruins have lost the last two in Eugene, in 2008 (31-24) and in 2006 (30-20), but beat the Ducks in 2004 (34-26). -- UCLA owns a record of 4-10 when playing the #1 team in the AP Poll. The Bruins have lost the last six in a row when facing a #1-ranked team, going back to 1976, when the Bruins beat #1 ranked Ohio State in the Rose Bowl.
-- This is the first time UCLA has faced a Pac-10 team ranked #1 other than USC.
-- UCLA, though, has defeated four of its last seven top 10-ranked opponents.
-- The last three meetings between UCLA and Oregon in Eugene have been decided by 10 points or less.
-- Autzen Stadium holds 54,000 and has FieldTurf.
-- Oregon has sold out Autzen for 71 consecutive games, dating back to 1999. They set a state of Oregon record for the largest crowd with 59,818 when they played Stanford October 2nd.
-- Oregon has won 13 consecutive games at Autzen, including 10 straight against Pac-10 opponents.
-- In Oregon's 115 seasons of football, it's started the season 6-0 just six times. Three of those seasons have come since 2001.
-- The 326 points Oregon has scored this season so far is the most of any six-game stretch in its history.
-- Oregon is coached by Chip Kelly, who is in his second year at the helm, having served as Oregon's offensive coordinator before that since 2007. After starting off a bit rocky last season when he lost to Boise State and had his running back, LeGarrette Blount, melt down on national television, Kelly has pretty much been riding an incredible high as the Ducks' head coach. He's 16-3 overall, won the conference championship in 2009, was voted Pac-10 Coach of the Year, and now has the Ducks ranked #1 in the country. He's the first coach in Pac-10 history to win an outright conference championship in his first season. He's the architect of Oregon's now-renowned "blur offense," which plays very fast and uses short, high-percentage passes along with a very few plays but very swift, quick players.
-- In 2008, when a group of talented sophomores emerged, the Oregon faithful have been pointing toward 2010 as the year the Ducks could contend for a national championship.
-- This season UCLA will play three mid-week games (Oregon this Thursday, Washington on Thursday, November 18th, and Arizona State on Friday, November 26th). Those three games are three of only five mid-week games UCLA has played since 1993.
-- Oregon is currently favored by 24 points over the Bruins. -- UCLA's defeat of Texas September 25th was its first road victory over a ranked opponent since 2001 (Oregon State). It hasn't beaten a top ten-ranked team on the road since 1998 (Arizona).
The weather forecast calls for Thursday to be mostly cloudy with a high of 62, a slight chance of showers and lows in the 40s.
OREGON'S OFFENSE V. UCLA'S DEFENSE
It's a pretty tough assignment when your defense is struggling a bit, and trying to find a foothold, and it then faces the #1 offense in the country, one that could potentially be an innovative step in college football offenses.
The nickname that has been coined for Oregon's attack is the "blur" offense. It's predicated on playing very fast, getting a play off every 15-18 seconds and executing quickly, with the intention that such a hurried effect will hurry a defense into mistakes and also tire them out.
It combines a few different formations – the spread, the triple option, the single wing and the Pistol – and utilizes very few plays total, maybe 20, that it executes very well. Just about every play is either a run or play fake, and there are very few pass plays, most of them being patterns meant to stretch out a defense wide, get the pass off quickly, put the ball in a playmaker's hands and allow him to create.
This attack has created the #1 offense in the country in terms of total offense (567 yards per game) and scoring offense (54.33), and the nation's #3 rushing offense (314).
It does this all with a complete lack of concern over time of possession. Oregon is dead last in the Pac-10 in time of possession (27:30 per game) because the offense executes – and is so effective – so quickly that its drives are commonly just 2 or 3 minutes long.
So, really, Oregon's philosophy is to challenge every team it plays to try to outscore them. And so far no one has really had much of a chance in trying to do it.
It was interesting, actually, a few weeks ago when probably the most traditional offense in the league, Stanford's, faced Oregon. The Cardinal are leading the Pac-10 in time of possession (32:59) and they tried to force their will and philosophy onto the game – establish long, clock-eating possessions to also keep the ball out of the hands of Oregon's offense. Stanford, taking advantage of an early turnover, went up on Oregon in the first half 14-3 and 28-17, but then it was a matter of Stanford not being able to hold back the overwhelming tsunami of Oregon's offense. If a Stanford drive, for whatever reason, sputtered, Oregon would respond with a quick touchdown. If Stanford's offense drove and then kicked a field goal, Oregon's offense would quickly respond with another touchdown. Oregon won 52-31.
The Ducks' offense really is based on its exceptional offensive line and having one of the best running backs in the country in sophomore LaMichael James (5-9, 185). James leads the nation in rushing, averaging 169 per game and 7.9 yards per rush. He's very fast and very elusive, and he makes defenders completely whiff. He's been most effective running the ball in the Pistol, in much the same way UCLA's offense has been successful running the ball.
His back-up has been sophomore Kenjon Barner (5-11, 180), who is a little bigger, not quite as elusive, but has been effective in his own right. But the word is that Barner will probably miss the game due to a concussion. Senior Remene Alston (5-8. 200) isn't nearly as good as James, of course, or Barner, but when running behind such a good offensive line it makes anyone look good.
|Receiver Jeff Maehl.|
The line doesn't necessarily have one All-American type, but a few talented, experienced veterans, like senior left tackle Bo Thran (6-5, 281) and senior center Jordan Holmes (6-5, 300). Perhaps the most talented is sophomore left guard Carson York (6-5, 286). All five starters returned from last season.
Easily the biggest development this season has been the emergence of sophomore quarterback Darron Thomas (6-3, 212). You might remember that many fans were predicting the demise of the Ducks in the off-season when quarterback Jeremiah Masoli was arrested for burglary and subsequently left the team. Of course, it helps to have a good OL and the best running back in the country, but even so, Thomas has stepped in and done a spectacular job. His passing efficiency rating has him ranked 27th in the country (153), while completing 58.8% of his passes for 14 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. He is also the team's second-leading rusher, gaining an average of 36.8 yards per game on six yards per carry. Thomas doesn't necessarily have a cannon for an arm and can be inconsistent in his throws, but he's big and tough running the ball. Thomas has been recovering from a should injury he suffered against Washington State October 9th, but it appears he's ready to go.
It also helps when you have one of the best receivers in the Pac-10 in senior Jeff Maehl (6-1, 184). Maehl has 31 catches on the season, and is a very reliable target, definitely Oregon's go-to receiver. He's not fast, but is crafty, runs great routes and has good hands. In Oregon's short passing game, Maehl is a huge factor.
There is also senior D.J. Davis (6-1, 205), who is reliable, and big junior Lavasier Tuinei (6-5, 206), who is tough against smaller DBs, as well as solid tight end David Paulson (6-4, 241).
UCLA's defense clearly has its work cut out for it.
The Bruins' defense specifically has been struggling against the run, with the defensive line getting pushed back.
While Akeem Ayers is getting praised coast to coast, those who know UCLA football know that he's struggled some in recent weeks, probably due to some lingering injuries. UCLA hopes the bye week has made Ayes healthier, and closer to the type of player we saw against Houston and Texas.
The bye week, though, hasn't been effective enough in getting UCLA's secondary completely healthy. Starting cornerback Sheldon Price is almost certainly out for this game with a sprained knee. Combine that with the fact that the other starting cornerback, Aaron Hester, has really struggled, and you could say UCLA has a mini-struggle at the cornerback spot. The two back-ups, Courtney Viney and Andrew Abbott, have been getting most of the time with the first string in practice. Viney is 5-8 and Abbott is lucky if he's actually his listed 5-10. It definitely changes UCLA in the back when you go from Price at 6-2 and Hester at 6-1, but Abbott is a better tackler than Hester, and that will be key against Oregon's passing game.
Abbott has been functioning as the nickel back, and with him starting at corner, Dalton Hilliard, returning from injury himself, will probably plug in to the nickel.
Free safety Rahim Moore has been getting some time at corner, and it very well could be experimented with in this game.
Expect freshman safety Dietrich Riley to probably get more snaps in this one, too, especially if Moore spends some time at corner.
ADVANTAGE: Oregon. There isn't a defense in the land that would get the advantage here. So, UCLA has that going for it.
In analyzing the match-ups, too, UCLA's defense does have some other advantages. It clearly hasn't done well against the more smash-mouth running teams, but better against the more finesse spread types. And while Oregon can be physical, their offensive approach isn't to pound it down your throat, but try to get James out in space to pick his way down the field. The UCLA defense has actually been better at defending this type of attack this season, where they don't get bullied at the point of attack, but can get out and run and pursue.
Of course, Texas's offense isn't anything like Oregon's.
But when someone like linebacker Sean Westgate isn't necessarily having to go against guys much bigger than he is at the line of scrimmage, but can fly to the ball, he's at his best, as is Ayers, and safety Tony Dye. In fact, UCLA has been more effective this season in its nickel, getting more speed and athleticism on the field, and it will almost certainly utilize it the majority of the time against Oregon.
But even if the scheme match-up might be better for UCLA, the Bruins haven't seen anything like Oregon's offensive attack.
UCLA'S OFFENSE V. OREGON'S DEFENSE
If you're looking for a sliver of hope, there are some possibilities here for the Bruins.
First off, the Oregon defense just plainly isn't that good. In its last three games, its given up 31 points to Arizona State, 31 to Stanford and 23 to Washington State. If you throw out the shut-outs against New Mexico and Portland State, it's giving up an average of 24.5 points per game, which would put it sixth in the Pac-10, very close, in fact, to UCLA's defense (25.7).
If you throw out New Mexico and Portland State, it's giving up an average of 165 yards per game rushing, which would rank it sixth in the conference, and that's including 91 yards gained on the ground by Washington State, which is 116th in the nation in rushing.
If you throw out NM and PSU, it's giving up an average of 281 yards passing per game, which would tie it for 10th in the Pac-10.
On top of all of this, Oregon could be without three defensive starters Thursday, two on the defensive line. Senior defensive tackle Zac Clark (6-2, 270) has a groin injury and junior defensive end Terrell Turner (6-3, 261) has turf toe. Both have taken very limited snaps in practice. Even if they play, they're probably not going to be close to 100%, and that's significant, especially when there isn't much experience backing them up. Redshirt freshman Wade Keliilipi (6-2, 289) would see more time at defensive tackle, and sophomore Dion Jordon (6-7, 231) would fill in mostly for Turner.
Overall, the Ducks aren't just wounded, but they're smallish upfront. Senior defensive end Kenny Rowe (6-3, 232) makes up for his lack of size with considerable quickness of the edge, with 5 tackles for loss and 3 sacks. Senior defensive tackle Brandon Bair (6-7, 272) is a good one, leading the team with 12 tackles for loss and 3 sacks, but he's also a bit light, even though he has good quickness for being 6-7.
The strength of Oregon's defense is its linebacking unit. Senior weakside linebacker Spencer Paysinger (6-3, 231) is probably one of the best at his position in the conference, and he leads the team in tackles (33). Senior middle linebacker Casey Matthews (6-2, 235) is having a very good season, and is a tough, sure tackler in the middle.
In the back, junior rover Eddie Pleasant (5-11, 213) has emerged as one of the best hitters in the league. Sophomore free safety John Boyett (5-10, 198) led the team in tackles as a redshirt freshman last season, and is having a solid sophomore campaign. At one corner is steady senior Talmadge Jackson (5-10, 188), while the other is new starter, junior Anthony Gildon (6-1, 185), but Gildon has been bothered by an ankle sprain and is considered questionable. Gildon would probably be replaced by sophomore Cliff Harris (5-11, 180), who observers thought would win the job in the fall but Gildon beat him out.
For UCLA's offense, it's obvious that they'll need to be effective running the ball. Not only is it the UCLA offensive staple this season, and Oregon looks suscectible to it, but UCLA could be without its starting quarterback, Kevin Prince.
Prince has had a mysterious knee injury hobbling him since the Texas game. UCLA thought he'd be able to take advantage of the bye week and be back to practice this week, but the knee hasn't gotten better, which has resulted in a couple more MRIs and Prince not practicing the last two days.
It'd be very surprising if Richard Brehaut didn't get the start, since he's gotten most of the first-string snaps leading up to the game. Brehaut started against Washington State and did decently, but this would be quite a different stage for him – in Eugene, with a sell-out, very loud crowd on national television against the #1 team in the nation.
Brehaut doesn't tend to get nervous and also tends to do better in games than he looks in practice, which is good, because he's looked so-so in practice this week.
Regardless of who gets the snaps at quarterback, as we said, it's going to be about UCLA gaining yards on the ground, and that will mean the Bruins need a big day out of tailback Johnathan Franklin. Franklin was on his way to a big season, when he tripped up against Cal. As is widely known, he had a fumbling problem last season, and the fumble against Cal was a critical one.
UCLA will be without some of its receiving targets Thursday. Its most productive receiver, Nelson Rosario, looks to not be ready to return from his high ankle sprain. Starting f-back Morrell Presley amd talented receiver and kick-off returner, Josh Smith, are suspended from the game for violating team rules.
That leaves UCLA with a shorter list of options at receiver. We've said it previously, but you would think it would give some of the younger, talented guys a chance – guys like Jerry Johnson, Ricky Marvray and Randall Carroll.
ADVANTAGE: Even. We don't have much respect for UCLA's inconsistent and erratic offense, especially with an unknown situation at quarterback and without some key players, but we have just about an equal amount of disrespect for Oregon's defense, especially if they'll be missing three starters.
Oregon's average defense has been masked by playing two horrible teams in New Mexico and Portland State, and then having the incredible luxury of the #1 scoring offense on your side that is capable of out-scoring anyone in the nation.
For a defense, it's a great gig if you can get it.
UCLA will try to take advantage of Oregon's lack of size and, with two starters out upfront, experience, and run the ball excessively. Oregon will try to counter by stacking the box, and using its quick defenders to fill gaps and swarm the ball. The question will be, then, what will UCLA counter with? Will it show some creativity and unpredictability on offense, and get Oregon's defense off-balance and off-guard? This is where a big part of this game hinges – whether, first, UCLA's offense can run the ball even if Oregon stacks the box and, secondly, if they do stack the box, how will UCLA respond?
UCLA's only hope in this game is to hold onto the ball. It needs many 8-minute drives. Even a quick-hitting score might be a disadvantage, because more than likely it's evens out to no advantage in points because Oregon is just going to come back in 2 minutes and score itself. UCLA needs to be able grind out drives and shorten the game, and shorten the amount of points it will be down in the fourth quarter.
|Punt returner Cliff Harris.|
If having the best quick-strike offense in the country isn't enough, Oregon also boasts the #1 punt returner in the land in Cliff Harris. Harris has returned three punts for touchdowns, so when you play Oregon there is a great chance that, after your offense sputters, Oregon could do a quick score without its offense even touching the ball.
Barner is Oregon's kick-off returner, so if he's out the duties will probably go to Harris.
UCLA's Damien Thipgen will take over kick-off return duties with Smith being out. Thigpen struggled some this week catching kick-offs.
Field goal kicker Rob Beard has a big leg, and even though he's been erratic in the past, he hasn't missed so far this season. Oregon, though, has only attempted 7 field goals this season. Punter Jackson Rice hasn't done as well as expected so far, averaging just 42.6 yards per punt.
UCLA's kicker, Kai Forbath, and punter, Jeff Locke, are among the best in the nation.
UCLA's kick-off and punt return coverage has generally been very good this season, and they'll be challenged to keep Harris under control.
While, of course, Oregon is the big favorite in this game, and there are many factors pointing toward the Ducks, it's not as completely overwhelming as one might think.
Mostly, Oregon's defense is suspect and now they're potentially missing three starters. And the fact that two of those starters are in their defensive line, and UCLA's strength is running the ball, well, that's something that points toward the Bruins.
Also, if there's any kind of hope you can get from the UCLA Defense/Oregon Offense match-up is that UCLA clearly matches up better against this type of offense as opposed to the power-running types.
If we're looking for anything else -- perhaps the Ducks could be looking past UCLA to playing USC at the Coliseum next week.
But admittedly, there isn't much else. Even beyond the advantages on the field, there are many off-the-field factors that play into an advantage for Oregon. They were ranked #1 this week, and the game will be on national television – a showcase for them to prove to the nation they're worthy of the ranking. They do, in fact, feel a bit slighted by the national media. Then, if they're looking for more motivation from the polls, the first BCS poll ranked them #2.
UCLA will probably have to play its inexperienced quarterback on the road in one of the toughest places to play in the nation.
For UCLA to have a chance to win, it will have to try to do what Stanford attempted, to hold onto the ball with long possessions that it converts into touchdowns, and to keep the ball out of the hands of Oregon's offense. It will, then, also, need about a half-dozen turnovers.