Pac-12 Championship Preview: Oregon

Hey, remember, UCLA is playing in the Pac-12 Championship Friday. Of course, every indication about this game is that it will be a blow-out of epic proportions, but...

• UCLA travels north to Eugene to take on the Oregon Ducks in the inaugural Pac-12 Championship Game, Friday, at 5:20 p.m. in Autzen Stadium.

• Pac-12 North Champion, Oregon, is 10-2 (8-1) and ranked 8th in the country.

• Pac-12 South Champion, UCLA, is 6-6 (5-4).

• If you've been living in a cave, UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel was fired Tuesday and the game will be his last coaching the Bruins.

• The Ducks have won 22 of their last 23 games at Autzen Stadium.

• UCLA leads the all-time series, 39-25, but the Ducks have won three straight and nine of the last 11.

• Last season's 47-point victory margin (60-13) by UO was the largest by either team.

• The Bruins won on their first eight trips to Autzen Stadium, but are 4-5 since.

• Oregon is a 30-point favorite.

When UCLA Has the Ball…

The most critical element of this game for the Bruins is to keep the ball out of the hands of Oregon's offense since one possession for any other college offense is like three for the Ducks – which could mean three touchdowns.

The Bruins will try to maintain possession by, of course, running the ball. Last week UCLA ran for 124 yards against USC, and Oregon's running defense isn't as good as USC's, so the Bruins will probably have a little better chance of running against the Ducks.

One of the elements of UCLA's running game last week that wasn't at its optimum was running back Derrick Coleman. Oregon's rushing defense has been somewhat susceptible to big backs this season, so if
Kevin Prince.
Coleman can return to his down-hill, tackle-breaking style that would be key for the Bruins.

When Kevin Prince has had a big day running the ball out of the zone read, UCLA does well. Last week Prince had only 34 yards rushing against USC.

UCLA's offense has improved over the course of the season, and that big fat "0" it put up against USC last week wasn't indicative of the game it had. It's not too often a team gains a total of 385 yards and doesn't score. This week they'll have to be far more effective in translating yards into points, and that means to keep the play-calling creative when it gets in Oregon's red zone. And for Prince to be more accurate in must-get passes.

Oregon's defense is athletic, and pursues well. They're led in the front seven by first-team all-conference defensive end Dion Jordan, who is fourth in the conference with 6.5 sacks this season, and linebacker Michael Clay who, despite missing three games, leads the team and is second in the conference in tackles with 83. The Ducks secondary is talented, especially in the middle, with free safety John Boyett and rover Eddie Pleasant.

The Ducks' defense isn't an elite one, and it's a bit under-sized in spots, but it's aggressive and well-schemed, run by long-time (and former UCLA) defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti. And it's a ball-hawking defense, which isn't good for Prince who has a tendency to lose focus and make panicked, errant throws. Especially with Oregon's pass rush, which leads the conference in sacks with 39.

Oregon gave up 20 points against Oregon State last week, and has given up a good amount of points to every conference opponent except Colorado. Expect UCLA to score some but, of course, not enough to out-score the Ducks.

Advantage: Oregon

When Oregon Has the Ball…

…it could be scary.

The Ducks are the 6th-ranked offense in the country, while the Bruins are the 84th-ranked defense.

Oregon State's defense is very similar to UCLA's, allowing the exact same amount of yards per game as UCLA (411), and being a poor rush defense. Last week, the Ducks racked up 670 total yards against the Beavers and "only" 49 points. Three weeks ago, at home against Stanford's good defense, Oregon put up 53.

Oregon has the #1 running back in the nation in LaMichael James, averaging 142 yards per game and 7.2 yards per carry, and has 1427 yards on the season. For any other team that would be enough of a weapon. But quarterback Darron Thomas is 12th in the country in passing efficiency, throwing 27 touchdowns against just 5
Darron Thomas.
interceptions and completing 62% of his passes. And there is perhaps the most dangerous freshman in the country, De'Anthony Thomas, who has 440 yards rushing and 558 receiving yards, which leads the team. He averages an 11-yard gain every time he touches the ball.

Put all that together with Oregon's fast-break, no-huddle style and you have a frenzy of green-clad bodies running in a blur by you.

There's no reason to expect UCLA's defense to be any better than it was last week against USC, when it gave up 572 yards and 50 points. In fact, there's every indication to expect it to be worse, since UCLA's rushing defense is very poor, and Oregon runs the ball much better than USC (The Ducks are #5 in the nation in rushing, averaging 291 yards per game).

Advantage: Duh.


If that isn't enough, Oregon has good special teams, with good kick-off and punt return teams (they've scored 4 times this season), and the #2 punter in the conference in Jackson Rice, who averages 45.7 yards per punt. Well, except for their field goal kicker, Alejandro Maldonado, who missed a 37-yarder against USC that would have tied the game in the final seconds.

We could keep rattling off stats and match-up mis-matches but it would be piling on.

You'd like to think that UCLA might avoid another embarrassment on national television. But there's no indication that will be the case. Even the intangibles aren't in UCLA's favor; there isn't a feeling of winning-one-for-the-outgoing-coach as much as a sense of distraction. With Neuheisel being fired, it's kind of an affirmation that this was a struggling program under Neuheisel, which isn't exactly a winning mindset going into a game against a team playing for national rankings.

But on the other hand, the TV commentators will undoubtedly talk quite a bit about the UCLA coaching vacancy, how UCLA has stepped up to pay its new coach, and the news/rumors about Chris Petersen, which is all great publicity (which wouldn't have happened if UCLA Athletic Director Dan Guerrero hadn't fired Neuheisel this week). All of that will go a long way to softening the blow of what's happening on the field.

But what if Oregon is distracted itself, looking past UCLA and takes the Bruins lightly? What if UCLA actually comes to the game focused to win one for Neuheisel? How great would it be if UCLA miraculously wins this game and plays in the Rose Bowl, in a season when it fired its coach? That's just too phenomenal of a scenario not to predict.

Darron Thomas comes down with a bad case of the flu, LaMichael James suffers from near-lethal bunions, De'Anthony Thomas is overcome with regret for not going to UCLA, Duck fans can't find Autzen Stadium, and Kevin Prince channels Gary Beban.

In triple overtime, in the game of the century, former UCLA soccer manager Tyler Gonzalez kicks the winning field goal for the Bruins, and the players carry Neuheisel on their shoulders off another field.

Oregon 42

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