Oregon Preview & Expectations

The Oregon Ducks come to Los Angeles having won three in a row against the Bruins, and the last two in the Rose Bowl. UCLA needs to stop its skid. The defense is back intact but it will come down to productivity of UCLA's offense...

NOTEWORTHY FACTORS:

-- UCLA (6-4, 4-2) takes on Oregon (6-4, 3-3) in the home season finale for the Bruins.

-- UCLA leads the series, which dates back to 1928, by a margin of 37-20. The Ducks, though, have won the last three meetings, and the last two in the Rose Bowl. UCLA hasn't beaten Oregon since the 1999 match-up in the Rose Bowl.

-- Last year, Oregon beat UCLA, 31-30. Kicker Chris Griffith's field goal attempt with 1:54 remaining went wide left.

-- Mike Belotti is in his ninth season as head coach of Oregon, with a record of 73-22. He served as offensive coordinator at Oregon from 1989-1994 before assuming the head job.

-- The Ducks are averaging 397 yards on offense (#4 in the conference). On defense, they're allowing 370 yards a game (#6), while only allowing 105 yards per game on the ground, which is the 17th-best in the nation.

-- UCLA defensive end Dave Ball is a finalist for the Rotary Lombardi Award, and on the watch list for the Walter Camp Award. He leads the nation in sacks, with 13.5.

-- Saturday's football game is Veteran and Armed Forces Appreciation Day at the Rose Bowl. Current or former members of the Armed Forces in uniform or with ID will receive one free reserved seat with the purchase of a reserved seat, or they can receive free general admission tickets while supplies last. We will also have a pre-game fly-over and a halftime presentation.

-- The game is at 12:30 p.m. and it's the first game in three years not to be televised. The last home game not to be televised was the home opener in 1996, Bob Toledo's first home game. ABC chose to televise Washington State/ASU at 12:30, and then Fox offered to pick up the game if UCLA agreed to move the game to Saturday evening, but UCLA Athletic Director Dan Guerrero turned it down.

PREVIEW AND GAME EXPECTATIONS

The UCLA Bruins, at the time of this writing, are 2-point favorites over the Oregon Ducks and Mike Bellotti, the dean of Pac-10 coaches who has his 6-4 Quacks on the verge of their 10th straight winning season.

The Daffys are coming off a thrilling, last second, come-from-10-behind-in-the-4th-quarter win over Cal, their first 4th-quarter comeback in 17 games; the Bruins are coming off a game that was so disappointing that Brian Dohn of the Daily News had this to say:

"The pretending is over, and, for the most part, so is UCLA's season despite games with Oregon and USC remaining. It was buried under a pile of mental and physical mistakes, amid enough turnovers to last a season by an offense that didn't just cross the line of ineptitude, but blasted past it to the level of embarrassment."

Drew Olson (Getty)
And did I mention that there has been another change at QB? Drew Olson will start, and Matt Moore will wear the backwards ball cap.

Apparently, the Bruins have the Donalds right where they want them; at least, according to the bookies, and the infinite wisdom of the market.

Hey, maybe the market sees something that has eluded guys like Dohn. What could it be?

Maybe the market liked the way Karl Dorrell and Crew got Matt Moore outside the pocket on roll-outs, where the rush wasn't so intense and the field of vision was uncluttered by the backsides of the well-intentioned, but better-doors-than-windows o-linemen. Gotta admit, that was a pretty completion to Blane Kezirian when Moore rolled to his left, of all sides.

Maybe the market liked the way Steve Axman and Dorrell called some running plays on 3rd and long instead of sacrificing their QB to the ravaging hoards of blitzers who were sure to come after seeing the success of the Stanford debacle. Wazzu never quite caught on, and the result was that Tyler Ebell was able to break off a 56-yard run on a 3rd and 2 play. Hmmm. Run when they expect pass…and pass when they expect run? Nahhhh, it'll never work.

Maybe the market liked the more liberal use of formations by the Bruins, including a bunch look, lots of 3 wide, lots of shotgun, etc. When Karl Dorrell threatened to confuse opponents and bring a balanced attack by "formationing" them, this must be what he meant.

Maybe the market liked the way the Bruins sent Marcedes Lewis deep. A 6-7 TE with D-1 basketball in-the-paint skills is a scary prospect, especially when he has the wheels to get behind a legitimate shut-down corner like Jason David. Once Marc drew a PI (just prior to committing an over-the-back penalty of his own), and another time David committed the exact same penalty near the end zone, maybe even more blatantly, but being the Pac-10, the zebras are precluded from calling the game with any consistency, so Marc and the Bruins didn't get the call. But Lewis deep vs. the CB smurfs that Nick Aliotti sacrifices to the football gods weekly has clearly got the market drooling in anticipation, as long as Lewis tries to catch the bomb at the highest point instead of waiting for it to come down so he can Willie Mays it or field it like a punt.

Maybe the market liked the trickeration the Bruins displayed: the classic flanker bubble-screen masquerading as a double-pass to the QB. Who cares that Drew Olson seemed to be jaking the route or that Garrett Lepisto underthrew the pass by 10 yards. The important thing is that the Bruins OL had set up a wall for the DO and the play was a big gainer if the dreaded E word (execution) was just there. Who knows what is in the game plan for Oregon?

Maybe the market liked the return of Matt Ware, and his instant impact on the D. One forced fumble on a perfectly placed hit on Scott Lunde, and one INT on a coverage where he stayed ‘on top' of the slanting receiver and benefited from Jarrad Page's ridiculously athletic change of direction to switch from flowing to the flat to cover the flare to getting underneath the slant once Page read the QB's intentions. Keith Short has been incredibly steady and strong filling Matt's role, but Ware brings an X factor to the game that few CBs possess.

Igor Olshansky (Getty)
Maybe the market liked the way the D hung in there despite the futility the O displayed in scoring fewer points off turnovers than the slew of turnovers the Bruins' D produced. The Bruin LBers (Brandon Chillar, Justin London and Spencer Havner) again had a great game, running from sideline to sideline, blitzing off the edge, and plugging the middle to make tackles all over the field. The DL, of course, enabled the LBers to run free, and the return of Mat Ball provided the complementary DE anchor the Bruins have had all year with the Ball Brothers. C.J. Niusulu made a number of noticeable plays in the backfield, and Asi Faoa provided good pursuit, even though WSU was able to run the ball with some success with Jonathon Smith.

Maybe the market likes the way the field goal karma has got to swing UCLA's way, finally, with Justin Medlock (money) being the guy to do the honors.

Maybe the market hates the look of the Oregon "electric puke," "phosphor burn" and "detached retina" uniform color schemes. Gee, I'm on the edge of my seat wondering which Nike abomination the Fighting Highlighters will wear come Saturday. I guess the best owner in CFB can do whatever he wants when it comes to inducing LSD flashbacks with color schemes. Talk about drinking the Electric Kool-Aid.

Maybe the market likes the way Oregon tends to choke in the 4th quarter, getting outscored 108 to 35 (seriously, 108 to 35 after outscoring Cal 14-0 last week) in the period that defines heart, manhood, desire and conditioning. Hell, even I like that comforting thought.

But there's not much else that makes me feel comforted by the thought of UCLA playing Oregon.

On D, the Ducks have an overpowering DL, undersized, dwarf-like LBers and relatively clueless pass defenders with a big play artist thrown into the secondary for spice.

On O, the Ducks manage to have very respectable throwing numbers (even though they platoon their QBs), while staying committed to the running game, using track star quality WRs to stretch the field.

In some ways, the Ducks are a perfect precursor to the USC game because of their similarity to USC.

Ben Emanuel & Spencer Havner (Getty)
Of course, the Ducks don't perform as well as the Trojans on either front, but the thought is there. When you throw one into Oregon's wheel house (i.e, run a two-back attack centered around establishing the run with the tailback like Michigan), they can go yard on you. Just ask Chris Perry's Heisman Trophy campaign manager.

The first thing to know about Oregon is that their DL is impressive. Given the problems UCLA's OL has had with powerful DLs over the course of the season, Oregon's DL is a nightmare in the making.

It starts with Igor Olshansky, the 6-6, 309 lb LDE/RDT from the Ukraine who benches 505 lbs. On the year, I-gore is 5th on the Ducks with 40 tackles, tied for 1st in TFL (10 for 32 yards), and tied for 1st in fumbles recovered.

Igor has 25% more tackles than any other DL for Oregon.

At LDE, Igor will be matched up with 6-9 Ed Blanton, will therefore have pad level leverage on Big Ed (low man wins), and will be in Drew Olson's face if he manages to break through, a very distracting development for any QB. QBs more often slip away from a RDE's pass rush than they do from a LDE's rush because to run away from the LDE, the QB has to blindly turn his body 180 degrees to the left, which is slow and runs the risk of slamming right into the RDE's pass rush.

The rest of the Oregon DL is equally powerful: at DTs, the Ducks trot out the 6-2, 297 Robbie Valenzuala, a guy without much jiggle, and the 330 lb Junior Siavii. No comment.

The RDE is another special player: Devan Long (6-4, 251), brother of 2002 Outland Trophy winner Rien Long. If you've seen him, Devan is a madman in his own right, and is the closest thing Oregon has to a pass-rushing specialist with 5.5 sacks on the season. Long is almost as fast as DEs like D.D. Acholonu, but has the power to be very effective with the "bull-shuck" move (i.e., pop the OT in the grill to get him on his heels, and then throw him to one side or the other to get to the QB).

The 2nd string DL for Oregon aren't chopped liver, either. LDE Quinn Dorsey (6-4, 275), LDT Matt Toeaina (6-3, 275), and RDE Chris Solomona (6-5, 284) are all in double digits on tackles.

And just imagine what Oregon's DL would look like if they hadn't lost pre-season All-American Haloti Ngata to a season-ending knee injury in game one.

All the LBers are 220ish stumpy-legged vulgarians, but they are tackling machines if you run between the tackles. Ex-Mater Dei ILB Kevin Mitchell leads the unit, and the team, with 89 tackles on the year, and MLB Jerry Matson is 3rd on the team with 57. OLB David Martin (6-0, 218) is more like a SS in a 4-2-5 alignment, the D that Colorado, Arizona State and Arizona run.

The secondary has Oregon's best big play guy in FS Keith Lewis, who leads Oregon with 3 picks and 9 passes broken up, and is 2nd with 58 tackles.

But the corners and rover Marley Tucker from LB Poly are the achilles' heel of the Oregon D. Tucker is undersized (183 lbs) and too soft for his role, and the Oregon CBs are dubious pass defenders. They'll make some plays, but they give up too many big plays for Oregon to be an elite D.

Rodney Woods has shown significant trouble covering D1 receivers coming over from Fresno City College, providing huge cushions down field. Unfortunately for UCLA, Woods is now firmly 2nd string behind the diminutive Marques Binns (163 lbs) at RCB. At LCB, Justin Phinisee and Steven Moore man the position for the Ducks. But both are capable of being beaten with regularity. Moore and Woods missed last week's game, and Bruin fans can only hope Allow-a-lotti gets them on the field early and often.

Reviewing the Ducks won/loss record, it's clear that the losses (WSU, Utah, ASU, and UDub) have come against teams that primarily throw the ball after spreading the field. UW spread the field and then struck with ultra-quick backs in Shelton Sampson and Kenny James to rush for 285 yards in a 42-10 victory. The DL, notably, only had 10 tackles combined in that game.

The quality wins have come against teams that run two-back attacks, like Michigan (-3 yards on 16 carries, but 360 yards passing), Stanford (151 rushing yards, but 50 yards of losses), and Cal (only 294 total yards). Seems like the Ducks love to see FBs, a departure for Allow-a-lotti from his UCLA days.

On O, the Ducks are one of the most diversified, variable teams in the Pac-10. Variable, as in Jeckyl and Hyde. Part of this may stem from Bellotti's platooning of SO Kellen Clemens and SR Jason Fife at QB.

But watch Clemens and Barney play, and you can understand why Bellotti has decided to dance with the devil. Clemens is very quick afoot, and throws laser beams, although sometimes he puts too much heat on the ball. Fife is an adept option QB, and as a SR, has the trust of his teammates.

As noted here, Clemens started the Cal game one for six, got yanked, but then returned in the 4th quarter to lead the comeback, which seems to validate Bellotti's policy that either guy can get the job done and he's going to determine who that is based on a series-by-series basis.

Combined, they've thrown for 2,604 yards, 16 TDs vs. 11 INTs and 260 ypg. The Ducks are 3rd in the Pac-10 in passing efficiency at 131.6, behind USC (154.2) and Cal (137.9).

Both QBs are great athletes, which makes the number of times Oregon has been sacked this year (27 for 166 yards, 2nd most in Pac-10) pretty surprising. What would the number be if not for their ability to elude the rush?

The Ducks have two big plays guys and burners at WR in Sammie Parker (LB Poly) and Demetrius Williams (Concord De La Salle). Parker is averaging 5 catches a game, about 80 ypg, and 15 yards/catch. Williams is better at 85 ypg and 20 ypc.

But the guy who concerns me is TE Tim Day, who was a real force against Cal, snagging 4 stones for 69 yards, one a 31-yard TD to bring the Ducks within 3 in the 4th quarter.

Samie Parker (Getty)
The Ducks thrive on flowing the play one way, and then throwing back across the grain, which has hurt UCLA in the past. UO also loves the dropback-while-looking-left pass play, a drop designed to pull the RCB up into the flat so that the WR can run a deep-out behind him but in front of the safety. Cal ran this play with some success. However, if LT Adam Snyder (6-6, 320) doesn't hold his ground, that drop often leads to an easy sack.

In the running game, ex-Crenshaw Cougar Terrence Whitehead leads the Ducks with 595 yards year to date. Chris Vincent, the heralded 225 lb. transfer from LSU, has been a disappointment, averaging only 2.9 ypc. Whitehead is a compact, low center of gravity back that can run through tackles, but he's not particularly shifty.

The Bruins have Oregon PK Jared Siegel to thank for inspiring UCLA to install the "middle block" FG defense that Brandon Chillar and Spencer Havner have used so effectively this year. After nailing a 59-yarder as the 1st half expired last year with a low, line-drive while the Bruins stood around directionless, somebody in powderkeg blue made the observation that even Ricky Manning could have gotten a piece of that one as it whizzed by on its way to a low-level earth orbit. Well, he's back this year. But he's only 7 for 12, so maybe there's hope.

The Ducks do have a new face at punter. True FR Paul Martinez is last in the Pac-10 with a 36.3 average and a 34.7 net, which means Oregon is only allowing an average return of 1.6 yards on only (99 yards on 17 returns). UCLA has allowed 536 yards on 34 returns, despite only punting the ball 9 more times than Oregon.

More ominously, the Ducks once again have a strong punt return unit, and are 3rd in the conference, averaging a little over 10 yards per return. (UCLA is 6th at 8.9 ypr.) Steven Moore, the CB, is the primary returner for Oregon, with one TD on the year.

Offense:

My fear is that UCLA will direct 40% or more of their offensive plays between the tackles, which is the decided strength of Oregon's defense, with Tyler Ebell or Maurice Drew following Pat Norton. I don't believe that UCLA's OL as a unit has the power and push to move Oregon's DL off the ball en mass. The result will be a number of runs for 0 or 1 yard, which immediately puts the O into a pressure situation that requires an extraordinary play to move the chains.

I also fear that Karl Dorrell is basing his personnel decision at QB on what he wishes he had done last week instead of looking forward to the upcoming game. Matt Moore is more inclined to throw deep, a definite weakness of the Oregon secondary that allows over 14 yards per catch, while Drew Olson is extremely cognizant of making the safe, underneath throw. In some ways it seems that Olson would have been the better choice at QB for the WSU game, while Moore is more suited to burn the Oregon D.

If the running game doesn't produce consistent gains of 3+ yards per carry, it will seem like "Groundhog Day" Rose Bowl edition, as UCLA's fan base will wonder to itself about having seen this story before: constant 2nd or 3rd and long situations, forcing UCLA's pass protection schemes to pick up a rush that contains one more blitzer than there are blockers. Only the garish unis and the lack of TV coverage will remind them that this is live, not Memorex.

I'd love to see UCLA spend the first half either throwing the ball or running to the edge with wide hand-offs or horizontal FL screens. Make the Oregon DL run sideline to sideline, play after play, and expend a tremendous amount of energy. For just one day, given the choice to be either Michigan or Washington, I'd prefer to see UCLA adopt Washington's plan of attack: spread the field, throw the ball a lot, and find creases when Ebell and Drew run the ball. They seem to be the kind of backs that give Oregon trouble.

The key to the game, in my opinion, is the number of tackles the Oregon DL makes: if it's 15 or less, UCLA will win, but if it's significantly north of that (say, 30), with a few sacks thrown in, and Oregon will be in the driver's seat.

I expect UCLA's O to struggle once again. UCLA will try to own the middle, and Oregon's DL and small-but-slippery LBers will reject that motion with extreme prejudice, which leaves the passing game.

The Oregon secondary played a more vanilla coverage scheme last week, and the questions are, 1) will they play vanilla again?; and 2) will it work as well this week as last week when Cal was probably caught a little by surprise? To answer the first, why not? Crowd the box with 8 or 9, dare Drew Olson to throw deep time after time, and gamble that he can't throw a football through a basketball hoop from about 140 feet many times in a row, if even once. To answer the second, buy a ticket and see, because that's the only way to know for sure unless you're going to be beset with visions while playing the CR drinking game.

My guess is that it will. UCLA, regardless of who the opponent is, is not yet a high-performance machine in the passing game. There are still too many misfires. And the dreaded "west coast offense" stigma isn't to blame.

Having an effective passing game (regardless of scheme/system) requires many elements to come together at once. The last two games have been so frustrating because only one element is usually missing on most incompletions, instead of the three or four in previous weeks. When you think about it, the formula for passing success is: Good enough protection + good choice of target + timely release/break + accurate throw + proper route + lack of DB/LB/DL superstar play + good hands/body positioning = completion.

Even if UCLA does everything right, the play can still be foiled via a superior play by the opponent. No doubt, the less athletic/more clueless the back seven of the D are, whether it is Game 1 or Game 12, the greater the chances of success. But the notion that UCLA's passing O should improve statistically and aesthetically with each subsequent game fails to acknowledge the competitive nature of sport. So it will be interesting to see how often all seven elements come together against Oregon.

Defense:

I expect Oregon's O to move the ball on UCLA much like Cal did. I'm sure Mike Bellotti touched base with Jeff Tedford this week, and not just to console him for tearing his heart out in last week's game. Cal needs UCLA to lose for its own reasons, and Tedford is probably more than willing to dish to his old buddy all the calls he wish he had made differently.

Expect UO to exploit the big cushions the UCLA CB's normally provide with hitches and outs, especially on 1st or 2nd down. While the cushion tightened up vs. Stanford, the speed Oregon has at WR may require its reinstitution. And a slipped one-on-one tackle here and there can get Oregon into the red zone like that.

I will be surprised if both QBs play equal amounts. I expect Kellen Clemens to get the bulk of the snaps, because he's almost an Aaron Rodgers clone in terms of technique and talent. His quickness will make him very hard to sack, so I don't expect many big momentum-swinging plays by UCLA's DL. And beware TE Tim Day in the red zone, especially when Oregon gets UCLA flowing one way and then changes direction with a throwback or a reverse.

Special Teams:

The UCLA special teams are probably evenly matched this week. Medlock seems to have the edge in placekicking, but Oregon overall is better at punting. Martinez doesn't kick it far, but it is never returned for back-breaking TDs, a trade-off most Bruin fans could live with. Oregon, however, remains as dangerous as ever returning punts. Whoever wins the punting game will win the game.

Overall:

I'd love to see UCLA payback the Ducks for the last two years of frustration, find a way to get wide on O and stay one step ahead of Aliotti's D in a 24-14 win.

My fear is that Oregon, a more stable and mature program, will outscheme UCLA like Cal did and leave Autzen South with a 31-14 victory. All things considered, I expect the Ducks to win another low-scoring, defensive slugfest, 21-10. The Bruins will have chances on O, but just won't be able to get over the top once in the red zone.


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