-- If you hadn't heard, you live in a cave: UCLA running back DeShaun Foster has been suspended indefinitely and will miss the Oregon game this Saturday due to Foster accepting illegal benefits.
-- Oregon has the best offense in the conference, averaging 463 yards a game, making it also the #8 offense in the nation. It's led by the #1 rushing offense in the conference, which averages 210.7 yards per game.
-- Oregon's defense is fourth in scoring defense in the conference, allowing 22.2) points per game, but second to last in total yards allowed (407.9).
-- UCLA middle linebacker had 18 tackles last week against Washington State, the most by a Bruin since 1989 when Eric Turner made 21 versus Oregon.
-- UCLA is coming off its worst offensive performance of the year, gaining only 225 total yards and 85 on the ground last week against Washington State.
-- UCLA's defense allowed only 3 total points that wasn't precipitated by a turnover in the Bruin loss to Washington State a week ago.
-- UCLA face its seventh ranked opponent of the season this week against Oregon.
-- Oregon quarterback Joey Harrington has been named as one of the five finalists for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, presented annualy to the nation's top quarterback.
-- Oregon is 16-3 in the month of November under Head Coach Mike Bellotti.
-- Oregon's offense is ranked #1 in the Pac-10 in the redzone, converting 94.3% of its chances into points when it gets the ball within the opponents 20 yard line. It will face the #1 redzone defense in the Pac-10, owned by the Bruins, who have allowed opponents to score only 50% of the time when they have the ball within UCLA's 20-yard line (UCLA's offense is dead last in redzone offense, with a 68% conversion rating).
-- Oregon kick-off returner Allan Amundson is 7th in the nation in kick-off returns, averaging 30.70 yards per return.
-- Ex-UCLA defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti is Oregon's current defensive coordinator.
-- UCLA's defense is ranked #1 in the conference in total defense (310.63) , scoring defense (16.9) and pass efficiency defense (92.57) in the conference.
UCLA'S OFFENSE V. OREGON'S DEFENSE
UCLA's offense is at the low point of its season. It's coming off its worst offensive showing last week against Washington State. Its best player, possibly the best offensive player in the country, DeShaun Foster, is suspended. It's starting quarterback, Cory Paus, is still recovering from an injured thumb. Its back-up quarterback, Scott McEwan, is questionable. Its #1 receiver, Brian Poli-Dixon, will play after sitting out two weeks due to a dislocated shoulder that still hinders him. UCLA's promising start wide receiver Ryan Smith is hampered by a slightly separated shoulder. Its other starting wide receiver, Tab Perry, is out with broken ribs and a collapsed lung. Starting center Troy Danoff is probable to start, but he's recovering from a separated shoulder and a sprained ankle.
You don't want to be a pessimist, but it doesn't look good for UCLA's offense this week against Oregon. Not only are they banged up and missing their best player, they have to be demoralized from losing two in a row, being primarily blamed for those two losses and not having the use of Foster.
Oregon will do exactly what has been successful against UCLA's defense – not just for the last two games but for the last two years: Stack the box, try to shut down UCLA's running game and force UCLA's passing game to beat them. It's Oregon usual defensive philosphy so it makes even more sense that they'd do it against UCLA. You might think that, with UCLA missing Foster, that Oregon wouldn't necessarily devote as much effort to stopping UCLA's running game. Could be. Oregon very well could now try to cheat on its stack-the-box philosophy and keep a few more defenders back to defend the pass. But Oregon will still be dedicated to stopping the run, and probably feel they have quite a bit better chance of doing facing a UCLA defense without DeShaun Foster. Oregon's defense is based on effective play from its defensive backs, since they're in man-to-man most of the time, and that has made Oregon's defense vulnerable at times this season. Oregon's starting rover, Rasuli Webster, is questionable, with an injured hamstring. But Oregon has two good defensive backs besides Webster, senior cornerback Rashad Bowman and the other senior cornerback, Steve Smith (pictured above right). Smith is having an all-conference type year, leading the Pac-10 in pass break-ups and tied for second in interceptions. Oregon is, though, giving up the second most yards a game through the air (284.9) in the conference, so they love the fact that this week they're matched up against the worst passing team in the conference, UCLA (211.6) So, expect Oregon to stick with what got them here, stacking the line and trying to shut down UCLA's running game.
So, you'd naturally think a lot will depend on the performance of UCLA's two young tailback, sophomore Akil Harris (pictured below left) and freshman Manuel White. Oregon will certainly try to confuse the two young running backs with stunts, blitzes and fake blitzes, but it's pretty safe to predict that Harris and White, if given a little room, will be able to hold up their end quite nicely. Whenever they've had a chance, they both have shined. Even though Oregon lost a great deal of its defensive line from last year, they've done well in shutting down the offense, thanks in part to good play from its linebackers, Wesley Mallard, David Moretti and undersized Kevin Mitchell.
The real key to UCLA's offense will be again the effectivness and consistency from the quarterback position. Paus had a good week of practice and didn't look at all hampered by the injured thumb. In fact, he probably looked the best this week in practice than he has all year. Paus has been shaky at times this year, but has looked good at other times. That unpredictability, not knowing which Cory Paus will show up, makes it too hard to predict how well he'll do this week. While Head Coach Bob Toledo maintains that Paus has a pretty long leash, if Paus can't get the offense in the end zone within four series you can probably expect Toledo to try McEwan. The problem is – McEwan is still hampered a bit by his sprained ankle. But many are expecting that, by game time, McEwan would be able to go.
Knowing how critical a good performance is by UCLA's quarterback, with the inexperienced running backs and UCLA's offensive line nicked up, you can expect Oregon to blitz often. Getting hits on Paus and McEwan, two quarterbacks who are already not 100%, and possibly putting them out of the game and forcing UCLA to go to its third stringer, very shaky Ryan McCann, would be a definite goal of the Oregon defense.
Advantage: Oregon. UCLA's offense has too much mounted against it to predict anything else. Of course, some UCLA's players could rise to the occasion and pick up the slack for the loss of Foster. Paus would be a great candidate for this job. And also expect UCLA to unveil quite a new little wrinkles this week, using an assortment of creative personnel, in an effort to keeping Oregon guessing. But with Oregon stacking the box, and UCLA without Foster, and some other key offensive personnel banged up, it could be a long day for UCLA's offense again.
OREGON'S OFFENSE V. UCLA'S DEFENSE
A month ago, this was going to be the huge matchup that decided the Pac-10 race. There isn't near as much riding on it now, but it's still the #1 offense in the conference against the #1 defense in the conference.
Oregon's offense is frightening. Not only do they have one of the best quarterbacks in the country, Joey Harrington throwing laser-like passes to talented wide-out Keenan Howry, but they have the #1 rushing offense in the league, led by two outstanding running backs, Maurice Morris and new star, Onterrio Smith (pictured at right). All of this is based on very good work by a good offensive line, which has filled some holes from last year very well. Oregon has given up the least amount of sacks this year in the conference, only seven sacks in nine games.
While the billboards were kind of cheesy, Harrington deserves the Heisman hype. He is what you want in a quarterback – good size, great arm, mobility and smart. He's also come through when they needed him to in the clutch. UCLA had some success getting pressure on Washington State's Jason Gesser last week and they'll try to do it again this week against Harrington.
No matter how much you try to shut down Howry, he seems to always get the ball in his hands and make a play every game. If not just by catching passes, but by returning punts.
While Maurice is good, and if you give him a corner, his speed is hard to combat, Smith looks like a future pro. Only a sophomore, Smith will be the premier back in the Pac-10 next year, averaging 6.8 yards a carry so far this year as he shares time with Morris. The two combined are averaging 194 yards a game. Again, frightening.
So much of Oregon's offensive success is not only due to its personnel but its coaching. Oregon Coach Mike Bellotti is plainly one of the best in the game, not only in the conference but the country. The offense he has built at Oregon is probably the best all-around offense in the country over the last couple of years. And you have to give some credit to Offensive Coordinator Jeff Tedford. Unpredictable and creative, Oregon's offense continually keeps defenses on its heels.
UCLA's defense has only spent one half this year on its heels, the first half against Stanford two weeks ago. It came back last week against Washington State and proved itself. Robert Thomas has to be the best linebacker in the country, recording 18 tackles against Washington State and looking like he was cloned since he was everywhere on the field. Defensive end Kenyon Coleman (pictured at left) has really come on and is playing the best ball of his career. Marques Anderson was a little nicked up after the Washington State game but is expected to be 100% come game time. Starting strong safety Jason Stephens is still out due to a turf toe injury; his replacement, young Ben Emanuel had a good game last week against Washington State.
UCLA Defensive Coordinator Phil Snow has done an outstanding job this season, and is in for the biggest challenge of the year this week, trying to stop all of Oregon's weapons and be able to counter-punch Oregon's offensive predictability. UCLA has been extremely successsful when its rushed the passer. Sophomore strongside linebacker Brandon Chillar is becoming a pass rush specialist. Expect UCLA to come after Harrington, and use MVP Thomas to contain Morris and Smith. UCLA now has a fairly young secondary, with a redshirt freshman at strong safety and a true freshman, Matt Ware, at corner. Given how formidable UCLA's rush defense has been, you can expect Harrington and his receiving corps to go up top and test UCLA's pass defense often.
Advantage: Oregon. And not because UCLA's defense will get beaten, but Oregon's offense will probably be on the field so much with the ball, there just ain't no way you're going to contain them for four quarters. UCLA's defense will get hurt by the UCLA's offense's inability to sustain drives. Morris and Smith will be held well below their near 200-yard combined average, and Oregon will be held below its 463 yard average, and Oregon will more than likely stay below its 37-points-a-game average. But unless UCLA's offense can get some first downs and keep Oregon's offense off the field, Oregon's offense is going to score. They'll struggle more than they ever have since they're facing UCLA's defense, but if you give them enough oppportunities, especially through turnovers, they're goin to put some points on the board. Just like against Washington State – UCLA's defense will probably have a good showing on Saturday, but Oregon will still get some points.
PREDICTION: UCLA's back is against the wall. They've lost two games in a row. They've lost their best player to suspension. It's a very tough situation. Oregon, on the other hand, is on a roll. They're in the driver's seat to win the Rose Bowl. They're almost freakishly healthy for this time of year. UCLA will get a bit of a boost being back in the Rose Bowl after two unfriendly away games, and that should keep it close. UCLA's defense will also keep it close. But UCLA's offense has been prone to inefficiency and mistakes this year and they'd have to really turn it around against the odds to get a UCLA win here. Toledo will do all he can to try to get his offense jump-started, pulling out some tricks from his bag, but the loss of Foster, even though the back-up tailbacks are good, is going to be substantial. Especially given how banged up the rest of the offense is. If Paus comes out and is sharp, UCLA has a good chance to win the game. If he's off track, Oregon will dominate the time of possesion and it's only a matter of time before they put up points.