Oregon Preview

If you didn't know better, you'd think this would be a blow-out, with the #9-ranked Ducks going up against the 5-5 Bruins. But there are some factors that tip the scales considerably in UCLA's direction. Can the Bruins pull off the upset?

NOTEWORTHY FACTORS

-- UCLA takes on Oregon at the Rose Bowl Saturday. The game kicks off at 12:30 and will be televised by ABC, with Dan Fouts, Tim Brant and Todd Harris calling the action.

-- UCLA is 5-5 overall, and 4-3 in the Pac-10.

-- Oregon is 8-2 and 5-2, and currently ranked #9 by the AP Poll and #12 by the USA Today/ESPN Coaches' Poll.

-- UCLA leads the series with the Ducks, 38-22. The series dates back to 1928.

-- The teams have split the last two meetings, both played in Eugene. Last year, the Ducks won, 30-20, in what was Patrick Cowan's first career start.

-- Oregon has won five of the last six meetings.

-- This is Oregon's first trip to the Rose Bowl since 2003. The Ducks have won six of the previous 11 meetings in the Rose Bowl and three straight.

-- Oregon is coached by Mike Bellotti, who is in his 13th year, and up for a number of post-season coaching awards. Bellotti has led the Ducks to their most successful stint in their football history, with nine bowl appearances in 11 years, eight or more wins in seven of his seasons, finishing in the top 20 four times. In the 2000 season, he led the Ducks to a Fiesta Bowl win and a #2 final ranking. Bellotti, of course, is known for his creative offenses, averaging more than 400 yards per game in eight of his 11 seasons.

-- Oregon, under Bellotti, has won 41 of the 50 games in his tenure decided by a touchdown or less.

-- It is the final home game for UCLA's 23 seniors: OL Brian Abraham, WR Brandon Breazell, DT Kevin Brown, CB Trey Brown, WR Joe Cowan, DE Bruce Davis, DE Nikola Dragovic, FB Fred Holmes, S Chris Horton, OL P.J. Irvin, OL Chris Joseph, S Dennis Keyes, RB Chris Markey, RB Chad Moline, RB Michael Pitre, LS Brian Rubinstein, KR/S Matt Slater, TE William Snead, OL Noah Sutherland, LB Christian Taylor, OL Shannon Tevaga, CB Rodney Van and LB Aaron Whittington.

UCLA'S OFFENSE V. OREGON'S DEFENSE

If Oregon had a great defense they'd be ranked #1 in the country.

Sounds like UCLA in 1998, doesn't it? UCLA had what John Robinson described as the best offense he'd ever seen in college football, but had a poor defense, and lost to Miami in the "Hurricane Bowl," a game, if UCLA had won, would have got them into the national championship game.

Now, in 2007, Oregon found itself in a similar situation. It was ranked #2 in the country two weeks ago, and needed to win out (against Arizona, UCLA and Oregon State) to get into the BCS Championship game. But, against Arizona, with Oregon's vaunted offense sputtering after its quarterback Dennis Dixon went down with an ACL injury, the Ducks needed its defense to help it win. But it gave up 34 points to the Wildcats and was knocked out of BCS Championship contention.

The one thing UCLA of 1998 and Oregon 2007 have in common?

Defensive Coordinator Nick Aliotti.

Of course, you can't blame all of Oregon's woes on Aliotti, but it's an amazing coincidence that Aliotti was the DC at both UCLA and Oregon during probably the most disappointing moments in each of its recent football histories.

You could easily make a case that UCLA would have probably won a national championship in 1998 if it had a good defense, and Oregon fans are making that case in 2007.

Oregon's D allows 396 yards per game, which is 7th in the Pac-10. It's particularly not great against the pass, allowing 269 yards per game through the air, which is 9th in the Pac-10.

Oregon's rover, Patrick Chung (JR, 6-0, 210), is the leader of the defense, currently second in the Pac-10 with 95 tackles. Oregon's DBs, actually, haven't altogether been too horrible even though they're allowing a lot of yards through the air.

Defensive end Nick Reed (JR, 6-2, 255) is having an All-Pac-10 season, leading the league in sacks with a total of 11, while also being 4th nationally.

David Faaeteete (SR, 6-2, 310) is the experienced anchor of the defensive line at tackle.

The Ducks, however, have had some issues at linebacker, allowing big chunks of yardarge to be gained by opposing offenses on yards after the catch and once running backs have broken through the line of scrimmage.

UCLA's offense, on the other hand, is something the Ducks could definitely fatten up on. The Bruins are 8th in the Pac-10, averaging 363 yards per game, but haven't had a good offensive game, well, in quite a while.

Much of the offensive issues this season have been at quarterback. Ben Olson struggled, and then was hurt. Patrick Cowan struggled, and then was hurt – twice. Walk-on McLeod Bethel-Thompson struggled. Then they brought back Osaar Rasshan to quarterback from a stint at wide receiver, and he's struggled. Olson is expected to be ready to play in case of emergency this week, but it's Rasshan's gig. Rasshan, a good athlete who many Bruin fans have gotten excited about because of his mobility, still hasn't shown that he can consistently lead an offense – more specifically, throw accurately enough.

UCLA should get back running back Chris Markey, who has had a very good personal history against the Ducks.

Advantage: UCLA. Yes, that's right. The Bruins' offense is much better at home, and the Ducks' defense just isn't very good. UCLA should be able to run against them, which will give Rasshan the chance to get comfortable and complete enough passes to actually move the chains. Probably the best thing Oregon's defense does is pressure the quarterback, but UCLA has its best QB in there for avoiding a rush in Rasshan.

OREGON'S OFFENSE V. UCLA'S DEFENSE

If Oregon had Dixon, obviously, the match-up would be quite a bit different.

Long-time reserve Brady Leaf (SR, 6-5, 255) hasn't done well in replacing Dixon. When Dixon went down against Arizona, Leaf went 22 of 46 for 163 yards, had two interceptions, and was sacked three times. He isn't suited very well to Oregon's spread – and sometimes spread option – offense, being far less mobile than the fleet Dixon.

To make matters worse, Leaf sprained his ankle when he was sacked by Arizona two weeks ago and actually was held out of a practice this week because of it.

Leaf, though, if you remember, actually competed with Dixon for the starting position before Dixon won it clearly this season. Oregon platooned the two quite often in the two previous seasons. So, don't sell Leaf short; as Bellotti says, he's not your average back-up quarterback.

What hasn't changed is that Oregon has some considerable talent at its other skill positions. Running back Jonathan Stewart (JR, 5-11, 230) is, truly, one of the best running backs in the country, leading the Pac-10 and being 9th in the country with 127 yards per game. He's compact, tough and fast. Another future NFL player is receiver Jaison Williams (JR, 6-5, 240), who looks more like a tight end but with good quickness. Their depth has been limited some by injury, but they seem to be able to plug in a number of swift guys into their three-receiver system that are effective.

Working out of the shot gun and throwing the ball so much, Oregon's quarterbacks find themselves under pressure quite a bit. The Ducks' offensive line, though, a veteran group, has done well on the season, particularly in creating running room, being led by tackle Geoff Schwartz (SR, 67-337).

UCLA's defense, even with Dixon out, still has possibly its biggest challenge of the season. Oregon's offense is fifth in the nation, averaging 505 yards per game, and they didn't accomplish that just because of Dixon.

Advantage: Oregon. UCLA traditionally struggles against a spread, and this is probably the best version of the scheme in the country. Yes, it's not the same without Dixon, but Oregon's scheme is so creative and unpredictable, it's truly the offensive star. UCLA's D, made up of veterans, should, however, be emotionally up for the game, their last in front of the hometown crowd at the Rose Bowl.

Prediction

UCLA played Arizona State tough a couple of weeks ago. It now has had a bye week to get some more of its players healthy, and work up a more developed offensive game plan for Rasshan. The game's at home, where UCLA is by far a better team.

And it'd be surprising if, no matter what the Ducks say, this game isn't anti-climatic for them after losing to Arizona. Yes, they still are playing for the Rose Bowl, but not the national championship. They're on the road, without their Heisman Trophy-candidate quarterback.

It's the last game in the Rose Bowl for UCLA's 23 seniors, for a team, despite being 5-5, that is still pretty proud and wants to show what kind of team they could have been to a national television audience. Oregon, after missing out on a national championship, will find it hard to get up for this game.

UCLA 30
Oregon 27


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