Oregon Preview

The #13-ranked Oregon Ducks come to the Rose Bowl Saturday, a bit banged up, without their quarterback and on the road for just the second time this season. Will the return of UCLA's starting quarterback and a return to the Rose Bowl be the difference?

FACTS AND FACTORS

-- UCLA hosts Oregon at the Rose Bowl Saturday, with kick-off at 12:30. Terry Gannon and David Norrie will call the play-by-play for the ABC telecast.

-- Oregon is ranked #13 by the AP and #17 by the ESPN-USA Today poll. It's the first game for UCLA this season against a ranked opponent.

-- Oregon is 4-1, with a lost at Boise State, and then four home wins against then-#18-ranked Utah, then #6-ranked Cal, and Washington State.

-- UCLA is 3-1, having suffered its first loss of the season against Stanford last week in Palo Alto.

-- The Bruins own a 39-23 advantage in the all-time series with the Ducks, which dates back to 1928.

-- In games played in Los Angeles, UCLA is 22-12 against Oregon, and are 6-6 in the 12 games played at the Rose Bowl.

-- UCLA and Oregon are 2-2 in their last four meetings.

-- The last time UCLA lost to Oregon in the Rose Bowl was 2003, in Karl Dorrell's first year as UCLA's head coach. The Bruins had started out the season 6-2, but then went on a five-game losing streak, with the Oregon loss being the second in the five-game slide.

-- UCLA hasn't done particularly well against Oregon in the Rose Bowl recently. In the last four meetings at the Rose Bowl, dating back to 2001, UCLA is 1-3.

-- The one win was in 2007, when UCLA beat #9-ranked Oregon, 16-0. The Ducks were without injured starting quarterback Dennis Dixon.

-- Last season, the Ducks beat the Bruins in Eugene, 31-24.

-- Oregon is coached by Chip Kelly, who is in his first year as the head Duck, taking over for long-time head coach Mike Bellotti. It's only the third coach for Oregon in 33 years (with Bellotti coaching for 14 years and Rich Brooks for 18 years). Kelly was an assistant under Bellotti for two seasons as the programs' offensive coordinator before being hired as the head guy in the off-season when Bellotti became Oregon athletic director. Kelly is known for his spread offense; in 2007, in his first year as the OC, the Ducks led the Pac-10 in scoring (38 points per game) and total offense (467 yards per game), which was the highest scoring team in Oregon history.

-- It's interesting that Bellotti was an assistant to Brooks when he took over the program, and the Bellotti handed the program to his assistant, Kelly. It has made for some unusual coaching continuity in the Oregon program over the years. Running backs coach is in his 27th year on the Ducks staff; offensive line coach Steve Greatwood is in his 25th year, linebackers coach Don Pellum is in his 22nd year and Nick Aliotti, a former UCLA defensive coordinator, is in his 19th year as Oregon's DC.

-- Kelly's head coaching career got off to an auspicious start this season, when the Ducks lost to Boise State, 19-8. In a nationally-televised game on ESPN, Oregon's starting tailback, LaGarrette Blount, was caught on camera after the game punching a Boise State player, shoving his own teammate, and then going after Boise State fans before having to be restrained. A couple of days later, Kelly suspended Bount for the season.

-- In the last 10 years, UCLA has done pretty well against ranked teams in the Rose Bowl, going 14-8. Ten of those wins were when UCLA was unranked.

-- Oregon has lost its last three games in the state of California.

-- Oregon has scored 40 points or more only once in 62 games against UCLA, a 41-40 win in Los Angeles in 1970.

-- Oregon is averaging a Pac-10 best 34 points per game, and 47 points per Pac-10 opponent.

-- The weather forecast for Pasadena on Saturday is sunny and 79 degrees.

OREGON'S OFFENSE V. UCLA'S DEFENSE

It's the headliner match-up, Oregon's tough-to-defend, spread offense against the #3-ranked defense in the Pac-10.

But so much depends on whether Oregon junior quarterback Jeremiah Masoli (5-11, 220) can play. Masoli hasn't practice much yet this week for Oregon, even though he did suit up yesterday and threw the ball a bit. Masoli is hampered by a knee injury that they haven't been able to completely diagnose.

With Masoli, Oregon is a very dangerous offense. You might remember (or you might have blocked it out), Masoli ran for 170 yards last year against UCLA in Eugene. It was a defensive nightmare for the Bruins trying to keep the agile Masoli under wraps. So far this season, Masoli is averaging 43 yards per game – on the ground. In Oregon's spread, he's a threat to run directly from the snap, or off the option or just a scramble.

Tight end Ed Dickson.
Luckily, for UCLA anyway, the Oregon offense isn't an accomplished throwing attack. They're dead last in the Pac-10 (172 yards per game, just behind UCLA at 176), and 104th in the country.

Two things have hampered the Oregon passing game – Masoli has been inconsistent throwing the ball and the Ducks lost their two starting receivers from last season.

Even so, Oregon and Masoli put up 31 points on the Bruins a year ago with Masoli only passing for 42 yards.

In terms of whether Masoli will play, there are two lines of thought. Many feel that he's capable of playing, but Oregon is giving his knee as much rest as possible this week. Wednesday Masoli said he'd be the back-up, which doesn't make much sense since, if he's the back-up, he can play, so why wouldn't he just start?

On the other hand, he hasn't practiced much this week because, as many believe, he can't. His knee is that bad and, in fact, there have been some sources that have said it might hinder him for the remainder of the season.

The Oregon papers are pretty much designating his back-up, junior Nate Costa (6-1, 219), as the starter at this point. Even if you're not a Ducks fan, you have to be rooting a bit for Costa, a guy who has torn his ACL three times and had his knee repaired surgically after each one. There were many observers saying that he should hang up his cleats, but he persevered. When he took some garbage snaps against Cal a couple of weeks ago, it was for the first time in almost three years.

Costa isn't nearly as mobile as Masoli, even if he had a pristine knee, but he has a better arm, and is more comfortable throwing out of a pocket.

The loss of Masoli is so big, however, that the game went off the board in Vegas because of Masoli's uncertainty.

It's not just at quarterback where Oregon is injured, but the Ducks have lost many key guys on both offense and defense.

On offense, the biggest loss next to Masoli is junior right tackle C.E. Kaiser, who has been on crutches for most of the week and not expected to play. Without him, redshirt freshman Nick Cody (6-5, 285) steps in.

The Oregon OL, though, after losing three starters from a very good OL last season, has picked up right where it left off in terms of a dominating run game. Oregon is averaging 199 yards per game, which is 27th in the nation. Junior left tackle Bo Thran (6-5, 293) is a good one, and Oregon has benefitted from having former back-ups who have gotten some experience over the years plugging into the starting unit.

The running back position has also picked up right where it left off after it lost starter LeGarrette Blount to suspension after his extreme outburst in the season opener against Boise State.

Since then, redshirt freshman LaMichael James (5-9, 180) has been impressive, averaging 6 yards per carry. James was the change-up coming off the bench when the battering ram of Blount was the starter, and now Oregon really doesn't have that kind of change-of-pace. Redshirt freshman Kenjon Barner (5-11 180) is getting most of the second-string carries now, but he's closer to James than Blount in size and running style, and Barner was injured and just returned to practice yesterday. Senior Andrew Crenshaw (5-11, 188) will also see time, but he's just a guy to give the other two a breather.

In the passing game, after losing some talented receivers from last season, it's really helped that Oregon has had perhaps the best tight end in the conference step up in senior Ed Dickson (6-5, 243). Dickson is arguably having an All-American season so far, with 22 catches (almost twice that of any UCLA receiver), and four touchdowns. He's athletic and has good hands, and even with defenses bracketing him he's been tough to stop.

Dickson is also catching a lot of balls because, well, there haven't been too many other options. It was thought that junior speedster Jamere Holland (6-1, 188) would fill the void left by the departed receivers, but he's struggled in the short passing game since he's more of a over-the-top receiver. Junior Jeff Maehl (6-1, 175) has been the primary target in short- and medium-range throws.

Oregon's back-up tight end, sophomore David Paulson (6-4, 233), actually has more catches than its two other starters at wide receiver, D.J. Davis (6-1, 205) and Lavasier Tuinei (6-5, 200).

Reggie Carter.
UCLA's defense struggled last week to contain the traditional power running game of Stanford, and now it goes up against the more unconventional spread running attack.

It clearly will have to get a good performance out of its middle linebacker, Reggie Carter, who has struggled some in recent games with over-pursuit and missing the gaps. It would have been really challenging for the UCLA D with Masoli healthy, but it still will be, trying to defend against an Oregon rushing attack that surprises you on just about every down.

You would think that Oregon will look to run at UCLA's true freshman cornerback, Sheldon Price, like Stanford did a week ago.

Advantage: Even. We'd give it to Oregon if Masoli were healthy, but it evens out with him nicked up. He provides a whole other dimension to Oregon's offense that makes it incredibly difficult to defend.

But without him, UCLA's defense will not have to pay so much attention to the quarterback running the ball, which frees up one more defender. That additional defender could be key in limiting the Ducks running game, giving UCLA one more body to fill a gap. The feeling around the UCLA program is that the defense felt somewhat embarrassed by Stanford's running attack last week, and wants redemption.

The biggest issue will probably be the UCLA defense traditionally struggling with spread offenses. It was an issue with DeWayne Walker's defenses, and you would expect it to be one under Chuck Bullough, since it's the same scheme and pretty much the same coaches – and the same players, for that matter.

But, UCLA's defense tends to play well in the Rose Bowl, and you have to take at least a few points away from Oregon's offense being on the road with a new starter at quarterback.

The match-up of this game, though, is Oregon's running attack against UCLA's rushing defense. It will be interesting to see if UCLA will do anything differently to put Oregon off-balance – perhaps run blitz, bring pressure from different spots, etc. Whoever wins this battle, like we said last week against Stanford, wins the game.

UCLA'S OFFENSE V. OREGON'S DEFENSE

Oregon's defense is beset with injury more than its offense. And illness. It seems the flu swept through the Ducks' practice field in Eugene this week. Ill players literally stood on the sideline of practice wearing surgical-type protective masks.

Starting safety T.J. Ward has been out since the season opener, and even though he returned to practice on a limited basis this week, he's not expected to be a significant contributor on Saturday.

Then, at one corner spot, it gets ugly. Starter Walter Thurmond III blew out his knee two games ago. Stepping in for him was Willie Glasper, but Glasper tore an ACL in practice this week. Sophomore Anthony Gildon (6-1, 175) looks to get the start in their absence.

Ward was the big hitter on the D for the Ducks, and Thurmond was their lock-down corner.

So, it's probably safe to assume that Oregon's secondary is a bit suspect this week.

Linebacker Casey Matthews.
The linebacking crew is easily the strength of the defense. Junior middle linebacker Casey Matthews (6-2, 235) is one of the best in the conference, and he has two good athletes on both sides of him, junior Spencer Paysinger (6-3, 226) and sophomore Eddie Pleasant (5-11, 207).

The Ducks lost three starters on the defensive line from a year ago, and it's been struggling some without them. Senior defensive end Will Tukuafu (6-4, 262) is having a good year. Junior DE Kenny Rowe (6-3, 232) is a pass rush specialist, with 4.5 sacks on the season.

They have, though, struggled against the run, especially against physical offensive lines. The Oregon d-line is predicated on quickness, but not size, averaging just 263 pounds per man. Every team but Cal has put up over 100 yards rushing on the Ducks, including Washington State.

UCLA's running game has been decent to good so far this season. Starting tailback Johnathan Franklin has looked very good, gaining yards after initial contact. Watch for true freshman speedster Damien Thigpen to get a few more carries after doing well against Stanford last week.

Receiver Nelson Rosario.
The biggest key for UCLA's offense, of course, is the play of its quarterback. Starter Kevin Prince returns after missing two games and three weeks due to a fractured jaw suffered in the Tennessee game. The question is: How rusty will he be? Will his timing be off? He has said a couple of times this week in practice that he's just not there yet in terms of timing.

If UCLA can get a good amount of productivity out of its passing game, the UCLA offense will have a good chance to move the ball on Oregon's defense. Key to that could be sophomore wide receiver Nelson Rosario, who in games so far this season has looked difficult to cover with his size and athleticism.

Advantage: Even. This is about as "even" as you can get: Oregon's defense is allowing 294 yards per game, while UCLA's offense is gaining 300. Oregon's defense is allowing 17.6 points per game, while UCLA's offense is scoring 22. Oregon's rushing defense is allowing 127 yards per game while UCLA's rushing offense is gaining 124. Oregon's passing defense is allowing 167 yards per game while UCLA's passing offense is gaining 176.

I think it's a pretty good guess that UCLA's offense will gain about 300 yards in this game, about 125 yards on the ground and about 175 through the air and score between 17 and 22 points.

The UCLA coaches have said that Prince gives the UCLA offense the dimension of throwing the ball more down the field. If there ever were a time to test a cornerback, this would be it, with Oregon down to its third-stringer at the left corner spot. Oregons' pass rush has been decent, but not overwhelming, and UCLA's pass protection has been good. Even though Prince might be rusty, and that could hold back UCLA's passing attack, everything in this game points to UCLA trying to go through the air more.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Oregon's special teams have been decent, but not spectacular, except for one 78-yard punt return for a touchdown by Walter Thurmond, and he's not in this game. The guy who replaces him, Barner, is a redshirt freshman, and could be shaky catching the ball. Oregon's punter is true freshman Jackson Rice (6-3, 217) and he's averaging just 34.4 yards per kick. The Ducks' field goal kicker, senior Morgan Flint (5-9, 173) is fairly accurate but has a limited range.

UCLA's special teams boast probably one of the best kicker-punter combos in the nation. Place kicker Kai Forbath is almost automatic from anywhere within 55 yards. Punter Jeff Locke is averaging 44.6 yards per punt, has been getting great hang time and, pulling kick-off duties, has put a good percentage in the end zone (and even out of the end zone).

With it looking like speedster Damien Thigpen will be used more this week, it will be interesting to see if he lines up to return kick-offs.

Prediction

If this were in Autzen Stadium, it wouldn't be a tough call. So far this season, the Ducks are 4-0 at home and 0-1 on the road. And it's just not the home-away record, but Oregon looked like a completely different team on the road against Boise State in the season opener than they have in the last four games in Eugene. Now, take into consideration it was Oregon's first game of the season, under a new coach, so they were getting some of the kinks out. But still, you have to wonder if the Ducks, who have earned a #13 national ranking for their 4-game home winning streak, aren't a tad over-rated since they haven't proven they can play on the road. They beat a far over-rated Cal team in Eugene to really earn that ranking.

Oregon fans, too, are shuddering over the prospect of experiencing de ja vu all over again. Two years ago, the #9-ranked Ducks came to the Rose Bowl, with their starting quarterback, Dennis Dixon hurt, and a few more injuries. Without Dixon, who is similar to Masoli in his ability to run, UCLA won 16-0. UCLA's defense held Oregon's offense to 148 yards total, and 43 yard rushing.

Oregon, with a bye week after this game, is hoping to limp its way past UCLA and get patched up.

UCLA, on the other hand, is still stung by being run over by Stanford, and many of the players have said this week that the Stanford loss is the wake-up call they needed.

We'll see if UCLA is awake enough to stop committing penalties UCLA is giving up 62 yards per game due to penalties, and at the most inopportune moments.

Again, whoever wins the battle between Oregon's running game and UCLA's rushing defense wins this game.

That could go either way. Since this is a UCLA site, let's go with Oregon not being the same team that we saw against Cal when it's on the road and missing its starting quarterback.

UCLA 23
Oregon 20


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