THIS WEEK’S OPPONENT:
#3 Oregon Ducks (7-0, 4-0 in the Pac-12 Conference)
PLACE: Autzen Stadium, Eugene, OR
DATE & TIME: Saturday, October 26, 2013, 4:00 p.m. PT
LINE: Oregon by 23
LAST MEETING: Oregon won, 49-31, in the 2011 Pac-12 Championship Game
ALL-TIME SERIES: UCLA leads, 39-26
Before the season, I characterized the two-game stretch that UCLA was going to go through in playing Stanford and Oregon back-to-back – on the road, no less – as a “Death March”.
Well, considering what happened at Stanford and the task at hand, that Death March is here.
As much as it hurts me to say this, I wish I can state that the 12th-ranked Bruins (5-1, 2-1 in the Pac-12) have a really good chance of beating the best team in college football in the 21st century that’s never won a national championship as Oregon’s Ducks, who as they are currently ranked third in the BCS standings are very much in the hunt for that title game.
Most unfortunately, however…
While I won’t say that Jim Mora’s team has a snowball’s chance in Las Vegas in the summertime of winning, I will say that if these Bruins do win at the place widely known as the toughest venue for opponents to play in on the west coast – Autzen Stadium in Eugene – it will be a monumental upset.
And it’s not that UCLA is a bad team, as they have been quite formidable this year with quality skill players and a defensive front seven that is as good as anyone’s.
It’s just that as a program, these Ducks are, and have been for the past several years, head and shoulders above everyone else in the conference, mostly because of an offense that reminds fans of the Road Runner in his dealings with Wile E. Coyote, particularly when that little bird goes “Beep Beep!” and leaves vapor in that coyote’s wake.
The numbers certainly state this, as first-year head coach Mark Helfritch has picked up right where previous coach Chip Kelly left off in this nearly a point-a-minute offense that Oregon has, their 57.6 points and 332.4 rushing yards per game ranking second in the nation and scoring at least 55 points in six of their seven games.
Marcus Mariota, the Ducks’ quarterback, has been so incredible behind center this season that it won’t be surprising if his name was called as the Heisman Trophy winner this December.
The third-year signal caller has not only been deadly in the air, completing 62% of his passes for over 2,000 yards with 19 touchdowns and – more incredibly – zero interceptions, he’s every bit as dangerous with his legs with his 10 rushing yards per carry and nine scores.
Byron Marshall, with his nearly 800 rushing yards while matching Mariota’s nine scores, is another worry, as is Oregon’s two leading receivers, Josh Huff and Bralon Addison, who have 32 receptions and six touchdowns apiece.
Not to mention the fact that both of those wideouts are extreme deep threats, Addison boasting a 75-yard reception/run while Huff’s long yardage is 65.
The best chance for the Bruins to do what no one else has done since Stanford last season (they beat Oregon 17-14) – slow down the Ducks if not stop them – is for the front seven to have the game of their lives as Anthony Barr (four sacks, 11 tackles for loss), Keenan Graham ( five sacks and TFLs), and the rest of UCLA’s defensive linemen and linebackers must beat Oregon’s skill players on outside runs, where the Ducks have done much of their damage.
It would be great to say that Oregon’s defense is the type that their coaches don’t worry that much about because they are able outscore the opposition, but that would be a lie as well as the Ducks’ defense is nearly as impressive as their offensive counterparts, giving up a mere 17.3 points a contest; Tony Washington’s nine TFLs and six sacks and Terrance Mitchell’s four interceptions lead the team.
Washington State managed to score 38 points against them in their last game, but that’s the only time a Duck opponent has managed to score that many as the closest that anyone has come to them in a game was Washington, who lost to Oregon by three touchdowns.
This game would be tough enough for Brett Hundley and company if everyone was at full strength, but there is one significant reason for major concern:
Three-fifths of the Bruins’ offensive line will be guys that were high school players at this time last year, as Torian White was lost for the year with a torn ankle ligament and a broken leg, another experienced lineman, Simon Goines, reinjured his knee – Mora has said that he’s hopeful Goines will play on Saturday – and even backup Connor McDermott is done for the season (most likely) with a broken collarbone suffered against Stanford.
That leaves Xavier Sua-Filo as the only player on that line who has been a Bruin for more than two years.
Add to that the concerns surrounding sophomore center Jake Brendel, who’s been having problems snapping the ball and committing penalties.
Alex Redmond, Caleb Bebenoch, and Scott Quessenberry will try and stabilize a UCLA offense that, due to these injuries up front, has not been as productive as they were earlier in the season, but as was said, these are true freshmen in every sense of the word, and an environment such as Autzen Stadium that is pronounced as far as the level of hostility…
Well, while I certainly hope that they do well and persevere in front of those rabid Duck fans, I can’t help feeling that their inexperience will leave them overwhelmed.
Leading running back Jordon James continuing to be out due to a high ankle sprain only adds salt to this wound.
As does the recent history between these two teams, UCLA losing nine of the past 11 games to Oregon; talk about ownership!
So where does all of this leave Bruin Nation?
I will not say that this is a definite loss, as the Bruins will undoubtedly come out inspired to prove everyone wrong in saying that they will lose in a blowout like everyone else has.
After all, stranger things has happened in sports.
But in all honesty, if UCLA ends the game within 20 points of the Ducks – the spread is 23 – and does not get smashed, it will be encouraging.