UCLA Bruins vs. Oregon Ducks: Complete Game Preview
The No. 12 UCLA Bruins will have arguably its toughest challenge of the 2013 season, as it travels to Eugene to take on the No. 3 Oregon Ducks.
Jim Mora's team is coming off of its first loss of the season, a 24-10 defeat to Stanford. The Bruins suffered multiple injuries on the offensive line in the loss. Depth will surely be tested against Oregon's talented defensive line.
As for the Ducks, Mark Helfrich's team was third in the initial BCS Standings. Feeling a bit slighted, Oregon could look to have an impressive victory against a battered UCLA squad. A win against the Bruins will surely enhance Oregon's resume for a possible National Championship bid.
Here's everything you need to know:
Date: Saturday, Oct. 26
Time: 4:00 p.m. PT
Place: Autzen Stadium, Eugene, Ore.
Radio: Sirius XM Radio
Line: Oregon -23 per VegasInsider.com
Oregon Keys to Victory
Pressure Brett Hundley
Last week, Stanford did a great job at getting after UCLA's signal-caller. The Cardinal didn't even need to blitz often, as the Bruins' offensive line was battling continuity issues. Hundley unsurprisingly had his worst game of the season as a result.
Oregon's defensive line is deep and talented. It constantly rotates as a way to keep the players fresh. There's little, if any drop off between both the first and second units.
With UCLA's offensive line being extremely green, it makes sense to throw the proverbial kitchen sink at Hundley. There's reason to think that the Bruins' young unit up front will get confused, and it will help to fluster Hundley in the pocket.
Run the ball
UCLA gave up 192 yards on the ground last week against Stanford. The Cardinal wore the young Bruins' defense down and was able to get some good yardage towards the end of the contest.
While Oregon won't pound away like Stanford did, it will look to establish the run game comprised of a four-headed attack including Marcus Mariota, De'Anthony Thomas, Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner.
The run game is the pure mechanism for which the Oregon offense functions. The high-octane rhythm purely correlates with an effective rush attack.
UCLA Keys to Victory
Don't turn the ball over
It's easier said than done, of course.
UCLA will have to hold onto the football against a very opportunistic and athletic defense. Any sort of turnover will virtual lead to an Oregon touchdown. The Ducks are good enough without being gifted extra possessions.
Additionally, UCLA needs to have some semblance of a rush attack. With the offensive line not fully healthy, Brett Hundley could be the primary rush option on draws and zone read attempts. By running the ball effectively, it keeps Oregon's offense off of the field.
Tackle well in space
Oregon loves to get its skill position players (Josh Huff, Bralon Addison) the ball in space out on the perimeter. Bubble screens and tunnel screens are absolute staples in Helfrich's offense.
In order to have success defending against those plays, tackling in space is imperative. Oregon does a ton of damage on yards after the catch. The more UCLA can minimize the YAC, the better chance it has at staying competitive in the contest.
Players to Watch for Oregon
Oregon's dynamic tailback is expected to return after a three week absence. While the Ducks' offense is incredibly potent, Thomas' speed adds yet another lethal element.
Thomas can line up at multiple spots all across the field. His versatility allows for carries out of the backfield, catches from the running back spot and he can even be lined up in the slot as a receiver.
With his return to the field, Oregon becomes that much more difficult to defend against.
The hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker from Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., has arguably been Oregon's best defensive player in 2013.
He leads the Ducks in sacks (6.5) and in tackles-for-loss (9.0). His quickness allows for him to get into the backfield with regularity. Against a UCLA line that will feature three true freshmen, he should impact the game greatly.
Players to Watch for UCLA
The offensive line
Rather than look at one particular player, it'd be prudent to look at the group as a whole.
The unit has been beset by injury in the past couple weeks. Both of UCLA's starting tackles (Torian White, Simon Goines) will be out against the Ducks. Reserve tackle Conor McDermott was recently lost for the season with a dislocated shoulder injury suffered last week against Stanford.
As a result, there's been a shuffling around of personnel. Xavier Su'a-Filo will move over to left tackle in order to protect Brett Hundley's blind side. True freshman Scott Quessenberry will step in and start at left guard. This will be Quessenberry's first bit of live action this year.
True freshmen Caleb Benenoch and Alex Redmond will man the right side of the line, with veteran Jake Brendel at center.
With three true freshmen slated to start, it'll be fascinating to see how the trio can navigate against the raucous atmosphere in Autzen Stadium. Non-verbal signals will likely be on the docket in order to compensate for the deafening sound.
How will Hundley perform after his worst start of the 2013 season?
It won't get any easier for the signal-caller. Autzen Stadium houses perhaps the loudest crowd on the West Coast. Hundley needs to be in full command of the offense. With an extremely young offensive line, he will have to be decisive with his reads, and quick with his throws.
He's been plagued by holding onto the ball for extended periods of time. This pattern cannot continue if he's to be successful on Saturday. UCLA's run game is expected to potentially be a bit anemic. As a result Hundley will have to be effective throwing the ball down the field.
What They Are Saying
UCLA head coach Jim Mora on Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota:
I had a couple guys ask me, NFL guys, if I thought he could play at the next level. I said, 'Have you not watched him? I mean, he'll rip it up at the next level.' I mean this guy is ripping it up at this level. He's really special.
Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti on UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley: "He's elusive, he's more elusive and fast than you think. He can extend plays and whenever a quarterback can do that, it's tough."
Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich on UCLA's young offensive line: "It's funny, you watch their line and it's not like you're going 'That's the true freshmen.' They've played really well for the past few games."
Mora on the trip to Autzen Stadium: "We couldn't write a better script for us. Coming off of a really tough loss to Stanford, getting a chance to go up to Autzen and playing against this group, it keeps you focused."
Oregon 48, UCLA 27
UCLA will ultimately suffer a second straight loss. The depth on the offensive line is far too thin, and it's unrealistic to believe that a unit starting three true freshmen can play relatively well against a top team on the road.
The sheer noise of Autzen Stadium will give UCLA's offense problems. Additionally, the Bruins' run game will suffer due to the inexperience up front.
UCLA's defense actually does match up relatively well with Oregon's offense. It's a unit predicated upon speed and quickness. However, I don't believe UCLA will possess the ball long enough to keep Oregon's offense off of the field. As a result, the Bruins's defense will tire with the frenetic pace that the Ducks like to play at.