Eugene, OR (SportsNetwork.com) - In yet another road clash with a nationally- ranked foe, the UCLA Bruins will square off with the mighty Oregon Ducks in a crucial Pac-12 contest at Autzen Stadium.
For UCLA, this game is the second-half of arguably the toughest stretch of football any team in the Pac-12, and perhaps the country, will play this season. The first contest also came on the road against then No. 13 Stanford and finished in a 24-10 setback for the Bruins. It was the first loss of the season for the Bruins, who are still holding a 5-1 overall record and the No. 12 spot in the most recent Top 25. To avoid slipping further they will need to bounce back quickly. Against Oregon that is no easy task.
"Coming off a really tough loss to Stanford getting a chance to go up to Autzen and play against this group it keeps you focused that's for sure," UCLA head coach Jim Mora said. "You line up 11 on every play and you compete your butt off and that's what our plans are."
Although there has been some controversy over where exactly Oregon should rank nationally, there is no argument that the team belongs among a handful of legitimate national title contenders. The Ducks have streaked out to a 7-0 overall mark after a 62-38 rout of Washington State last weekend. The Ducks, always known for their outrageous offensive numbers, have scored more than 50 points in all but one game and are currently tied for first in the Pac-12 North Division (4-0) with in-state rival Oregon State.
These two programs have not squared off since the 2011 Pac-12 title game as they did not meet a year ago. In that championship game the Ducks posted a 49-31 victory. The win was the fourth straight for the Ducks against the Bruins. However, UCLA owns the all-time series edge, 39-26.
Against the stingy Stanford defense, UCLA really struggled. The normally effective offense for the Bruins managed a season-low 266 yards. That is far below the season average for the Bruins, who are netting slightly more than 500 yards of offense per game. The 10 points the Bruins scored were also a season-low for a team scoring nearly 40 points a contest.
In the loss, quarterback Brett Hundley did not look as comfortable under center as he normally does. Hundley did complete better than 60 percent of his pass attempts (24-of-39), but totaled a season-low 192 yards and was intercepted twice, while being sacked a season-high four times. Hundley needs to get back into the form he had shown in previous weeks as he has amassed 1,661 yards and 13 scores to just six interceptions on 66.8 percent passing.
An area that Hundley has excelled, and even did so against Stanford, is getting multiple receivers involved. Shaquelle Evans (24 receptions, 319 yards, five TDs) and Devin Fuller (27 receptions, 300 yards, two TDs) are the top targets.
The Bruins might get an added boost to the offense this week with Jordon James, who has missed back-to-back games with an injury, close to return. Mora said that James is "getting closer" after practice this week. James is the team's leading rusher with 463 yards and five scores this season and could certainly be used after the Bruins had just 74 rushing yards last week. Paul Perkins (238 yards, three TDs) should start if James is sidelined again.
Not only was the offense not at its best against Stanford, the Bruins also failed to put forth one of their better defensive stands. In fact UCLA gave up a season-high 419 yards to the Cardinal. On the year the Bruins have been holding teams under 360 yards and 20 points on average each week. Leading tackler Eric Kendricks (56 tackles) may be back this week as well. Like James he has missed time with injury. All-American linebacker Anthony Barr remains a player that the opposition must gameplan for.
Other than Baylor, no team in the country is producing more yards (643.1) or scoring more points (57.6) per game than the Ducks. There has been an incredible balance for Oregon, as it is the only team in the country to have 2,000 yards passing and rushing.
It was just another day at the office for Marcus Mariota last weekend against Washington State. Mariota threw for 327 yards and two scores on 23-of-32 passing and also rushed for 67 yards and a touchdown. Mariota should be the Heisman front-runner at this point, or at least be one of the top contenders. He has thrown for 2,051 yards and 19 scores this season and has yet to be intercepted. Then add in the 493 yards and nine scores on the ground and you'd be hard pressed to find a more worthy candidate.
Mariota is just one of an embarrassment of riches for the Ducks on offense. Byron Marshall (746 yards, nine TDs) has been phenomenal as the feature back for the offense with four-straight 100-yard performances. Thomas Tyner has gotten his chances as well and with 360 yards and seven touchdowns has clearly taken advantage. De'Anthony Thomas did not play for a third straight week against the Cougars, but is getting closer to returning.
Then there are the players that are bringing in Mariota's passes. Josh Huff (32 receptions, 627 yards, six TDs) and Bralon Addison (32 receptions, 543 yards, six TDs) are the main targets.
Oregon has been producing on defense as well. Though the Ducks rank just sixth in the league in total defense (370.1 ypg), that number is clearly colored by the 559 yards the Ducks gave up to Washington State. Before that contest Oregon had not let a team post more than 380 yards. It also helps that the Ducks lead the Pac-12 in forced turnovers (21).
Even though Oregon is favored in this contest, as it will be in just about every game this season, head coach Mark Helfrich still knows his team must be wary of UCLA.
"They're a really talented team. We know a lot of teams in this conference pretty well. They're very well coached, great quarterback, great defense. It's going to be a huge challenge," Helfrich said about the Bruins.