Defense Takes over as No. 3 Oregon Rolls over No. 12 UCLA
(Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
The much-anticipated showdown between BCS No. 12 UCLA and No. 3 Oregon was expected to be a matchup between two explosive offenses. It didn't turn out that way as it took the Ducks offense a while to get going.
When it was over, the Ducks walked away with an impressive 42-14 victory.
For three quarters, it was just the opposite as the game was dominated by two of the most underrated defenses in the country. In the end, the scoreboard didn't tell the true story of the game as it was a physical battle between two of the most complete teams in college football.
The offensive explosion didn't come until Oregon's offense took over the game in the fourth quarter with a dominant ground attack.
UCLA took advantage of two Oregon miscues in the first half by converting them both into touchdowns. An Oregon fumble on the second play of the game led to a short touchdown drive for the Bruins.
The Ducks dropped passes, missed blocks and took big hits from the Bruin linebackers early in the game. Oregon couldn't get anything going on offense and needed a 66-yard run on a fake punt to set up its first touchdown.
UCLA blocked a punt in the second quarter, leading to another short touchdown drive. That was all the scoring for the Bruins as the Ducks cleaned up their mistakes and the defense shut down the Bruins.
The Bruins were able to run the ball successfully against the Ducks after struggling to do so in recent weeks. They wanted to slow down the game and try to catch the Ducks off guard by establishing the run. It worked for a while, but eventually the Ducks left no doubt who the better team was.
Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota wasn't at his best, but he showed poise and leadership in the face of a tough UCLA defense. Aside from a fumble that came when Bruins linebacker Anthony Barr stripped him from behind, Mariota continued his mistake-free play.
The Heisman Trophy candidate threw for 230 yards and added his 20th touchdown pass of the year without an interception. Mariota was solid, but it was the defense and the continued emergence of running back Byron Marshall that helped the Ducks overcome their biggest challenge of the season.
Marshall rushed for 100 yards or more in four Pac-12 games after De'Anthony Thomas was injured against Cal. Even though Thomas returned against the Bruins, Marshall was Oregon's best weapon all night. He rushed for 133 yards and three touchdowns against a UCLA defense that treated Thomas like a rag doll early in the game.
The Bruins entered the matchup averaging 500 yards and 39.8 points per game with a balanced offense led by quarterback Brett Hundley. UCLA managed just 283 yards of offense and 14 points against Oregon's aggressive defense. Their two scoring drives came after Oregon mistakes, leading to UCLA touchdowns on drives of just 38 and 28 yards.
The Bruins rushed for 219 yards on 52 carries, but Hundley threw for just 64 yards against Oregon's secondary. The Ducks got pressure on Hundley all night and ended with two interceptions, three sacks and 10 tackles for loss.
The Ducks and Bruins are both known for their versatile offenses that produce big numbers and a lot of points. Saturday's game proved that both teams are much more than that. The Ducks did allow over 200 yards on the ground but limited the UCLA passing attack 128 yards fewer than its previous season low.
UCLA also showed that it might have the best group of linebackers in the country as it knocked Oregon's Thomas around early in the game. Eventually, Oregon's offense became too much for UCLA in the last 18 minutes of the game as the Ducks reeled off 28 unanswered points.
The Ducks allowed more rushing yards than Stanford did last week, but they also allowed fewer yards per play. Oregon knows that its defense will need to be as good next week against the Cardinal. The Ducks shut down the high-powered Bruins, but Stanford can run the ball even better than UCLA.
If Oregon's defense plays the way it did against UCLA on Saturday night, the Ducks will be tough for anyone to beat. A team can limit Oregon's offense for a portion of the game, but they better be able to put points on the board against the defense, because the Ducks offense will eventually bust out and put the game away.
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