As a three-plus touchdown underdog heading into one of the most hostile football environments on the west coast, nobody is giving the Bruins much of a chance against the No. 1-ranked Oregon Ducks this Thursday night.
UO has had a remarkable season, stepping up to the challenge of humbling each opponent on the schedule by double-digits thus far. Headed into their bye week with extra time to prepare for a .500 program with quarterback issues, Duck Nation has to be brimming with confidence.
But Oregon had not better sleep on UCLA, because this game, scheduled to be televised nationally on ESPN in 3-D (on the few televisions that have this newfangled capability), may not be the drubbing that most prognosticators envision. In fact, the Ducks can lose to the Bruins, as they have 38 times over the course of their history. Here are six reasons why:
In their previous matchup on Oct. 10, 2009, the Bruins blew a three-point halftime lead when they gave up a 100-yard kick return touchdown to Kenjon Barner to start the third quarter, and just 13 seconds later, bested that ignominious play with a 32-yard pick-six from Kevin Prince to CB Talmadge Jackson.
Holdovers in Westwood from last season are still fuming about that bitter defeat to then-No. 13 Oregon at the Rose Bowl, and have had Oct. 21, 2010 pegged on the calendar as a day of redemption ever since then.
The Ducks have 19 returning starters from last year, so the Bruins won’t be intimidated by Oregon’s personnel if they know they can hang with UO by playing mistake-free football.
UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel has surely reminded his players that Oregon’s inflated rankings are largely the result of a combined 141 points scored in a pair of shutouts against cupcakes in New Mexico and Portland State back in September. The Bruins are better prepared for Thursday’s matchup given that their out-of-conference schedule was much more challenging than Oregon’s.
UCLA still has most of the key defensive personnel that limited the Oregon offense to one TD in last year’s contest, and held serve on the other side of the ball in spite of virtually no pass offense.
Bruin defensive coordinator Chuck Bullough will be under pressure to orchestrate the schemes necessary to produce a repeat performance by defensive captain S Rahim Moore, LB Akeem Ayers and the rest of the returning Bruins.
The so-called “Filthy Five” that comprises UCLA’s offensive line averages over 310 pounds per starter, and each lineman can easily push around the faster-but-smallish Oregon defense if the right blocking and protection schemes are called in from the sidelines.
UCLA football tradition may not be as robust as other storied programs in California, but the team has had its share of upsets. Although 34 years have passed since the Bruins’ last defeat of a No. 1 team (Ohio State in the Rose Bowl Game on New Year’s Day), the university has done so four times throughout the history of its program.
The Bruins are no strangers to catching some of college football’s most respected programs in the nation off guard. Here are some recent examples from this decade alone:
- Sept. 17, 2005: 41-24 victory over No. 21 Oklahoma in 2005, less than a year after the Sooners played for the BCS Championship.
- Dec. 2, 2006: No Bruin fan will soon forget the glorious 13-9 upset over No. 2 USC that knocked the hated Trojans out of contention for the BCS Championship Game, prompting riotous celebration in Westwood later that night.
- Sept. 1, 2008: 27-24 over No. 18 Tennessee, a game in which UCLA overcame four first-half interceptions from third-string QB Kevin Craft to steal a victory from the Volunteers.
- Sept. 25, 2010: Riding the momentum of an improbable home victory over the University of Houston, UCLA traveled to Austin, TX and humbled another BCS contender, the No. 7 Longhorns at Darrell K Royal / Memorial Stadium by a score of 34-12.
While Oregon has made its reputation in recent years with explosive offensive play, a raucous home stadium, and a wardrobe of garish uniforms, UCLA is one of the few schools in the nation that won’t be intimidated by the Ducks.
UO may look scarier with the “1” next to their name, but the Bruins have the defensive personnel to contain the offense, as they did in 2009 at the Rose Bowl when the Ducks were held to 303 total yards.
An extra five days to prepare for QB Darron Thomas, RB LaMichael James and the nation's top-ranked offense can only help Coach Bullough and his defensive assistants.
On the other side of the ball, the opportunities to practice and additional rest for his swollen knee
will increase Kevin Prince’s chances of looking sharp in Eugene.
Some may chalk this statistic to mere coincidence, but each of Chip Kelly's losses as Oregon head coach have come with more than a week to prepare.
In spite of saying all the right things to the media leading up to Oct. 21, the Ducks can’t possibly view the Bruins as a threat to their dominance.
After seeing how Cal and Stanford pulverized them earlier this season, it’s unlikely that Oregon views UCLA with the same intensity as future opponents on the schedule, like USC the following week.
In Southern Cal's last game, the Trojans led Cal 42-0 at halftime before taking their foot off the gas in the second half en route to a 48-14 win.
Expect Autzen Stadium to play more like a festive Halloween party on Thursday than a call to arms for the No. 1 team in the country. UCLA will need to smack Oregon in the mouth early in the first half in order to take the frenzied crowd out of the game.
This is the first week that Oregon football has ever been ranked No. 1, making them just the 43rd team to ever sit atop the AP Rankings, and the first new No. 1 program in 20 years.
Not every team is comfortable with being chased by all of college football, but programs that have been there before historically retain the crown longer than programs new to the top ranking.
By late Thursday night, we’ll have a better idea of whether Oregon is a program that is only successful when pursuing other teams in the coaches' poll, or whether the Ducks will be able to own the bullseye on their back.