Monday, November 28, 2011
First look: UCLA at Oregon
By Peter Yoon
This isn't exactly the ideal situation for Rick Neuheisel to make his UCLA swan song.
Fired because of the team's inconsistent play and a string of blowout road losses, Neuheisel will say goodbye to the Bruins after coaching a game in which his team is a 30-point underdog and fully expected to suffer the type of defeat that got him fired in the first place.
UCLA has had its share of troubles against national powerhouse teams, high-octane offenses and slippery running backs all season and Oregon presents all three. Add in one of the toughest road environments in the Pac-12 and it's no wonder nobody is giving UCLA much of a chance.
"It will be a tall order," Neuheisel said. "We understand that."
UCLA's last visit to Eugene ended in the type of disaster that put Neuheisel on the hot seat to begin with. Oregon thumped UCLA, 60-13, in that Thursday night ESPN game last Oct. 21 and there isn't much reason to think this game will be any closer.
The Ducks (10-2, 8-1 Pac-12) feature one of the most potent, high-powered offenses in the nation. They average 45.92 points to rank third in the nation in scoring and have put up 49 points or more five times this season.
Their machine-gun spread is a no-huddle nightmare for a UCLA defense that struggled against quick-strike spread offenses in losses to Houston and Arizona this season. Oregon uses more of a running attack than those pass-based offense and LaMichael James is the nation's leading rusher with 142.7 yards per game.
His backfield mate Kenjon Barner averages 83 yards rushing per game and the Ducks average a frightening 6.48 yards per carry as a team. Oregon is sixth in the nation in total offense with 510.58 yards per game and that is not good news for a UCLA defense that has given up 200 yards rushing or more six times this season.
Quarterback Darron Thomas adds balance with 206.7 yards passing per game and 27 touchdowns and uses speedy receiver De'Anthony Thomas and athletic wideout Lavasier Tuinei to help the team average 13.3 yards per completion.
And not only is Oregon's offense prolific, it strikes quickly as well. The Ducks this season have 38 touchdown drives of two minutes or less and 12 of under a minute, so UCLA's ball-control running game may be rendered moot against Oregon, which is outscoring opponents by an average of 46-23 despite losing the time of possession battle by an average of 35:14-24:46.
"They play at a speed that is unlike any other and we’ve got to understand that and not be worn out by it," Neuheisel said.
The Oregon defense, as is the case with the offense, relies on speed. The Ducks have given up points this season, but elite teams such as Louisiana State, Stanford and USC have done most of the damage. Teams in UCLA's class such as California, Arizona State, Oregon State and Washington State have averaged 22.75 points against Oregon -- not nearly enough to keep pace with the Ducks' offense.
And Nevada, which runs a similar offense to UCLA, lost 69-20 against Oregon on Sept. 10. That score was eerily similar to UCLA's result at Eugene last year.
Oregon, the two-time defending conference champion, is seeking to become only the second team to win three straight Pac-10/12 titles, joining USC's 2003-05 teams. The Ducks play tough at home, where they have won 22 of their last 23 games and have played in front of 81 consecutive sellout crowds.
That's more bad news for UCLA, which has been outscored 174-37 in its last four road games and is 2-10 on the road over the last two seasons.