Oregon came into Thursday night's showdown with UCLA with a lot of questions. How would this team deal with the pressure of being #1? Could the defense step up and play a complete game? Was Darron Thomas' shoulder completely healthy after the Washington State game?
Sixty points and a systematic obliteration of UCLA later, the Ducks can answer those questions with an affirmative. With all the pressure of the #1 national ranking and the solitary national stage of Thursday night, the Ducks were as collected as could be. The 47 point margin of victory was the biggest in the history of the series.
But even more impressive that the score was the way Oregon did it. UCLA didn't play a terrible game. This wasn't the typical Oregon big play game filled with 20+ yard runs (the Ducks didn't get one of those until the 4th quarter), punt returns for touchdowns (none of those), or defensive touchdowns (ditto). Instead, Oregon's offense was very technical, systematically tearing apart an overmatched Bruin defense. UCLA was decent fundamentally (save lining up wrong on a swinging gate); but Oregon was just in a completely different stratosphere than the Bruins.
The star of the game was Darron Thomas. It wasn't just that he finished 22/31 for 308 yards and three scores. Or that he was perfect on his first eleven pass attempts. Or that he ran the read option almost flawlessly. It was that he read through his progression, often hitting the third or fourth option. He stayed in the pocket and took hits all the while delivering accurate passes to the proper receivers. It was Thomas' finest game as a Duck, and a passing performance that wouldn't have been possible with last years' QB at the helm.
But if Thomas was the star, the rest of the offense stepped up as well. It seemed like a quiet game for LaMichael James, mainly due to the big passing yards and lack of explosion plays, but then you look at the box score and realize he had 123 yards and two touchdown. Remene Alston 75 yards and three scores on only 8 carries. Jeff Maehl had eight grabs for 107 yards and a score. Seven Ducks had pass receptions in the game. Five different Ducks scored touchdowns. The offensive line once again didn't give up a sack. Complete offensive dominance from every position. The Ducks punted once, had one turnover on down, and one field goal. The other eight possessions were all touchdowns.
But if the offense was impressive, the defense was equally so. Forget that UCLA had a touchdown with two minutes to go in garbage time against the third and fourth stringers. Through 58 minutes, all Oregon allowed was a pair of field goals. UCLA, which averaged 233 yards on the ground, got 131 on 47 attempts, a 2.8 per carry average. Oregon gave up 290 yards total. They had UCLA quarterback Richard Brehaut scrambling for his life, sacking him three times, forcing him to fumble twice, and getting an interception. Giving up less than 300 yards and forcing three turnovers will get the job done every time. It was a dominant performance, and a defense that had been criticized the last three games went a long way toward easing many fans' fears.
Oregon erased any doubt as to whether its deserving of the #1 ranking, but next week offers up a different challenge--arguably the toughest road game of the season in USC. We'll see if the Ducks can play at this level for another week and pass that test, too. Here's betting they can.
Hope your Weasel Stomping Day was a good one.
PS, Texas? Seriously?