This was supposed to be a grinder.
The score was tied 14-14 at the half. Oregon's offense wasn't clicking. Receivers were dropping passes. UCLA's speedy linebackers were penetrating the backfield and keeping the Ducks' run game in check. Bruin QB Brett Hundley was playing a Houdini act, escaping pressure and keeping drives alive. This is precisely the kind of game that Oregon found itself in last season against Stanford--a game that put an end to Oregon's national championship hopes. However, the result was far different, and Oregon responded with a second half blitzkrieg that left little doubt, and it was the Bruins who left Autzen squashed in a 42-14 victory on a raucous Saturday night in Eugene.
To say it was an unimpressive first half for Oregon is an understatement. Keanon Lowe fumbled on the second play of the game, giving UCLA the ball deep in Duck territory and leading to a score. Twice the Ducks punted. Another drive led to a turnover on downs. The only explosion out of the Oregon offense came on a fake punt call--Rodney Hardrick rumbled 66 yards, setting up an Oregon touchdown. A missed field goal by Alejandro Maldonado capped off a subpar offensive half for the Ducks.
However, the defense came to play, holding the Bruins to under 200 yards, and only 45 yards passing in the first half. Oregon largely stuffed UCLA in the first half, with only a few tough scrambles by Brett Hundley really holding drives together. Both teams had to feel lucky to be tied at the half--UCLA's only scores were on the deep turnover and aided by a PI penalty, and another aided by a long third down scramble. The defenses really told the story of the half, and neither offense was looking like it would show signs of life any time soon.
It wasn't looking different to start the second half, Oregon going three and out and fumbling the ball away to start the second half. UCLA wasn't doing any better, embarking on a punt fest of their own.
Then Marcus Mariota happened.
Oregon's QB was perfect on 11 passes in the second half. The run game opened up as a result. And a 14-14 grinder turned into a 42-14 laugher in the span of four quick Oregon possessions. Byron Marshall had three scores on the night, while Mariota had 232 yards passing and a touchdown. It was the first game all season that Mariota didn't have a touchdown on the ground. Despite the first half troubles, Oregon still rolled up 555 total yards, 325 of those on the ground.
That said, the story of the game was the defense, which harassed Hundley all night. While he was able to escape some pressure in the first half, those escape routes closed late. UCLA finished with 283 total yards--less than 100 of those in the second half--and Hundley threw two backbreaking interceptions in Duck territory while having only 64 passing yards and being sacked three times. The Bruins' 4.2 yards per carry was eclipsed by their 3.2 yards per pass. Boseko Lokombo deserves special mention, with two sacks and an interception.
The win sets the stage for the biggest game of Oregon's season. The Ducks travel to Palo Alto to face that team that ended their hopes last year. But if there is any indication that this year's team will be different, it's what they did when faced with that close home game that has been their downfall the past two seasons. Instead of being bottled up, the Ducks broke out the bulldozer. Easy 28 point win.