After a less-than convincing win against Cal last week, the Oregon Ducks face a tough challenge in the UCLA Bruins in a matchup that has major Pac-12 implications. A win brings them a step closer to representing the North division in the Pac-12 Championship, but a loss could majorly affect their chances on missing out.
Reasons They’ll Win
Takeaways, turnovers, whatever you want to call them, Oregon’s defense has lived and died by taking the ball away from teams this season. Oregon’s defense has struggled in their last two games against Stanford and Cal, and the fact that they didn’t have any takeaways in those two games isn’t coincidence. The loss of Bennett Williams can still be felt in the Oregon secondary, but this defense is still loaded with talented playmakers.
Verone McKinley has picked off three passes this year, and Kayvon Thibodeaux looked like a man among boys last week, and we all know what he can do when given the opportunity. Creating fumbles against Dorian Thompson-Robinson and Zach Charbonnet will limit the damage they can do in the run game and create more opportunities for the offense.
Playing Big in Big Games
So hear me out on this one. We have all witnessed that Oregon has had an issue this season with playing down to their competition. Sure the box score against Stony Brook and Arizona look nice, but in both games it took a while for Oregon to get out of their own way and out the game out of reach. They should have beaten Stanford and they should have beaten Cal more convincingly than they actually did. But what game this year did the Ducks look the best? Their win over Ohio State.
This is the biggest game of the season for Oregon since that win over the Buckeyes. Both teams are currently the best bets to reach the Pac-12 title game, but a loss would be a severe dent in each team’s chances of making the conference championship. These kind of implications make this game an absolute must-win for both teams and while Oregon has struggled against teams they should easily beat, maybe they also show up big in games against the better competition. Anything’s possible right?
Baby Dye Continuing to Grow Up
With CJ Verdell out for the year, we all knew Travis Dye was going to have to step up to carry the Oregon rushing attack, and boy he responded in a big way against Cal. He led Oregon with 145 yards on the ground, averaging 7.6 yards per carry, and also led the Ducks in receiving with seven catches for 73 yards for good measure. QB Anthony Brown likes to run with the ball as well, but the rushing attack should start and end with Dye.
Given UCLA’s impressive rushing game with DTR and Charbonnet, The Ducks are going to need Dye to be at his absolute best running the football if they want to match up with the Bruins talented duo.
Why They’ll Lose
Shootout, I Mean Runout
It’s no secret that the strength of UCLA’s offense is it’s ground game. It’s kind of Chip Kelly’s style. Not to mention that UCLA is 5-0 this year when Zach Charbonnet eclipses 100 yards on the ground. If the Bruins’ dynamic duo get hot, it’ll be interesting to see if Oregon’s offense can keep up or if Oregon’s defense can slow them down.
Oregon’s defense has been pretty solid against the run so far this year, allowing only 3.7 yards per carry, but UCLA’s running game will be the stiffest test that the Ducks have faced this season.
I know, I know. This has become a weekly gripe for Ducks fans everywhere, and it was pretty evident against Cal when the Oregon fans at Autzen started booing the Ducks offense. Don’t let Brown’s completion percentage against the Golden Bears fool you, he still won’t consistently attempt to stretch the field despite the plethora of offensive weapons he has to choose from. While Brown can’t shoulder all the blame for the loss against Stanford, he did miss out on a chance to show that he can be the guy to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
Let’s face it, at this point, Brown is who he is, and we know that. Unfortunately, that means that most Ducks fans don’t believe that Brown can be the guy to will the Ducks to victory if Oregon starts out slow as they have done this year and fall behind the Bruins. UCLA has the talent to run down the clock on offense, which would mean trusting Brown to make the throws necessary to win. That is a frightening thought.
Bruins Brick Wall
Earlier I talked about Travis Dye and his importance in the win over Cal last week. He led the team in both rushing and receiving, and that pass-catching ability might be more vital against these Bears than it was against the Golden Bears given the stout UCLA run defense. The Bruins are allowing only 95 yards per game on the ground, which is good for ninth best in the country.
If the Bruins continue their stout ways against the Ducks, that means Oregon will have to rely on the pass more in order to win the game, Not exactly comforting.
Other than the win against Ohio State, Oregon is lacking a signature win to hang their hat on. Unfortunately I don’t think that happens this week. The Ducks barely held on for a win last year against the Bruins, and I think that’s what happens again this year. I think Oregon can still put a lot of points on the board this week, but I think UCLA will do the same.
Oregon 35, UCLA 31