We take the opportunity of this day without a Duck football game to take a look at the series history with the two conference opponents Oregon will not play in the regular season this year: Arizona and UCLA.
Arizona only joined what became the Pac-10 conference in 1978, so they have been a less frequent opponent than some of Oregon’s other current Pac-12 rivals. Having not been a regular opponent during the dark period in between the tenures of head coaches Len Casanova and Rich Brooks, Oregon also holds a series lead at 29 victories to 17 for Arizona. The Webfoots lost their first meeting with Wildcats 20-6 on December 4 1937. Infrequent home and home exchanges over the next 40 years lead to 5 Oregon wins to only 1 for Arizona.
Once members of the Pac-10 the Wildcats quickly took control of the series, winning 9 of the next 12 meetings. One of the Ducks’ few victories came as part of the critical 1989 season. The 16-10 victory over Arizona was part of an 8-4 (5-3 Pac-10) regular season that was capped by a victory over Tulsa in the Independence Bowl. The Wildcats won the following games in 1990 and 1993. In 1994 Arizona brought their “Desert Swarm” defense to Autzen stadium against a Ducks team that, by dint of victories over USC and Washington, had positioned themselves as potential Pac-10 champions. It would be Oregon’s own “Gang Green” defense that had the upper hand in a hard hitting slug fest, holding the Wildcats to only three field goals. Oregon QB Danny O’neil’s touchdown pass to TE Josh Wilcox provided the edge the Ducks needed in the 10-9 victory. The Wildcats would finish tied for 2nd in the conference standings with USC, both 1 game behind Oregon.
The Ducks won 10 of the next 11 meetings, the lone defeat being a 38-3 shellacking in Tucson on Halloween in 1998. The 2005 game was a 28-21 win for the Ducks, but the cost was grievous as senior QB Kellen Clemens broke his ankle, ending his Oregon career. Primary backup QB Dennis Dixon suffered a concussion not long after the injury to Clemens and a 21-0 1st quarter Oregon lead became a 21-21 tie game in the 4th quarter. With the Duck offense unable to muster a scoring drive, LB Brent Haberly (a native of Cottage Grove, OR not far from Eugene) returned an Arizona fumble for a touchdown to salvage the victory.
After struggling to a 4-5 record in Pac-10 play (including a loss at home to Arizona) in 2006 the Ducks were rejuvenated by the hiring of offensive coordinator Chip Kelly. Senior QB Dennis Dixon was widely regarded at the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy and Oregon was #2 in the BCS rankings when they traveled to Tucson to face the Wildcats as heavy favorites on November 11, 2007. Unfortunately, a string of season ending injuries to starting players was already taking a toll on the Ducks and Dixon himself had partially torn a ligament in his knee the week before against Arizona State. Dixon chose to risk further injury in order to play out the season, but his knee ligament was torn completely after planting his foot on the Arizona Stadium turf. The Ducks were not the same team without him, losing 34-24. It would be the moment what had potentially been the greatest season in Oregon football history began its disastrous November tailspin.
Another critical game took place in Tucson two years later on November 21 in Chip Kelly’s first season as head coach. The winning team would have the inside track to the Pac-10 Championship and a berth in the Rose Bowl. A back and forth affair saw Oregon trailing 24-31 with Arizona possessing the ball late in the 4th, but Oregon DB Talmudge Jackson III intercepted Arizona QB Nick Foles in the end zone. The Ducks had a chance to tie the game if they could drive 80 yards in 3:05 of game time. Oregon made it to the Wildcats’ red zone, but impatient students had already come down from the stands and were preparing to rush the playing field if Arizona got the stop. They wouldn’t get the chance, as Oregon QB Jeremiah Masoli found WR Jeff Maehl to convert 4th and 5 from the Arizona 15. Two plays later, with only 6 seconds of game time left, Masoli hit TE Ed Dickson for a touchdown. The drama wasn’t over yet, as a low snap on the resulting extra point attempt threatened to end the comeback. Backup QB and holder Nate Costa saved the play, the game, and the season by getting the ball off the turf and into position in time for kicker Morgan Flint to tie the game at 31 all. Whether from the stands or at the side of the field, Arizona fans would see Masoli keep the ball on a zone read and score the winning touchdown for the Ducks in the second overtime for a 44-41 Oregon win.
The most recent shutout an Oregon team has recorded was a 49-0 victory against Arizona at Autzen stadium in the 2012 season in Chip Kelly’s final season as the Ducks’ head coach. In 2013, under Mark Helfrich, the Ducks suffered an embarrassing upset in Tucson 42-16 in a sloppy and uninspired effort. Revenge was on many fans’ minds as the Wildcats traveled to Autzen in 2014 as heavy underdogs. But an injury to starting left tackle Jake Fisher had left the offense in a precarious state. Further aided by an unusual unsportsmanlike conduct penalty Arizona notched a second straight victory over Oregon, 31-24. The 2014 team would turn out to be Arizona Coach Rich Rodriguez’s best, as they won 10 games and the Pac-12 South Division in the regular season. The Wildcats faced the Ducks again in the Pac-12 Championship game, and with a healthier offensive line the third time was the charm for Helfrich. Oregon dominated Arizona 51-13 on the way to the inaugural College Football Playoff and quarterback Marcus Mariota’s Heisman Trophy win. Oregon won four of the next five meetings, the exception being a bizarre 44-15 loss in Tucson that included multiple special teams disasters and an uncharacteristically poor performance by QB Justin Herbert during the 2018 season.
Oregon has had a much longer history with UCLA as the Bruins have been regular opponents since joining the Pacific Coast Conference in 1928. Though the Ducks won the first four games and 6 of the first seven, UCLA dominated from 1935 through 1999 and still has a lead in the overall series 39-32. There have been an unusually large number of shutouts between the teams over the years. Oregon has held UCLA scoreless 5 times, and have failed to score 11 times themselves.
As the Oregon program finally began to establish a winning tradition after decades of futility in the late 80s, a 38-20 win over UCLA in Pasadena during the 1989 season would be key in reaching a bowl game once again. In 1995, a goal line stand on the last play of the game preserved a 38-31 victory that allowed Oregon to finish 2nd in the Pac-10 and receive an invitation to the Cotton Bowl.
In 1998, led by standout QB Cade Mcnown, UCLA was ranked #2 in the BCS standings when they welcomed an Oregon team led by their own star QB Akili Smith. The Ducks would prove a formidable challenge for the Bruins in a dramatic game that included Mcnown puking on the field and multiple fumbles by Oregon’s leading rusher Reuben Droughns. Despite the fumbling issues, Droughns was key to the Duck offense’s ability to move the ball and after he was injured the Bruins were able to come back to tie the game in regulation and escape with a 41-38 overtime win. Further heartbreak followed the very next season in 1999 when another trip to southern California saw the Ducks trailing 29-34 as Oregon QB AJ Feeley took the snap on what would be the last play of the game. Feeley found Marshaun Tucker for a completion, but the wide receiver was stopped at UCLA’s one yard line as time expired.
The Bruins were ranked #6 in the nation when they came to Autzen stadium on September 23, 2000. The Ducks took out their frustration for what had been four consecutive victories for the Bruins since 1995 in a 29-10 victory. UCLA would have their own streak of heartbreak in the following years as the Bruins missed field goals on the final play of the games played in 2001 and 2002 in one point victories for the Ducks. Since then, UCLA has only beaten Oregon three times. In 2004 a lackluster performance by the Duck offense was part of a string of results that resulted in the parting of ways between head coach Mike Bellotti and offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig. A 16-0 victory for UCLA the week after Dennis Dixon’s injury against Arizona in 2007 was a throwback to the early days of the series and the most recent shutout suffered by Oregon. The Bruins won again in 2017, though against another Duck team missing its starting QB after Justin Herbert had broken his collarbone.
With Arizona off to the Bix XII, Duck fans bid a not-very-fond farewell to Arizona Stadium. The series with UCLA will continue in the BIG. We will have to wait to see if Oregon can extend their current 4 game win streak over UCLA, but the Ducks have never lost to the Bruins when Chip Kelly has been the coach of either team…