Ducks Show Toughness In Win Over UCLA
By John Baker
For a half, the dream lived. The Oregon Ducks made mistakes and UCLA's defense pounded them into what seemed like imminent submission. Jim Mora talked at halftime about the Bruins just having fun and you could almost hear Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" playing as a backdrop to Oregon finally tasting a little of its own medicine.
Brent Musburger did what he usually does, gushing unabashedly about the Bruins being tied with the Ducks at half and wondering if the nation was going to be wide-eyed when they saw the score. It all must have seemed like a fairytale to those looking for a chink in Oregon's substantial armor. What they got was a second half in which the Ducks' defense pushed back. Surgeon-like execution from Oregon's offense dropped the Bruins, 42-14 and answered one big question: When the Ducks get slapped upside the head, do they slap back?
On Saturday, we saw that Oregon does have a street fighter mentality. When a brawl breaks out, they've got plenty of guys who will answer the bell.
Oregon, it seems, isn't just pretty and fancy. They'll get their hands dirty and lay it on you when the time comes. They are ready for Stanford and the rest of the Pac-12 schedule.
What else did Saturday demonstrate?
Byron Marshall Is Big-Time
Byron Marshall may well have taken over as Oregon's playmaker. Despite the return of De'Anthony Thomas — and his subsequent disappearance in the second half due to apparently aggravating his ankle injury — Marshall has been a revelation the last five weeks. Not only did he top the 100-yard mark again Saturday (133), he was explosive, decisive and turned third downs into first downs.
He's becoming the back that LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner were, capable of killing you with a long run or simply moving the chains. UCLA's linebackers are as good of a group as the Pac-12 has — fast, aggressive and bent on hitting hard — but when it looked like things were tipping UCLA's way, Marshall time and again delivered just the right play for just the right yardage at just the right time.
Give an extra game ball to the Oregon offensive line, too. UCLA tried to be physical early and by the second quarter, Oregon had not only weathered the storm, but delivered some punishment of its own. It was the best second half by Oregon's offensive line to this point.
Ducks Can D Up When Needed
Oregon's offense is so prolific and dynamic that the conversation about the defense usually revolves around whether they can match up with the big dogs of the conference when the game turns to punching each other in the face.
Finesse over fierceness is usually what people think of when they talk Oregon defense. The Ducks have shown some vulnerabilities this season, but who hasn't? With the Bruins jumping up and down and the national media wondering if Oregon had met its match, the Ducks outplayed a team with a potent offense and a physical defense. They out-UCLAed the Bruins.
UCLA recorded a season-low 283 total yards Saturday and on more than one occasion had a chance to climb into the game only to see it thwarted by a sack, tackle for loss or key turnover. Defensive end Tony Washington was a constant threat. Linebacker Boseko Lokombo had two sacks and his first interception. Cornerback Avery Patterson had three tackles for loss and seemed to make big plays at key moments throughout. Oregon's rotating group of defensive linemen bent in the first half as UCLA tried to establish physicality, but after halftime it was the Ducks who swarmed, hit and then hit again.
Any doubt the Ducks can play physical football should now be dis-spelled — particularly on defense.
A Maldonado Déjà Vu Moment
As Alejandro Maldonado lined up a 36-yard field goal try late in the second half to possibly give Oregon a 17-14, the thought of what happened a year ago against Stanford reared it head. A made field goal in that game likely would have landed the Ducks in the BCS championship game. Unfortunately, a couple of misses from a similar distance left the Ducks wondering "what if."
On Saturday, as Maldonado lined up for the attempt, the demons of uncertainty swelled and and he pushed it right. The game was 14-14 at the half, but Maldonado's struggles with pressure kicks are somewhat well documented. Former coach Chip Kelly got into the habit of going for it on fourth down partly out of necessity because he didn't trust his kickers.
Maldonado gave us a reason to remember why Kelly reasoned that way and why when Oregon fans see him line up to kick an important field goal, they hold their breath.
Oregon Needs To Tighten Noose Around Opposing QB
The defense struggled at times to keep UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley in the pocket and it cost them more than once. Hundley rushed for 72 yards and a score, but more importantly, escaped Oregon's clutches when the Ducks had him caught. He slipped, he slid, he bobbed and shuffled and at least twice evaded a certain sack by slipping away as Ducks defenders fell over themselves.
That's an important component to mend given that Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan repeatedly executed that maneuver last year. Hogan was adept at slipping the pressure just long enough to gut the Ducks on third down. Hundley offered a nice reminder of what happens when defenders vacate rush lanes in heated lust to sack the quarterback.
In order for Oregon to exact revenge for last year against Stanford, keeping Hogan home and pressuring him in the pocket is key.