Oregon and UCLA saw their playoff hopes potentially come to an end last week in a chaotic, upset-filled week of college football, where 11 ranked teams fell to each other, or in unranked upsets. Both teams will be looking to get back on the winning track and carve a path to a Pac-12 championship, and that road leads to the Rose Bowl this Saturday where the Ducks and Bruins face off at 3:30 ET on Fox. Trace Travers and myself sat down to discuss this huge matchup, and what each team needs to do to take home a win.
What is the main issue for Oregon going into this game?
Trace Travers - For the Ducks, the issue seems to be the point of attack, as it has been in the past. Former defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti has said that stopping Oregon at the point of attack is a key. And while that does sound simple, it makes sense when you look at Oregon's struggles and losses. The Stanford teams that have beat them have had excellent defensive lines and have had offenses that could grind it out against the Oregon defense. The Arizona defense is practically designed to stop the Oregon offense with the adaptability of the linebackers and hybrid positions. Scooby Wright was a big piece of controlling the line against the Ducks. On offense, Arizona took the Oregon defensive line to task with Nick Wilson and Terris Jones-Grigsby combining for 207 yards on the ground. Even against Washington State, the Cougars managed to control the point of attack for a little while in pressuring Marcus Mariota. This problem is amplified on offense with four offensive lineman out for Oregon. The pass defense has also looked less lustrous than it had earlier in the season. Oregon needs to either pour some that Nike money into voodoo treatments on some of their offensive line injuries, or move the pocket for Mariota to give him more time to think and to make plays.
Chris Turner - I'm with Trace here. The Offensive Line is dwindling with numerous injuries, and Marcus Mariota can only do so much. If you give him time, he can take this offense to so many different levels. When you don't, you've seen how the offense has looked the past two weeks against Washington State and Arizona. If we see more of the same against a UCLA team that can score points behind a QB like Hundley, I'm not sure how effective the offense can be if they're playing catch up.
What is the main issue for UCLA going into this game?
Chris Turner -The glaring answer here is the offensive line play. We saw the line get off to a poor start against Virginia, Memphis, and Texas, giving up 11.0 sacks in that time. They had a bounceback performance vs. a young Arizona State rush, but were absolutely torched by Utah last week for 10.0 sacks. The less the line can protect Brett Hundley, the less effective the offense becomes, meaning it will be so much more difficult to keep up with a team like Oregon.
Trace Travers - Obviously it's the play of the offensive line for the Bruins. They've allowed 22 sacks so far this year, amounting to 4.4 per game. It seems like a lack of effort or technique from the Bruin offensive line against blitzing linebackers or a normal four man rush. On a couple of the sacks, UCLA's tackles put up little effort in trying to stymie the Utah pass rush, allowing for some easy sacks. We have seen what the Bruins are capable of when they can put it all together, like they did against Arizona State. It all starts with consistency up front.
What are Oregon and UCLA's strengths so far this season?
Chris Turner - UCLA's strength is Quarterback Brett Hundley and the UCLA offense. Hundley leads the nation a 72.8% completion rate this year, fifth in the country in passer rating, and fourth in yards/attempt. What's most impressive is that he's been able to carry this offense behind a more than questionable offensive line. There's been a couple of scares, such as the Texas game, where he has to create plays on his own and risks getting hurt, but he's looked good both on the ground and through the air. Even if it isn't Hundley pushing the offense, Paul Perkins has emerged as RB1 after splitting carries with Jordan James last year. Perkins is averaging 5.7 YPC with 500-plus yards on the year, surpassing both marks from the previous year. He'll give the Oregon defense something to worry about on the ground as well as Hundley through the air.
Trace Travers - Paul Perkins has been the workhouse for a backfield that seemed especially deep at the beginning of the year. Steven Manfro got injured early, and Jordon James and Myles Jack haven't been used to the same extent as Perkins. He has put up 540 yards rushing on 5.7 yards per carry, which is beastly so far this season for the Bruins. He gives UCLA and excellent ground threat to go along with the continued excellence of Brett Hundley. Jordan Payton has been excellent as his main target, averaging almost sixteen yards a catch, while Devin Fuller works as an excellent possession receiver for Hundley. Give him some time in the pocket, and this is a highly efficient Bruin offense.
For Oregon, it starts and ends with Marcus Mariota. In addition to being the metaphorical straw that stirs the drink, he is also about a third of the Nesquick powder and half the glass of milk. His excellence drives the Ducks, as we saw against Michigan State. He turned into a new gear against the Spartans in putting the game out of reach. Defensively, the Oregon defense is solid when they can swarm and control the point of attack. One name that jumps out for the Ducks is Rodney Hardrick, who is leading the team in tackles for loss and can generally raise hell. Oregon has the talent on the defense to be rangy and to throw off Hundley's game, it's just a matter of utilization.
How can Oregon win this weekend?
Chris Turner - Do the same thing that almost every team has been able to do to the Bruins this year: Create a ton of pressure and Brett Hundley. Make that pocket as small as possible and force him to create plays himself or take a chance downfield, which would be prime pickings for the dominant Oregon secondary. Shut down the UCLA offense, and the Ducks can roll their way to victory at the Rose Bowl.
Trace Travers - Aside from what Chris said above, two other things that Oregon can do is to limit Ishmael Adams' touches and to clamp down on Perkins in the running game. Adams has been a game breaker for the Bruins, with return skills unseen since Maurice Jones-Drew was just Maurice Drew. With three return touchdowns this year, Oregon needs to be wary about his presence on the defensive end, and use their speed and discipline to slow him down in the return game. With stopping Perkins, that comes from exploiting the UCLA offensive line. For the problems that they have had pass blocking, the run game has looked solid for the Bruins. Perkins has been a big part of that, especially since he had to take more responsibility after the ACL injury of Steven Manfro. Exploiting the line with extra rushers from the outside and pinching in with the interior lineman is something Oregon can do. Also getting ahead early to force the passing game could be key for Oregon, and is something that the Ducks are capable of doing.
How can UCLA win on Saturday?
Chris Turner - It's repetitive. (I mean, I've said it five or six times this year), but the more often you keep Brett Hundley off the turf, the better this UCLA offense can be. I point you to the Arizona State game. Bruins allowed just one sack to the Sun Devils en route to a 62-27 rout of ASU in Tempe a few weeks ago. When Brett Hundley has time to guide this offense and go through his reads, rather than escape from the pass rush coming off the edge, there is no limit to how good this Bruins offense can be. Even if Hundley is struggling, Paul Perkins has proved to be a valuable asset on the ground. Don't be surprised if Coach Mora feeds him more often than not.
Trace Travers - Protecting Brett Hundley is step number one. If that is too much of a pipe dream, which it may be, the UCLA needs to utilize the quick passing game. Slants, quick outs, fades, hitches, swings, and benches will be what the doctor ordered for the Bruins. Washington State had a lot of success using their system against the Ducks. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu hasn't looked quite as good as he had been in the first couple of games. Step two has to be forcing turnovers. Arizona caused some key fumbles last Thursday, which led to the start of chaos week. Mariota doesn't make many mistakes, not having an interception to his name so far. UCLA needs to force him into something, by taking advantage of a depleted offensive line and getting pressure. Eddie Vanderdoes was a highly touted recruit and he is more than capable of making a difference in the rush and Eric Kendricks may be the superior Kendricks brother. This would be an upset, but it definitely is possible.
What do Brett Hundley and Marcus Mariota have to do to jump back into the Heisman race?
Chris Turner - For Mariota, just keep taking care of the ball and making smart decisions. He has yet to throw a pick through the first five games of the year, and he's completed of 70% of his passes. He's the most efficient quarterback in not only the Pac-12, but in College Football right now. A win over the Bruins, and an undefeated finish to this year may be enough to sway the voters in to giving him the Heisman trophy this year.
As for Brett Hundley, the task of winning the Heisman seems more daunting behind an offensive line that continually struggles in pass protection. He's definitely putting up the numbers and he's one of the most effective quarterbacks in the country. It comes down to how the Bruins can perform the rest of the year. Beat Oregon and Hundley is near the front of the pack again, but another loss to the Ducks puts his 2014 campaign in question.
Trace Travers - Mariota just became the frontrunner due to the suspension of Todd Gurley, so he needs to keep doing what he has been doing and win out. Hundley needs to have a game that overcomes the deficiencies of the offensive line, whether it comes from his feet, or picking apart the Oregon defense like he's Dan Marino against the 1985 Bears. Hundley is an exciting player when he can get moving, but his decision making is going to have to speed way up. If he can do this, put up 300 yards and four touchdowns in a win, maybe he jumps back into contention due to Gurley being out for the foreseeable future.
What is your score prediction for Saturday's game?
Trace Travers - 45-31 Oregon. I don't think the Ducks are going to lose again this year. They have the talent, now it hopefully has the fire and motivation from last week's loss. I wouldn't be surprised if UCLA won this game, but they have an uphill battle in order to do so.
Chris Turner - Despite the game being at the Rose Bowl, I expect Mariota to have a *potential* Heisman moment and knock off the Bruins in convincing fashion. 38-21 Oregon.
Thanks to Trace for the Roundtable! Be sure to give him (@tracetravers3) and myself (@ChrisLTurner) a follow on twitter for all your Oregon and UCLA goodies this season!