Great teams make good teams look average. After last night, there’s no doubt that Oregon is a great football team. The Ducks beat the UCLA Bruins, 42-14, in a game that showed the nation they’re more than just an offensive juggernaut. After Saturday night, those left questioning Oregon’s championship credentials are few.
With all due respect to Coach Helfrich, the “faceless opponent” mantra didn’t hold much water this week, at least not among fans and analysts across the country. With College GameDay in town and the primetime slot on ESPN, everyone was anxious to see how Oregon would respond after being placed behind Florida State in the initial BCS rankings. The Ducks certainly played like they had something to prove.
The game started inauspiciously with a Keanon Lowe fumble on the opening drive that gave UCLA a short field that led to a Bruins’ touchdown. After a 3-and-out, Oregon did what no one in the stadium expected — ran a fake punt. Rodney Hardrick took the direct snap and ran untouched through a hole bigger than a manufactured home, for a 66-yard gain. That set up a DeAnthony Thomas touchdown run to swing the momentum Oregon’s way.
After a great 4th-down stop by the defense, Oregon marched down the field and capped the drive off with a 40-yard Byron Marshall touchdown run, on a perfectly-executed outside zone read. UCLA again went 3-and-out, before another nice Oregon drive.
Looking prepared to take control of the game and go up 21-7, the Duck offense faltered in the red-zone, turning the ball over on downs, missing a chance to really take control of the game.
UCLA proceeded to march down the field behind a beautiful 33-yard, 3rd-down run by Bruin QB Brett Hundley. As they usually do, though, the Oregon defense tightened up in the red-zone. Hundley threw an interception right to Boseko Lokombo, who Hundley didn’t see drop into zone coverage – although Ifo Ekpre-Olomu made a break on the ball and likely would’ve made the interception, if Lokombo hadn’t.
Oregon couldn’t capitalize, as a quick 3-and-out gave the ball back to UCLA, who then marched down the field for a touchdown, again relying almost solely on Hundley for their offensive success.
At 14-14, Oregon had one more drive before the end of the half. They got into scoring position and attempted a 37-yard field goal with 8 seconds left, but the Alejandro Maldonado kick missed, wide right.
For the first time this season, the Ducks went into halftime without a lead. It was an odd score since Oregon appeared to be in control of the first half; a sleeping giant waiting to explode.
While a fast UCLA defense was undeniably effective in the first half, it was clear coming out of halftime that if UCLA was going to compete for four quarters, it would be because of a great performance by Hundley. Unfortunately for the Bruins, it was the Oregon defense that would steal the show.
After a defensive stop on UCLA’s opening drive of the 2nd half, Helfrich opted to punt the ball on 4th-and-1 from the Oregon 40, in what might be the most obvious “I’m not Chip Kelly” moment of Helfrich’s tenure – so far. The defense validated his decision by forcing a 3-and-out on the Bruins, thanks to a great individual play by Tony Washington coming off the edge on 3rd down.
Oregon marched down the field and got inside the 10-yard line, only to turn the ball over on a bad snap.
Yet again, the Oregon defense responded, as did the crowd. Another 3-and-out had the Autzen faithful in a frenzy. Byron Marshall then put the team on his back and absolutely took over the game. It started with a 9-yard rushing touchdown that gave the Ducks a 21-14 lead, one they would never relinquish.
UCLA got the ball back, and, down a touchdown, probably knew they had to score if they were planning to stay competitive. The crowd picked up on this too and Autzen got louder than its been yet this year. When Hundley threw a 3rd down interception to Avery Patterson, the stadium erupted; fitting, considering that the game had just been blown open.
For the remainder of the game, Oregon ran the ball down UCLA’s throat. They couldn’t be stopped. The offense played confidently, while the UCLA defense looked tired and defeated.
Behind a brilliant 2nd-half effort by the defense, Oregon scored three fourth-quarter touchdowns and won the game 42-14.
While the offense came on strong late, the story of this game was the defense, which is sure to receive a lot of attention nationally. They looked absolutely dominant.
In the 2nd half, they forced 3 three-and-outs, had an interception, gave up zero points and only 84 yards, 37 of which came on the last possession of the game. Anyone who thought Oregon was a one-dimensional team had their eyes opened Saturday.
This was a great game. Oregon was tested and they answered. They showed the nation who they are and what they’re capable of, on both sides of the ball. They forced their collective will on what is clearly a good UCLA football team. And that’s what great teams do. The 2013 Oregon Ducks are a great football team.
RANDOM GAME NOTES
– I can’t stress enough how much fun it was to be at this game. The atmosphere had that trademark Autzen magic; at the end of the 3rd and beginning of the 4th quarters, the crowd shook the stadium. I was sitting next to an ESPN reporter who said that he’d been to a lot of college football stadiums and had never experienced an atmosphere like this. When Autzen gets loud, the atmosphere is a truly special thing.
– Byron Marshall was an absolute stud. He made everyone forget about De’Anthony’s absence. His improvement since last season is remarkable. During one three-play sequence in the third quarter, he showed off everything.
On a 3rd-down run, he juked the socks off of a linebacker who’d filled the hole and made the 1st-down conversion look easy. On the next play, he showed off his hands with a catch out of the backfield, before turning on the jets and finishing the play by punishing a defender instead of going out of bounds. Finally, Marshall capped off the critical go-ahead drive by using his patience and vision as a runner, to score on a 9-yard run to the outside. This was Marshall’s coming out party.
– Tyner wasn’t just in at the end of the game, he got some truly meaningful carries while the game was still hanging in the balance. The fact that he’s earned the coaches trust to that extent, especially when Marshall was having such a strong game, is a very good sign. These kinds of experiences matter. Tyner’s development as a running back is and will be exciting to watch.
– FYI: Avery Patterson makes plays.
– Everyone in the stadium, including the UCLA players, knew that Oregon was going to win this game once the 4th quarter got underway. Hard to describe how obvious it was. The confidence discrepancy was palpable.
– Did anyone think Allioti was going to take out the first team defense for that last UCLA drive? No. No one thought that.
– Despite playing beautifully, this game didn’t help Marcus Mariota’s bid for a Heisman. It probably didn’t hurt it, either. Ultimately, Mariota did what was asked of him, especially in the 2nd half where he didn’t throw a single incompletion. Oregon decided to pound the ball on the ground and when that proved effective, there was no reason to air it out.
– Finally, this game could prove to be big for recruiting. Oregon hosted at least five official visitors this weekend: 5* S JuJu Smith, 4* S/WR Montae Nicholson, 3* OT Braden Eggert and Oregon commits Royce Freeman and Tyrell Crosby. There were also a few high profile unofficial visitors. I can’t imagine that they were un-affected by the atmosphere. Combined with everything else that Oregon has to offer, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Ducks made some real headway with high-priority targets such as Smith and Nicholson. The early word is that Smith, in particular, has loved his visit.