ESPN College GameDay will be on hand for the 8th time in Eugene Saturday, to showcase a matchup of two top Pac-12 contenders in 3rd-ranked Oregon and 12th-ranked UCLA. On paper, there are many reasons to believe this will be a compelling game.
The game sets up as a showdown in several interesting ways for the two programs, including:
- Serving as a potential preview of the Pac-12 Championship Game.
- Featuring two of the premier offenses in the country, led by two of the most productive dual-threat quarterbacks.
- Showcasing two of the most effective pass rushes in the country.
- Spotlighting a matchup of coaching in first-year head coach Mark Helfrich vs NFL veteran Jim Mora.
All of that being said, the consensus among the “experts” see a Ducks’ blowout victory. The latest Las Vegas betting lines show Oregon as a massive 23.5 favorite.
Why? A big factor could be the perceived “health” of both teams.
The Bruins have suffered a number of key injuries, especially along the offensive line, and will presumably start three freshman there for the first time in school history. That doesn’t appear to bode well for a Bruins offense that managed a mere 10 points last week at Stanford. For Oregon, their team is essentially at full strength with the expected return of De’Anthony Thomas. That could spell trouble for the Bruins’ defense with it’s leading tackler reportedly nursing a kidney injury.
However, this UCLA team is deep and loaded with talented players – and they are well coached. Expect to see a hard fought game, but Oregon has a statistical edge at almost every position that will be tough for the Bruins to overcome.
For FBS quarterbacks, Marcus Mariota rates 3rd with his average of 16.67 yards on his 123 completions. He is currently riding a Pac-12 record 265 attempts without an interception. Even more impressive is over the last 14 games, Mariota has accounted for 50 TDs to just 1 INT (counting rushing TDs). And speaking of rushing, MM has amassed 30 yards and 4 TDs more than UCLA’s leading rusher, RB Jordan James.
For UCLA, Bret Hundley ranks 5th in total offense per game at 363.2. The Bruins throw more screens and short passes than Oregon, and Hundley ranks 52nd averaging 12.37 yards on his 133 completions. Mariota also ranks 4th with 24 points responsible for per game to Hundley’s 17.
Airing it out
A vast improvement for Oregon has been the development of a downfield passing attack that propels two top-30 receivers so far. Leading the way in that department has been Josh Huff averaging 89.6 yards per game with 6 TDs, and Bralon Addison, who has 77.1 yards per game with another 6 TDs. The Bruins rely mostly on WR Shaquelle Evans, averaging 53.2 yards per game with 5 TDs. The next best receiver statistically for UCLA is 134th-ranked Devin Fuller, who is averaging 50.0 yards per game and has scored 2 TDs.
Ground and Pound
Despite the extra explosion plays in the passing game, a dominant rushing attack has continued as the identity of the Oregon offense. So far, the Ducks rank 3rd in the nation, and the yards and touchdowns are coming from everywhere. Byron Marshall leads the way, ranking 19th at a clip of 106.6 yards per game and 9 TDs. Mariota averages 70.4 yards per game rushing and has scored another 9 TDs. True freshman Thomas Tyner continues to improve and is now up to 60 yards per game and 7 TDs. The Bruins feature the 157th-best rusher in Hundley at 47.8 per game and 3 TDs, and the 74th-ranked Jordan James, who has 463 yards and 5 TDs on the season.
Overall, the Ducks’ 643.1 yards per game ranks 2nd in the country.
Their 56 TDs scored ranks first, and the offense is moving the ball at 8.28 yards per play, overall. UCLA is no slouch but is considerably less productive at 500 yards per game, scoring 30 TDs and averaging 6.3 yards per play.
Coming into the game, much hype has surrounded the Bruins pass rush, but a look at the numbers shows that this has been a strength for both teams. UCLA is led by defensive lineman Keenan Graham’s five sacks (19th) and Anthony Barr has four (42nd). As a team, the Bruins have 14 sacks through six games, which ranks 85th. The Bruins’ Barr has forced all three fumbles recovered by the Bruins this year (96th), and has 11 tackles for loss.
The Oregon Ducks are paced by Tony Washington’s 6.5 sacks (8th) and nine tackles for loss. They average three per game as a team (9th) and the 21 sack total is 9th best. Washington and Taylor Hart have forced three fumbles each, and the team has nine total (5th). The Ducks defense continues to be stout in the redzone – 14th, with UCLA at 53rd. Despite facing an NCAA-high 325 pass attempts, the Ducks rank 9th in pass efficiency defense, and 9th in interceptions with 11. Oregon’s opponents have converted just 30.9% of 3rd downs, and UCLA has been slightly better, ranking 9th allowing a 29.3% conversion rate.
When Las Vegas predicts a blowout of more than three TDs, they don’t make that call based on hype or wishful thinking. The stat lines demonstrate the substantial advantage the Ducks enjoy in many phases of the game. Truly, the Bruins will definitely be “running uphill” to keep this game from becoming a runaway victory for the Ducks.
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