Our Oregon Ducks Football program gets another chance to make a big, national splash by beating the Bruins tomorrow in Autzen.
However, a win’s not going to come easily. This season has been unlike anything we’ve seen from the Bruins in the better part of a decade. UCLA’s been hot from the jump, and it comes as a bit of a surprise given Chip Kelly’s meager success at the helm up to this point. A ton of that greatness they’ve led through six games falls on the shoulders of Dorian Thompson-Robinson (DTR), who’s been crushing the PAC-12 through the air and with his legs.
The thing is, that can all change in a hostile PAC-12 environment against our stout Ducks’ football program. Oregon’s been playing some great football the past few weeks and had a week to rest as well. With the high-powered nature of both teams, I expect we’ll have a shootout game that comes down to who has the ball last.
With this highly-touted matchup, there’s a lot we can learn about the Ducks from the rising Bruins. Here are some of the questions I expect to be answered, and what I believe are going to be the difference makers when our Ducks hit the field at 12:30 PT tomorrow afternoon.
Questions That Our Oregon Ducks Football Team Must Answer to Beat the Bruins
Can the Ducks “Wrap Up” Tackle in the Open Field?
Missed tackles have been a modestly improving area of the Ducks’ game recently. Unfortunately, that’s because of the extremely low bar set to start this season. Increasing the “live” tackling practices over the past few weeks look to have righted the ship for the most part. Although, if there’s going to be a team to challenge that newfound discipline, it’s these Bruins.
I want the answer to this question to start with neutralizing Zach Charbonnet, courtesy of Noah Sewell or Justin Flowe. This tandem of linebackers I believe will be the first of two x-factors that can make or break the Ducks’ efforts to win this weekend. The energy these two have been playing with recently has been exciting to watch, and if they can get this UCLA offense second-guessing their run game, our Ducks are going to be in a great spot. Additionally, they’ll have to corral DTR as well, but starting with minimizing Charbonnet’s impact on the game would be a huge positive for Oregon’s defense.
Can Bo Nix Lead an Offense in a Shootout?
While we’ve seen Nix and the Ducks’ offense be wildly productive, we haven’t seen him play from behind much this year (especially against a team as talented as UCLA). He’s played well with a lead keeping the offensive attack balanced, yet how much he needs to throw will come down to how the Ducks’ defense plays. Against an outstanding UCLA offense, Oregon jumping out to a big lead early isn’t very likely. Nix is going to have to facilitate the passing game early, and may have to close the game out with his arm instead of his legs.
In regards to if Nix can lead the team in a shootout, I believe the answer is: absolutely. However, this is a highly-ranked team that will test that. But if Nix answers the call as he did to the tune of 29 points against the Cougars in the fourth quarter a few weeks ago, I’d feel a lot more confident about this team moving forward. Washington State isn’t an easy out, and UCLA is far more talented this year. Proving it against the Bruins would validate Nix’s growth even further in this offense.
Can the Ducks Get the Bruins Off the Field on Third Down?
The Bruins have been FANTASTIC on third down offensively (with a 55% conversion rate on the season). This is largely due to the compliment of DTR with an all-star running back in Charbonnet. Charbonnet most recently carried the ball 22 times for 198 yards against UTAH. The physical, possess-the-football and break-your-will Utes. That’s one tough act to follow.
The Ducks will have to find a way to get off the field early in this game. That starts with shutting down Charbonnet and forcing the Bruins to be more one-dimensional. Fortunately, Oregon has been getting a lot more stops on defense. The Ducks forced three turnovers and four punts in the matchup against Arizona two weekends ago. To get these components of the game going, DTR is going to need to be under pressure from the get-go. However, beyond stopping Charbonnet in the front seven, the secondary is going to have to step up in coverage as well.
Will This Ducks Defense Keep DTR Under Pressure?
DTR is competing for the Heisman this season. The Ducks haven’t seen anyone quite like DTR’s skillset this year, and even with a week of extra practice, he’s extremely difficult to prepare for. I’d love to see the pressure on DTR’s performance develop again from the outside in. Christian Gonzalez and co. need to play their best football of the year, and force DTR into making mistakes in the quick passing game. His ability to extend plays with his legs and make highlight-reel throws out of nothing cannot be understated. Force him into a box with tight coverage, and the pressure will follow as he gets more frantic to make plays.
Overall, it’s going to be tough to force DTR to unravel, especially if Charbonnet gets going early. But if anyone’s going to do it, it’s this Oregon secondary paired with a solid performance from a rising defensive front.
Will Playing in Autzen Be the X-Factor of the Game?
Just this past weekend, we saw Utah use their home-field advantage to eke out a win over the (previously) undefeated Trojans. While Utah is a great team, I doubt they beat USC in the Coliseum. Luckily, the Ducks have drawn the same straw this season and have a chance to prove themselves against a top-ranked opponent of their own in Autzen.
In a place where it never rains, the home field’s going to be a major factor (ESPECIALLY considering Chip Kelly returns with an undefeated team this season). I’d love to see DTR get rattled from the get-go, maybe force a turnover and see a big answer with a long run from this elite Oregon backfield. Then, we can play with a lead as we have so often this season, and impose our will on a talented Bruins football team.
Overall, I think if we can answer each of these questions with a resounding YES, we’ll be in a great position to knock off the Bruins tomorrow. The week of extra-prep time leaves no excuses for Dan Lanning to have the Ducks ill-prepared for this matchup. However, I have zero doubt in him and this program. I believe in his short time here in Eugene, he’s captured that elusive culture we’ve looked to re-create from seasons past, and also turned it into something completely new. This is his team. Now, that success needs to translate to wins against the best of the best in the PAC-12. Then, and only then, can we look to beating top-ranked teams outside of the PAC-12.
I know, I know. That’s a lot to ask of a first-year coach. But with all I’ve seen from the team he’s gotten ready week in and week out, I have no doubts about his qualification as the leader of this program. Lanning’s been tested early and often with some big-time matchups, and here’s another opportunity for him to grab a signature win.
Anyway, enough from me. What do you think, Oregon fans? Is this going to be a signature win for Lanning? How are we going to contain Charbonnet? What should the mindset be for getting the Bruins off the field on third down? Let us at Fishduck know in the forum with decorum. Go Ducks!
Los Angeles, California
Top Photo By: Joe Jackson Jr.
Alex Heining is an Oregon alumni from the graduate class of 2021. After studying sports business and media studies, he has moved into the field of digital marketing as a copywriter and content manager in the Los Angeles area. Still, he loves his Ducks and goes to local high school games all over the Los Angeles and Orange County area to check out new recruits of the future (and a SoFi game or two with the pros). On any given Saturday, expect to find him doing martial arts, playing the guitar, or screaming at the tv over a missed holding penalty.
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