No. 12 UCLA (5-1, 2-1 Pac-12) at No. 2 Oregon (7-0, 4-0)
Location: Autzen Stadium, Oct. 26, 4 p.m.
TV: ESPN (Brent Musberger, Kirk Herbstreit, Heather Cox)
Radio: 570 AM (Chris Roberts, Matt Stevens, Wayne Cook)
Last meeting: An already-fired Rick Neuheisel coached his final game, a spot in the 2011 Pac-12 Championship game that came by way of a USC postseason ban. UCLA lost 49-31 against No. 8 Oregon, as LaMichael James rushed for three scores — tying LenDale White with 52 career touchdowns.
He scored one more in a Rose Bowl win over Wisconsin, taking sole possession of second in conference history.
Key storylines: UCLA is trying to rebound after its first loss of the season, a 24-10 loss at Stanford in which its offense struggled as much as ever in the Jim Mora era. Few outside the program, currently have much faith in the Bruins’ chances to beat Oregon — which speaks to the Ducks’ dominance this season more than anything else.
Even at full strength, UCLA would be hard-pressed to knock off a team that leads the Pac-12 in both scoring offense and scoring defense. Oregon is a force under Marcus Mariota, a multi-talented sophomore who breaks the “system quarterback” mold of the Ducks’ recent signal-callers. A top NFL prospect and Heisman frontrunner, Mariota ranks fifth in the nation in quarterback rating (181.72) and eighth at his position in rushing (70.43). He also hasn’t thrown an interception in his last 265 attempts, helping Oregon to the second-best turnover margin in the country (1.86).
The Bruins, meanwhile, are trying to survive without starting tackles Torian White and Simon Goines. Two true freshmen already start on the offensive line, and assistant coach Adrian Klemm is loath to burn any more redshirts. The ground game has also suffered without starting tailback Jordon James. A top-15 rushing offense earlier this year, UCLA hasn’t cleared 80 yards in two straight games; it is now ranked 39th.
Autzen Stadium is also one of the loudest stadiums in the country. If UCLA somehow pulls off the shocker against these odds, it’s right back on the national map.
For the Ducks, it’s another week in what Oregon fans expect to be an undefeated campaign. Some students have already printed “We Want Bama” T-shirts.
Key players: Quarterback Brett Hundley is coming off his poorest performance of the season, throwing two interceptions to Stanford safety Jordan Richards and averaging a career-low 4.9 yards per attempt. He seems rattled by the porous line in front of him; offensive Noel Mazzone even admitted that the issue lurked in the back of Hundley’s mind all game. Jake Brendel’s low snaps also disrupted UCLA’s rhythm. The
junior redshirt sophomore center didn’t miss as badly as he did at Utah earlier this month, but even a slight mishap hampers the timing Hundley has with his receivers.
UCLA’s entire defense will also be pressed like never before. Linebacker Anthony Barr thought that the Bruins could be better matched up against Oregon rather than Stanford, given the time they spend practicing against an up-tempo offense. We’ll see. Opposing teams have also targeted cornerback Ishmael Adams much more than Fabian Moreau, so he should have another busy day.
Mariota has weapons aplenty, most notably running back De’Anthony Thomas. He expects to return this Saturday after missing almost four full games with a sprained ankle. The junior was Oregon’s lead back to start the season, but with the emergence of sophomore Byron Marshall — he of 746 yards and nine touchdowns — Thomas shift back to the do-it-all role he had last year. Receivers Josh Huff and Bralon Addison have combined for 1,170 yards and 12 touchdowns. The latter has also returned punt return touchdowns, both against Cal.
Cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is regarded as one of the best in the country, and led the Pac-12 with 20 pass breakups in 2012 as a first-year starter. His stats are down at two interceptions and two pass breakups, but teams avoid throwing in his direction.
Did you know?: Oregon’s highest-scoring game came on Oct. 21, 1910, when it beat Puget Sound, 115-0. Charles Taylor scored 10 touchdowns.