What to watch: No. 18 UCLA vs. No. 12 Oregon

No. 12 Oregon’s arrival at the Rose Bowl on Saturday could give UCLA a chance at a program-altering win it sorely needs right now — even if head coach Jim Mora was reluctant to acknowledge it this week.

What to watch heading into today’s 12:30 p.m. kickoff:

UCLA offense vs. Oregon defense: For all the talent and skill that Brett Hundley possesses, he can’t do much once he’s dragged to the ground. And considering that the Bruins’ allowed 10 sacks in last week’s loss against Utah last week, it’s almost surprising that the final 30-28 margin wasn’t larger.

The offensive line isn’t completely to blame for all those sacks, but even the staff agreed that the protection on the edges were lacking. Starting tackles Malcolm Bunche and Caleb Benenoch are playing out of position after arriving at UCLA as guards, something that especially showed against Utah defensive ends last weekend. A significant part of the Bruins’ hopes for an upset will depend on if the unit up front can redeem itself — an opportunity that Bunche himself suggested earlier this week.

If Hundley has time to throw, he should be able to find holes in the Ducks’ defense. The redshirt junior has stretched the field in his final season at UCLA, and already has nine passes of at least 40 yards — just eight shy of his previous two-year total. Those nine passes rank him third in the country in that category, behind Cal’s Jared Goff and Washington State’s Connor Halliday.

After allowing fewer than 5.0 yards per play in five of the last six seasons, Oregon is giving up 5.73 this season. Continue reading

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Five questions: The Oregonian’s Andrew Greif talks No. 12 Oregon

Coming off its first loss of the season, No. 18 UCLA hosts Oregon on Saturday as both teams try to keep dimming college football playoff hopes alive. The Oregonian’s Andrew Greif answered five questions about the No. 12 Ducks.

1. Shortly before Oregon’s loss to Arizona, Mark Helfrich was dubbed a “quiet genius.” Was that a premature coronation of sorts, or does he simply need more time to guide the Ducks back to Chip Kelly-like levels?

It wasn’t premature to hail his intellect, because he’s regarded as one of the country’s smartest coaches on a pure intelligence level. But how that’s translated to coaching is muddled for critics, who see his 15-3 Pac-12 coaching record and believe that it should be 17-1, at worst. Honestly, he’s in a no-win situation as Chip Kelly’s successor, a point the “Quiet Genius” story deftly told. His 15-2 conference record entering last week’s game against Arizona tied Helfrich for the best conference coaching start since Pappy Waldorf at Cal in 1947. But then Oregon lost, giving him a third conference defeat — as many as Kelly had in his entire four-year run. You can sense Oregon fans getting restless that given all his intellect and talent on the rosters, the Ducks haven’t done more with it.

2. After holding opponents to 4.61 yards per play in 2013 — the seventh-best mark in the country — the Ducks are giving up 5.73 through five games. How much would you attribute the defensive drop-off to the coordinator change (Nick Aliotti to Don Pellum) versus personnel changes/injuries?

Players and coaches are steadfast that the 3-4 scheme has barely changed since Aliotti retired last January, but there is obviously some difference in play calling when a new coordinator takes over as he learns his comfort calling plays. Continue reading

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Pac-12 links: Utah quarterback Travis Wilson struggling

– Once a rising star, Utah’s sophomore quarterback Travis Wilson doesn’t look the same these days.

– A strong column from the Arizona Daily Star’s Greg Hansen, on the Wildcats’ loss to UCLA.

– After a stint at Louisiana-Monroe, Arizona State defensive back Robert Nelson is living the dream in Tempe.

– Does the Pac-12 need an injury report? Seattle Times columnist Bud Withers says yes, citing the status of Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota. Continue reading

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Anthony Barr praises Marcus Mariota’s toughness

Quarterback Marcus Mariota earned himself a bit of additional respect on Saturday. After taking some big hits from UCLA linebackers in Oregon’s 42-14 win Saturday, his demeanor impressed even Anthony Barr.

“I think people don’t give him enough credit for his toughness and his competitiveness,” the Bruins’ All-American said. Continue reading

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At a glance: No. 12 UCLA at No. 2 Oregon

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. Continue reading

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Pac-12′s Top 25 Players, Part V

Picking up from Parts I, II, III and IV, here are the final five in our top 25 countdown.

5. De’Anthony Thomas, Oregon

Thomas claims track and field season made him even faster — a frightening prospect given that he already threatened to score whenever he touched the ball. The 5-foot-9, 176-pound back is about 20 pounds lighter than All-American predecessors Kenjon Barner and LaMichael James, but is more versatile as a receiver and returner. He’s also responsible for the best tweets in the Pac-12. Continue reading

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