It’s safe to say Duck fans took a collective sigh of relief as Oregon defeated the UCLA Bruins this week in a tough on-the-road conference match-up that put the Ducks back on the right track toward the 2014 College Football Playoff. After a tough week following a devasting loss to Arizona, this match up was a must win and provided a number of takeaways for Duck Nation to chew on as it turns its attention to Hate Week, a face off with conference foe, the Washington Huskies at Autzen Stadium.
Here are 7 things we learned from Oregon vs. UCLA:
1. Jake Fisher is Critical to Duck Offense
The numbers don’t lie. Facing two “lesser” opponents with a battered offensive line right before Oregon’s match up with UCLA, Marcus Mariota was sacked a total of 12 times. With one of its starting Offensive Tackle’s, Jake Fisher, returning this game, Mariota wasn’t sacked even once. Fisher seems to have been the sealer on a leaky roof that left many wondering if Oregon’s road to the playoffs was doomed. It turns out, Fisher’s maturity and leadership on the line is just what the football doctor ordered.
2. UCLA Players are Scrappy
Of course there is always some trash talk and taunting between players during a game but a look at the game replay reveals a tremendous amount of unsportsman-like conduct by the UCLA Bruins. In particular, UCLA Linebacker, Myles Jack, could be seen shoving Mariota into the ground while grabbing him by the back of the collar after tackling him. Fortunately, it takes a whole lot more than that to rattle Mariota who, on the other hand, could be seen helping other UCLA players up after different plays.
A more blatant example of unsportsman-like conduct came from UCLA Defensive Lineman, Eddie Vanderdoes, who threw a punch, nailing Oregon Offensive Tackle, Jake Fisher in the side/stomach, directly in front of the referees. He was penalized but many believe his conduct warranted ejection. Pac 12 Commissioner, Larry Scott, is said to be reviewing the punch to decide if further penalties should be imposed.
3. UCLA Coaches Can Also be Scrappy
Perhaps one of the best shows of the afternoon came not from the field but from the sidelines. After a 72-yard scoring drive by the Oregon Offense, UCLA Defensive Coordinator, Jeff Ulbrich, shared some “words” on the sideline in what appeared to involve Ulbrich angrily offering to give up his headset and play calling card to Mora. Fortunately, the two coaches go way back and Mora was able to calm Ulbricht down by simply placing both hands on Ulbrich’s face and calmly looking into his eyes. The two coaches returned to their posts and a coaching and friendship crisis was averted. Unfortunately, the two were not able to coach the Bruins to victory but the exchange provided great entertainment. . . and of course a fabulous photo op.
4. Brett Hundley is Really Good
Despite his team’s loss to Oregon, UCLA Quarterback, Brett Hundley, deserves a lot of credit for what he was able to do against Oregon. What may have been lost in all of the “Maserati Mariota” chatter was just how similar, and often better, Hundley’s stats were compared to Mariota. Though he did throw one pick to Oregon Cornerback, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Hundley’s pass completion percentage was even higher than Mariota’s. He was also incredible on his feet, scrambling and picking up a ton of rushing yards.
5. UCLA outplayed Oregon. . .On Paper
Given the score, it may come as a surprise to some that UCLA out played Oregon on paper. In most areas ( Passing, Rushing, Quarterback Passing Efficiency) UCLA was better. What killed the Bruins was turnovers, sacks and the inability to turn solid drives into points.
6. Opposing Teams’ Reactions to Mariota are Priceless.
Mariota will tell you all day long that he’s not focused or terribly interested in the Heisman Trophy. For him, team recognition is the most important. But whether he likes it or not, he’s making a very strong case for that trip to New York. Still interception free and creating Sportscenter highlights despite his often struggling offensive line, Mariota’s talent continues to stun opposing players and coaches. Just watch their reactions to his big plays, especially that dribble-like touchdown from this game. You’ll definitely get a kick out of the UCLA defender that missed the tackle and the Defensive Coordinator watching from the sideline.
7. Oregon Defense Improving. . .Somewhat.
There’s no doubt, Oregon’s defense showed significant improvement this week, especially with its 3 sacks and 1 interception against a very tough opponent, lead by a stud quarterback. The defensive woes Oregon faced against Arizona, including the struggle to stop the run, seemed much improved as lanes were much tighter. From a pass rush perspective however, Oregon seems to be struggling making its secondary the weak link. Throughout the season, the Oregon defensive backs seem to be out-manned and out played on many levels. The talent is there, obviously, but the consistency isn’t there. As Oregon moves through its remaining schedule and faces some tough passing quarterbacks (ie: OSU’s Sean Mannion), the Oregon secondary absolutely needs to step up. If that happens, watch out! We might just see this team make it all the way.