At the midpoint of the season the Oregon Ducks are exactly where they want to be. In National Championship position. The Ducks are ranked first in the AP and Harris polls, and second in the BCS behind Oklahoma. So where you position Oregon in the rankings is really up to you, but considering 2 out of 3 have them #1, I’ll take the liberty of rounding up. Plus I have a hard time giving the benefit of the doubt (doubt being another word for the computers involved in the BCS) to the same Sooner team that narrowly escaped the upset against Utah State. Regardless of what number you put next to the Ducks in the rankings there is only one number that truly matters for the high flyers from Oregon, and that is the 0 in the loss column. However, following the downfalls of Alabama and Ohio State in consecutive weeks, the Oregon Ducks look to break the streak of top-ranked teams losing. The Ducks will have the Autzen crowd to support them, and a much more inferior opponent in UCLA than the likes of South Carolina and Wisconsin (the two teams to beat Alabama and Wisconsin respectively).
The Ducks are fresh off their bye week after a bruising game in Pullman against Washington State. This Thursday night a national television audience will watch as the top-ranked men of Oregon welcome in the not-so-top-ranked men of UCLA on ESPN. The Bruins, also coming off of a bye week, will carry a 3-3 record into Autzen Stadium. Though the Bruins have looked very up and down this season, they have notoriously played Oregon tough including last year in a game quarterback Nate Costa led the Ducks to a 23-13 victory in Pasadena in the absence of Jeremiah Masoli (or as he is now known is Oregon “he who must not be named”.) UCLA, though their record may not show it, has played decent football thus far, with losses to very solid Kansas State, Stanford, and California teams. They do also hold some very quality wins over highly over-rated but still highly ranked opponents in Texas and a Case Keenum-less Houston squad. But UCLA Head Coach Rick Neuheisel needs to start piling up some wins if he hopes to keep his job for too much longer. Everyone knows that a win at Oregon could be a program changer for the Bruins if they can pull off the upset. However, the hostile Autzen crowd and a super-charged Oregon attack stand in the way of any such victory for the cubs from Cali.
Oregon’s high-powered attack on offense got a little bruised and sore against Washington State, with injuries littered throughout the line-up. The most notable and frightening of these was the concussion suffered by sophomore running back Kenjon Barner. Barner sustained the injury while returning a kick-off, when a Washington State player delivered a vicious but legal blow to the head of Barner. The star sophomore laid on the ground for what seemed like an eternity before being taken to a nearby hospital for observation. He was released a few days later and seems to be on the road to recovery. However, do not expect to see Barner’s #24 in the backfield for the Ducks on Thursday night. With concussions of any magnitude, let alone one as bad as Barner’s, it is vital that the player stay on the sidelines until he and more importantly until the doctors think he is ready to play. There should be no immediate need for Barner against UCLA. Heisman hopeful LaMichael James looks to have a huge game in front of a national television audience, which could go a long way in his quest to get to New York for the Heisman Trophy Ceremony. If James can eclipse the 100-yard mark again this week that would tie the Oregon consecutive game streak of 100+ yards set by now Carolina Panther Jonathan Stewart, giving him 14 in a row. With James receiving the majority of the carries in the absence of Barner, quarterback Darron Thomas will need to play a role in the running game as well. Thomas was also hurt against Washington State when he sprained a joint in his shoulder. The injury was not thought to be serious, but there was no need to bring Thomas back in after he left in the second quarter. Thomas is expected to play this week, and look for him to play another solid game on ESPN following his impressive display when in the same position against Stanford. The player that Thomas and the rest of the Oregon offense need to watch out for is linebacker Akeem Ayers. Ayers has been dominant at times this season, particularly in Austin as he played a major role in the upset over Texas. He is a top-quality athletic pass-rusher that could go high in next year’s NFL Draft. With Ayers being the player that the Ducks will focus on in their read-option game, he can either be the Ducks best friend or their worst enemy. The offensive line will need to be disciplined to minimize the penalty yardage they have racked up on occasion. With a mastermind like Head Coach and offensive guru Chip Kelly at the helm, the Ducks should find ways to thrash the UCLA defense to light up the scoreboard again. Great news for Oregon fans, bad news for Puddles the Duck’s arms as the push-up king of Oregon had better come limber and ready to sweat.
On defense the Ducks need to make a statement and make it loud. Any time people talk about the Ducks the conversation always centers on how good the offense is. Then the conversations goes to something like “just imagine how good they could be if they played defense.” While being overshadowed by the nation’s most explosive offense, the Oregon defense has played very well too. While they have given up a few points here and there, they have absolutely dominated the second halves of games. This is due to their superior conditioning and athletic ability, and the fact that they have to keep up with the best offense in the country every day in practice. Something that people do not seem to understand is that the Duck defense spend a lot of time on the field because the offense works so quickly. The Ducks had their longest drive of the season against Washington State…it was only 4 minutes long! In effect for the defense they get on the field just as often as a defense for a team that has an offense that goes 3 and out every time. When the opposing offense gets that many opportunities with the ball, of course they are going to score a few times. Notice as the Oregon offense slows down in the second half because of big leads, so does the opponents offense. IN addition to that, the Ducks have forced a lot of turnover this season. When you play that style of aggressive football, you are going to allow some big plays. That’s just the way it is. This week UCLA will try to run the ball with running back Jonathan Franklin, who has done well so far this season averaging 113 yards per game. In the passing game there is an experienced quarterback in Kevin Prince and his favorite target Nelson Rosario. This offense is not as high powered, athletic or as talented as the Duck defense, so look for turnovers and big plays. Maybe Cliff Harris will do something impressive; he always seems to find his way into the highlight reel in one way or another.
The Oregon Ducks have the honor of being the top-ranked team in the nation. So what does that get them? High expectations and a target on their back. As a reader told me last week, when you reach the level that the Ducks are at, every team turns their game against Oregon into their season. No team will hold anything back against the Ducks, because taking down the #1 ranked team can save a season, save a job, and save fans from abandoning the team. The Ducks have a lot of big games remaining this season, each one being more important than the last. If Oregon wanted a shot at glory and more importantly respect, they now have it. What they do with that opportunity is completely up to them. They have their destiny in their hands. One game at a time. Win The Day.
Ducks win 55-16
About the Author
Written by Rob Parness
My name is Robbie Parness and I am a student at the University of Oregon. I'm a California native that loves to play, watch and talk about all kinds of sports. I would love to become a sports writer someday or work in sports in any capacity.