UCLA's Second Chance To Prove It Belongs

Posted Oct 23, 2013

Week 9 Fearless Prediction & Projection - UCLA at Oregon

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UCLA (5-1) at Oregon (7-0) Oct. 26, 7:00, ESPN

Why You Should Give A Hoot: UCLA doesn't want to become Washington.

U-Dub faced Stanford and Oregon in consecutive weeks this month, lost to both and hasn't recovered since. The Bruins, having already fallen to the Cardinal a week ago, 24-10, are determined to rescue their season before a slide begins. There's also the matter of the wide-open Pac-12 South, which becomes increasingly tougher to capture with each league loss.

The Ducks have yet to win a game by less than three touchdowns this season, yet they're still No. 3 in the initial BCS rankings behind Alabama and Florida State. Not to worry. The program is confident that everything will work out just fine as long as it continues to roll along without much resistance. Oregon's Marcus Mariota vs. UCLA's Bret Hundley is one of the most anticipated matchups of young quarterbacks of 2013. NFL scouts are especially interested in both redshirt sophomores.

Why UCLA Might Win: Few teams harbor the offensive firepower to keep up with the Ducks. The Bruins are one of those teams.

Hundley gives UCLA a shot to win every game. He's that rare athlete who can hoist a team on his shoulders and carry it with either his right arm or his feet. Plus, the dual-threat is surrounded by an abundance of speed on both sides of the ball. Head coach Jim Mora is in the process of building the kind of team that can compete physically with the likes of Oregon. On defense, the Bruins will track the ball from sideline-to-sideline with the likes of ends Eddie Vanderdoes and Keenan Graham and linebackers Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks. Obviously, Eugene is a challenge of a different kind, but UCLA has been a good road team so far in 2013.

Why Oregon Might Win: This is a bad week for UCLA to be banged up.

The Bruins won't be at full strength this week, especially along the O-line. The Ducks, to the contrary, expect to get back their most explosive playmaker, RB De'Anthony Thomas, from an ankle injury. Oregon is going to score. The 57-point-per-game attack always does. But, what happens to Hundley if ends Tony Washington and Taylor Hunt are chasing him from the pocket all night? The Ducks are an opportunistic bunch, ranking 13th in the country in sacks and second in takeaways. Forced throws wind up becoming pick-sixes for cornerbacks Ifo-Ekpre-Olomu and Terrance Mitchell.

Who To Watch Out For: Does the Oregon O-line get nearly enough credit? It's a rhetorical question. From left to right, Tyler Johnstone, Mana Greig, Hroniss Grasu, Hamani Stevens and Jake Fisher have been rocks all year, missing just one start in seven games.

- The Bruins are dealing with an ankle issue of their own this week. RB Jordon James was missed at Stanford last week, and is hoping to provide the offense with a little more balance on Saturday. He was a revelation in the first four games, averaging more than six yards per carry.

- Don't be at all surprised if Duck defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti tries to further stress that depleted UCLA O-line with the occasional blitz. Hundley is still young, and he'll be can be induced into mistakes if one of the speedy Oregon linebackers or safeties breaks through the front wall.

What Will Happen: Under different circumstances, maybe. At Autzen Stadium, with an opponent that's limping in? Uh-uh.

You better be at full strength to entertain thoughts of beating Oregon on the road. UCLA is clearly heading in the right direction under Mora, but that shaky O-line is going to be an impediment to success. The nation's third-ranked team might play with a little something extra to prove on Saturday, a scary thought for the Bruins. It'll be nice having Thomas back, but the Ducks probably won't need him. Mariota and a seemingly boundless array of skill players will fuel another comfortable Oregon win.

Prediction: Oregon 45 … UCLA 21
Line: Oregon -23 – O/U: 70
Must See Rating: (5 The Counselor – 1 Last Vegas) … 4.5
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