UCLA Football Preview: Can the Bruins Ground Oregon's Offense?
The Bruins should be able to hold the Oregon running game check. Can they do the same with the passing attack?
After the Oregon Ducks’ offensive flew high in the month of September by averaging almost 39 points per game, the team has flown a little lower in October. In their two games since the month changed, the Ducks have scored just 24 points in each of their October games.
Indeed, the September scores look a little…inflated…by the fact that Oregon played FCS school Stony Brook University. That, along with a big offensive display against Arizona, went a long way to raising the team’s average points per game.
If UCLA bring the defense seen against Hawai’i and LSU, they may be able to keep the Ducks out of the end zone. But if Anthony Brown torches the team’s much-maligned pass defense, it will be a long day for the Bruins.
Let’s look at what the Ducks bring on offense.
Graduate transfer Anthony Brown actually has a connection to UCLA AD Martin Jarmond. Brown played his first three seasons at Boston College where Jarmond was the athletic director.
On paper, Brown doesn’t look to be similar to the quarterbacks who have given the Bruins trouble, but Jayden Daniels hadn’t really put up big numbers either until the Sun Devils came to the Rose Bowl.
Brown has not thrown for more than 250 yards this season, though he has connected with his receivers for more than 60 yards on multiple occasions. In fact, he is only averaging 1.4 touchdowns per game against FBS opponents.
Whether Mario Cristobal and offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead ask him to do more through the passing game tomorrow remains to be seen, but it’s certainly not clear that Brown will be able to do that if asked.
One reason the Oregon offense has not been as explosive as it was in September is the season-ending leg injury that CJ Verdell suffered in the third quarter of the Stanford game. That injury ended the Ducks thunder-and-lightening running game, leaving the team to rely primarily on Travis Dye as the team’s featured back.
Beyond Dye, Oregon will rely on a committee of freshman running backs to make up for the loss of Verdell. Trey Benson, Byron Cardwell, and Seven McGee will all look to give Dye a breather, but none of these guys has carried the ball more than eight times. Cardwell is the only one with more than four carries and more than 40 yards. So, he may be the guy tomorrow. Of course, that could be subject to change if one of them seems to be more elusive against the Bruin defense.
The Oregon passing game will likely have to perform better if the Ducks want to beat the Bruins tomorrow. Of course, anyone who’s watched UCLA will say that because of the horrific pass defense that was on display against Fresno State and ASU.
But, it’s even more important for the Ducks tomorrow due to the loss of Verdell.
Dye has been a big part of the passing game so far. In fact, he leads the Ducks in receptions with 15 and averages 10.2 yards per catch. He will be coming out of the backfield quite a bit tomorrow as Oregon will certainly look to exploit the UCLA pass defense.
The biggest deep threat looks to be Mycah Pittman. Pittman is averaging 27.2 yards per catch, though he only has five receptions so far this season. I expect Brown will be looking his way a lot tomorrow.
Dont’e Thornton may only have two receptions coming into this game, but the freshman receiver has proven to be a deep threat after making a 54-yard catch against Stony Brook.
The only other Oregon receiver with more than 10 receptions besides Dye is Johnny Johnson III. Johnson has 14 catches for 200 yards so far this year.
I don’t think that you can understate what the loss of CJ Vardell has meant to the Oregon offense. With Vardell, the Ducks were averaging almost 39 points per game, albeit two of those games were against clearly inferior competition in Stony Brook and Arizona.
I don’t think you can fairly compare the performance of both teams against Arizona because I do believe that Arizona was a much better team with Jordan McCloud as their starting quarterback. Against UCLA, McCloud had his team needing just one score to tie early in the fourth quarter before he got hurt and we don’t know what would have happened had he not gotten hurt.
That said, I’m not sure that the Oregon offense will be powerful enough tomorrow to get past the Bruins because I don’t believe the Ducks passing game is going to flip a switch and suddenly look as good as Fresno State or ASU. Anthony Brown is certainly no Jayden Daniels.
The caveat here, of course, is that the UCLA pass defense has had a tendency for years to take a run-of-the-mill quarterback and make him look like a Heisman contender. That’s what will have to happen tomorrow for UCLA to lose this game.
I don’t think the Ducks will be all that successful pounding the ball against the Bruin run defense. Though, if Anthony Brown uses his legs to make up for the loss of Vardell and the Bruins fail to contain Brown, the nature of things could change significantly.