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UCLA Football Preview: Can the Ducks Stop the Bruin Offense?
While the Ducks have one of the stingiest defenses around, will they be able to stop the Bruins' offensive juggenaut?
Let’s talk about the Oregon defense that Dorian Thompson-Robinson and company will face tomorrow. Shall we?
The defensive side of the ball may be the better of the two for the Ducks. The Oregon run defense is about as stingy as the UCLA run defense. That’s going to pose some problems for the Bruins.
To be sure, Arizona ran the ball 53 times against the Ducks and they managed to grind out 202 yards on the ground. But none of their other opponents have been able to rack up more than 155 yards on the ground.
But the Ducks haven’t exactly faced the toughest competition this season outside of Ohio State. Yet they held the Buckeyes to 128 yards rushing, and they held Stanford to 124.
But the most interesting stat of all might be the fact that the Ducks have only allowed five rushing touchdowns all season. Meanwhile, they’ve allowed twice as many through the air.
All of this raises the important questions: Will DTR be healthy enough to exploit the Oregon pass defense? Will Chip Kelly be stubborn and not replace Thompson-Robinson if he is not able to execute a decent passing attack?
Let’s look at the Ducks’ defensive personnel.
Oregon will start three defensive linemen. Interestingly, the Ducks’ depth chart shows five of the six first and second string guys as being either a freshman or a sophomore. Nose tackle Popo Amuvae is the only junior in the group. Interestingly, Amuvae has only accounted for 17 tackles with none for a loss. That’s only seventh best on the team.
Starting defensive end Brandon Dorlus is tied for the team lead in tackles for loss with 4.5. He has also added 1.5 sacks and two quarterback hurries. On the other side, Oregon will start Keyon Ware-Hudson. He’s made just 12 tackles with three for a loss while getting credit for half a sack. But Ware-Hudson leads the team in quarterback hurries with 4.
While the depth chart makes it look like the Ducks will play a 3-4 defense, one of the linebackers plays in the Ducks’ Star role which is more like a combination safety/linebacker. Look for sophomore Jamal Hill to get the start there. Hill is tied with Amuvae for seventh on the team in tackles.
Kayvon Thibodeux will be the starting outside linebacker opposite Hill. Oregon likes to blitz Thibodeux and that shows with three tackles for loss, two sacks and one hurry.
Keith Brown will be the starting Will linebacker. The true freshman has started just two games for the Ducks and he has yet to contribute much to the defense, but that’s probably because he’s playing next to Oregon’s best defender, Mike linebacker Noah Sewell, who leads the team in tackles with 54 and in sacks with three while also being tied for the team lead in tackles for loss with 4.5. This is the guy UCLA needs to make sure is blocked on each and every play. If the Bruins can’t account for Sewell, it will be a long day for Brittain Brown and Zach Charbonnet.
The Ducks have four sophomores starting in the secondary. At the corners will be Mykael Wright and DJ James. Wright is second on the team in tackles with 37 while leading the team in pass breakups with three. He seems to be the better of the two corners. So, expect to see Wright covering Kyle Philips, assuming that Philips is able to play this week. Chip Kelly did indicate earlier this week that Philips will be available to play.
The starting safeties will be Steve Stephens IV and Verone McKinley III. These guys are two of the team’s playmakers. McKinley is third on the team in tackles with 34 while Stephens is fourth with 28. McKinley leads the team in interceptions with four. The good news for the Bruins is that Oregon will be without junior safety Bennett Williams who got hurt in practice after the Stanford game and is out for the season. Williams was second on the team with three interceptions.
It’s important to remember that, due to last year’s COVID-shortened season, a lot of guys who might be listed as juniors this year are only being listed as sophomores. That seems to be the case with a lot of the Ducks’ defensive starters.
Ultimately, it’s what guys do on the field that counts and Oregon’s defense has proven itself to be pretty stingy overall. The Ducks have only allowed a total of 15 touchdowns all season. By comparison, the Bruins have scored 30 touchdowns.
Something will have to give tomorrow. Considering that Oregon’s schedule includes Stony Brook and a worse Arizona team than the Bruins faced, I suspect that UCLA’s offense will be able to move the ball against the Ducks’ defense and that will be the difference maker.