Game Day Roundup: Playing Smart & Preventing Oregon's Fast Starts

Let's get this roundup started. If our guys want to have a shot at victory tonight, they will need to prevent the Ducks from getting off to a fast start:

UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel, who figures to receive the brunt of the fans' abuse from his days as coach at Colorado and Washington, fancies Oregon as a fast-starting team, which means the rowdy crowd, already given plenty of tailgating time because of the late kickoff, could become even more boisterous.

When the Bruins played at Autzen two years ago, they fell behind 20-3 in the first quarter and never recovered. This season the Ducks are outscoring their mostly underwhelming opponents 65-17 in the first quarter.

"We've got to get off to a good start," Neuheisel said. "We have to get ourselves into a football game where we know we're capable of competing for 60 minutes. It settles down all the other stuff. Oregon is notorious for quick starts. They get off fast, especially at home."

Oregon smothered Washington, Washington State and Utah State early, using the spread offense to confound the defense by mixing the pass with the run.

The Ducks are seventh nationally in rushing (267.2 ypg), 10th in total offense (482.8 ypg) and 11th in scoring (41.2 ppg). They also have big-play capabilities with tailbacks Jeremiah Johnson and LeGarrette Blount, and the quarterback situation is capable, albeit unsettled, with Justin Roper returning from injury and set to split time with Jeremiah Masoli.

"You have to block out distractions and just focus on playing the game, and not let the bells and whistles that exist outside the field of play get your attention," Neuheisel said. "With a young team, that's hard to do all the time."

One guy who will have to stay focused and not fazed by all the off field shenanigans is Kevin Craft. Kevin Pearson from the Press Enterprise has a nice story on how the first year Bruin QB just might be "finding his groove":

In UCLA's first three games, Craft's efficiency rating was a combined 92.19. But over the past two games, it is 134.64.

But perhaps the biggest thing he has done is protect the football and give UCLA's offense a chance. The Bruins have had just two turnovers in the past three weeks and none have been a result of Craft.

"After the last two weeks, it can't do anything but help your confidence," UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel said. "There is a lot of improvement to be made and I know he feels that way."

Craft will have to have another smart, efficient game today against Oregon, which features an experienced secondary, including star safety Patrick Chung, who is an All-American. Throw in the fact that Autzen Stadium is among the loudest places in the country with the stands practically touching the field, and it will be no easy task.

With UCLA's top two quarterbacks out and its next two behind Craft inexperienced, he has also been durable behind an entirely new offensive line. He has been sacked eight times but had made some improvisational plays with his legs the past two games.

"He is making great decisions and is maturing as a quarterback," tailback Kahlil Bell said. "That's always nice to see when you have someone who came in and was a little unsure of himself.

"Now, he's just as confident as anyone we've had in the past. He's become more comfortable with his role and getting in guys' faces, telling them we have to get a first down. He's more confident in his role and that's what's separating him right now."

For Kevin to keep his efficient performance from last two games, he will need to get adequate protection from his OL. The spotlight matchup in the trenches will be between true frosh Jeff Baca and Oregon RE Nick Reed (which we talked about earlier in the week). Baca is going to need help to contain the leading sacker in the conference and Dohn reports that Palcic is working out to a scheme in which Baca will likely "get plenty of help from a tight end or running back."

Meanwhile on the other side of the ball, there is a little shakeup on Oregon's OL:

The Ducks will also shift their offensive line because a knee injury that will sideline starting left tackle Fenuki Tupou. Instead, center Max Unger will play left tackle, backup Jordan Holmes will start at left guard, Jeff Kendall (the left guard) will start at center, Mark Lewis will remain at right guard and Bo Thran (the backup left tackle) will start at right tackle.

I am sure those notes will not be missed by DeWayne Walker, who will be in the spotlight for his scheming against the spread offense:

The Bruins have had trouble against spread offenses in recent seasons, and the Ducks run the spread as well as anyone. Oregon averages 482.8 yards a game, which is 10th in the nation, even though injuries have beset three quarterbacks.

Nate Costa is out for the season. Justin Roper suffered a knee injury in the third week. Jeremiah Masoli sustained a concussion a week later.

Masoli didn't miss a game and Roper could return this week. Yet the offense has rarely been held in check by any team other than USC.

All that said ... the odds are against the Bruins tonight. For them to have any shot they will have to play smart, prevent a fast start by Oregon's explosive offense, and get leadership from veterans like Brigham Harwell (who is profiled in the LA Times). It will be interesting to see how these guys respond after the incremental improvements from last three weekend and the utter humiliation in their only other road game of the season.

We will have to wait all day for the kickoff today (7:15 PST on FSN). The game thread will go up about half an hour before kickoff. We will also have a pre game thread up around 9 am PST to follow all the other actions around the nation. Enjoy your Game Day.

GO BRUINS.

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