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Spaulding Roundup: Ducks Coming In As Favorites, Rusty Prince & Questions Around Bruin Defense

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Let's pick up where I left off in our roundup from yesterday am. Reading through all the game related articles and posts from Oregon outlets it seems folks who follow the Ducks are pretty comfortable heading into this weekend's game even without Jeremiah Masoli. The sense I get around this game from people who are not UCLA fans is that with Nate Costa in charge it's not a matter of whether they will beat up UCLA, it's just that they won't get to blow the Bruins out. Case in point here is Sam Saig from All Pac-10 blog:

I believe there are many reasons to pick the upset here, but something tells me Oregon will find a way. Costa understands Chip Kelly’s system well, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him flourish (just as LaMichael James has been great at RB in place of Blount). The UCLA run defense is good, but Stanford proved that it is not impenetrable. I also love the way Oregon’s defensive front seven is playing, so Prince (or Craft) may be in for a very long day if the pass rush looks like it has over the past couple of weeks.

I see the resilient Ducks pulling this one out in Pasadena.

Prediction: Oregon 30 – UCLA 24

And from his colleague Dave Consolazio:

Even with the injuries, I think Oregon has what it takes to win this game. What it really comes down to is mental toughness, something the Ducks didn’t show a whole lot of the last time they headed out on the road. I’m going to trust them to get the job done this time around; but it’ll come down to the wire.

Prediction: Oregon 27 – UCLA 23

The Sports Network from SBN is essentially making the same prediction:

The Ducks are firing on all cylinders at the moment, but they are in for a fight against UCLA and its stingy defense. Still, Oregon has enough weapons and a solid defense itself, and that should be enough to propel the visiting team to victory.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Oregon 28, UCLA 24

Ted Miller is sticking with conventional wisdom and staying on the Ducks bandwagon:

Oregon 28, UCLA 20: UCLA gets its starting quarterback, Kevin Prince, back. Oregon likely will go with its backup quarterback, Nate Costa. The Ducks are back on the road for the first time since Boise State. UCLA is pretty stout on defense. Lots of reasons suggest a potential upset. But the Ducks have so much momentum, it's hard to jump off the bandwagon.

I understand that lot of UCLA fans will get upset reading those predictions. Hey they bug me to no end either. There is not much we can say right now though, given where our program cratered after years of Toledo and Dorrell's malaise last year and how current coaches are battling to reestablish it piece by piece. The effort up in Palo Alto against a good Stanford team didn't help because of the way Stanford offense dominated our strength - defense - during the first three quarters of the game. So it's pretty reasonable for impartial observers to perceive Oregon as the favorites heading into this Saturday's matchup.

But remember what happened last year up in Eugene. With Masoli and Blount Ducks beat the Bruins by 7 points. They came out and blitzed us early on and went up by a score of 14-0 (man that's a tired, familiar theme for a Bruin defense), yet the Bruins even with Kevin Craft at charge had a shot in the fourth quarter. So it's not unreasonable for uson the other hand to believe we have a decent shot ourselves of pulling out a victory over a solid team this weekend at the Rose Bowl.

Obviously lot of our chances depend on the health of Kevin Prince and the mindset of our defense, which failed to impose their will and make necessary adjustments early on this past weekend, letting the game get away. More on that aftrer the jump.

Let's start with Prince. Jon Gold posted after practice yesterday:

Kevin Prince looked a full day better than yesterday, and it appears that he only really needs to shake off some rustiness, rather than any lingering effects from missing three weeks.

Chris Foster's LAT report was mixed:

Prince struggled through practice, missing on more than a handful of throws. Yet, he also displayed arm strength and was on target enough to be in line to start.

"I didn't make as much progress as I would like," Prince said. "You don't want to miss wide-open receivers. I know where to go with the ball and I don't feel my decision making is leading me astray. It's just accuracy and timing on throws. If I'm not done tomorrow, then I'm going to have to do some extra work Friday to make sure it's right for Saturday."

Needless to say it will be imperative for our OL and RBs to provide adequate protection for Prince tomorrow against a solid Oregon defense. Actually our guys have done a pretty good job of it so far this season but I am sure QB protection is going to be a point of emphasis in this week's practice. Sports Network has more on Oregon's defense which has also taken their game up another notch last couple of weeks:

Last weekend, the Ducks were outstanding on defense as they held WSU to a mere 158 yards of offense, including just 51 through the air. The unit surrendered a measly four first downs and added three takeaways and four sacks to the dominating effort.

"The best thing about this defense is how they compete," said coach Kelly. "They have come to play every game so far and we are going to ride them. We are encouraging where our defense is at right now. They are continuing to build."

Will Tukuafu, who had 7.5 sacks in 2008, finally got on the board with his first two sacks in the blowout win and his emergence is certainly a good thing for the Ducks.

I think one way the UCLA offense can get it going is if they find a way to stretch the Oregon defense. I am not talking about throwing some deep passes (which I am sure we will see with Prince back in action) or calling for short passing plays (which we have seen a lot of under Craft). I think it would be good for our coaches to add on few more dimensions to our running game.

Instead of just getting out backs to explode between the tackles, I'd like them to work in some tosses and stretch plays and run outside. I think we have the speed in Jet Skit, Knox and Thigpen to make that happen. We already saw what Thigpen can do. I remember the move Knox put on the Tenessee defender on a screen pass in Neyland and Jet Ski ... well has the speed. So it would be good to get our backs to run to the outside beat more and have them use their athletcism and speed in open spaces. See what they can do. Just a thought.

Meanwhile, on the defensive side the guys are preparing for both Masoli and Costa:

"You got one guy who's a better passer and one guy who's a better runner," UCLA defensive end Korey Bosworth said. "He'll run that speed option, the other that bubble screen. It's like two different games in one day. What would I rather see? Whatever they've got. Whatever they throw at us."

If it's Costa, the Ducks will almost certainly throw more.

Masoli, and the option comes out.

While Masoli is the better runner and Costa might be more a pure passer, I think the Bruin defense needs to prepare themselves for a multi dimensional thread no matter who is at QB. More importantly and I know I am sounding like a broken record here, they need to come out and make a statement in the first quarter. They haven't done it the entire season and it really caught up with the team this past weekend, when falling behind against a grinding, clock eating offense killed our realistic chances to win the game. Marcia Smith of all people actually has a decent piece on our defense and their mindset heading into the Oregon game:

The Bruins have their statistical walls to throw in front of the Ducks. The defense ranks in the league's upper half in every statistical category: second in scoring allowed (15.5 points per game), third in total yards allowed (281.2), fourth against the pass (192.0) and fifth against the rush (99.2).

Safety Rahim Moore leads the nation in interceptions with five in four games and is tops in the Pac-10 with nine passes defended. Linebacker Reggie Carter ranks sixth in the conference in tackles (7.8 per game). Preseason All-America junior Price, who has drawn double-team attention, ranks third in tackles for loss (seven solo TFLs).

The numbers didn't matter after the defeat, when all the defensive players wanted to do was think about the tackles they missed, the penalties that hurt and, as Price said, "all the times we shot ourselves in the foot."

Pride was what left them in the post-game locker room with their heads hanging the lowest, their postures the most slackened and their words the most self-critical.

Carter said, "We should have held up better against them," while teammate Bosworth looked ahead, saying "We (the players on defense) feel really terrible about what happened here (at Stanford). We're devastated as a unit and, I promise you, we'll be ready for Oregon."

This was pride talking and a program growing. Now the Bruin D just wants to get rid of the sting.

Making a statement right out of the gate this Saturday will certainly help.

GO BRUINS.