The UCLA Bruins will be finishing off the first of their two back-to-back home Saturdays of the season when the Oregon Ducks (4-1, 1-1) fly south for the weekend. AHMB started out our look at the Ducks yesterday with his preview of Mark Helfrich and his staff, along with their special teams.
Unlike last week, the Bruins will be facing a team notorious for their offensive prowess. When looking at just D-1A (aka FBS) opponents, the Ducks rank 18th in yards/game for the season (498.5), but just 5th in the Pac-12. As was the case in last week's look at Utah. the Ducks total stats are a bit higher thanks to their opening game against an FCS/D1-AA opponent. And just as IE Angel used only games against other FBS teams in his preview last week, I'll do the same here.
The Ducks production looks a bit stronger when you look at their yards/play, with their 6.8 ypp ranking 11th in the NCAA and 3rd in the conference (behind ASU and Cal). Arizona was able to hold them to just 5.6 ypp in their win in Eugene last Thursday. They are 27th nationally/4th Pac-12 in 3rd down conversions (45.3%), but this is another part of the game in which the Wildcats defense was successful, limiting Oregon to converting just 4 of 14 (28.6%) of their 3rd downs. Oregon is known for a quick moving offense with a strategy which minimizes the traditional importance of offensive time of possession. That has carried through to 2014, with their average of 73 plays/game coming in 77th in the NCAA (10th in the Pac-12) while their 25:50 average time of possession is the lowest in the Pac-12 and 6th lowest in Division 1.
Nearly any discussion of Oregon's offense is going to start with junior QB Marcus Mariota, and for good reason. As AHMB noted in yesterday's coaching preview, their offense - while still basically the same offense - has shifted from a run focused attack to become one of the better aerial forces in college football. Some of that may be due to a difference in ideology between Chip Kelly and Helfrich, but having an experienced, Heisman-caliber Quarterback running the show helps out quite a lot. The Ducks still like to run the ball, with a 45/55 pass/run split in their offensive plays making Oregon one of the more run-oriented teams in college football (84th nationally in % of passing plays). But with Mariota behind center they make their passes count, ranking 19th nationally/6th Pac-12 in passing yards/game (310.5) and 15th overall/2nd Pac-12 in yards/completion (14.8 ypc).
But if your discussion of the Ducks offense didn't start with Mariota, then it likely centers on the offensive line that has struggled to protect him this fall (an all too familiar feeling for Bruin fans). Injuries have taken their toll on the unit since the spring. Athlon Sports took (in hindsight) a pretty useful look at how O-line problems could end Oregon and UCLA's playoff hopes last month. Projected starter at LT Tyler Johnstone suffered a season-ending knee injury during Spring Camp, while two other starters have missed time due to injury this fall. While the Ducks have one of the nation's elite linemen in 4-year starting C Hroniss Grasu, the rest of the first unit is a , with true freshman Tyrell Crosby and junior walk-on Matt Pierson at the ends of the line, and Hamani Stevens and Cameron Hunt holding down the guard spots.
When they are not busy frantically trying to keep Mariota in one piece, those linemen are working to open holes for one of a trio of talented running backs - junior Byron Marshall, sophomore Thomas Tyner and true freshman Royce Freeman. To date, Freeman has emerged as the team's leading rusher, with 346 yards on 67 carries, including 75 and 85 yard games against WSU and Arizona. Tyner has the 2nd most carries, but has not done as much with the ball, averaging 4.4 yards/carry and just 1 TD, with a combined 15 carries for 66 yards in Oregon's 2 Pac-12 games. Marshall was the team's leading rusher last fall (1038 yards). This season, he has taken a back seat in the running game (24 carries) but has emerged as a weapon in their passing game, leading the team with 24 catches for 299 yards (2 TD's).
Some of you who follow recruiting might remember Oregon's freshman wideout/track star Devon Allen. The Bruins made a run at him in the 2013 class, but he ended up going up to Eugene to run track and play some football. The track and field aspect has worked out for him - after redshirting in football last fall, he won the national championship in the 110-meter hurdles, clocking the 2nd fastest time ever recorded by a collegiate runner. Back on the football field, he is Oregon's top receiver, with 19 catches for 377 yards and 6 TD's (12-220-3 in 2 Pac-12 games). Senior WR Keanon Lowe has emerged after a couple of seasons far down the list of Duck receiving targets with 17 catches. Sohhomore WR Dwayne Stanford amd junior TE Pharaoh Brown round out the receiving threats.
The Ducks are going to provide the strongest test yet to the Mora/Ulbrich defense's ability to prevent explosive plays. Allen already has TD catches of 70 and 80 yards on the season (v. Michigan State and WSU), and three of their other receivers have catches of 57 or more yards. With Mariota able to break a big play with his arm or legs given the opportunity, it will be crucial for our defensive front to get the best of Oregon's patchwork O-line on Saturday.
We'll be wrapping up our Oregon previews tomorrow with a look at their defense. Until then,