Oregon and UCLA share a few traits heading into Saturday's matchup at the Rose Bowl.
Both teams are coming off disappointing, 4-8 finishes a season ago. Each has shown marked improvement in 2017, but need to finish strong in the latter-half of the schedule to strengthen their postseason positioning. Also, neither team has won away from home this season — a fact that benefits the host Bruins this week.
Despite a 3-0 start, Oregon limps in off two, lopsided losses, both suffered with quarterback Justin Herbert on the shelf due to a collarbone injury. UCLA also comes in off a loss, giving up 457 rushing yards to Arizona on Oct. 14. The Bruins are 1-3 since breaking into the Top 25 rankings last month. Facing a brutal schedule in the second half of the season, UCLA needs to win games like this one against the wounded Ducks.
Oregon at UCLA
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 21 at 4 p.m. ET
TV Channel: Pac-12 Networks
Spread: UCLA -6.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Turnovers set the tone
Both UCLA and Oregon lost by double digits last week, and while the nature of their defeats vary — UCLA was far more competitive against Arizona than Oregon was at Stanford — turnovers played a central role in setting the tone. Ducks freshman quarterback Braxton Burmeister was pulled from the lineup after throwing two interceptions.
For UCLA, quarterback Josh Rosen, who led the nation in passing yards coming into the Oct. 14 Pac-12 date, was picked off three times.
Oregon defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt has long operated on a style built around creating interceptions, starting with an aggressive pass rush to throw off the quarterback. After Rosen took five sacks last week, leading directly to the three picks, expect to see the Ducks come at UCLA early.
2. Can UCLA stop Oregon's run game?
Despite the uncertainty at quarterback, with Burmeister getting the start but presumably coming with a short leash, Oregon can and will run the ball. The Ducks have a multifaceted backfield with Royce Freeman (above, right) and Kani Benoit both doing some impressive things this season, and Burmeister showing flashes of the rushing ability that made him a coveted recruit.
What's more, Oregon will be opposite a UCLA defense that has been dreadful against the run. The Bruins rank next to last in the FBS in rushing defense this season, behind only Tulsa. Running quarterbacks in particular have given UCLA fits. How the Bruins address Burmeister early to eliminate option opportunities will set the tone.
3. A more well-rounded UCLA offense
After dismal rushing performances in 2016, the UCLA offense has seen steady improvement in 2017. Soso Jamabo and Bolu Olorunfunmi each have 100-yard games in the Bruins' last three. If the two can both deliver against an Oregon defense that has had its own struggles defending the run, that should open the field up more for Rosen.
While UCLA has the second-most prolific passing offense in college football, establishing from the run first may be coordinator Jedd Fisch's best course of action.
UCLA has been a different team at the home than it has on the road, beating Texas A&M in a historic comeback; routing Hawaii; and holding off Colorado for a Pac-12 win. Conversely, Oregon's been a different team without starting quarterback Justin Herbert. The loss of that credible and dangerous passing attack to balance with the rushing attack limits the Ducks' offense, and the defense is too much of a work-in-progress to keep Oregon in games.
Josh Rosen struggled with turnovers his last time out, which would be an equalizer for the Ducks — but don't expect back-to-back bad games from the Bruins' quarterback. UCLA should end its losing skid to Oregon and get its first victory in the series in a decade.