Autzen Stadium welcomes back Chip Kelly, Oregon head coach from 2009-12, in his first time there as a visitor. The first-year UCLA head coach brings in a young team enduring growing pains but showing signs of progress through this campaign.
How that progress stacks up against Kelly's former program, which returns home after two straight road losses and presumably looking to exercise some frustration, is the question.
An overtime win over preseason Pac-12 favorite Washington in the Ducks' last home game (Oct. 13) had first-year head coach Mario Cristobal's team generating some modest playoff talk. Losses at Washington State and Arizona have likely taken Oregon out of the Pac-12 championship hunt, but Oregon still has plenty to play for in its return to Autzen.
UCLA at Oregon
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 3 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Oregon -10.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Quarterback questions
UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson came out of the Bruins' Oct. 20 game against Arizona and missed the entirety of last week's matchup with Utah. Veteran Wilton Speight returned to the lineup for the first time since Week 1 to lead UCLA to a one-point win vs. Arizona, but the Bruins' offense never quite clicked in the loss to Utah.
Kelly declared Thompson-Robinson "good to go" before last Friday's game, despite the freshman not playing. The starting job is again shrouded in mystery ahead of the Oregon matchup. The Ducks face their own quarterback question mark this week, with Justin Herbert having been shaken up in last Saturday's loss at Arizona.
Oregon struggled mightily without Herbert in the lineup a season ago. His potential absence could be a boon for the Bruins.
2. Stopping the run
The common thread in both Oregon and UCLA's losses last week was an inability to stop the run. Oregon surrendered 276 yards to Arizona, with Wildcats feature back J.J. Taylor tallying 212 of them. The Ducks face another No. 1 back capable of putting up some big numbers: UCLA's Joshua Kelley eclipsed 100 yards in four straight games before finishing last week's loss with 90.
Getting Kelley going is key for UCLA's offense, but the Bruins defense cannot let C.J. Verdell do damage. UCLA was gashed by Utah's Zack Moss last Friday, one week after allowing more than 100 yards to Arizona's Taylor and Gary Brightwell. Compounding matters, the Bruins' best run-stopper — linebacker Krys Barnes — came out of last week's game with an arm injury.
3. Giving or taking away
The Pac-12's top two turnover-generating defenses are Oregon and UCLA. For the Bruins in particular, takeaways have been critical to their two wins, and are byproducts of an outstanding secondary. The deepest unit on the UCLA roster took a hit this week, losing Colin Samuel for the season.
Still, Oregon must contend with Adarius Pickett and Darnay Holmes, two of the most proven play-makers at defensive back in the Pac-12, as well as fast-improving Quentin Lake.
Oregon owes its success generating turnovers in no small part to its ability to render offenses one-dimensional. Last week's porous showing against the run was aberration compared to the rest of the campaign, and the front seven's ability to stymie the UCLA rushing attack could force either Speight or Thompson-Robinson to throw into dangerous situations.
Oregon's flirtation with a return to championship contention may have been a year premature. Still, the Ducks are better than they showed a week ago in Tucson, and they'll be eager to return to form against an overmatched opponent. UCLA's well-coached and plays hard, and rarely fails to compete in the early going of games.
The Bruins may be able to stick with the Ducks for a half, but Oregon's physicality should wear down the younger Bruins by the second half. Expect Kelly to leave Autzen Stadium with 50 percent as many losses as at Autzen Stadium as he suffered his four seasons as Oregon head coach.