Topping the action from Week 7 will be tough, but one of the must-see games for Week 8 takes place in the Pac-12 with UCLA traveling to Eugene to take on Oregon. The Ducks and Bruins are the conference's only remaining unbeaten teams in league play and perhaps the best hope of a shot at the CFB Playoff. Saturday's game should provide some clarity in the conference title mix, but USC and Utah are also lurking, meaning this battle is likely to go down to the wire.
Oregon has been flying under the radar since its loss to Georgia (49-3) in the season opener. The Bulldogs (with a few other teams) are simply on a different level right now, so while a 46-point defeat never looks good on paper, the Ducks are a better team than that result showed. New coach Dan Lanning has steadied the ship since that matchup and Oregon has reeled off five consecutive wins. Among those victories came a 41-20 defeat of BYU in Eugene, along with a thrilling 44-41 road win against Washington State. Lanning's team has work to do to reach the Pac-12 Championship Game even if it wins on Saturday. The Ducks hit the road for back-to-back games (California and Colorado), followed by home dates against Washington and Utah before closing the year at rival Oregon State.
UCLA entered the 2022 season in an interesting spot under coach Chip Kelly. Although the Bruins took a step forward in '21 with an 8-4 mark, question marks remained about whether the program could push even higher and contend for the Pac-12 title. So far, it certainly looks that way in '22. UCLA is off to a 6-0 start thanks to wins over South Alabama (32-31), Washington (40-32), and Utah (42-32). Although Kelly's return to Eugene is certainly an interesting storyline, that shouldn't overlook what could be in store if the Bruins win this game. After Saturday's contest in Eugene, Kelly's team has just one matchup (USC) remaining on its schedule against a team with a winning record. In other words, a win here would put UCLA in the driver's seat for a trip to the Pac-12 title game.
Oregon has won nine out of the last 10 against UCLA. However, the last two meetings between these two programs were decided by three points or fewer. The Bruins' last victory in Eugene took place in '04.
No. 9 UCLA at No. 10 Oregon
When UCLA Has the Ball
Scoring points certainly hasn't been an issue for UCLA this season. Kelly has assembled one of the nation's top offenses behind quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson and running back Zach Charbonnet, as the Bruins have scored at least 40 points in five of their six matchups and posted more than 500 yards in three contests this fall. This unit ranks third in the Pac-12 in scoring (41.5) and first in yards per play (7.2), third-down conversions (54.8), and plays of 40-plus yards (10).
Thompson-Robinson's dual-threat ability makes this offense go, but he's also poised for his best season through the air. The senior enters Saturday's game connecting on 74.8 percent of his passes while averaging 9.3 yards per attempt. Thompson-Robinson has also passed for 1,510 yards and 15 touchdowns to just two picks and ranks first among Pac-12 signal-callers in passer rating (180.6). Jake Bobo (24 catches) has been DTR's most effective target, with Kazmeir Allen (28), Logan Loya (nine), and Titus Mokiao-Atimalala (10) also chipping in at receiver. Tight end Michael Ezeike (13.6 yards a catch) is another big-play threat in the passing game.
Limiting UCLA's big plays through the air is a challenge, especially with the way DTR and Charbonnet are carving defenses up on the ground. This duo powers a ground attack averaging 5.5 yards per play, with Charbonnet's 615 yards pacing the team and Thompson-Robinson adding 231. But the one-two punch of DTR and Charbonnet are facing the toughest defensive front they've played this year on Saturday. The Ducks lead the Pac-12 in rush defense and are holding teams to just 3.7 yards per rush.
Although stats rarely lie, a deeper view of Oregon's defensive numbers is needed. A quick overview of the stat sheet would show you the Ducks rank sixth in the Pac-12 in yards allowed per play (5.74) and eighth in points allowed (28.8). However, both totals are significantly skewed due to the poor performance against Georgia in the season opener. In Pac-12-only matchups, Lanning's defense looks better, as it ranks first in the conference in fewest yards allowed per play (5.3). But the pass defense has been vulnerable through the air (ninth in the league in pass efficiency) and struggles to get off the field on third downs (50.6 percent conversion rate allowed).
No team has found the right formula to slow down UCLA's offense so far. However, the Ducks have one of the best front sevens in the Pac-12 and are holding conference opponents to under 100 rushing yards a game (98.3). Lanning's group needs to generate a few negative plays when the Bruins run the ball and then find ways to get off the field on third down. With a high-scoring game expected, small wins in the red zone and third downs, or a turnover or two, could make a huge difference.
When Oregon Has the Ball
The combination of play-caller Kenny Dillingham and Auburn transfer Bo Nix at quarterback has guided Oregon's offense to 42 points per game and seven yards per snap. The Ducks were held to three points in the opener against Georgia but have scored 41 or more points in five straight games, including three in a row against Pac-12 opponents. Nix is on pace for the best season of his career and enters Saturday with 1,526 yards and 12 scores through the air, along with 331 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground. The Alabama native ranks third among Pac-12 quarterbacks by averaging 365 total yards in league play in '22.
Troy Franklin (27 catches), Chase Cota (19), Kris Hutson (14), and tight end Terrance Ferguson (16) are Nix's top weapons through the air. UCLA ranks 91st nationally in defensive success rate against the pass, so there could be opportunities for the Ducks to exploit this secondary.
Although Dillingham and Nix deserve accolades for their work so far, the offensive line is the unsung hero of this group. Oregon has allowed just one sack, while rushers are averaging 6.2 yards per carry (best in the Pac-12). Timely stops or negative plays are crucial to the outcome on Saturday, and this front five is key to slowing down a UCLA pass rush that's generated 15 sacks and ranks second in the Pac-12 in stuffing the run. Nix will shoulder a chunk of the workload on the ground, but Bucky Irving (429 yards) and Noah Whittington (336) should handle the bulk of the carries at running back. The Bruins have been tough so far against the run, but Utah managed to churn out 192 yards on 43 attempts.
UCLA's defense might not be elite, but this unit has made enough stops or created enough havoc or takeaways to get the ball back to an explosive offense. In Pac-12 games, new coordinator Bill McGovern's group is giving up 27 points a contest. However, the Bruins are near the top of the conference with 12 takeaways.
Considering the firepower and offensive talent in this game, the scoreboard operator at Autzen Stadium could be busy. However, there's an x-factor looming: Rain. If the weather doesn't hold off, wet conditions will make for a soggy track and could create a few more mistakes that both teams could capitalize on. Regardless of what happens with the weather, the setup for this game is pretty simple. Both teams have firepower on offense but question marks on defense. Look for the Ducks and Bruins to move the ball effectively, with timely stops on third down or in the red zone deciding this game. Also, a turnover or key play on special teams could be crucial. The guess here is both teams land punches on offense, but Oregon is better on defense and this one is in Eugene. That's enough to tip a close matchup in the Ducks' favor.