The Battle for the Pac 12: Oregon vs. UCLA

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The first ever Pac -12 championship game will be played at Autzen Stadium as the host Ducks welcome in the Bruins of UCLA. This matchup makes me think about over-hyped movies that result in anti-climactic endings with me walking out of the theater upset for taking out a personal loan to cover the cost of the film, popcorn, and soda.  Oregon already played the two best teams in the conference and finished 1-1 against them – Stanford and USC.  Now, because of USC’s ineligibility to represent the Pac-12 south, UCLA sneaks in with a miserable 5-4 record in conference play.

Along the road to a title shot, the Bruins beat conference foes OSU, WSU, CAL, ASU, and Colorado while losing to Stanford, Arizona, Utah, and USC.  Oregon has not played UCLA yet this year so if the fans signing “O” get anything it will be a fresh opponent.  UCLA has been tested this year, playing a tough schedule.  They should not view Oregon as an insurmountable task.

After UCLA got blasted 50 to zero by their rival USC, UCLA announced that head Coach Rick Neuheisel would not be back for the 2012 season.  Will the Bruin players rally behind this news?  You see this situation in sports all the time – some team makes an in-season coaching change and the team responds on the field.  The question is: “How will the players and coaches respond?”  Will they go all out for one last against-all-odds win?  Or, will they update the resumes and throw in the towel?  I would expect nothing but the best out of the UCLA coaching staff and players this weekend.

Both teams place an emphasis on running the football. Oregon comes in averaging 291 yards a game (3rd overall in FBS), while the Bruins average considerably less with 193.3 yards a game (23rd overall).

Oregon’s standout running back LaMichael James is listed as probable after sustaining an injury to his left elbow against OSU in the “Civil War” last Saturday afternoon. The Bruins have a pair of their own talented running backs. Johnathan Franklin (5’10 193 lbs.) has carried the ball 149 times for 912 yards, giving him an average of 6.1 yards a carry. Senior bruising tailback number 33 Derrick Coleman (6’1 240lbs.) rushed the pigskin 127 times for 643 yards (5.1 yards per carry) and found the end zone 11 times over the course of the season. Big athletic running backs have given the Duck Defense fits in past games this season.  Can UCLA keep Oregon off guard enough with the passing game to capitalize with Coleman and Franklin?

Bruins QB Kevin Prince will have his hands full recognizing blitzes and coverages in Nick Aliotti’s complex defensive schemes. Prince and UCLA are not known to drop back and throw the ball a bunch unless the game dictates it (trailing by multiple scores).  So if Oregon can force UCLA into a shootout, I believe the Ducks will walk away with a title.  However, UCLA has been able to put up some points this year. They scored 34 in a loss to Houston (who can put up a whole bunch of points), 31 against Cal, and 45 against Colorado. If allowed to play their game, UCLA will chew clock and move the football on the ground.

Coming off that tough loss against USC, Neuheisel and company need to forget the past and come up with an aggressive game plan for the Oregon Ducks. With his job already gone and in a spot (some would say) undeserving of a chance to win a conference championship, Neuheisel can put caution to the wind and get very creative.

Interesting side bet here if anyone wants the action, who will go for it more on 4th down, Kelly or Neuheisel?

Two blueprints emerged this year that stopped Chip Kelly’s offense:  1) a big defensive line, athletic linebackers, and roaming safeties (ala LSU) put a stop to Oregon’s speedy attack early this year, and 2) a quick defensive line that flows well to the ball combined with a spy on James (ala USC) also snuffed out the life of Oregon’s offense.

Does UCLA have the personnel to execute on one of these blueprints?  I don’t believe that the Bruins are up to the task and their record reflects it. UCLA was pretty close to having only two or three conference wins this year as three of their wins came by single score advantages.  I believe we will see some big numbers on Saturday by Oregon defenders, running backs, and quarterbacks (we will see at least 2) on their way to a Pac -12 title and a ticket to the Rose Bowl.