The Sports Daily > Duck Stops Here
Ducks look to rebound in Los Angeles, recover their showtime offense

Everybody gets criticism after a loss. At LSU, they called a players-only meeting after a 4-2 start. Today the USA Today reported Nick Saban (Nick Saban!) got blasted on a Tuscaloosa radio station yesterday by former quarterback A.J. McCarron. The Tide’s offense is too bland, McCarron said, and Saban handcuffs offensive coordinators.

Saban fired back on his weekly radio show, “I don’t know how AJ would really know, but I don’t necessarily see that as the case,” the coach said. Saban’s won four national championships, three at Alabama, two of those with McCarron at the helm.

A war of words and endless recrimination helps no one. This weekend the Ducks and Bruins face a battle for playoff viability and conference survival, and the loser is going to be subject to intensified criticism and pressure. If it’s the Ducks, Mark Helfrich would fall to 3-4 in his last seven conference games dating back to last year and fans will continue to make comparisons and call for drastic fixes.

The Bruins are loaded with talent. Senior quarterback Brett Hundley is tops in the nation in completion percentage (72.8, fifth in pass efficiency (181.4) and fourth in yards per pass (10.48) while throwing for 1,310 yards, nine touchdowns and two interceptions. Lead running back Paul Perkins is 5-11, 200 and has breakaway runs of 80 and 58 yards. He’s dangerous. Hundley can be two when he breaks containment, but he’s also been sacked 25 times this year.

The outside receivers, Jordan Payton, Thomas Duarte and Devin Fuller has combined for 65 catches, 960 yards and 6 touchdowns. Fuller had a 93-yard pass play versus Utah last weekend, and Payton an 80-yarder versus Arizona State. Payton’s 6-1, 215, Duarte 6-3, 225, and Fuller 6-1, 198, so they have the size to punish Oregon’s smallish cornerbacks with yards after the catch, another of the bugaboos after five games.

The one glaring advantage Oregon has is that the Bruins played a game Saturday, a physical showdown with Utah that ran late into the night. Oregon played Thursday night with two extra days to recover. They have the edge of two night’s sleep, which might make a significant difference for two battered teams.

UCLA’s Eric Kendricks will be the best defensive player on the field. The 6-0, 230-pound senior had a staggering 149 tackles last year. Fabian Moreau, a former DSH favorite during his recruiting year, has 21 tackles in the Bruin secondary and on special teams. Ishmael Adams is a dangerous returner who ran a kickoff back for a long touchdown and an interception for another one in the win over the Sun Devils. Nose tackle Kenny Clark is third on the team in tackles with 27.

It will take Oregon’s most complete effort of the season to win in Pasadena. Nothing about the last two weeks suggest they’re ready to make it. Although it’s one of sports’ hoariest cliches, it really is gut check time for the Oregon Ducks and their coaches.

A two-game losing streak would unleash a tsunami of criticism and hot seat talk, and a win reenergizes those playoff and title hopes with Washington coming to Autzen Stadium with new coach Chris Petersen. The Ducks haven’t had lost two in a row since 2007.

Oregon’s tempo has slowed this year, chiefly due to the inefficiency on offense and poor performance on first down. They’re running about 69 plays a game. They’re facing way too many third and longs, and we’ve seen way too much of punter Ian Wheeler. This week’s matchup offers them one potential breather: the Bruins have just 7 sacks through five games.

Tyson Alger of the Oregonian broke down the hiccups in the offense:

And over the last two games, which correspond with the offensive line injuries, Oregon’s first-down efficiency has plummeted. Oregon has faced 17 second-and-long situations in both of the last two games. During its first three games, Oregon had 11.6 second-and-longs per game – and that average includes Michigan State, one of the best defensive units the Ducks will see all season.

Somehow a beat up offensive line has to find some cohesion, and Mariota needs better communication with his young receivers. It’d really help also to get one of the running backs untracked. Byron Marshall is now officially listed as a wide receiver on the two-deep for the UCLA game.

Last week the defense gave up 21 points and 13 first down in a disastrous 3rd, quarter, their worst of the year. Sustaining effort, improving heat-of-the-moment communication and making key stops on third down are critical this week against a UCLA offense that has broken a lot of big plays, something the Ducks have been susceptible to all season.

Ifo Ekpre-Olomu told Stephen Alexander of the Portland Tribune, “Every loss is a test of your character to see how you respond next week. Everyone has to learn from their losses and get better. You don’t want to have a loss and not learn anything from it and be the same team next week. You have to learn from it.

“It’s football. You’re going to win some, and you’re going to lose some. You have to get to the next game and worry about your next opponent.”