Noise and distractions will swirl, but the Ducks have been pretty good at ignoring them. After the new stories and Heisman hype and the BCS tempest, they have a football game to play Saturday, against a 5-1 opponent ranked 12th in the country. Three matchups stand out as particularly critical:
The Oregon defensive line against the UCLA offensive line
The Bruins are starting three true freshmen. All three are talented and were highly recruited. Alex Redmond was at one time a Duck verbal commit before opting for Jim Mora’s squad. Scott Quessenberry is making his first start after appearing in just one game. Quarterback Brett Hundley is sturdy at 6-3, 222, a decent and sometimes dangerous runner who averages 4 yards a carry. He has escapability but has thrown 6 interceptions and been sacked 13 times this year.
Pocket watch: if Brett Hundley has this much time to throw Saturday, the Oregon defense is doing something wrong.
Oregon has a serious edge in experience on the front when UCLA has the ball, so it’s expected that the UCLANs will employ a lot of the strategy Washington State employed last week, getting the ball out quickly on screens, short passes and underneath routes. Leading rusher Jordan James missed the Stanford game after injury his ankle at Utah, and Hundley struggled against The Cardinal without him.
The Ducks should have the opportunity to tee off if they can sustain a pass rush and pressure Hundley. They have to maintain containment and stay under control, because he can break tackles.
Oregon defensive backs versus the UCLA receivers
The Bruins are deep and fast at receiver, and the Duck back seven has to do a better job than they did against the Cougars. Shaquelle Evans, 6-1, 204, leads the group with 24 catches for 319 yards and 5 tds. Devin Fuller has 27 receptions for an even 300 yards, 2 scores. Freshman Thomas Duarte is dangerous off the bench at 6-3, 221; he’s caught just 9 balls so far this year but he was a Parade All-American, a tough 1-on-1 matchup in the slot with size and 4.55 speed.
Oregon offensive line versus the UCLA defensive line
The Bruins are big up front, SEC big: Ellis McCarthy, defensive tackle, 6-4, 330. Eddie Vanderdoes, defensive end, 6-4, 305. Cassius Marsh on the other side is listed at 6-4, 260 but plays much bigger. They are backed by one of the best linebacker groups in the conference in Anthony Barr, Miles Jack and Eric Kendricks, all of whom are agile, physical and appropriately mean. Oregon has to get a push up front; UCLA has been solid against the run most of the year but allowed 171 yards to Tyler Gaffney and the Stanford power running game last week.