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Tales from the highlight tape: how the Ducks surged to victory over UCLA

At the time it made fans anxious, the Ducks in an uncharacteristic tight game for two and a half quarters. But they took a hard, physical shot from the Bruins and trailed only once. Here’s a look at the highlight film from Mike Wines of Oregon Duck Soup and madmike1951, in a game where the Ducks had 301 yards of offense in the first half but didn’t break through until midway through the third quarter.



1st 10 Oregon Oregon 18, 11:58 1st quarter

On Oregon’s 2nd possession of the game they trail 7-0 after a turnover on the first offensive play, but there is no panic. They set to work patiently with a five-yard run by De’Anthony Thomas on the stretch play left, establishing a play that would work for big gains throughout the game.

This was a day with a feeling-out process against an opponent with a good defense, the Ducks looking for things that would work, the advantages they could gain against a big, athletic front seven. Here Pharaoh Brown, who blocked well all day, gets a good seal on the edge, Hroniss Grasu stands up the nose tackle, and Mana Greig gets an effective lead block as Thomas gains 5 yards on first down. The breathing room is important after a short kickoff return, building a little tempo.

Thomas wasn’t at his decisive, quick-cutting best in this game, and the coaches saw that, going to Marshall later on, who would have some big plays on the same call later in the game.

A false start penalty on Brown negates the gain and the tempo, however, but the Ducks show characteristic resilience by converting on 2nd and 10. It’s a crisp slant to Huff against a 3-man rush. Freshman Cameron Hunt takes a good strong position on the defensive end, walling him off and giving Mariota a good throwing lane and time to step up in the pocket. Grasu and Hamani Stevens secure the 320-lb. nose tackle. The pass is zipped right to the chest and Huff positions his body well, shielding the ball from the defender and driving through the tackle for the first down, gaining five yards after contact for the first down.

The drive stalls, though, and then “Bigger Balls Helfrich” and the coaching staff pull off a shocker. On 4th and 14 at their own 26, already trailing 7-0, they pull off a fake punt. No one tips the fake and Alejandro Maldonado does a good job of selling it and fooling the defenses’ eyes. The sea parts for Rodney Hardrick who chugs 66 yards through a gaping hole. This was a well-coached, well-designed, well-timed, well-executed play, set up by a quick, accurate misdirection snap by Drew Howell. It’s another example of the depth and versatility of the Oregon roster, having a fast, athletic linebacker in Hardrick, who played both ways in high school as a tight end/fullback, making a nice move on the returner on his way to a big, big gain that seized momentum early in the game.

1st and goal, Oregon on UCLA 8

This is where De’Anthony Thomas is most dangerous and most effective, one-on-one in space. He sprints out hard on a swing route, creating some separation between him and a linebacker. Tyler Johnstone holds off the dangerous Anthony Barr with good technique, his hands inside the shoulder pads, containing the lightning-quick Bruin linebacker. Mariota has time to check two receivers downfield, senses pressure inside and flips the outlet route to Thomas, the third option on the play. Despite being the 3rd option DAT is ready and hustling, and he makes a nice adjustment to a ball Mariota has to throw quickly under pressure, pivoting with his body to gather in the ball, then accelerating past Eric Kendricks, who has a good angle on him, squared up with the sideline as an extra defender, but DAT beats him to the corner trusting his speed and zips toward the goal line.

At the end of the play The Black Momba makes an inexcusable but understandable error. He reaches the ball out to the goal line and fumbles. He’s down by contact, but coaches expressly and emphatically teach not to do this, as a fumble into the end zone is a touchback, a costly error Duck fans know well after a couple of catastrophic examples in previous years. Officials rule correctly that his elbow touched a half yard out, but it’s a teachable moment: that close to the goal line, secure the ball and run another play. Don’t take unnecessary chances with the football. Still, it’s a good gain made possible by Thomas’ speed, hustle and alert running in a multiple option pattern, so a reminder is all that’s necessary in film study on Monday.

On second and goal the Ducks don’t get cute. They’re running full tempo and blast inside, getting a good push at the line of scrimmage as Hunt, Stevens and Grasu move the Bruin front two yards into the end zone. Pharaoh Brown gets another good seal block on the outside defender, and Johnny Mundt, lined up in the slot in a two-tight end set, delivers a crunching block on Anthony Barr, who’s crashing down from the weak side.

UCLA on Oregon 43, 2nd and 2

The Bruins are getting a little momentum offensively after a too-good kickoff return (other than the fake punt, the Ducks lost ground in special teams all day) and a pass for a first down to Jordan Payton. But  DeForest Buckner knifes in here, uses his quickness to defeat a block at the point of attack and stuff the play. The Ducks follow this with good coverage on 3rd and 5, forcing another of the visitor’s 7 punts. In all Nick Aliotti’s defense had 10 stops on the day. They won this game with their resilience and persistence, giving the offense plenty of time to get untracked and denying UCLA the opportunity to build momentum.

2nd and 8 Oregon the Oregon 11

The punt pins the Ducks deep, but DAT gets them out of the hole with a nifty speed run around the left side, the stretch play that would be so effective against UCLA’s big front line. The Ducks line up in trips right, the threat of three speedy receivers taking three defenders out of the play.There’s a blitz inside and the linebacker gets quick penetration, but Thomas simply outruns it. In fact, the blocking isn’t particularly good on this play but Thomas is too quick around the edge, outrunning 4 defenders to the corner. He instinctively and decisively senses his speed advantage, calculating the vectors perfectly, trusting it. I go fast, they don’t. He gets out of bounds at the end of the play and saves a hit.

Throughout the first half the Ducks didn’t put up a lot of points, but they kept moving the ball and finding things that would work later. Fans and pundits were all a dither about the closeness of the score, but the Ducks were probing, feinting, finding weaknesses, feeling the big puncher out in a heavyweight fight between two top-ranked opponents. In retrospect, they never truly lost command of the game.

On 3rd and 10, Thomas takes a screen pass and gets ridden out of bounds for a short game, thrown down again at the sideline on another hit that just skirted the edge of the rules, but the Ducks take it in stride. It’s another play that sets up what they can use later; in the third quarter, Marshall takes a swing pass down the same sideline for a 23-yard gain.

1st 10 UCLA on Oregon 40

After two first downs the Bruins are threatening again to gain a little momentum, but Avery Patterson shuts it down with a great safety play.

Patterson, who had a marvelous game at his safety spot, gets the first of his three tackles for loss, making a decisive read and and a nifty open-field tackle on running back Paul Perkins, taking his legs out at the 46.

An intense, consistent effort by the Oregon defense won this game. They gave the offense time to overcome a slow start and find their rhythm. Every time UCLA had an opportunity to build momentum, they denied it. The Bruins longest drive of the game was 41 yards and Nick Aliotti’s crew held them  to 64 yards passing and 94 yards in the second half shutout. 

Aside from a Hundley 33-yard scamper in the first half, the Bruins’ longest play was just 14 yards.

There’s great team defense on this play–Patterson makes the tackle, but Boseko Lokombo and the pursuit force Hundley to give, then cut off the cutback lanes, herding the ball carrier to Patterson, who makes the play one-on-one in the open field.

Great recognition of his keys allowed the heady safety to commit to the swing pass quickly. He’s on top of the play before it can start, and he finishes it with a crisp tackle.

4th and 2, UCLA on Oregon 32, score 7-7 :23 second to go in the first quarter

Even though it came early this was one of the decisive plays of the game. The defensive front pushes the young UCLA offensive line (they started three true freshman due to injuries) two yards back, creating a new line of scrimmage. Every gap is filled. There are no cutback lanes for the running back, who is funneled to Ricky Havili-Hemuli and Hardrick, who wrap him up high and low. Arik Armstead gets great penetration that disrupts the play and prevents Brett Hundley from keeping. It’s great team tackling and pursuit in a pivotal situation, an expression of will and determination by the defense.

2nd 10, Oregon ball on the Oregon 32

Byron Marshall runs the inside zone read for three yards. It’s an unremarkable play, but the point is that Marshall runs hard and gets what’s there: he’s decisive and drives the pile forward, finishing the run. Marshall has blossomed as a back in the last five weeks, running with confidence, authority and great recognition. Making the defense respect the three-yard run is an important part of a successful offense; in his freshman year, Byron would have danced on this play and been stopped for no gain.

3rd and 7 35 Mariota to Huff for 8 yards to the Oregon 43. 

With 5 wides, the quarterback makes a presnap read and sees he has his favorite target, who’s motioned out of the backfield, one-on-one on linebacker Eric Kendricks, an easy pitch and catch for the first down. Mariota was very patient and accurate on short throws throughout the game, something the Ducks will need against the quick, strong front seven of Stanford next Thursday. The throw easily beats the UCLA rush and exploits what’s available.

Huff runs a precise pattern to get open, driving inside with a pressure step, then pivoting outside like a basketball player cutting to the hoop on a pick-and-roll. He gets separation and gives his qb an open target, and Marcus takes a little off the throw with his receiver running away from him with his body at an angle, laying the ball out in front of him. Huff drives through the tackle for the first down.

1st 10 Oregon on Oregon 43

The Ducks take just 7 seconds of clock to run the next play as Mariota finds Pharaoh Brown for a sure-handed 12-yard gain, running at full tempo. What a pleasure it is to see Duck tight ends lining up where they’re supposed to and being consistent in executing their responsibilities, fully committed to the goals of the program. 

The offensive line creates a good protective pocket and throwing lanes. The 3-man rush is completely neutralized, and MM steps up and delivers quickly to Brown on the short out, who adjusts to a low throw, catches the ball first, puts a good move on the first defender and drives ahead for another first down.

This play is an example of what the spread does best, getting favorable matchups one-on-one in space. Here the 6-6, 241-lb. Brown is guarded by Ishmael Adams a 5-8, 190-lb. cornerback. Mariota finds the matchup he wants and delivers the football, and Brown, who got a good night’s sleep and showed up on time to practice all week, completes the play.

2nd and 8 UCLA 43

The Bruins’ outside defenders “slow-played” the inside zone read play for much of the day, and it’s a look the Ducks can expect from Stanford as well. Kendricks stays at home, not committing to the give or the keep, forcing Mariota to commit first. UCLA’s leading tackler makes a good tackle in the open field, a hard, clean hit. He doesn’t fall for the fake pitch to the trailer, one of Super Mario’s signature moves, something Kendricks alertly picked up in film study. The Bruins contained Mariota very well in the running game, and the qb was wearing a knee brace in the second half, prompting speculation he was a little banged up.

3rd 5 Oregon on UCLA 40

The outside zone read worked for good gains all day, and here the Ducks land their first big punch of the day. Kendricks takes a bad angle to the ball and gets tangled up in the blocking. Marshall makes the Bruins pay, following key blocks on the edge from Fisher and Brown. He makes one quick cut and accelerates into the open, outracing the cornerback. No one can catch him, the first of his three tds off the bench. (Getty images photo.)

This is a testament to a great competitive attitude in the young running back. Think about it: he’d started four games and rushed for 100 yards in each one. Thomas comes back and gets the start ahead of him. He comes off the bench and rushes for 133 yards. There’s no sulking, no attitude, just determination and making the most of his touches.