Thursday, October 24, 2013
Planning for success: Oregon
By Kyle Bonagura Special to ESPN.com
With No. 12 UCLA coming to Autzen Stadium this week, No. 3 Oregon has an opportunity to accomplish something it has never done in the series that dates back to 1928: win five straight games.
Aside from a 10-year stretch beginning in 1959, the teams have played almost yearly since their first meeting and just twice during that span has Oregon has put together a four-game winning streak. The first one ended in 1932 (UCLA's first win in the series) and the second in 2004.
De'Anthony Thomas is expected to be back for the Ducks.
But those Ducks weren't these Ducks.
Those teams didn't average 8. 3 yards per play. They didn't average 57.5 points or 643.1 yards per game. And unlike 40 of Oregon's 53 touchdown drives this year, they usually needed more than two minutes to score.
In UCLA's last win over Oregon, the Ducks had 60 minutes to score and could not. The Bruins' 16-0 win against then-No. 9 Oregon is the only game in the last 28 years the Ducks have been held scoreless.
Even if the Ducks were forced to go to their No. 3 quarterback, as was the case in that game, the concept of that kind of success against the Oregon offense is almost inconceivable.
That's before factoring in the return of electric running back De'Anthony Thomas, which is expected. Without Thomas in the lineup the past four games due to an ankle injury, Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner haven't allowed for any drop off.
Oregon coach Mark Helfrich was tight-lipped about any potential role changes that could occur as a result of Thomas' pending return.
"We'll have to wait and find out from a game-plan standpoint how everything shakes out," Helfrich said. "Your personnel groups are obviously dictated by what you can do. We've had a lot of receivers step up and play really well on the perimeter. I think Byron and Thomas have very bright futures, so we'll fit that all together and see what turns out."
Quarterback Marcus Mariota enters the game with a Pac-12 record streak of 265 passes without an interception dating back to Nov. 17 of last season against Stanford. Coincidently, ESPN's College GameDay was in Eugene that day and will be again on Saturday.
With Mariota opposite UCLA's Brett Hundley, Saturday could serve as college football's ultimate matchup of dynamic quarterbacks this year.
Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti noted similarities in defending Hundley to what teams face in Mariota.
"I don’t think he’s as fast as [Mariota] but he might be a real strong guy … he’s more elusive and faster than you think so he can make some plays with his feet and extend plays," Aliotti said of Hundley. "Whenever a quarterback can do that just like our guy, you watch Marcus, it's tough. It's a lot like going against our offense to a large degree."
An even better comparison, Aliotti said, is Washington's Keith Price only that Hundley is "bigger and thicker, so he'll be a guy that you have to wrap up and bring down."
Price carried 11 times for 18 yards against Oregon in the Ducks' 45-24 win against Washington on Oct. 12.