The tone was set from Oregon’s opening drive. Here was a team that operated one way: running the ball. There was a team, UCLA, that had proven little more than its inability to stop that very thing. But then the strangest thing happened: The Bruins popped Oregon running back Darrian Felix, forcing a fumble, and just like that, UCLA had its first forced turnover in three games.
On the ensuing drive, UCLA ran 11 plays for 45 yards. It went for it on fourth down twice and converted twice. It finished with a touchdown. The tone had been set for the 31-14 win.
It wasn’t all pretty, but it was smoother than a week ago against Arizona.
Here is how the Bruins graded out:
The offense, once perhaps the only consistent aspect of UCLA’s game, may not be its most enigmatic. For three years, when quarterback Josh Rosen is healthy, the offense has been centered around its blue-chip signal caller. Yet, on Saturday, the brunt of the production came from a stable of running backs.
The total of 142 yards will not look impressive on paper, and no running back had an outstanding day. But between Bolu Olorunfunmi’s 76 yards and a score, Soso Jamabo’s 66 yards and a touchdown, and Brandon Stephens chipping in with 4 carries for 12 yards, the Bruins were able to control the pace of the game against a program whose signature touch is to manipulate that facet of the matchups.
Rosen, meanwhile, had his second consecutive game of fewer than 300 yards passing, though he still had a fine day: 21 of 36, 266 yards and 2 touchdowns. Nothing about the UCLA offense was gaudy, although Olorunfunmi’s vault of a touchdown run was incredible, but it was consistent in its ability to move the ball.
This matchup had all the makings of a nightmare for UCLA. Oregon boasted one of the best running backs in Pac-12 history in Royce Freeman and added the threat of a mobile quarterback in Braxton Burmeister. Few teams in college football are worse at defending the run than the Bruins.
Many expected the Ducks to run wild.
And the Ducks did run, though not to the extent that could have been predicted. Oregon gained 246 yards on the ground, and both of its scores came on quarterback keepers from Burmeister. But when UCLA needed stops, the defense delivered. The Bruins shut out the Ducks in the second half, sacking Burmeister 4 times after failing to bring down a quarterback in three consecutive games and forcing a pair of turnovers.
What stands out is UCLA’s second drive of the game. Coach Jim Mora knew this was a must-win situation for the Bruins, and he made that clear early on when he decided to go for it on a pair of fourth downs in the first quarter.
Superb coaching isn’t a requirement to stump this Oregon team, which is as one-dimensional as any in the conference. But to limit the Oregon offense to 320 yards, more than 200 below its season average, is no small feat and a considerable change from what UCLA is accustomed to allowing.
Mora showed a more balanced attack on offense, placing less of a burden on Rosen and spreading it to his stable of running backs as well. While Rosen’s numbers suffered, the offense was able to control the game, putting together long scoring drives that ate up plenty of clock.
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