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October 21, 2010

UCLA travels to No. 1 Oregon

UCLA leads the series against Oregon 39-24. Fourteen times the Bruins have faced the number one team in the nation; they have come up victorious on four of those occasions. Considering the difficulty of the challenge, that's a pretty impressive record. What it means is it's possible. Not likely, perhaps, but still possible.

The Bruins actually shape up better against a speed team than they do against a power one, at least that's how it's played out so far this year. And, the Bruins have played Oregon pretty well this decade, though coming up short a majority of the time. Still, make no mistake, this is a significant challenge.

This really isn't one of those 39 previous years; this is this year, this time, these two teams.

The Bruins have never faced a top-ranked Oregon team before - because there never has been a top-rated Ducks team, not in all the history of Oregon football. Maybe there is serious value in being the home team for a major sports equipment firm that spans the globe - from manufacture somewhere outside of America to sales worldwide but focused on vacuuming up dollars made right here in the good old USofA….

This Oregon team approaches playing the game of football with two things in mind: outstanding execution and blinding speed. No, they aren't going to line up and overpower you. But they are going to ride one of the very finest offensive lines in the country to create openings, force you out of your comfort zone, see if you can suddenly take a giant leap in self-discipline and execution, make plays one-on-one in the open field, and do all that consistently, play after play after play.

When you haven't been able to do that previously, with two truly dazzling exceptions, much less against this caliber opponent, Oregon's outstanding coaching staff has to figure it's highly unlikely you can step all that way up and do it for an entire game against them.

On Thursday night. On national television. When they've had a week and a half to prepare for you. With the added benefit of having the films of the Cal-UCLA game as a guide.

The Quack Attack is guided by a couple triggermen - 6-3 sophomore Darron Thomas, who wears No.1, and 6-1 senior Nate Costa, who dons No.7.Thomas is looking to get you with his feet, Costa more with his arm.

If Thomas and Costa are the triggermen, the Ducks' bullet - more like missile - is No.21 LaMichael James, who is the most dangerous running back the Bruins have faced this season and also the best they will face all year long.

James is a 5-9 sophomore who absolutely kills opponents with his overwhelming quickness. His presence absolutely forces opponents to focus on him - and that, of course, makes Thomas all that much more dangerous.

Think about what UCLA's success running against Houston and Texas did to set up Kevin Prince's runs with the ball. Now multiply that by one of the nation's very finest offensive lines, one of the premier running backs in the nation, and a quarterback who really is a runner to begin with. It's no puzzlement why the Ducks rank right up there at the top of the offensive statistics among the country's football teams.

UCLA is familiar with Costa, having played him before. As stated, he's more of a passing threat at quarterback. But Oregon isn't a team to try to beat you deep with the pass. They're more of a team that uses the spread offense - which they do brilliantly - to get playmakers out in space where they're in position to make plays.

At that point, the offense has the advantage and it's up to the defensive player to make a quick (or it will be too late) and sure tackle and bring the Oregon player down. By himself.

Assuming the Bruins' defensive line has held position and the linebackers have carried out their theoretical assignments to the max and the defense has succeeded in actually having someone in position where it might be possible to even have a chance to make a play in the first place, something that didn't happen against Cal and is an absolute must in Eugene Thursday night.

The Oregon offense lines up with three receivers and a tight end. The starters are seniors, No. 10 D.J. Davis (6-1, 205), and No.23 Jeff Maehl (6-1, 175) and junior No. 80, Lavasier Tuinei (6-5, 200). The tight end is junior and wears No.42, David Paulson.

The offensive line includes, center No.54 Jordan Holmes, a 6-5, 285-pound senior. The guards are No.77 sophomore Carson York who is the exact same height and weight as is their center, Holmes and No. 79 junior Mark Asper, the giant of the Duck offensive line, who stands 6-7 and weighs 323 pounds. The tackles are No.69 senior Bo Thran who is 6-5, 295 and No.68 senior C.E. Kaiser who is 6-4 and weighs in at 290.

Clearly they are quite tall and were intact as an offensive line from last season. The Bruins have no doubt spent some of the last week and a half focusing on getting low to create leverage - as well as to play your assigned gaps and hold your position at all costs.

On defense, the Ducks play one junior and three seniors up front and fall into what is most like a nickel defense behind them. Bruin fans may well take heart in how light the Ducks' defensive line really is, but remember they are also likely to be a lot quicker than their UCLA opponents. What that means is that the game could well come down to the Bruins' ability to focus on a specific spot and create a quick opening vs. the Ducks' ability to escape from contact and get into the desired point of attack.

Oregon's defensive ends are No.45 junior Terrell Turner (6-3, 248) and No.58 senior Kenny Rowe also 6-3 but just 230; the defensive tackles are No.88 senior Brandon Bair, (6-7, 250) and No.99 senior Zac Clark (6-2, 256).

There are two listed linebackers who are almost identical in size. They are No.35 senior Spencer Paysinger who is 6-3, 234 and No.55 senior Casey Matthews who is 6-2, 235. There is also, listed on the team roster among the linebackers but designated a safety, No.56 junior Josh Kaddu who stands 6-3 and weighs 201.

If this lineup is beginning to remind you a bit of Cal's defensive lineup, you are probably thinking these things through a bit. It's not a 3-4, of course, but it is designed with quick guys up front and a couple nice-sized linebackers and one "rover" type back roaming around behind them - in this case coming at you freely from off the ball.

The corners are junior No.18 Anthony Gildon who is 6-1, 175, and senior No.37 Talmadge Jackson who is 5-10, 182. The safeties are No.11 junior Eddie Pleasant (5-11, 223) and No.20 sophomore John Boyett (5-10, 190).

Oregon's punter is No.48 freshman Jackson Rice and the place kicker is No.25 senior Morgan Flint.

Late reports - from ESPN and The Oregonian - indicate that three defensive starters for Oregon are banged up and their status is in question.

These are defensive tackle Zac Clark (groin), defensive end Terrell Turner (toe), and corner Anthony Gildon (ankle). All three missed practices earlier this week. It is thought that Wade Keliikipi could start for Clark, Dion Jordan for Turner and Cliff Harris for Gildon.

We would note that Keliikipi is a freshman but is 22-poundsheavier than the senior Clark; Jordan is a sophomore at DE listed as being 6-7 and 215-pounds, as opposed to Turner who is a junior and 6-3, 248 (they do like them lighter and quicker); and Harris is a 5-11, freshman as opposed to Gildon who is a 6-1 junior.

Two freshmen and a sophomore possibly in for a senior and two juniors - that is a lot of experience to drop on one side of the ball. But this is the nation's number one team we're talking about. They're deep and have been playing a number of people on defense.

Still, for UCLA, which has some key injury questions of its own, as many expect to see backup quarterback, Richard Brehaut, playing in this game in place of starter Kevin Prince, it does increase the hope factor just a bit.

This is a game in which the Bruins could certainly use wide receiver Nelson Rosario, in an effort to try to take advantage of the lack of height in the Ducks' defensive backfield. It will be interesting to see if Coaches Rick Neuheisel and Norm Chow don't try to throw some safer short passes up a bit to augment the running attack.

Both head coaches know the Bruins' chance at springing an upset lies with getting UCLA's running attack back into action. Move the chains. Control the ball and the clock. Keep Thomas and James pinned on the bench on the sideline. Reduce the number of great plays the Bruins' defense is forced to make and try to wear down the smaller Oregon defense. Keep the game in reach until late and then try to win it in the end.

Oregon has finally achieved the nation's top ranking. They'll be looking to make a serious statement on national TV in their audition for the BCS national championship game that ends the season. But the Bruins are looking to make a statement as well, to show that their brilliant performances against Houston and Texas weren't flukes but rather the first showing of things that are soon to come for UCLA's football program.

Soon.

And they would very much like that to start this week.


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