Hours before kickoff between the No. 11 Oregon Ducks hosting the visiting UCLA Bruins, the Ducks learned that UCLA two-year starting quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson was ruled out of the contest due to COVID-related concerns even though he did not test positive ahead of the game.
The Bruins turned to backup freshman quarterback Chase Griffin, who came into Autzen Stadium without a single attempted pass in a collegiate football game. Knowing that information, the Bruins relied heavily on the ground game.
Senior running back Demetric Felton rushed the ball 34 times for 167 yards and two touchdowns. The Ducks missed a ton of tackles and UCLA racked up 267 yards on the ground. Not ideal.
This was even after Felton had run for 107 yards on 25 carries last Sunday vs. the Cal Golden Bears.
After the game, Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal gave props to Griffin for executing UCLA’s offense:
“Well, difficulty is the unknown. You don't know, you're probably preparing for two different game plans. Some things showed up that we had seen and others that we hadn't seen before. And some other stuff will show up on film as well that will be like, well, okay, well, that's something, that's a wrinkle that we just hadn't seen or they hadn't done with their other quarterback.
“But a credit to them, their staff, and Chase Griffin. He did a really, really nice job running their offense.”
Coming into the game, Oregon’s leading tackler - safety Nick Pickett with 13 total tackles - had to miss the first half due to a targeting penalty against Washington State last Saturday. Freshman linebacker Noah Sewell was carted off the field after sustaining a right leg injury in the third quarter against UCLA.
The missed tackles definitely raised some concerns.
“They did some good things. It’s football, not everything goes our way,” said sophomore safety Verone McKinley III after the game. “They did some things with different personnels and different formations and we just adjusted a little bit. But they definitely did a great job, hats off to them. Just some things we got to clean up. You know, just football.”
It’s a defensive performance that barely got the job done. Yes, UCLA did put up 34 points last Sunday against Cal and what was thought to be a solid defense this season. On Saturday, the Ducks offense - putting up 422 total yards and winning the turnover battle - bailed out the defense.
Despite the missed tackles and giving up 267 yards on the ground, Oregon’s defense did accomplish something for the first time this 2020 season: force a turnover. Actually, four of them.
McKinley III and safety Jordan Happle each had an interception (Happle’s a pick-six just before halftime), Noah Sewell forced a fumble recovered by McKinley and Johnny Johnson III recovered a fumble as well on special teams.
These four turnovers resulted in 28 points on the board. It was the difference maker against UCLA.
Four forced turnovers and the Ducks only won by three points? This would have been a much different game if the defense could have limited the explosive plays and slowed down the rush.
Next up, the Ducks (3-0) will head north for the rivalry game at Oregon State (1–2), kickoff at 4 PM (PT) on Friday, November 27 at Reser Stadium in Corvallis, Oregon.