Injuries lead to questions on offense that could limit the Ducks on Saturday

With Justin Herbert and Dillon Mitchell in the concussion protocol, who knows who will step up offensively?


Scouting the run offense: It’s never a good sign for your offense when your quarterback, particularly not a running quarterback, is the team’s leading rusher.

For Oregon last week, that was the case when Justin Herbert led the Ducks in rushing with 31 yards on six carries against Arizona. Travis Dye finished with 23 yards, Tony Brooks-James added 20 and CJ Verdell finished with 14 in a banged-up performance.

“There's really no excuse,” Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal said of the run game struggles against Arizona. “You have to win your one-on-one matchups when a box is stacked — we got out of sync.”

As a team, the Ducks rushed for 84 yards, lowering their season average to 174.9 on the season, seventh in the Pac-12.

Verdell leads Oregon with 600 yards on 115 carries for four touchdowns. Verdell combines power and speed in ways that remind Ducks fans of LaMichael James. He even looked like a young James when he began the Pac-12 season rushing for 100+ yards in three consecutive games, but he’s since cooled down, totaling 69 yards in the previous two games.

Cristobal said he’d like to get Brooks-James more carries, to not only spare Verdell but see what the dynamic senior can do with the ball in his hands.

Hopefully Oregon’s struggles will change when it goes up against UCLA, the Pac-12’s second-worst rush defense at 209.3 yards per game. The Bruins are even worse in conference play, giving up 230.2 yards per game.

UCLA has given up 614 rushing in yards in its previous two games against Arizona and Utah, most recently being gashed by the Utes’ Zach Moss, giving up 211 yards and three scores last week.

Keisean Lucier-South is the Bruins star on the defensive front, leading the team with 10.5 tackles for loss while linebacker Krys Barnes has seven on the season.

“Defensively, it all starts up front, their nose tackle is on the 380-pound range, a real big guy — they tilt him,” Cristobal said. “They try to take your center and knock him back. They will really stack the box, play the bear front, cover both guards, the center, play some edge pressure.”

UCLA knows Oregon is going to want to establish he run game right away, eventually setting up the pass. The Ducks have struggled being physical the past weeks so an emphasis on mauling up front is expected. Expect Oregon to run the ball, and run some more, eventually wearing the Bruins down in the second half as their lack of depth will come back to hurt them.

Scouting the pass offense: This is the big question mark for the Ducks as Herbert and wide receiver Dillon Mitchell are each in the concussion protocol, meaning their statuses are unknown for this weekend’s showdown.

That’s the best scenario for UCLA since Oregon’s backup quarterbacks are either unimpressive or unproven.

Sophomore Braxton Burmeister has the most game experience, starting in five games last year when Herbert went down hurt. A gifted runner, Burmeister makes the Ducks difficult to defend on the ground but are inept at passing.

Freshman Tyler Shough has yet to see a meaningful snap but has drawn praise from coaches for his arm ability and mental makeup, Shough could give the Ducks an injection of hope while not having to change the playbook or scheme at all, making Oregon two-dimensional.

Mitchell’s absence could really cost the Ducks seeing as how he makes up one-third of their passing offense. Jaylon Redd, Johnny Johnson III and Brenden Schooler must all step up if Mitchell is out, showing that they can become reliable and big-play targets to take pressure off the run game.

But, UCLA counters with the Pac-12’s third best pass defense. They have six interceptions on the season, to go along with eight sacks, and are led by safety Adarius Pickett.

“He's a complete football player that certainly is someone you must account for on every single play,” Cristobal said of Pickett.

You can bet the Bruins will play man coverage, knowing the Ducks don’t have a proven No. 1 receiver if Mitchell is out. They’ll overload the box and try to get pressure on the quarterback while playing tight coverage in the secondary, a scheme Oregon has really struggled with lately.