A win is a win — and if you’re Oregon, you really needed one.
After devastating defeats the last two weeks, the Ducks needed to make a statement and reassure themselves that they were still a team who could compete in Pac-12 games.
Led by Dillon Mitchell’s dominance and a handful of big plays, Oregon ruined former head coach Chip Kelly’s return to Autzen with a 42-21 victory.
With the win, the Ducks improve to 6-3 (3-3 Pac-12) on the season, becoming bowl-eligible with three games to go in the regular season. UCLA falls to 2-7 (2-4 Pac-12) in Kelly’s first season, assuring there will be no postseason for the Bruins.
With his status up in the air for tonight’s game after undergoing Oregon’s concussion protocol program last week, Mitchell was sensational. He finished the game with eight catches for 156 yards and two scores.
Quarterback Justin Herbert (who’s status was also unknown due to the concussion protocol) shook off a rough start by finishing 18-of-32 for 264 yards and two scores. Once again, Herbert looked great at points, showing great command of the offense and making the proper reads and throws — but there were numerous head-scratching moments that kept the Ducks’ offense from being elite.
Oregon had a number of big plays that changed the momentum of the game, many of which led to scores and eventually, determined the outcome.
After stopping UCLA on its opening possession, Ugochukwu Amadi took the punt back 56 yards for the first score of the game. He split the oncoming defenders and then showed great burst to outrun the Bruins.
The Ducks tacked on another touchdown later in the quarter when CJ Verdell (29 touches for 128 total yards) ran for a one-yard score. The big play of the drive happened when Oregon faked a field goal and punter Blake Maimone completed a pass to Jacob Breeland, who took it down to the Bruins one-yard line.
Oregon went up 21-0 when Herbert connected with Mitchell on a four-yard touchdown pass. The Ducks got great field position when UCLA muffed the punt. Tony Brooks-James recovered, giving Oregon the ball at the 11.
UCLA responded on the next possession when a blown Oregon coverage resulted in a Caleb Wilson 63-yard pass and catch, making the score 21-7 at the half.
Oregon scored first in the third quarter when Justin Hollins — a one-man wrecking crew — sacked UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, causing a fumble which Hollins then picked up and returned to the Oregon 7. Cyrus Habibi-Likio rushed it in from one-yard out for his team-leading seventh touchdown of the season.
Following the score, the Bruins changed quarterback and went with Wilton Speight, who helped them operate at a quicker and more efficient rate.
Bruins running back Joshua Kelly (26 carries for 161 yards) scored from 25 yards out on the next drive, cutting the deficit in half, 28-14.
But Oregon put the game away with two explosive plays in the fourth quarter.
Herbert found a wide-open Mitchell down the seam for a 67-yard catch and run touchdown. A UCLA player had a chance to bring down Mitchell, but a cutback put the Bruin defender on the turf as the Oregon crowd roared with “oohs” and “aahs.”
The backbreaker came when Brooks-James scored the final touchdown of the game with 5:56 to play. He took a handoff and ran off left-side, showing a great burst past the secondary for the score.
Some bad news for Oregon is that starting center Jake Hanson was ejected in the second half with a “targeting” call. He will now miss the first half of next week’s game. Starting linebacker Kaulana Apelu left in the third quarter and did not return with an unspecified injury.
The Ducks will now travel to face Utah next week. Game time is TBD and should be announced on Sunday.