Scouting the run defense: Oregon entered Pac-12 play with a rush defense that was among the best in the nation, giving up less than 100 yards per game. But that number has ballooned to 171.8 yards per game in Pac-12 play as the Ducks have struggled with tackling and defensive assignments.
Oregon isn’t getting enough production from anybody not named Troy Dye and Kaulana Apelu, linebackers who lead the team in tackling with 70 and 54, respectively. Both players are forced to do the brunt of the work because the defensive line has struggled to shed blocks while the secondary rarely shows enough physicality to win one-on-one battles.
Justin Hollins leads the team with nine tackles for loss while Jelks and Apelu have five apiece, but most of those came before Oregon’s most recent two-game skid. Nose tackle Jordon Scott has been the one consistent bright spot, showing off an athleticism rarely seen from a man who weights 330 pounds.
The Ducks will be trying to stop UCLA running back Joshua Kelly. Kelly has really dominated in Pac-12 play, averaging 126.4 yards per game with six touchdowns in five games. He’s the type of running back head coach Chip Kelly had success with what he was at Oregon; a shifty yet powerful running back who’s capable of running past or through defenders.
“The running back is big, he's explosive, he's a downhill guy,” Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal said.”
But he’s all the Bruins have as quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson is the team’s next leading rusher with 39 yards on the season. Speaking of which, Robinson is the more athletic of UCLA’s two quarterbacks, but his status is questionable after recovering from an injury. Wilton Speight has looked good in taking over, rushing for 28 yards but not really being a threat in that regard.
“I'm not a hypothetical guy so there's no reason to make any predictions on this or that,” Chip Kelly said of the quarterback controversy. “He (Thompson-Robinson) could be 100 percent and the rest of the team could have bubonic plague and we wouldn't be able to play at all… we'll see what happens."
Scouting the pass defense: The Ducks have the conference’s third-worst pass defense — but good news is that they’ll be going up UCLA and it’s Pac-12-worst pass offense.
Oregon is a mystery in the passing game because they give up 243.3 yards per game yet lead the conference with 12 interceptions and have 18 sacks on the season.
Ugochukwu Amadi and Jevon Holland are two ball-hawking safeties who make quarterbacks think twice about throwing jump balls to their receivers. They have the ability to cover lots of ground or man up in the nickel position, making them versatile to any coverage.
Deommodore Lenoir has started to emerge as the shutdown corner the Ducks have desperately needed, also having three interceptions and five passes broken up on the season. But he needs more consistency to take the next step forward.
The Ducks’ best weapon in the secondary is their ability to get a pass rush on opposing quarterbacks. Jelks and Hollins both stand 6-foot-6 and when they don’t get to the quarterback, they get their hands up, forcing the ball to come out higher and allowing the secondary to make a play.
Not knowing who’s playing quarterback is exactly how Chip Kelly loves it, so the Ducks will have to prepare for both of them.
Speight is the more accomplished passer, being a senior and having played in the Big-10 with Michigan prior. He’s thrown for 368 yards and two scores in two games, but his style of play doesn’t exactly suit what Chip Kelly is looking for in his quarterback.
Thompson-Robinson has the livelier arm and better all-around stats, but his health is the biggest question. He’s more of a threat throwing the ball downfield and firing the ball into tight windows, also showing the ability to throw outside of the pocket, a vital to Kelly’s system.
Regardless of who plays, tight end Caleb Wilson and wide receiver Theo Howard are the top two targets. Combined, they have 49 catches for 588 yards, giving Bruin quarterbacks reliable sets of hands who they can trust.
“At wide receiver they have all the different positions you want for your wide receiver core — long and athletic, can stretch the field, quick, explosive with a lot of wiggle,” Cristobal said.
Oregon going to sell out trying to stop the run, leaving themselves vulnerable in the passing game. The Ducks will have to find a way to compete with the bigger Wilson and faster Howard if they want to keep themselves in the game.