The Oregon Ducks offense was supposed to be unstoppable. They blew out every team they played, averaging 54.8 points per game to match their 10-0 record going into last week.
Then they played Stanford.
The Cardinal held the Ducks to only 14 points on 405 yards. Oregon went only 4-17 on third downs and held the ball for only 22:55, and Stanford completed the upset in a 17-14 overtime victory.
No. 15 UCLA (9-2, 6-2 Pac-12) will face No. 11 Stanford (9-2, 7-1) this Saturday at the Rose Bowl.
“This is the best team we’ve played so far,” coach Jim Mora said of the Cardinal. “I don’t think it’s even close.”
Stanford’s stifling defense is headed by an impressive front seven that is second in the nation in sacks.
“They rush the passer really well,” Mora said. “They’re one of the best sack teams in the nation. It’s absolutely a concern.”
Last week against USC, redshirt freshman quarterback Brett Hundley was sacked five times. UCLA has given up the ninth most sacks in the nation.
Both Hundley and the Bruins know that in order to succeed against the Cardinal’s high-octane pass rush, Hundley will have to do a better job of staying on his feet.
“I can help out the linemen a little more because they’ve been doing an amazing job,” Hundley said. “I can do a better job of stepping up in the pocket and dodge the rush and get rid of the ball if I have to.”
Coming off one of its most important victories in the past decade, UCLA ““ along with the rest of Westwood ““ is working to fight off a potential hangover effect from the 38-28 win over USC.
Following the game Saturday night, the Bruins knew they would have a night to remember, but the knowledge that there are still three games left on the slate are enough to keep their emotions in check.
“We will have fun tonight, enjoy the 24-hour rule and then we’ll get ready for Stanford,” said redshirt senior defensive end Datone Jones following the win. “We’ve got to go into that game looking to carry the momentum and we have to prepare as hard as we did for ‘SC.”
With UCLA clinching the Pac-12 South in the win over USC, the Bruins have three different scenarios that could play out depending on the outcome this coming weekend.
If UCLA wins this weekend, it will face Oregon in Eugene the following Saturday. Unless Oregon loses its contest against Oregon State, wherein UCLA will play Stanford again in the Rose Bowl for the second time in seven days.
If the Bruins lose, they will face the Cardinal in Palo Alto for the Pac-12 championship. All of these scenarios raise the question of what might be best for the Bruins, even if that means losing so they don’t have to face the Ducks.
“We don’t look at it that way,” Mora said of the possible scenarios. “It doesn’t matter, we have a game on Saturday and that’s all (we’re) thinking about, that’s all (we) care about.”
Monday marked Mora’s 51st birthday, but the coach did not seemed too thrilled about the occasion.
When asked about his plans for the big day, he responded, “Yeah, Stanford.”
Even Mora’s own players did not know about it being Mora’s birthday.
“Really?” Hundley said of the news. “I’m going to have to get him something.”
Mora announced on Sunday night that redshirt junior running back Damien Thigpen had torn his ACL on Saturday against USC and that he would miss the rest of the season.
“It’s a huge blow to him and it’s a blow to our team,” Mora said. “It’s a really tough deal for Damien, but I think he’ll have a speedy recovery and he’ll keep a great attitude and he’ll be back with us in the fall.”
With Thigpen out, UCLA will turn to redshirt sophomore Jordon James and redshirt freshman Steven Manfro to pick up the slack at running back. Manfro missed last week’s game with an ankle injury.
Along with Manfro, UCLA will return redshirt junior receiver Darius Bell (ribs), freshman receiver Kenny Walker (concussion) and potentially redshirt freshman receiver Devin Lucien, who has been out with a broken clavicle.