Entering Saturday, only three teams in the nation boasted worse turnover margins than UCLA.
The Bruins were last in the Pac-12 in takeaways and 10th in giveaways. Their offense hadn’t produced a turnover-free performance in four games, and their defense hadn’t generated a turnover in either of its previous two outings.
Saturday’s 31-14 win over Oregon (4-4, 1-3 Pac-12) was a different story, with UCLA football (4-3, 2-2) recording a pair of takeaways on defense and never coughing the ball up on offense en route to a season-best turnover margin of plus-two.
Senior safety Jaleel Wadood got the Bruins off to a good start, forcing a fumble on the Ducks’ opening drive that was recovered by senior lineman Jacob Tuioti-Mariner.
“The first one came early; I’m glad it did,” said redshirt junior defensive back Adarius Pickett. “Extremely happy that it did come early in the game so we were confident we could get the ball out.”
The Bruins got another timely takeaway late in the third quarter when redshirt sophomore cornerback Colin Samuel came down with an interception to thwart an Oregon drive that had reached UCLA territory.
At the time, the Ducks were looking to cut into the Bruins’ 24-14 lead and pull within one score heading into the final quarter.
“We needed that play at that time,” said coach Jim Mora. “It was huge and you could see the result on the sidelines – people were excited.”
On the other side of the ball, the offense delivered a clean showing throughout the day. The Bruins’ only fumble bounced out of bounds, and junior quarterback Josh Rosen, coming off a three-interception game against Arizona last week, threw the ball 36 times without a pick.
“I didn’t really have to push or do too much – that’s why you see no turnovers,” Rosen said. “We just had a good team win, defense played solid, ran the ball real well.”
Offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch gave Rosen credit, though, for recognizing when it was necessary to throw the ball away.
“We had a screen call that they gobbled up and instead of trying to hold it, he just threw it right down into the ground,” Fisch said. “We had a slant, they came underneath it, he dirted it. Another one he sailed. That’s good football. Smart football … we’ve got to play like that all the time.”
The zero in the turnover column is what pleased Fisch the most about his unit’s performance, even on a day with other high points such as a walk-on receiver’s first career touchdown and a running back’s electrifying jump onto an opponent’s shoulders and into the end zone.
“When the game doesn’t go our way, regardless of yards or points or anything, the focus is on the fact that we’ve given the ball away,” Fisch said. “You want to be a great offense? You don’t turn the football over.”
Defensive coordinator Tom Bradley echoed a similar sentiment about his unit.
“If you’re going to be good on defense, you’ve got to get turnovers,” Bradley said. “We got them at a few opportune times (today).”
Resisting the run
After giving up 457 rushing yards last week to Arizona, Bradley’s defense was much improved on that front against Oregon.
Though the Ducks still ended up with 246 yards on the ground, they needed a whopping 62 carries to do so, and were never able to break a run longer than 25 yards.
“They had 62 rushing attempts, which is almost out of this world,” Mora said. “I thought they broke a couple on us but we were able to contain the huge run that has been hurting us.”
Oregon quarterback Braxton Burmeister, a true freshman who started the year as the Ducks’ third-string option, did not offer much in the way of a passing threat, meaning the Bruins were able to largely sell out to stop the run.
“We knew they were going to try to run the ball,” said freshman defensive end Jaelan Phillips. “We know at this point that a lot of teams are going to try to run the ball on us. We’re just going to sturdy up on them.”
Phillips’ return from a foot injury also helped buoy the defense, with the five-star recruit recording four tackles and a sack.
“He’s a guy who brings great energy,” Mora said. “He plays with a lot of confidence. He’s a good player, he’s big, he’s young, he’s smart, he’s energetic and the guys like him.”