Football trains to counter top Oregon players despite uncertainties in lineups
Coach Chip Kelly will return to the sidelines at Autzen Stadium for the first time since he was the coach for Oregon from 2009-2012. Kelly went 46-7 in his time with the Ducks, winning the 2011 Rose Bowl and the 2012 Fiesta Bowl. (Liz Ketcham/Assistant Photo editor)
By Sam Connon
Nov. 2, 2018 1:11 am
The Ducks and Bruins both have major question marks lingering before they face off in Eugene, Oregon, this weekend.
Both UCLA football (2-6, 2-3 Pac-12) and Oregon (5-3, 2-3) have yet to confirm their starting quarterbacks for Saturday, with regular starters freshman Dorian Thompson-Robinson and Justin Herbert sidelined with injuries.
Thompson-Robinson was left with an injury against Arizona on Oct. 20, and although he has practiced since then, he hasn’t taken a snap in a game.
Herbert suffered a concussion in Oregon’s Saturday match against Arizona and has since cleared protocol. However, when he returned to practice Wednesday, he did not take reps with the first- or second-team offenses.
Despite Herbert’s injury, coach Chip Kelly said preparing for the signal caller was paramount.
“(Oregon) obviously (has) an outstanding quarterback, one of the best quarterbacks in the country,” Kelly said. “Big, tall, athletic, can beat you with his feet if you allow him to. (Herbert’s) very accurate with his throws. Everything runs through him so he’s got to be the focus and attention that you’re worried about in terms of what they’re doing offensively.”
Herbert is the favorite to be the No. 1 selection in the 2019 NFL Draft. This season, he has 20 touchdowns and 2,069 yards through the air to go along with 146 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.
Kelly said he was also watching film of backup quarterback Braxton Burmeister in case Herbert misses the game. Burmeister played seven games for the Ducks in 2017 and has thrown for 27 yards on 4-of-8 passing in 2018.
Oregon’s leading receiver, Dillon Mitchell, has also been on concussion protocol this week. Mitchell has 677 yards and four touchdowns on 48 receptions, but his status for Saturday’s game is uncertain.
Kelly will be coaching in Autzen Stadium for the first time since 2012, when he was still on the Ducks’ sideline.
Kelly said while he had a lot of great memories there, he did not want to get distracted and worry about anything outside of the game.
“I haven’t really thought about (how it will be received),” Kelly said. “You have to watch (Oregon) on film, and that gets your full attention. So trying to think about some of the other things that you don’t control, we have our hands full with their offense and their defense and their special teams.”
Kelly went 46-7 in his four seasons with the Ducks, but he isn’t the only Bruin going home this weekend.
“I haven’t come back to Oregon in a while,” said Oregon native Osa Odighizuwa. “It’s going to be fun having my family there and having my people there watch me play.”
The redshirt sophomore defensive lineman, freshman wide receiver Chase Cota and freshman defensive back Zack Huffstutter are the only three UCLA players from the Beaver State.
Odighizuwa, who grew up in Portland, said his favorite memory at Autzen Stadium was when his brother, Owamagbe Odighizuwa, visited as a Bruin in 2011.
“I remember when my brother played here, UCLA played Oregon when Chip Kelly was still there,” Osa Odighizuwa said. “It was the first-ever Pac-12 Championship – when (the Pac-10) had just become the Pac-12. It’s a good experience, it was fun to watch.”
Odighizuwa has notched career highs in sacks and tackles with three and 21, respectively.