With ESPN College Gameday in Los Angeles for the marquee matchup, everyone on the stage picked the Bruins to win, and the sportsbook odds favor UCLA by a point as well, despite the home team being unranked, and the visiting squad holding the No. 10 ranking in the nation.
It’s hard to argue with everyone as well, seeing as the Ducks haven’t looked like a top-10 team in the nation since their trip to Ohio State in Week 2 where they upset the Buckeyes and threw their hat into the ring for a spot in the College Football Playoff. With back-to-back uninspiring performances — a loss to Stanford and a close win over Cal — the Ducks have given little reason to believe that they can show up and put on a showdown in the Rose Bowl in front of a national primetime audience.
I think that they will do just that, though.
This is an Oregon team that seems to get up for big games. They shocked the nation on September 11th by dominating the Buckeyes in the ‘Shoe, and though it was just a one-score game at the end, the Ducks held serve throughout the four quarters and were the better team. A few weeks ago, we thought that Oregon would step up against Stanford in a pivotal game in the Pac-12 North, and we were wrong. However — and call me delusional if you wish — I think they will be able to answer the call down in Los Angeles. Here’s my reasoning…
The lights are on for this game. College Gameday is in town. It’s in the Rose Bowl. In Los Angeles. On ABC at 12:30. The college football world is going to be tuning in, and the Ducks will be wearing their flashiest uniforms of the season with arguably some of the top recruits on the sideline to watch this game. Mario Cristobal will tell you that none of that matters, but we can be sure that it does.
Another thing that gives me confidence is the health of the defense. The secondary is still without Bennett Williams, but the return of Kayvon Thibodeaux proved to be a huge boost last week in the second half against Cal when he had 11 QB pressures on 22 pass rushes. On top of that, the Ducks are expected to have back LB Mase Funa and DE Bradyn Swinson, helping the run defense and giving another pass rusher to free up Thibodeaux and Brandon Dorlus. This is as healthy as we’ve seen Oregon’s front-seven since Week 1 of the season, and I think that they will play up to our original expectations of dominance.
The biggest X-factor here is the offense, and specifically QB Anthony Brown. If he can make the right reads in the RPO game and find the open receivers, avoiding a frustrating series of check-down throws when there are players running open down the field, then the Ducks should be able to put up enough points to win. We’ve seen him be heroic in times of stress so far this season, but his inconsistency has been one of the bigger points of contention, and a mediocre game on national TV might be the final straw for this Oregon fanbase.
Another X-factor is Travis Dye. With CJ Verdell out for the rest of the season, Dye is being asked to shoulder the load in a heavily utilized running game, and his addition in the passing game can be a major factor. Last week, he had over 200 total yards of offense, and the Ducks might need a similar performance to get the job done on Saturday.
In the end, I really think that the Ducks are going to find a way to win this game. It may be my heart driving that prediction more than my head, but gut feelings often mean something. The Ducks showed up big when the spotlight was on against Ohio State, and this game arguably means just as much for their season as a whole.