Pacific 12 Championship game
UCLA vs. Oregon
Friday, December 2, 2011
5:00 p.m. PT – FOX Network
How they got here: Oregon
One side of this equation makes sense: the 10-2 (8-1) Oregon Ducks rolled through the North division, outscoring its five opponents 222-111, including a 53-30 stomping of Stanford on prime-time television. They opened up the season falling 40-27 to SEC power LSU by rushing for a dismal 95 yards on 28 carries – it marked the only game of the year Oregon did not surpass the 100-yard rushing mark. The Ducks only had five first downs on the ground and the longest run came on a 13-yard scamper by LaMichael James. A 69-20 bounce-back game against Nevada sparked a nine-game winning streak, highlighted by the win on The Farm and a crushing defeat of then-ranked Arizona State, which seemed to send the Sun Devils into a tailspin. As expected, the Ducks put up a lot yards behind the three-headed beast that is James, Kenjon Barner and Pac-12 offensive co-freshman of the year De’Anthony Thomas, while quarterback Darron Thomas executed it all from the shotgun position. The hiccup in their season came on November 19 when they lost to Southern Cal 38-35, snapping a 21-game home winning streak and any chance of getting back to the National Championship Game. Despite the home loss, their head-to-head against Stanford earned them the North title and the chance to host the first Pac-12 Championship Game.
How they got here: UCLA
The other side of the equation is messy: USC was ineligible due to NCAA sanctions. Insert 6-6 (5-4) UCLA who comes limping into the title game as 31.5 point underdogs while being led by Rick Neuheisel, the coach who was told he would be cleaning out his office once Friday’s game concludes. After four years of sub-.500 football mixed with the 50-0 loss to cross-town rival USC to close out the regular season, the Bruins had no choice but to part ways with Neuheisel and there is no telling how the team will respond. This is probably not what Larry Scott had in mind when the conference realigned. While the Bruins may currently be the butt of jokes for everyone, their positive note for the season is that they managed to never post back-to-back losses and managed a few head-scratching wins that in the end, giving them second place in the South division. On the field, the Bruins started the year with a loss to Houston and followed it up with a win over San Jose State. There was no repeat of last year’s big win over Texas as the Longhorns went into the Rose Bowl to take a 49-20 victory. A few games later, the Bruins had a come-from-behind win over Washington State, somehow beat Cal and were able to surprise Arizona State 29-28 to control their own destiny in the South division. They managed to lose two of the final three but the Sun Devils and Utes played their way out of contention to close out the year. While USC may be the first-place team in the Pac-12 South, UCLA takes the actual South championship.
How they break down statistically: Oregon
The Ducks are doing what they do every year under Kelly: run unbelievably well, good for fifth in the nation and first in the Pac-12 at 291 yards per game this season. The rushing attack has accounted for three touchdowns in four consecutive games while averaging 5.2 yards per carry. The 510 yards of total offense they put up ranks sixth in the nation and first in conference, almost 30 yards more per game than Stanford averages. The bad news for UCLA is that Oregon averages a gaudy 568.7 and 48 points per game in Autzen, a place where very few teams can keep pace. While they only throw for 219 yards per game (68th in the country) they have an efficiency of 158.93 which only trails Andrew Luck’s Cardinal and Matt Barkley’s Trojans within the conference.
The defensive numbers may not pop out, but part of this is because the offense races off the field so fast. They allow 364 total yards per game with most of it coming through the air. Opponents are throwing for 249 yards per game which puts them at 91st in the country but only sixth in the conference. Translation: the Pac-12 does not stop the pass all that well which has to do with the amount of talented quarterbacks from top to bottom. The secondary is very talented and the team has picked off passes in seven straight games, five of which the Ducks recorded two interceptions. Pair that with the fact they get to the opposing QB at an alarming rate (39 sacks this year) and the defense really does terrorizes opponents.
How they break down statistically: UCLA
The Bruins are not as pretty as Oregon, but few teams are. Neuheisel switched to the Pistol offense fulltime this year and the yards per game have improved drastically since last season. It still is not great, but it went from averaging 317 last year to 393 this year – still low compared to the high-flying Pac-12 offenses but good for 56th in the country. They rack up plenty of rushing yards behind running backs Johnathan Franklin and Derrick Coleman while Kevin Prince has been a viable running option at quarterback. The Bruins flip-flopped on the QB position in the beginning of the year but after Richard Brehaut went down with a broken leg against Washington State, Prince stepped in but has struggled with consistency. He has seven interceptions and eight touchdowns, which is a bit inflated because of his four TD performance against a hapless Colorado defense. He is only completing 59% of his passes on the year but is converting 70% for an average of 243 yards in his past two games.
Defensively, they struggle to get into the backfield and only getting about a sack per game which is 110th in the country. Opposing quarterbacks have had time to sit back and throw at a high completion rate (64%) with an efficiency rating of 136.74 (82nd in the nation). They also rank near the bottom of the barrel in tackles for loss and the front seven has clearly struggled to get penetration. Opponents are averaging 5.0 yards per rush and have seen the endzone 22 times on the ground.
X factor: Oregon
De’Anthony Thomas, RB. If Oregon can get this do-everything man into space and jump on UCLA early it could get ugly. Thomas is third on the team in rushing with 440 yards and five touchdowns but is gaining 8.3 yards per carry. He is tenth in the nation for all-purpose runners, gaining 159 per game. The freshman is the team’s leading receiver with 558 yards and nine touchdowns but his biggest contribution to the team has been on kick returns. He has taken 31 kicks back, accounting for two touchdowns and 858 yards for an average of 27.6 yards per return which is 13th in the country. He has recorded a touchdown in eight straight games and looks to continue the trend.
X factor: UCLA
Nelson Rosario, WR. UCLA’s defense is not going to stop the Oregon offense, so the offense and passing game are going to have to pick up to move the chains and put points on the board. While the Bruins run well, they need Rosario to play a big game and continue his recent success. The senior has gone over the 1,000 yard mark so far this season but only has two touchdowns to show for it – both of them have come in the month of November. In three of the past four games he has reached 100-yards receiving and averaged 20.6 yards per catch in those contests. Aside from helping out his quarterback in the passing attack, he needs to block and support the running game to try and keep the offense of the field and the Oregon offense off.
Rick Neuheisel has been fired but will coach this game regardless, so the most interesting matchup of all will be between him and his players. After Thursday’s practice the team carried him off the field and embraced him, but things will still be touchy come game time. It will be hard for the team to ignore the distractions and come out of the gates firing under the lights of Autzen Stadium on national television. Remember, the last time the Bruins played a primetime game they got crushed 48-12 by an Arizona team that had just fired its coach days before.
With those distractions aside, it still does not look good for the Bruins. UCLA has lost its past three road matchups, averaging six points a game while its opponents have averaged 43 and they come into the Pac-12 championship game as huge underdogs. Oregon’s potent offense, led by Darron Thomas, should not have an issue moving the ball at will against a defense that has been allowing opponents bushels of yards as of late – minus Colorado. Thomas only needs to distribute the ball and limit any sort of mistakes to take an early lead and run the rest of the game out behind the trio of tailbacks. The Oregon defense will disrupt the pistol offense – the Nevada game earlier this year proves that – and wreak havoc on the UCLA offensive line. The streak of interceptions for the Ducks should continue and they go down as the first Pac-12 championship game winners and head off to the Rose Bowl.
Oregon 48, UCLA 10.
, Pac 12