Oregon's Defense Won the Day
EUGENE –For the first time this season Oregon’s defense found itself in a position where it was not playing from ahead early on in the No. 2 Ducks’ 42-14 win over No. 12 UCLA Saturday at Autzen Stadium.
They couldn’t have been more pleased. Not because the defensive players necessarily enjoyed being in a position to lose with the score 14-14 at halftime.
But because they knew it was on them to boost an offense that so often in the past had boosted their cause by jumping out to early big leads.
“Our offense bailed us out on a number of occasions throughout the season,” UO safety Avery Patterson said, “and for us to finally kind of bail them out, it was something that we loved to do.”
There was no “kind of” about it. Oregon (8-0, 5-0) through three quarters did not resemble the one that entered the game averaging 57.6 points and 643.1 yards per game.
Credit UCLA’s rugged defense for much of that. Led by linebacker Anthony Barr, a future first-round NFL Draft pick, the Bruins (5-2, 2-2) in the first half won the battle at the line of scrimmage and disrupted virtually all that Oregon tried to do.
It wasn’t until the second half when the Ducks scored 28 points and ended with 555 yards of offense that they found their offensive rhythm.
But it was the defense that provided the drums and the bass.
Defensive end Taylor Hart said the defense attacked the second half intent on not allowing UCLA to score again.
“We wanted to be able to make plays and help our offense and we did,” he said. “It was a great feeling to be able to help our offense out and help them score.”
Oregon harassed and battered UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley, another future high-round NFL prospect. The Ducks sacked him three times, intercepted him twice and held him to 64 yards on 13-of-19 passing.
Patterson provided the team’s second interception in the fourth quarter, returning it 37 yards to the UCLA 38 to set up an eight-yard touchdown pass from Marcus Mariota to Bralon Addison that made the score 28-14.
Patterson, however, credited the sack by Boseko Lokombo on the previous play that set up a third-down-and-20 situation.
Oregon dropped eight into zone coverage on the next play and Hundley lofted is pass deep, allowing Patterson to break on the ball for the interception.
“I don’t think the quarterback knew what he was seeing and he threw it up there,” Patterson said.
Linebacker Derrick Malone led the Ducks with 10 tackles. Lokombo had two sacks and an interception that came in the first half. The Ducks recorded 10 tackles for loss, three by Patterson on blitzes.
“The defense did an unbelievable job,” Marcus Mariota said. “They were able to bail us out a few times and we were able to build on their enthusiasm.”
Oregon’s defense forced three three-down and outs in the second half. That helped the Ducks’ offense get right back on the field and find their groove.
“We couldn’t get in a rhythm there for awhile,” UO coach Mark Helfrich said. “Part of that was (the Bruins) and their defense and part of that was just stuff we were a half step a way, a finish a way, a cut away.”
Finally things began to click in the second half as Mariota completed all 10 of his pass attempts and running back Byron Marshall added two more touchdowns to his three-touchdown day.
Nobody on the team was worried at halftime that the Ducks wouldn’t eventually get rolling.
“Our guys were more excited for the second-half kickoff than they were for the first-half kickoff,” Helfrich said. “That’s when you know you’ve got the right group of guys.”
Helfrich said the team embraced the challenge.
“There as a little anxiety in the stands,” he said. “A little anxiety like, ‘wait a minute, it’s not 72-3.’ There was none of that with the guys with the helmets on and those are the guys that matter.”
Oregon’s players and coaches have said all season that they prefer blowouts because there’s less of a chance of losing.
But when faced with a real challenge, the Ducks revealed that deep donw, some had been relishing such an opportunity.
“It was fun,” Patterson said. “To be in those types of games is what you come to Oregon for. That’s something that all the DBs and the whole defense was excited about.”