Thanks to UCLA, No. 2 Oregon Ducks battle-tested for No. 6 Stanford

Thanks to UCLA, No. 2 Oregon Ducks battle-tested for No. 6 Stanford
November 1, 2013, 11:00 am
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EUGENE – Should No. 2 Oregon defeat No. 6 (AP) Stanford on Thursday the Ducks might owe UCLA a “thank you.”

Oregon defeated the No. 20 Bruins 42-14 last week but it wasn’t as easy as the score might indicate.

The Bruins’ physical defense gave the Ducks offense all it could handle and the score was 14-14 at half. Oregon’s defense held off UCLA and provided the offense time to find itself and run away with a lopsided win.

“They’re obviously very, very physical,” Oregon center Hroniss Grasu said. Just like Stanford is.

They reminded me a lot of Stanford.”

The game early on mirrored last year’s 17-14 loss to Stanford and its elite defensive front seven. Missing last season, however, was Oregon flipping the switch on offense and pulling away.

That loss cost the Ducks (8-0, 5-0 Pac-12) a shot at the national championship. Oregon has a chance to make amends on Thursday night. This time, they might be better prepared and the reason could be credited to UCLA provided Oregon with a litmus test for their resolve in the face of serious resistance.

Last year, Oregon ripped through its schedule to a 10-0 record by destroying opponents.

Consider this: Leading up to the Week 11 matchup with Stanford, Oregon’s offense had sliced and diced Cal (59-17), USC (62-51), Colorado (70-14) and Arizona State (43-21), just to name a few.

Don't forget that the 43 against the Sun Devils came within the first 20 minutes of action before the Ducks lightened up.

Essentially, nobody stood up to Oregon.

Stanford did and then some. The Ducks weren’t prepared and faltered.

The Cardinal defense again is formidable. But this time, Oregon enters the fray with battle scars from dealing with the Bruins’ defense, led by a solid defensive line and linebackers Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks, Jordan Zumwalt and Myles Jack.

They helped UCLA control the Ducks in the first half, limiting them to one scoring drive not aided by a 66-yard run on a fake punt by linebacker Rodney Hardrick.

In the second half, the Ducks got rolling as the offensive line began to exercise its will. Running back Byron Marshall rushed for 133 yards and three touchdowns as the Ducks amassed 555 yards of total offense including 325 on the ground.

“I was really proud of this offense and offensive line, the way we responded to UCLA in the second half,” Grasu said.

Now Oregon must deal with Stanford’s senior-laden front seven.

Defensive end Trent Murphy leads the Pac-12 with 9 ½ sacks and is second in tackles for loss with 13 1/2. Defensive end Josh Mauro has four sacks and eight tackles for loss. Linebacker Shayne Skov has 3 ½ sacks to go along with 63 tackles, tied for sixth in the conference. Linebacker A.J. Tarpley is ninth in the conference in tackles per game (7.6).   

Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said the defenses for UCLA and Stanford are similar in structure from the standpoint that like Oregon, both employ hybrid 3-4 schemes.

“Stanford brings more stuff to the table just as far as their variation of fronts, variation of pressure, variation of coverage,” Helfrich said. “So there’s just a little bit more.”

Enough to probably raise the bar on Oregon. But at least this time the Ducks are more battle tested.