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Oregon's Win Over UCLA Showed the Ducks Can Still Be Elite

For more than half the game Saturday, the Ducks played like the Pac-12's best team by far.

Week 2 of the 2021 College Football season, the Oregon Ducks got arguably the largest nonconference win in program history defeating then-No. 3 Ohio State in the Horseshoe. After that win, Oregon appeared primed for its first College Football Playoff Berth since 2015.

Since then however, Oregon has looked anything but impressive. The Ducks played down to opponent after opponent, defeating its weaker opponents by too slim of margins to be impressed. For reference, winless Arizona trailed just 24-19 in the fourth quarter at Autzen Stadium. 

Oregon's lackluster play eventually cost them with Stanford handing the Ducks their first loss of the season. Oregon fell behind multiple scores early and blew a seven-point fourth quarter lead. 

The next game, Oregon needed a fourth quarter goal-line stand to defeat then-one-win Cal at home by seven. 

While the Ducks held a top-ten ranking nationally, anyone watching the team saw players with a lot of talent not dictating the level of their play. Oregon routinely played to the level of its opponent, rendering its talent advantage within the Pac-12 less impactful. 

That's why then-No. 10 Oregon traveled to the Rose Bowl as underdogs to an unranked UCLA team. 

The Bruins getting off to a 14-0 lead after the first quarter only fueled those fires. For a bit, the Ducks did look like one-hit wonders who had the perfect game in Columbus and looked poised to never reach those heights again.

Then the remarkable happened: Oregon played like a top-ten team in the country.

On national television, the Ducks outscored the Bruins 34-3 over the next two quarters and change to take a 34-17 lead with 13:53 left in the game. 

Heading into last Saturday, the Bruins ranked 17th nationally in rushing yards at 219.9 yards per game, averaging 5.0 yards per carry. Oregon held UCLA to 110 yards rushing on 45 attempts for 2.4 yards per carry. In fact, the Ducks' win was the first time UCLA was outrushed by its opponent in 13 games, and Oregon did it running the ball just 24 times for 121 yards. 

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To begin the second half, the Bruins had offensive possessions of a fumbled punt, a punt and a turnover of downs. Meanwhile, the Ducks scored touchdowns on their first two possessions of the second half and three out of their first four possessions, too. 

We all know what happened next: Anthony Brown threw two awful fourth-quarter interceptions to nearly blow the game, but DJ James came away with a game-sealing interception with 48 seconds remaining. While the ending was all too familiar watching the Ducks once again need their defense to nurse a one-possession lead inside the final two minutes of regulation (fifth time in seven games), but a win is a win and for more than half the game, Oregon was dominant inside the arena of one of the Pac-12's best teams.

Of course all Duck fans wish to see Oregon put together a four-quarter performance for the first time since the Ohio State win, but the UCLA game was the best Oregon had played since that potential program-altering win in Columbus. 

When put into a 14-0 hole inside the Rose Bowl, the team responded with its most dominant stretch of football all season. 

That elite Oregon team is still in there somewhere, it peaked its head out against UCLA. For the team to accomplish its goals, that type of play has to become the norm, but the win against UCLA was a good step towards that becoming a reality. 

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