The Ducks are the highest-ranked team the Bruins will face all year, and they have the talent and scheme to back it up.
UCLA football (5-2, 3-1 Pac-12) will play No. 10 Oregon (5-1, 2-1) on Saturday, having lost to the Ducks in each of their last two head-to-head matchups. This will be the third time coach Chip Kelly goes up against his former employer, with coach Mario Cristobal getting the better of him in both 2018 and 2020.
Offense coordinator Joe Moorhead is in his second season with the Ducks, previously working as the head coach at Mississippi State and offensive coordinator at Penn State. Defensive coordinator Tim Deruyter was the defensive coordinator at Cal the past four years before joining Cristobal's staff this past offseason, also boasting recent stops at Fresno State, Texas A&M, Air Force and Navy.
So with last season and the first six games of 2021 in mind, here's a quick rundown of what Oregon might look like come Saturday.
Oregon Offense vs. UCLA Defense
Oregon Passing Yards/Game: 217.8 yards
Oregon Rushing Yards/Game: 208.8 yards
UCLA Passing Yards Allowed/Game: 290.1 yards
UCLA Rushing Yards Allowed/Game: 95.3 yards
The Bruins are no strangers to dual-threat quarterbacks midway through the season, but none of them are quite like Anthony Brown.
That isn't to say he's the most talented or productive, just that he's much more of a pure runner at this point in his career. Brown fits perfectly into what Cristobal and Moorhead wanted to run this year, with an emphasis on balance and speed options.
With an experienced, physical offensive line in front of him, Brown knows exactly how to find the holes and bide his time in the backfield before either making the right pitch or bursting to the outside. Brown has five touchdowns on the season and is on pace for nearly 500 net rushing yards.
Go-ahead fourth-quarter touchdown runs against both Fresno State and Stanford stand out as great examples of Brown's ability to make these key plays, as well as the coaching staff's trust in him to get the job done with his legs when it matters most.
Brown isn't only a threat on designed runs and options however.
Much like how Arizona State quarterback Jayden Daniels broke UCLA's back at times when plays started to break down, Brown is very capable of taking advantage of gaps downfield and making guys miss to get into space.
For a 6-foot-3, 226-pound guy, Brown has really good wiggle and is probably going to be the most difficult quarterback the Bruins have had to take down since LSU's Max Johnson.
Through the air, Brown has been inconsistent this year, to be kind about it. While he hasn't turned the ball over often – his one interception this year came in the Ducks' lone loss to the Cardinal – Brown hasn't exactly been precise or reliable when dropping back.
Completing just 59.2% of his passes for a 141.7 passer rating this season, Brown ranks in the bottom half of the Pac-12 in nearly every major quarterback stat. Prior to Oregon's most recent win over Cal, Brown was averaging just 191.8 passing yards per game on 7.7 yards per attempt.
Brown has routinely missed open targets and can often put too much air under the ball, giving defensive backs time to recover from whatever space the wideouts may have created. That results in a lot of contested catches for Oregon's receivers, which, while they are capable of making, leads to some head-scratchingly risky plays that are far more stressful than they should be.
A lot of the time, the risks pay off despite Brown's lack of a passing game deeper than 15 yards downfield, but it's only a matter of time before a defense pounces. UCLA finally got that action going its way against Washington last week, turning pressure and underthrown balls into interceptions.
Catching passes from Brown are receivers Johnny Johnson III, Kris Hutson, Devin Williams and Mycah Pittman. Williams, standing at 6-foot-5, poses the most daunting physical threat, while Hutson and Pittman are more shifty and undersized and Johnson has put up the most production. For as athletic as the group is, however, none of them have more than 15 catches or 200 yards halfway through the season, mostly a result of the playcalling as opposed to their talent, though.
Tight end Terrance Ferguson is the only Duck with multiple receiving touchdowns – not including running backs – so he should draw most of the focus once Oregon makes it into the red zone. UCLA did a good job clamping up Washington's star tight end Cade Otton a week ago, so maybe utilizing a similar game plan here could work again.
Brown is far from the only threat on the ground, with running back Travis Dye stepping up to fill the shoes of injured star CJ Verdell in a big way.
In his first game as the de facto starter, Dye rushed for 145 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries, finishing with 218 total yards from scrimmage. On the season, Dye ranks second in the Pac-12 and No. 11 in the country with 6.7 yards per carry.
Dye is actually the Ducks' No. 1 target in the passing game too, since their offense is very reliant on swing passes and screens with a quarterback who isn't able to take the top off the defense.
The Oregon offensive line is best on the interior, with center Alex Forsyth coming back from injury this week and left guard TJ Bass scooping up conference awards of his own. From left to right, The Ducks will be rolling out George Moore, Bass, Forsyth, Ryan Walk and either Steven Jones or Malaesala Aumauve-Laulu at right tackle. All six are upperclassmen, and Moore, Bass, Jones and Aumauve-Laulu are all 6-foot-5 or taller.
For a UCLA pass rush that had been largely dormant prior to the fourth quarter of the Arizona game two weeks ago, this will be the most daunting group they've faced all year. To get behind the line of scrimmage will be hard enough, and on top of that, Brown and Dye are slippery enough to take advantage of whenever the Bruins may sell out.
It's going to take quite the scheme from defensive coordinator Jerry Azzinaro and assistant head coach Brian Norwood in order for UCLA to shut down this methodical Oregon offense.
What may be comforting for the Bruins is that the Ducks rely very heavily on the run. They rank third in the Pac-12 with 208.8 rushing yards per game, while UCLA allows just 95.3. If Brown can use play action to his advantage and start picking apart the Bruins' secondary while also scrambling for big gains and keeping Dye involved, Azzinaro and Norwood's unit could get gassed and gashed Saturday afternoon.
Oregon Defense vs. UCLA Offense
UCLA Passing Yards/Game: 205.3 yards
UCLA Rushing Yards/Game: 227.6 yards
Oregon Passing Yards Allowed/Game: 270.5 yards
Oregon Rushing Yards Allowed/Game: 137.3 yards
Deruyter is known as a pretty aggressive play-caller, but his scheme hasn't really been able to make the most of his four and five-star talent this season.
Oregon ranks No. 42 in scoring defense and No. 91 in total defense, while also coming in at No. 75 with just 2.0 sacks per game. With the talent the Ducks have at their disposal, there is no way to justify having the same pass rush production as the Bruins do to this point in the year.
Edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux is far and away the most talented, disruptive and promising player UCLA has faced or will face this season. While he has been banged up with minor injuries and hit with targeting penalties that have cost him playing time, Thibodeaux has been a one-man wrecking crew nonetheless.
Thibodeaux has 2.0 sacks, 3.0 tackles for loss and a forced fumble in the two-and-a-half games he has played in this season. In his 20 career appearances prior to 2021, Thibodeaux had 23.5 tackles for loss, 12.0 sacks, six passes defended and a forced fumble.
Future top NFL draft picks like Thibodeuax are typically heralded for their pass rush abilities, and he certainly has no shortage of those. After being held out of the first half of the Cal game due to a targeting called against him versus Stanford, Thibodeaux got a 50% success rate on his pass rushes, getting to the quarterback on 11 of his 22 attempts.
What makes Thibodeaux so special, however, is his all-around abilities that make him more than a pass-rush specialist. He can line up on both sides, take on double teams and play the run better than probably any other guy at his position in the conference, maybe even the country.
Oregon actually went to Columbus and beat Ohio State without Thibodeaux though, so it isn't as if he's their only talented player up front.
In its nickel-based defense, the Ducks often have just two true defensive linemen on the field at a time. Popo Aumavae, Brandon Dorlus and Keyon Ware-Hudson have combined for 42 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss and 2.0 sacks, and while they aren't as experienced as the rest of the defense, they have held their own for the most part this season.
The linebacking corps are led by freshman Noah Sewell, who has already established himself as one of the best at his position in the entire country. Justin Flowe was on the same level too, but he got hurt against Fresno State in September and was ruled out for the season. Mase Funa and Keith Brown have both missed time, leading to backup Nate Heaukulani standing out as one of Oregon's most productive linebackers, but both are expected to play Saturday in Pasadena.
Sewell has the speed, agility and hops of a guy half his size, showing an incredible ability to get to the edge and break up short plays so far this season. At 6-foot-3 and 251 pounds, Sewell's combination of athleticism and strength make him a force to be reckoned with all over the field.
As a pass rusher, Sewell leads all Power Five non-defensive linemen with 18 total pressures this season. On the ground, Sewell is a brick wall, meeting ball-carriers with no intention of letting them churn things out for extra yards.
Sewell leads Oregon with 54 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and 3.0 sacks so far in 2021, and he has a pass breakup and forced fumble to go along with all of that.
The combination of Sewell, Thibodeaux and the rest of the Ducks' ancillary pieces in the front seven has led to a middling run defense that allows 137.3 rushing yards per game, ranking No. 6 in the Pac-12. For all the talent they have there, teams have been happy to run the ball against them, with the 37.3 carries against per game ranking No. 9 in the conference only ahead of the Washington, Stanford and Arizona defenses that UCLA has already bullied on the ground.
Through the air, the Oregon secondary is down its best player and struggling to find its footing in recent weeks.
The Ducks started out as an opportunistic, ball-hawking defense, racking up nine interceptions through the first four weeks of the season. Three of those picks came from nickel Bennett Williams, but he got hurt in practice and has since been ruled out for the season.
Safety Verone McKinley III also has three interceptions in 2021, with cornerback Mykael Wright chipping in a pick and a team-high three passes defended as well.
That kind of playmaking action has disappeared though, as Oregon has failed to force a turnover in the month of October.
The Ducks are allowing 298.4 passing yards per game to FBS opponents. Taking out the five-interception performance they forced out of Arizona quarterback Jordan McCloud, the other four FBS teams Oregon has faced have combined for a solid 137.5 passer rating and pretty impressive touchdown and interception rates of 5.1% and 0.6%.
That isn't an invitation for quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson to start throwing 40 yards down field every drive, but it does present him an opportunity to get in a rhythm passing the ball, which could open things up for some creative play-calling and powerful rushing by backs Zach Charbonnet and Brittain Brown.
Per usual, UCLA is going to want to run the ball to set up the pass, and then use an adaptable and balanced attack depending on what the game gives them. Oregon should allow them to do that, and if they can succeed in what they set their minds on doing, the Bruins will be able to rack up points and yards come Saturday.