UCLA has notched its first nonconference victory under coach Chip Kelly. It has picked up its first big nonconference victory. Can the Bruins log their first momentous Pac-12 victory?
The betting sentiment has moved in UCLA’s favor for its showdown against No. 10 Oregon that starts at 12:30 p.m. Saturday at the Rose Bowl and will be nationally televised by ABC. Las Vegas oddsmakers have made the Bruins (5-2 overall, 3-1 Pac-12) a one-point favorite over the Ducks (5-1, 2-1) after UCLA opened as a three-point underdog. A victory would undoubtedly be the biggest of Kelly’s four seasons with the Bruins.
Here’s a look at the game’s matchups and story lines:
Seeking home improvement
The Bruins need to make the Rose Bowl less hospitable to visitors.
Winners of all three games on the road, the Bruins have dropped their last two at home. Their defense failed to show up in losses to Fresno State and Arizona State, and their offense pulled a second-half disappearing act against the Sun Devils.
Yes, the players understand the irony of having had more success on the road. Yes, they intend to do something about it.
“We know we’ve gotta improve and we know we’ve gotta be better come Saturday,” UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson said, “to be able to play really good in front of a good home crowd.”
The one constant this season at the Rose Bowl has been massive turnout among the students, a credit to UCLA athletic director Martin Jarmond’s big marketing push. The decibel level could rise another notch Saturday with students energized by ESPN College GameDay having appeared on campus in the morning.
The din may be dictated by the Bruins’ ability to run the ball. UCLA averages 219.9 yards rushing per game — second in the Pac-12 — and has outgained its opponents in 13 consecutive games, its longest streak since doing it in 15 straight games over the 1984 and ’85 seasons.
What can Brown do against you?
Oregon’s Anthony Brown is widely praised as a dual-threat quarterback, but he’s endured struggles throwing the ball.
The Ducks’ passing offense ranks No. 10 in the Pac-12, and the team’s inability to consistently generate offense prompted boos last week at Autzen Stadium during a 24-17 victory over California.
Brown rallied his team from a seven-point deficit early in the fourth quarter by throwing for a touchdown and running for another, showing his versatility.
“He’s a great quarterback, can run on his feet, use his legs,” UCLA linebacker Ale Kaho said of a player who has run for five touchdowns this season while averaging 40 yards per game on the ground. “There’s a lot of eye candy everywhere trying to mix us up on the defense, try to make our eyes go where they’re not supposed to, so we have to stay disciplined, do our job, do our assignment.”
Like his UCLA counterpart, who has 13 touchdown passes and only two interceptions, Brown has rarely made a huge mistake throwing the ball — he’s thrown for seven touchdowns and one interception.
Not much turnover
Oregon and UCLA rank No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in the Pac-12 in turnover margin, one of the biggest reasons they have only three losses combined.
The Bruins are plus-five in turnover margin after having committed none while generating two interceptions last week against Washington.
The Ducks are plus-nine in turnover margin, largely on the strength of their nine interceptions.
Bring your card
This will be the first game at the Rose Bowl where fans will be required to show either proof of vaccination against COVID-19 or a negative test within 72 hours of kickoff.