5 Things To Watch: UCLA
The Oregon football returns to action against UCLA in Autzen Stadium on Saturday (12:30 p.m., ESPN2), one day later than originally scheduled after the Bruins were forced to play on Sunday of last week.
The 11th-ranked Ducks won their first road game of the season a week ago at Washington State, falling behind early due to three turnovers but rallying to win, 43-29. UCLA opened the season with a 48-42 loss at Colorado, had a scheduled game vs. Utah last Saturday canceled and pivoted to a matchup with California on Sunday, when the Bruins held Cal to 176 yards and saw QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson account for four total touchdowns.
The game will be televised by ESPN2, with Jason Benetti on play by play, Andre Ware providing analysis and Taylor McGregor reporting from the sidelines.
Some storylines to follow in the game …
1. What's the status of Thompson-Robinson? Media in Los Angeles reported this week that the status of multiple players for Saturday's game was in jeopardy due to contact tracing concerns, and that UCLA's starting quarterback was among the players potentially impacted.
Thompson-Robinson is averaging 330 yards of total offense through two games, third in the Pac-12 behind Kedon Slovis of USC and Oregon's Tyler Shough. UCLA's backup is redshirt freshman Chase Griffin, who threw for 4,051 yards and 51 touchdowns as a high school senior in Texas two years ago.
2. Regardless of who plays quarterback for the Bruins, the Ducks know they need to be sure tacklers Saturday afternoon. Like Washington State last week, UCLA will want to spread the field and get the ball out to skill players in space, putting pressure on Oregon's ability to tackle in the open field.
The Ducks had just enough breakdowns in tackling against the Cougars to make that a point of emphasis in practice this past week. That work has been done, but it has to show up in Saturday's game.
3. For two weeks now, the Ducks have been playing with fire. Twice, Oregon has lost the turnover battle, against both Stanford and WSU. Twice, the Ducks have overcome those errors and come out victorious.
That's a dangerous way to live, and Oregon doesn't want to see that trend continue. The UO defense is still looking for its first forced turnover of the season entering the UCLA game, while the offense is looking to clean up the sort of mistakes that put the Ducks in the early hole at WSU.
4. How about a fast start for the home team Saturday? The three turnovers that contributed to a halftime deficit at WSU last week set the stage for Oregon's second comeback in two weeks; the one the week before wasn't nearly so dramatic, with Stanford scoring first but then the Ducks reeling off 28 straight points to take command.
The Ducks have talked this year about the need to create their own energy due to the lack of fans at games in 2020. Each of the last two weeks they've found a way to get it going, but an early lead would be welcome this week. Perhaps taking the field in the new "Ohana" uniforms will provide just the jolt Oregon needs.
5. Oregon's offense has the potential to look a little different at times Saturday than it has the first two weeks. Tight end Hunter Kampmoyer, the starter by the end of 2019, is poised to make his 2020 debut against UCLA after missing the first two games of the season.
The Ducks' base personnel group includes three receivers, one tight end and one running back, but walk-on tight end Cooper Shults allowed for the use of two tight ends in a couple instances the last two weeks by taking the field along with starter DJ Johnson. Will the presence of Kampmoyer prod offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead to utilize a few more pages from his playbook? We'll have to wait and see Saturday.