Top-10 Matchup Goes To Ducks
EUGENE, Ore. — Saturday dawned with a toga party on the Memorial Quad. It ended with Oregon as the only unbeaten team left in Pac-12 Conference play.
The 10th-ranked Ducks capped an epic football Saturday in Eugene with a 45-30 victory over No. 9 UCLA. The game was attended by the fourth-largest crowd in Autzen Stadium history, 59,962 fans, hundreds of which migrated across the Willamette River after attending ESPN's "College GameDay" on the University of Oregon campus earlier in the day.
First-year head coach Dan Lanning was on-set during the first hour of "College GameDay." Later in the day he walked off the field at Autzen with his Ducks at 6-1 overall this season and 4-0 in conference play, after dismantling the only other previously unbeaten team in the Pac-12 entering the day.
Whether it was Michigan State in 2014, Stanford in 2010 or USC on "Fright Night " in 2009, a handful of teams have entered the Autzen maelstrom with "College GameDay" on hand and left with their top-10 ranking blemished. UCLA became the latest victim Saturday.
"I had a pretty good feeling this was going to be an awesome day the moment I stepped on that quad," Lanning said. "That place was packed. Our fans brought it from 4 a.m. — or maybe 1 a.m. last night — all the way to the end of the game."
Bo Nix threw five touchdown passes on the day, two to Troy Franklin during a first half that saw Oregon race out to a 31-13 lead. Bucky Irving became the first UO back to rush for 100 yards in a game this season, finishing with 107, and Steve Stephens IV had seven tackles to lead a UO defense that held the Bruins to their lowest point total of the season.
Nix, who beat the Ducks in his collegiate debut in 2019 to begin an up-and-down three years at Auburn, is now flying high as a senior transfer with the Ducks.
"I don't think anybody can sit here and watch football right now, watch our quarterback play, and tell me he's not an elite quarterback," Lanning said. "This guy's playing at an extremely high level."
With former UO coach Chip Kelly on the opposing sideline, the Ducks looked like the team from the vintage era he coached at Oregon from 2009-12. Oregon was 3-for-3 on fourth down Saturday, and the Ducks used an onside kick recovery in the second quarter to break open what began as a back-and-forth game.
Oregon offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham conducted a virtuoso performance by his unit, piling up 556 total yards out of a variety of formations. The Ducks had a nearly even run-pass split, with 283 yards through the air and 273 on the ground.
"I have a lot of respect and admiration for Coach Kelly," Lanning said. "We got the 'W' today but that's a credit to our players, that's a credit to our staff."
The UO defense, meanwhile, held UCLA to field goals on three different drives, two of which saw the Bruins reach the red area but come up short of the goal line. The first stop of the game by either team came in the fourth quarter, after Oregon had taken a 45-23 lead; again the Bruins drove into the red area, but Bryan Addison picked off a pass in the end zone to all but seal the UO victory.
The Ducks improved to 6-0 in games at Autzen Stadium when both teams are ranked in the top 10, and they set a program record with their 17th straight conference win at home.
Saturday's shootout unfolded slowly at first, with the teams trading field goals. Oregon found the end zone first, with Terrance Ferguson's fifth receiving touchdown of the year, his first in conference play. UCLA matched it for a 10-10 tie, and the Ducks went back up 17-10 on a 49-yard bomb from Nix to Franklin. They followed that with the onside kick executed by placekicker Andrew Boyle and went up 24-10 on a rushing touchdown out of the jumbo "14J" formation by Jordan James.
A key for Oregon this season has been dominating the "middle 8" of the game, the four minutes before and after halftime. On Saturday the Ducks killed most of the final 3:10 of the first half with a long drive to Franklin's second touchdown, then held UCLA to a field goal to open the second half.
Oregon then mounted a 15-play, 82-yard drive that chewed up half of the third quarter. Cam McCormick scored to cap the drive, the Ducks led 38-16, and just 1:52 remained in the third quarter.
"They're really hard to defend; they're obviously really well coached," Lanning said of the Bruins. "The best way you can defend them is to keep them off the field. And we felt like there's gonna be some moments in this game where we want to be able to have our offense on the field and their offense off the field. And that's a great example of our offense doing that, utilizing the clock."
The celebratory mood of the day exploded at the end of the third quarter, when "Shout" echoed throughout the stadium. Typically fans begin migrating for the exits at that point, if the Ducks have the sort of lead they did Saturday. But nearly everyone stayed to the end, to put a bow on an all-time great football day in Eugene.
"I'm excited for our players to have success; I'm excited for our coaches to have success," Lanning said. "I'm excited for our university and some people that support this university so much to see that success. And I don't want to get in the way of that. But I'm really thrilled to see our guys continue to grow.
"What I want is, at the end of the season, us be playing our best football. And we're still not there. But we're getting better every week, and that's the part that excites me."