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Oregon Will Provide a Litmus Test

Times Staff Writer

The last time UCLA gave up only seven points over a two-game stretch was in 1980, when the Bruins’ shut out two ranked Big Ten Conference teams, Wisconsin and Ohio State.

A critic might say the Bruins’ feat this season should carry an asterisk, considering they did it against Stanford and Arizona, two offensively challenged Pacific 10 Conference opponents.

UCLA is ranked second nationally in total defense and rushing defense and can earn some respect if it also can shut down high-powered Oregon on Saturday in Eugene. The Ducks, led by junior quarterback Dennis Dixon, are No. 7 in the nation in total offense, averaging 470.2 yards a game.

“Just look at the yards and points that they put up every week,” said DeWayne Walker, UCLA’s first-year defensive coordinator. “They have the most prolific offense that we’ve faced. I know a lot of people are out there criticizing us, claiming that we haven’t played anybody. This will be a big test.”

Before joining UCLA’s coaching staff, Walker had spent seven of his previous eight seasons coaching in the NFL. Now that he’s back working at the college level, Walker has learned that spread offenses such as Oregon’s -- used by several Pac-10 teams -- are challenging to defend.

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“They make it tough on you because they can spread you out and still run everything in their passing and running games,” Walker said about the shotgun-based formation that features multiple wide receivers.

“In the NFL it’s all about execution and you always can get a better read on what an offense is trying to do by personnel groups and down and distance. In college, it’s nothing like that. You can get a four-wide receiver look and think a team is looking to pass, yet they run the ball.

“Then, when you leave your base on the field, they throw the ball. It’s more of a chess match in terms of trying to stay ahead of the game.”

Even though Dixon is coming off his worst game of the season -- he threw three passes for interceptions in Oregon’s 45-24 loss at California -- UCLA will face arguably the best multiple-threat quarterback in the conference.

Dixon is third on the team in rushing with 159 yards and has thrown for 1,295 yards and eight touchdowns while completing 63.3% of his passes.

“The spread offense is so much different than a regular offense,” UCLA junior defensive tackle Kevin Brown said. “We’re going to have to really be perfect playing against it. You have to follow your keys and be good with your eyes.

“You can’t let anything fool you, which is something you don’t have to worry about as much when you face a conventional offense that runs right at you. This is an offense that tries to trick you.”

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UCLA Coach Karl Dorrell on sophomore quarterback Patrick Cowan, who will make his first college start after taking over for injured starter Ben Olson in last week’s victory over Arizona: “He knows everything we have been able to do even when Ben was in there, and that was why we were able to operate so well when Ben went down.... They are both very similar. Pat has been here longer so he knows our offense as much as Ben does. He’s right up there. That’s why it does feel like a 1-B situation for us because he has been in it for three years.”

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Oregon, which has 48 uniform combinations, has worn a different look in each game this season.

lonnie.white@latimes.com


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