The punt returner was replaced. The punter violated his own credo. A missed tackle led to a successful fake field goal.
It was an eventful first half for UCLA’s special teams Saturday at Autzen Stadium, and not in a good way.
Special teams breakdowns led to a three-touchdown deficit, heavily contributing to the Ducks’ 42-21 victory. They also continued a worrisome trend for the Bruins that will undoubtedly increase the heat on special teams coordinator Roy Manning.
“The kicking game really hurt us today,” UCLA coach Chip Kelly said, “and we have to correct that.”
The first mishap came when UCLA’s Stefan Flintoft, who earlier this week said he tries to avoid sending his punts between the hash marks, did just that only a few minutes into the game.
Oregon’s Ugochukwu Amadi fielded the punt just inside the left hash mark, picked up a couple of blocks and eluded a diving Flintoft on his way to the end zone on a 56-yard return that gave the Ducks the game’s opening score.
The next blunder came after UCLA had appeared to hold Oregon to a long field goal attempt on its next drive. But Ducks holder Blake Maimone took the snap and rolled out, completing a pass to tight end Jacob Breeland.
UCLA linebacker Krys Barnes was in position to stop Breeland short of the first down but missed the tackle, allowing Breeland to run for a 28-yard gain that gave Oregon first and goal at the Bruins’ one-yard line. The Ducks scored on the next play.
Just when it seemed as if things couldn’t get any worse for the Bruins, Adarius Pickett lined up deep in UCLA territory early in the second quarter to catch a punt. He couldn’t, the ball eluding his grasp for his second dropped punt in as many weeks. Pickett held his head in his hands before getting up as Oregon recovered the ball at the Bruins’ 11-yard line. The Ducks scored three plays later.
Theo Howard replaced Pickett and caught the first punt that he fielded at UCLA’s eight-yard line.
The breakdowns continued when another missed tackle contributed to Oregon’s 36-yard kickoff return in the second quarter. The Bruins added a failed onside kick in the third quarter.
Another painfully familiar miscue came just before halftime. With J.J. Molson lining up for a 51-yard field goal, the Bruins were called for a false start that turned Molson’s kick into a 56-yard attempt.
It barely fell short, just as his 52-yarder last week against Utah did after the Bruins were pushed back five yards on a false start.
“Those are things we’ll continue to coach,” Kelly said, “and understand what we have to do when we play in an environment that’s kind of loud, how we have to handle that.”
UCLA managed a sliver of redemption in the third quarter when Flintoft completed a 15-yard pass to Ethan Fernea on a fake punt, giving the Bruins a first down. But Flintoft had to trot back onto the field three plays later after UCLA failed to get another first down.
This time, he really punted.
The comedy of errors reached blooper-reel proportions in the fourth quarter when the Bruins lined up for a field goal but were missing one essential ingredient: their kicker.
Holder Matt Lynch held out his arms, apparently wondering why Molson wasn’t standing directly behind him. Molson trotted onto the field at the last moment but the snap was high, forcing Lynch to take off running in desperation before being stopped well short of a first down.
UCLA linebacker Keisean Lucier-South suffered an apparent elbow injury in the first quarter and did not return.