UCLA’s showdown with Oregon turns into beatdown as undefeated season crumbles
His team pelted by a deluge of yards and points on a dreary, wet afternoon, Chip Kelly absorbed one final jab before leaving the field.
A fan sitting in the front row at Autzen Stadium who had been haranguing the UCLA coach in the game’s closing minutes reminded him of the scorecard here since Kelly departed the scene of his prime.
“Hey, Chip is 0-3 at home now!” yelled the fan, forming his hands into an “O” representing Oregon.
This one hurt far more than the first two.
Hoping to extend a magical start to their season, the Bruins instead ran headlong into the reality that their defense has some serious issues that could derail their bid for a Pac-12 Conference title.
The cracks in UCLA’s defense were blown wide open by Oregon, which took some cues from the old, Chip Kelly playbook to cruise to a 45-30 win.
Edge containment was lacking. The pass rush was pitiful. The secondary was repeatedly burned.
A showdown turned into a beatdown when Oregon scored on its first seven drives, six ending in touchdowns. The biggest fight No. 9 UCLA showed came after it was overrun by the No. 10 Ducks during a 45-30 loss that was a throwback to some of its dreadful displays in earlier Kelly seasons.
“I’m pissed off right now,” UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson said after the end of his team’s nine-game winning streak going back to last season. “I want to go back and get out there and play again and again and again and again.”
He’ll have to wait a week. The Bruins (6-1 overall, 3-1 Pac-12) will presumably spend much of it looking for ways to solidify a defense that yielded seasons highs in points and yards after the Ducks (6-1, 4-0) rolled up 545 while taking sole possession of first place in the conference.
Oregon quarterback Bo Nix was the primary antagonist, throwing for 283 yards and five touchdowns while also running for 51 yards, his every move delighting the eardrum-rattling sellout crowd of 59,962.
“Any time he needed to get a first down, they got a first down, whether it was fourth down, third down,” Bruins safety Stephan Blaylock said. “One thing we just couldn’t do today was get off the field.”
UCLA didn’t force a punt until there were only six minutes left in the game. The Bruins’ offense couldn’t keep pace despite collecting 448 yards and scoring on its first five drives that did not include the end of the first half because it largely traded Oregon touchdowns for field goals; Nicholas Barr-Mira made all three of his attempts in what might qualify as empty perfection.
Oregon gave itself an additional possession early in the second quarter when Andrew Boyle recovered his own onside kick. The Ducks went on to score a touchdown on Jordan James’ two-yard run, extending their advantage to 24-10 and leaving the Bruins in frantic catchup mode the rest of the game.
“I don’t think it changed the momentum,” Kelly said of the onside kick. “We’ve still got to get stops and we didn’t do that.”
Kelly was less accommodating when it came to assessing a defense that had reliably pressured the quarterback before Saturday, averaging 2.5 sacks per game to rank fourth in the Pac-12. Against Oregon, it generated no sacks and hurried Nix only once. UCLA cornerback Devin Kirkwood was also badly beaten on Nix’s 49-yard touchdown pass to Troy Franklin as part of the Ducks’ 28-point second quarter.
When a reporter suggested that UCLA’s defensive shortcomings centered on edge containment, pass rush and the secondary, Kelly cut him off and said, “We’ll look at the film and get to the bottom of it.”
Said the reporter: “What are your initial impressions?”
Said Kelly: “My initial impression is I’ll look at the film and get to the bottom of it.”
UCLA’s offense was plenty prolific. Thompson-Robinson completed 27 of 39 passes for 262 yards and two touchdowns with one interception. Wide receiver Jake Bobo caught eight passes for 101 yards and a touchdown. Running back Zach Charbonnet rushed for 151 yards and a touchdown while averaging 7.6 yards per carry.
But the Bruins scored touchdowns on only one of four trips into the red zone. Back-to-back penalties doomed a first-quarter trip that ended in a field goal. Another trip ended with a field goal early in the third quarter because Kelly was unwilling to go for it on fourth and nine. A trip in the fourth quarter ended with Thompson-Robinson facing heavy pressure and heaving a pass into the end zone that was intercepted.
UCLA’s inability to convert those opportunities left it with its first defeat in a game Charbonnet rushed for 100 yards after previously going 11-0 when he reached that threshold going back to last season. It also left Thompson-Robinson suggesting that the Bruins were much better than the score indicated.
“They are a really good team, a really great-coached team,” Thompson-Robinson said of the Ducks. “But at the end of the day, I think if we would have done our jobs to our best abilities, they wouldn’t have been able to hang with us on that field.”
UCLA running back Zach Charbonnet shares a special bond with his sister, Bella, who has special needs. She helped inspire him to transfer from Michigan to UCLA.
What’s indisputable is that Oregon is the only unbeaten team left in Pac-12 play. With USC and Utah having just one conference loss each, the Bruins might need to win the rest of their games to earn a rematch with the Ducks in early December in Las Vegas.
“I would love that,” Thompson-Robinson said. “I hope they win out, and we’re going to do the same, so we can try to see them in the Pac-12 championship.”
If UCLA can’t make some major fixes on its defense by then, the result would likely look a lot like it did Saturday.
Go beyond the scoreboard
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