(Sports Network) - The Oregon Ducks have earned the top spot in the AP poll for the first time in school history, and they are set for a primetime showdown with Pac-10 foe UCLA on Thursday. UCLA carried a three-game win streak into an October 9th meeting with California. Unfortunately, the Bruins put forth a horrendous effort on both sides of the ball in a 35-7 loss to the Golden Bears. UCLA is just 3-3 overall and 1-2 in league play, not exactly what head coach Rick Neuheisel had in mind when the campaign began.
"We've got a lot of work to do," said Neuheisel after the Cal loss. "We have to go back and figure out more answers with our offensive scheme so that we don't get stymied like this."
Oregon is a perfect 6-0 thus far, and every victory has come by double figures. Coach Chip Kelly's squad was most recently in action on October 9th when it bested Washington State by a 43-23 final. The last three victories have come against Pac-10 opposition, highlighted by a 21-point triumph over a talented Stanford team.
Oregon posted a 24-10 victory over UCLA last season, but the Bruins own a 39-24 advantage in the all-time series.
It is hard to imagine UCLA playing any worse offensively than it did in the loss to Cal last time out, as the Bruins posted only 12 first downs and 144 total yards. They were 3-of-15 on third-down conversion attempts and surrendered five sacks. The ground attack was horrid, generating a paltry 26 yards on 26 attempts. Kevin Prince completed only 13-of-31 passes for 99 yards before exiting the contest with a knee injury, and it is unclear if he will be healthy enough to face Oregon. If he isn't, sophomore Richard Brehaut will take the snaps.
"We got out of our element as an offense," said Neuheisel. "We were forced to throw the ball way more than we wanted to or were prepared to and obviously it didn't go well for us."
UCLA is far from an offensive juggernaut, as the club is averaging 22.7 ppg and 318.5 total ypg. The Bruins do almost all of their damage via the ground attack, which accounts for 223.0 ypg thanks to an impressive average of 5.2 yards per carry. Of the 16 touchdowns scored by the offense this season, 13 have come on the ground. Johnathan Franklin has rushed for 679 yards and five touchdowns to lead the way, while Derrick Coleman has been productive as well with four rushing scores. Prince has struggled mightily under center, so he won't be missed much if he can't play this weekend.
Cal's game plan was to pound the ball on the ground at UCLA, and the Bruins looked completely helpless for much of the contest. The Golden Bears were able to accumulate 304 rushing yards at a clip of 5.5 yards per carry, and four of the five offensive touchdowns scored by Cal came on the ground.
Opponents are generating 25.4 ppg against UCLA, which is allowing almost the same number of rushing yards per game (182.3) as passing yards (187.5). The Bruins have permitted 49 percent of third down conversion attempts by foes to be successful, but the team's total of 18 sacks to date is solid.
In the eyes of many fans and analysts, Oregon tailback LaMichael James is the favorite for the Heisman Trophy at this middle point of the season. James has rushed for 848 yards and nine touchdowns while averaging 7.4 yards per carry. While the tremendous performance of James was expected, the play of quarterback Darron Thomas has been a pleasant surprise. Thomas, who is expected to play on Thursday despite a shoulder injury, has completed 58.8 percent of his passes for 1,231 yards and 14 touchdowns with five interceptions, and he has rushed for 221 yards and a pair of scores. Jeff Maehl leads Oregon with 31 catches for 423 yards and five touchdowns, helping the Ducks achieve their staggering output of 54.3 ppg and 567.0 total ypg.
Against Washington State, Oregon posted 22 first downs and 556 total yards. James ran for 136 yards and two scores in that game, while Thomas and backup Nate Costa combined for 304 passing yards. Maehl caught 10 passes for 119 yards and a score.
"Every play I did, Kenjon was in my mind," said James after the game. He was speaking about teammate Kenjon Barber, a fellow tailback who was taken off the field in an ambulance with a concussion. Barber is expected to miss this week's game.
"It's just tough when you have injuries like that and there is an ambulance that comes on the field, but I thought our kids did a pretty good job handling it after that," said coach Kelly.
While the Oregon offense gets most of the media attention, the team's defense has certainly help up its end of the bargain. The Ducks are allowing only 16.3 ppg and 338.5 total ypg, and the squad has played well against the run and the pass for the most part. Generating turnovers has been key to the success of the squad, as Oregon has posted 12 interceptions and 10 fumble recoveries. Cliff Harris has four interceptions to his credit, while Eddie Pleasant paces Oregon with 33 total tackles.
The Oregon defense didn't play a perfect game by any means against Washington State, as three touchdowns were surrendered, two of which capped drives of at least 70 yards. Still, only 91 rushing yards were permitted at a clip of 2.5 yards per attempt.