LOS ANGELES >> UCLA Coach Jim Mora has a strong opinion about Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota.
"I had a couple NFL guys ask me if he can play at the next level and I told them, ‘Have you not watched him?’" Mora said. "He’s going to rip it up at the next level. He’s ripping it up at this level. He’s special."
Mora will get to watch up close Saturday when the 12th-ranked Bruins face the second-ranked Ducks in Eugene, Ore., and he admitted that "I don’t know how excited I am about watching him Saturday night."
Mariota, a redshirt sophomore and a top candidate to win the Heisman Trophy, has passed for 2,051 yards and 19 touchdowns. He has 493 yards rushing, averaging 10.3 yards per carry, and nine touchdowns. He has thrown 265 passes without an interception, a Pac-12 Conference record.
But numbers are easy to attain in Oregon’s high-octane offense. What impresses Mora about Mariota goes beyond the numbers.
"You watch his facial expressions, he never looks rattled," Mora said. "He’s 6 feet 31/2, has a rocket arm, incredible intelligence, great poise, runs a 4.4, has a fearless attitude. It doesn’t matter what system he’s in, he’d be great."
Do the Bruins have a chance against him?
"You just have to understand that he is going to make some plays on you," Mora said. "You can’t panic. You see teams and they sometimes panic, get caught up in the emotion of the play. Then the next play turns into a negative."
The UCLA defense comes without a panic button, Mora indicated.
"We have a defense that has some speed," Mora said. "That gives us a fighting chance."
UCLA’s defense received good news Tuesday. Mora said linebacker Eric Kendricks is expected to play.
Kendricks underwent tests on his kidney after taking a hit in the back against Stanford. All were negative.
Kendricks was at practice Tuesday but wore a red no-contact jersey.
"It takes a lot to keep Eric Kendricks down," Mora said.
Oregon’s running game gets stronger
Just what an Oregon offense that is averaging 643.1 yards and 57.6 points per game needed: another game-breaking option.
Running back De’Anthony Thomas is expected to return from an ankle injury to play against UCLA. Thomas had 338 yards rushing, averaging 8.0 yards per carry, in four games before the injury.
"You’ve got to make him go east and west, sideline to sideline," UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr said. "He’s a one-cut guy. He can be by you in a second. It’s important to keep him in front of us."
Byron Marshall, who has 746 yards rushing, has had four consecutive 100-yard games since Thomas was injured.
"They have weapons all over the field," Mora said. "It’s a challenge."
Tackles Simon Goines (knee) and Conor McDermott (shoulder) were not at practice. McDermott will not play. Mora was hopeful that Goines could play.
Freshman Scott Quessenberry, who has worked on the scout team this season, was working with the first- and second- team offense. Quessenberry can play guard, which would allow Xavier Su’a-Filo to move to tackle.
Freshman tackle Kenny Lacy was promoted from the scout team this week.