PASADENA, Calif. >> Just a week ago, Oregon’s visit to the Rose Bowl loomed as a defining game in the races for the Pac-12 title and the national championship. The Bruins had a chance to knock off the reigning Ducks, who could cement their supremacy against an up-and-coming power.
When the No. 18 Bruins and the 12th-ranked Ducks both lost last week and plummeted 10 spots in the AP Top 25, Brett Hundley’s showdown with Marcus Mariota at the Rose Bowl assumed new meaning.
The winner will still be in the hunt for the postseason playoff. The loser just might be out of the national title race in early October.
Oregon (4-1, 1-1 Pac-12) had more than a week to recover from its stunning home loss to Arizona, but the Ducks realize their tumble from No. 2 will get serious without a strong rebound Saturday.
“Even before all those losses, I thought college football is crazy,” Oregon defensive lineman Arik Armstead said. “People are going to lose each week. Even after we lost on Thursday, I said we still have a lot to accomplish, still have goals, and everything we want is still obtainable. We’ve just got to take care of business.”
Coach Jim Mora has been saying the same things to his Bruins (4-1, 1-1), whose unbeaten season ended in disappointing fashion at home against Utah. For all of his achievements in 2 1/2 seasons in Westwood, Mora still hasn’t beaten Pac-12 powers Oregon and Stanford.
Mora was pleased by the Bruins’ response to the loss, led by Hundley’s leadership.
“They learned, they applied the lessons, and then they moved forward toward Oregon,” Mora said. “I knew that they would do that. That’s what we’re building here. It’s going to be an ongoing process. It’s never going to be over. That’s the mindset we’re trying to build here. It’s one of toughness.”
Both teams’ ultimate goal is still available despite last week’s defeats, but Oregon also has a lofty recent history to protect. The Ducks haven’t lost consecutive games since 2007, and they lost only six games in the past four seasons combined.
“One loss will not determine anyone’s season,” Oregon center Hroniss Grasu said. “But you’ve got to come back and not let one loss turn into two losses.”
Here are some things to watch when the Ducks fly south to Pasadena:
HEAD TO HEAD: Hundley and Mariota, both fourth-year juniors who passed up the NFL this season, have met just once in their careers. Mariota passed for 230 yards in Oregon’s 28-point victory over the Bruins in Eugene last October, while Hundley managed just 64 yards passing — the lowest full-game total of his college career. Mora thinks the quarterbacks are “very similar in a lot of ways, their character and their leadership. They’re both about the same size. They both have the ability to make every throw on the field, but also to extend the play and to take off and run.”
STACKS AND STACKS OF SACKS: Hundley was sacked 10 times last week, the most for any quarterback in any FBS game since 2012. UCLA’s beleaguered offensive line isn’t fully responsible, either. Hundley acknowledges he hangs onto the ball too long and often isn’t particularly elusive. Sharing responsibility doesn’t help the Bruins’ offense, which has repeatedly been stymied by yardage losses.
SLOWING MARIOTA: Mariota also has been sacked 12 times in the Ducks’ last two games, but UCLA’s defense has a league-low seven sacks this season. Mora doesn’t think pressure is the key to containing the Heisman hopeful. “The key thing is to keep him in the pocket and not let him extend the play,” Mora said. “He’s tremendous, one of the best you see at doing that.”
RIVALRY STAKES: The Ducks have won five straight over UCLA, but they haven’t faced the Bruins in Pasadena since 2009. Oregon has played in two Rose Bowls since then, winning the Granddaddy of Them All for the first time in 95 years in 2012. Oregon’s last loss to UCLA was in 2007, a 16-0 win for the Bruins.
STOP IT: Oregon’s defense has yielded 994 yards in the past two games, struggling on third downs and in red-zone defense. New coordinator Don Pellum sees progress from his Ducks, but UCLA is just one game removed from a 62-point road performance against Arizona State.