One by one, the college football pieces fell like dominoes last week leaving the Pac-12 landscape in an unfamiliar state. Down is up as Cal is the top team in the Pac-12 North, and up is down with Oregon outside of the Top-10.
So where does that leave No. 18 UCLA as the prepare for the suddenly beatable No. 12 Ducks?
Looking just as beatable.
Despite the 5-1 record, the loss to unranked Utah exposed a few grave issues with the Bruins.
The defense looked disjointed and continued to struggle with defending the run. While many have called the offensive play-calling and the play of the offensive line into question, ultimately, it was up to quarterback Brett Hundley to get the ball out of his hands and work the pocket but he showed that same tendency to hang on a little too long … something he said was behind him.
Old habits die hard, much like Heisman dreams.
"It’s just a combination of everything," Hundley said Monday. "I take a lot of accountability for that. I can help get the ball out of my hands faster and move around more. The offensive line played a great game and we’ve just got to be on better terms with that."
Hundley has never been one to blame his line and that isn’t likely to change but the offensive line was out-worked. Niether offensive line coach Adrian Klemm or offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone have spoken with the media since the game and head coach Jim Mora only briefly addressed it saying he would need to evaluate the sacks to see where the breakdowns truly occurred.
Hundley didn’t go into too much detail, only saying that it’s on him to limit mistakes.
"Just sort of play my game and play it at a faster pace," he said. "I think getting the ball out of my hands, no turnovers and protecting the ball are all things I need to do."
For the fourth week in a row, the defense cited gap control. UCLA has given up a total of 968 offensive yards in the last two games, 380 of them were rushing yards.
"When runs break, that’s usually what happens," said defensive back Anthony Jefferson. "Someone missed a gap or something like that. We’re not pointing and fingers but we need to play better. We still have to make our tackles as far as the secondary and the d-lineman and go from there."
The defensive line pointed to poor technique that led to breakdowns in coverage and costly mistakes.
"We messed up. We just messed up," said nose tackle Kenny Clark. "We couldn’t stop what they were doing. We weren’t holding our gaps and doing what we needed to do."
By Oregon’s standards, it’s a down year for the running game which, like UCLA, has suffered behind a struggling offensive line. The Ducks are only 34th in the FBS in rushing yards (209 per game, 12 rushing touchdowns) but Mariota has been passing the ball much more than an in previous seasons and he’s ranked No. 1 in pass efficiency.
But Oregon is still lightning fast. Blink and the Ducks make you pay, and that goes for the defense too — they have 16 sacks for 102 yards.
It’s Pac-12 parity at its best. Both teams might suffering from an identity crisis of sorts but after Saturday, one will have a much clearer picture.