No. 13 Oregon downs UCLA with 2nd-half burst
With one incredible play after another, the 13th-ranked Ducks turned a defense-dominated snoozer into another showcase for their ample talent and rising confidence in a 24-10 victory over UCLA on Saturday.
With Oregon trailing 3-0 at halftime, Kenjon Barner returned the second-half kickoff for a 100-yard touchdown, and Talmadge Jackson returned an interception 32 yards for another score just 13 seconds later. After a fumble recovery, Jeff Maehl then took a short screen pass 20 yards through traffic for the Ducks' third TD just 3:54 after halftime.
In even less clock time than an Oregon track star would need to cover a mile, the Ducks (5-1, 3-0 Pac-10) were well on the way to their fifth straight win and the early inside lane on a return trip to the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day.
"That's what our team does," coach Chip Kelly said. "They feed off each other. When somebody makes a big play, the other guys feed off that. These guys have a great attitude, a great chemistry right now. It's fun to be around them."
Oregon's big plays on special teams and defense covered for an offense that was shut out in the first half, struggling without injured quarterback Jeremiah Masoli. Nate Costa passed for just 82 yards in his first career start, although his teammates praised his game management.
The Ducks hadn't scored in eight consecutive quarters in Pasadena before Barner, a freshman backup running back, took the second-half kickoff in his own end zone and burst through the wedge. He sprinted to Oregon's first TD on a kickoff return since Jonathan Stewart did it Nov. 19, 2005.
"It always feels good to get loose, score a touchdown for our team and help us get back on track," Barner said. "I'm glad we were able to get back in it after a slow first half."
On the Bruins' next snap, Jackson jumped Terrence Austin's buttonhook route and ran unimpeded to the end zone for Oregon's second score. Just two snaps after that, Kenny Rowe knocked the ball out of Prince's hands on a scramble, and Oregon recovered.
Maehl then caught a short third-down pass in traffic, but broke through UCLA's tackles for his first score of the season.
"The fire that everyone had in them just ignited," Costa said. "We got on a roll and started saying, 'We're going to put these guys to sleep."'
Kevin Prince was 13 of 25 for just 81 yards in his return from a two-game injury absence for the Bruins (3-2, 0-2), who have lost two straight while scoring just one offensive touchdown. Prince also lost a fumble and threw an interception before third-string freshman Richard Brehaut took over for parts of the fourth quarter, passing for 64 yards.
"This was probably the worst game I've ever played in my life, but we've just got to keep moving forward," Prince said. "I'm confident in myself, and I know I can get the job done. I just didn't get it done today."
Akeem Ayers made an astonishing interception in Oregon's end zone for the Bruins' only touchdown late in the third quarter, leaping to snag Costa's pass as the quarterback tumbled out of bounds, then tucking his own feet inbounds as he fell.
"Next time I'll pump-fake differently," said Costa, who went 9 for 17. "That was just a flat-out great play."
LaMichael James rushed for 152 yards for the Ducks, who had scored 94 points in their previous two games. Oregon showed it doesn't need much offense to stay on top of the Pac-10, even staying out of trouble late by running the ball on its final 19 plays.
"We've just got to learn from it," UCLA defensive tackle Brian Price said. "Things went downhill fast, but we had a positive mindset. Defensively, we remained relentless."
Masoli injured his right knee during Oregon's blowout win over Washington State last week. Kelly was cagey about his starting choice while Masoli missed two days of practice this week, but the junior didn't even suit up.
"We took a look at him, and we weren't going to put him in the pads," Kelly said. "We didn't even want to be tempted."
That temptation would have been strong at halftime. Costa underwent three major knee surgeries before getting this chance because of Masoli's own knee problems, but he went 6 for 12 while the Ducks' offense controlled the ball for slightly more than 10 minutes.
Oregon couldn't get further than the UCLA 34, where Jerzy Siewierski blocked Rob Beard's 51-yard field goal attempt midway through the first quarter. The Bruins subsequently drove inside the Oregon 1, but the Ducks' defense kept them in it, stopping Prince on a quarterback sneak on fourth down.
The first half's only points were scored by Kai Forbath, who nailed a 52-yard field goal - his UCLA-record eighth of at least 50 yards - when a 16-play drive stalled after starting at the Bruins 1.