Oregon's LaMichael James sliced and diced UCLA in the Pac12 Championship Game for 3 touchdowns, and 219 rushing yards. (Photo by Bruce Ely, The Oregonian)
Final Score: Oregon 49 UCLA 31
UCLA, and departing coach Rick Neuheisel, put forth an inspired effort the Bruins can be proud of, and they covered the 4 touchdown+ spread. But Oregon had too many weapons, and one really lethal one, in LaMichael James, and the Ducks gradually overwhelmed the Bruins to claim the initial Pac-12 Championship.
Both teams had a pair of first quarter turnovers, and each team converted one into a touchdown. But ultimately, the Bruins suffered a couple more, and the Ducks didn't. Very rarely does any team overcome a negative turnover margin of more than one, and this was no exception.
Another thing the Ducks did was convert fourth downs, picking up either a first down, or in a couple of cases, a touchdown, on 4 of 7 attempts. Another one that failed pinned UCLA over 90 yards from the Oregon end zone. And though the Bruins drove the length of Autzen stadium, it took far too long. You don't just have to score often against Oregon, you have to do it quickly, in order to ensure you will get to do it often enough.
James, who passed Marcus Allen into third place all time in the PCC/Pac-8/10//12 in rushing, behind only Ken Simonton and Charles White, ran for 219 yards, and 3 touchdowns, on 25 carries, and rolled up 249 yards of total offense, and was named the MVP of the first Pac-12 Championship.
Darron Thomas had a big night as well for Oregon, completing 20 of 36 passes, for 219 yards and 3 touchdowns, providing tremendous balance for James. Thomas also ran 5 times for 60 yards, including a 40 yard burst, and a 10 yard touchdown.
Oregon opened a 21-7 lead late in the first quarter, when UCLA lost Cole Lyerla in the end zone, and Thomas found him. UCLA could have folded a number of times, but didn't. The Ducks lost Nelson Rosario in the middle of the field on a well conceived play where other UCLA receivers drove the Oregon secondary very deep, and Prince found Rosario for the 37 yard touchdown that pulled the Bruins back within 21-14.
How anyone loses either Lyerla or Rosario, as big as they are, is hard to figure. But the defensive breakdowns canceled each other out.
Nothing canceled out James though. Oregon had too many weapons for UCLA, but the Bruins still managed to hang around much of the game. Every time there was any indication that things might become troublesome for Oregon, James would come up with a clutch play.
After the breakdown that allowed Rosario's score, Oregon answered with a 10 play, 73 yard drive, with a 25 yard run by James setting up his scoring run that capped the drive.
Derrick Coleman's fumble ended the ensuing UCLA drive, and gave Oregon a 32 yard field. Thomas' 25 yard touchdown pass to Daryle Thomas turned what had been a one score game into a 35-14 Oregon lead.
UCLA ran off the next 10 points, but Oregon responded again, with a pair of quick strike scoring drives, neither of which took as much as 2 1/2 minutes.
Prince turned in a gutty performance, including getting up from a couple of the most spectacular sacks seen all season, where delayed edge rushes off the edge weren't picked up, with the result a Duck getting a full speed run at an unsuspecting Prince.
Prince only completed half of his passes, 13 of 26, for 156 yards and 2 touchdowns, which wasn't a high enough completion percentage to be able to compete with Oregon.
Coleman had 83 yards rushing on 16 carries for the Bruins, and Prince packed the ball 16 times as well.
Rosario was the game's leading receiver, with 6 catches for 90 yards and 2 touchdowns, including a leaping one handed scoring snag that will be one of the highlight catches of the year.
But Thomas found 9 different Oregon receivers, with Josh Huff the main target, with 4 catches for 57 yards.Huff also had 94 yards on kick returns, including a 40 yarder that set up the first of Oregon's two third quarter scores that put the game away.
Their array of weapons, as is often the case, made the difference for Oregon. Though he gained 79 yards rushing, Kenjon Barner was pretty well controlled as James' relief/counter balance by the Bruins. And after a first quarter fumble, De'Anthony Thomas, who had no carries and only 2 catches, was demoted to the bench by coach Chip Kelly. It didn't matter with the alternatives available.
The game wasn't the lopsided embarrassment many feared, but UCLA was overmatched. Whether Oregon could have claimed the win had it been USC that came to Autzen for a second time this season is far from certain, though. UCLA's defense disrupted Thomas at times with a surprisingly effective job of pushing upfield with pressure. But Oregon's ability to block down field created big plays out of good plays on multiple occasions, allowing their speed differential to become decisive.
UCLA (6-7, 5-4) will await word on which of the minor bowls the Pac-12 has a tie in with that they will play in, but it will be without Neuheisel, as offensive coordinator/wide receivers coach Mike Johnson will take over. Had they played the way they did tonight, and had Neuheisel been as bold with his game plans and play calls, in some of their other 5 losses by 4 or more scores, he might still have a job.
Oregon (11-2, 8-1) advanced to the Rose Bowl, and now awaits the outcome, and the winner, of Saturday night's Big 10 Championship game between Michigan St. and Wisconsin.