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DUCKS BEAT: Young defenders settling in for 2-0 UO; third down big for Shough, offense

COURTESY PHOTO: BOB HUBNER/WSU PHOTOS - Noah Sewell (1), Kayvon Thibodeaux (5) and the Oregon defense made things difficult for Washinton State's Deon McIntosh and the Cougars in the second half of the Ducks 43-29 win.Chip Kelly brings a confident UCLA offense into Autzen Stadium on Saturday, the place where his high-tempo attack took the Ducks to the brink of a national title and changed the pace at which college football offenses play.

The task for Oregon's defense, which has played OK against two very different attacks, will be haranguing UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson as much as possible.

The junior known as DTR has been the main weapon in the Bruins two games, throwing for 499 yards and eight touchdowns and running for 161 yards and a score.

Oregon counters with a defense that has limited explosion plays and has been solid in the red zone through two games — wins over Stanford and Washington State. In 10 trips into the red zone, the Cardinal and Cougars managed five touchdowns and five field-goal attempts. In the Ducks' 43-29 win Nov. 14 at Washington State, after giving up two first-quarter touchdowns, the defense limited WSU to three field goals until late in the fourth quarter.

One key to that was keeping Cougars' receivers in front of them. Another was changing looks to challenge talented freshman QB Jayden de Laura. Then there was the influence of Oregon's front seven. As the game progressed, sophomore defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux and freshman linebacker Noah Sewell became more impactful.

"KT came up to me in the locker room (at halftime) and told me, 'It's time to show how great you are,'" Sewell said after making four solo tackles and his first career sack at Washington State.

Sewell, the 6-4, 250-pound brother of former Oregon left tackle Penei Sewell, said it took awhile to get through the nervous energy in his first college start.

"Isaac (Slade-Matautia) came up to me one time when I missed that screen play, missed that tackle, he just said, 'Calm down. Breathe. Take everything in slowly and just play ball.'"

As much fun as it is to watch Sewell, Thibodeaux and company disrupt opposing offenses, Oregon is bringing plenty of "juice" to other facets of the game, as well.

In fact, the Ducks offense that Kelly's Bruins will face Saturday is the most intriguing attack in Eugene since Kelly brought the blur to Autzen.

Through two games, the Ducks are averaging 538.5 yards and 39 points. But it's the way they're doing it under new offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead that is creating the buzz.

Despite the newness of the offense — and the new quarterback and offensive line — the Ducks exhibit a kind of swagger that was missing under Marcus Arroyo, even with Justin Herbert. It's a swagger, in fact, that the Ducks haven't consistently played with since Kelly jumped to the NFL in 2013.

COURTESY PHOTO: BOB HUBNER/WSU PHOTOS - Jaylon Rdd hauled in this pass from Tyler Shough to set up a momentum-shifting Oregon touchdown in the final seconds of the first half on Nov. 14 at Washington State.Moorhead and QB Tyler Shough have been getting the Ducks into good plays, and getting the ball to playmakers in space. And — as demonstrated on the key 57-yard Shough-to-Jaylon Redd pass just before halftime, Moorhead isn't afraid to turn Shough loose.

And that confidence rubs off on the players. The statistic that best reflects that is Oregon's success on third and fourth downs.

At Washington State, Oregon converted both times it went for it on fourth down and was 7 of 11 on third down. Through two weeks, the Ducks are 16 of 22 on converting third downs, which is how thay have survived being minus-5 in turnovers.

"Good play calling and good execution on our part," Shough said. "We study their looks a bunch. We welcome third down, because they're going to show what they're really trying to bring and just get our guys out in space. And I think we've really just taken advantage of those opportunities."

A lot of Ducks are getting opportunities. With talented sophomore receiver Mycah Pittman unavailable at WSU, eight Ducks caught passes — six on a game-opening, 92-yard drive.

COURTESY PHOTO: BOB HUBNER/WSU PHOTOS - Travis Dye has been a big second-half weapon for Oregon in the Ducks first two wins.Running back Travis Dye, who has been a big second-half weapon through two games, said the Ducks are enjoying Moorhead's approach.

"Moorhead is a huge difference to this offense," Dye said after catching two second-half touchdown passes at WSU. "He has really kicked this offense up a huge notch just by his football savvyness. He's a great coach."

Other than the big plays, Shough's running ability and hard-nosed running from the backs, it's fun to watch Oregon adjust in game and take advantage of matchups.

The in-game adjustments, coach Mario Cristobal said, are a credit to a group of offensive linemen who are quickly gelling into a formidable group.

"It's a special group. They work at it. They're getting better and better. They're playing with physicality, both in the run game and the pass game. Communicate extremely well," Cristobal said. "They get in a groove and they're hard to stop. They provide great information when they come to the sideline as well. They do a really good job, so we can make our adjustments."

• Speaking of adjustments, credit to the Pac-12 for getting Cal and UCLA to play each other Sunday at the Rose Bowl, a 34-10 win for Kelly's Bruins (1-1). Cal was to play Arizona State and UCLA to face Utah last Saturday, but the Sun Devils and Utes had to cancel because of COVID-19.

It's hard to know how good the Bruins are. Cal is the program most limited by coronavirus restrictions and was playing its first game. UCLA's defense gave up 48 points to Colorado, then dominated Cal.

• Oregon remains No. 11 in the AP poll. The Ducks actually fell one spot, to No. 13, in the coaches' poll after the win at Washington State.


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