After each suffered Pac-12 losses last week, the No. 12 Oregon Ducks and No. 18 UCLA Bruins fell out of the top 10 and now need victories to stay afloat in the conference and national title conversations.
The Ducks fell to Arizona for the second straight year, while UCLA was handed a major blow at the hands of Utah. A second loss for either team likely means the end of their Pac-12 and national championship hopes.
But Saturday’s matchup at the Rose Bowl presents an opportunity for Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota and UCLA’s passer Brett Hundley. A solid, mistake-free performance would immediately push either one to the top of the Heisman Trophy pack, especially after Georgia running back Todd Gurley’s suspension and the ongoing investigations surrounding Florida State's Jameis Winston.
While Mariota and Hundley have the most to gain individually, and will take all the praise for a win or all the criticism for a loss, they’ll need some serious help from their teammates throughout this key conference matchup.
Let’s take a look at several players on both sides, who should play a major role.
Players To Watch
Royce Freeman, RB, Oregon
The true freshman hasn’t scored a touchdown in the Ducks last two games after scoring five in the first three. But he’s still their most dangerous weapon after Mariota. UCLA has had significant trouble stopping the run this season, giving up 158 yards per game despite the presence of top linebackers Eric Kendricks and Myles Jack.
Malcolm Bunche, LT, UCLA
The Bruins offensive line hasn’t given Hundley much help. They’re last in the Pac-12 in sacks allowed, with last week’s 10-sack letdown against Utah pushing their total to 23 on the season. Bunche, a transfer from UCLA, is a hulk at 6-foot-6 and 310 lbs., and he’s been charged with protecting Hundley’s blindside. Oregon is third in the Pac-12 with 16 sacks, and its on Bunche’s shoulders to lead the o-line.
Ishmael Adams, DB, and Anthony Jefferson, S, UCLA
Accounting for three of the Bruins four interceptions, these talented seniors could be a problem for Mariota. Adams has returned both of his picks for touchdowns, totaling 115 yards. Preventing deep plays downfield will fall on Adams and Jefferson, with Oregon’s top four receivers scoring 80, 62, 57 and 41-yard touchdowns. If Devon Allen or the versatile Byron Marshall make plays, its up to Adams and Jefferson to minimize their yards after the catch.
Erick Dargan, DB, Oregon
Among the nation’s best with three interceptions, Dargan’s also broken up three passes and defended another five. He’ll either spy Hundley, or attempt to shutdown Bruins top receiver Jordan Payton, who’s sixth in the conference with 491 yards and three touchdowns.
Start Time: Saturday, 3:30 p.m. EST
TV Channel: FOX
Updated Betting Odds: The line opened at Oregon -3, and has shifted down to -2.5
Over/Under: 71 points, a shift up from 68