Not only did last week’s bye for the Oregon Ducks provide the team and players an opportunity to recover after the opening half of the season, but it also allowed us at Ducks Wire to do the same. We focused on the first six weeks as a whole rather than getting into the nitty gritty of game previews.

That’s all behind us, though, and we are as excited as ever to be getting ready for what looks like an incredible matchup between the No. 9 Oregon Ducks and No. 10 UCLA Bruins.

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It features two Heisman Trophy candidates, two teams that have a good chance of making it to the Pac-12 championship, if not the College Football Playoff, and the return of a coach who is nothing less than a legend in Eugene, Chip Kelly.

To help preview all of the action, Ducks Wire writers Zachary Neel, and Don Smalley gathered to make predictions and offer opinions on what we might see.

Here is your seventh Ducks Wire Roundtable of the 2022 season. Enjoy.

Bye Week Improvements

Question: The Ducks have been able to enjoy a bye week ahead of this UCLA game, where they said that the goal was to better themselves more so than prepare for the Bruins. In your opinion, what would be the No. 1 thing that Oregon should have focused on getting better at during the bye?

Zachary Neel (Follow @ZacharyCNeel)

Tackling has to be the main key for this team right now. We can feel pretty confident about the offense as a whole, and the defense has done better in coverage as of late. Still, though, I think that they can continue to get better at bringing their opponent down to the ground and not letting guys like Dorian Thompson-Robinson slip out of tackles.

Don Smalley (Follow @Donald_Smalley)

Hopefully the secondary used the time to get better individually and as a unit. They’ve been all right, but it could be a lot better and Thompson-Robinson is the guy who can exploit that kind of weakness if you don’t have things locked down. Rushing the quarterback also needs to improve. Keeping Thompson-Robinson contained in the pocket would go a long way to ensuring Oregon a win.

Top Dog Unit

Question: This is a pretty even matchup across the board, with two good offenses, and two solid defenses. At the end of the day, which unit do you think is going to have the biggest impact on the game?

Zachary Neel (Follow @ZacharyCNeel)

I really have a feeling that Oregon’s wide receivers are going to have a big day on Saturday. A lot has been made about both of these rushing attacks — both rank inside the top 15 nationally — but I think that it will provide a nice opportunity for Bo Nix to show off some of his arm strength and get Troy Franklin, Chase Cota and Kris Hutson going.

Don Smalley (Follow @Donald_Smalley)

Oregon’s offensive line. The Ducks are going to want to run the ball, win time-of-possession and keep the UCLA offense off the field. Assuming it’s going to be wet, running the ball will be paramount.

Oregon’s Shaky Resume

Question: Oregon has played one big-time team in Georgia, but other than that, they don’t really have a highly-respectable win on their resume. Does that at all worry you going into the UCLA game?

Zachary Neel (Follow @ZacharyCNeel)

I’d be lying if I said it didn’t concern me a little bit. At the time, the win over BYU looked really good, but the Cougars have not been as fierce as we thought. The same can be said about Washington State, which pushed Oregon to the brink but has dropped a couple of games since. I’m not so concerned that I think the Ducks will be outmatched by UCLA’s talent, but I do think this will be the best team (other than Georgia) that Oregon has seen this year.

Don Smalley (Follow @Donald_Smalley)

Not at all. They’ve won a couple of road games in hostile environments and although BYU hasn’t had that good of a season, at the time the two teams played, the Cougars presented a good challenge and the Ducks passed that test with flying colors.

Non-Bo Nix Difference-Maker

Question: It’s clear that offense is going to be key for the Ducks to come out on top here. So you get to pick one player that isn’t Bo Nix and say he will be the biggest difference-maker. Who is it? 

Zachary Neel (Follow @ZacharyCNeel)

I’m still out here waiting for Kris Hutson to have his breakout game. I might as well die on that hill at this point. I think it could be this week, though. With an extra week to prepare, I feel that the Ducks might have a few things up their sleeves with Hutson as a gadget back, allowing him to find holes in the UCLA defense.

Don Smalley (Follow @Donald_Smalley)

I’m going to say Chase Cota. In the rainy conditions, passing is going to be at a premium, so when the Ducks do pass, a possession receiver is going to be very important and that’s what Cota is. The former Bruin might have a little extra motivation.

Defensive Difference-Maker

Question: Same question about the defense: Who do you think needs to step up the most in order for the Ducks to win?

Zachary Neel (Follow @ZacharyCNeel)

Give me Brandon Dorlus here. We know UCLA has a great rushing attack with Zach Charbonnet and Thompson-Robinson, but I think that the Ducks’ defensive line as a whole can have a huge impact by mucking up the trenches and making it so Thompson-Robinson has to be constantly rushed and on the move, utilizing his arm more than his legs.

Don Smalley (Follow @Donald_Smalley)

The linebacker combo of Noah Sewell and Justin Flowe and Jeffrey Bassa need to chase Thompson-Robinson all game long, keep him contained in the pocket and tackle him in open space. They also have to able to tackle Zach Charbonnet and not let him go wild.

The Factor of Elements

Question: It’s looking like the weather may be wet, and we know that Autzen is going to be loud. How much of a factor do you think those things will end up being on Saturday? 

Zachary Neel (Follow @ZacharyCNeel)

More than the wet weather that is expected, I think that the crowd noise at Autzen is going to play a huge factor here. UCLA has played five of its six games at home so far this year and judging by a lot of pictures on social media, those games are not well-attended. The environment will be rocking and rolling on Saturday afternoon, and I think it could end up swinging the game in Oregon’s favor.

Don Smalley (Follow @Donald_Smalley)

It could be a factor early on as players get used to the footing. The Autzen turf tends to be a bit slippery when wet. A bigger factor could be the wind. If it’s just the rain, the players will be fine. But the wind affects so much more, such as long passes, kicks and punts.

Sunday’s Headline Today

Question: Give me Sunday’s headline today. What is the main talking point going to be after this game? 

Zachary Neel (Follow @ZacharyCNeel)

A College Football Playoff Path for the Pac-12? More so than the Heisman race, I think that the main topic of conversation after this game — a projected Oregon win, in my book — will be how much the CFP committee will weigh the Georgia loss for the Ducks. With an unscathed record since and a win against a top-10 team, I think there will be some buzz for the Ducks to get the nod.

Don Smalley (Follow @Donald_Smalley)

Bo Nix has his Heisman moment in Oregon’s epic overtime win over the Bruins. But with all of the talk concentrating on the offenses, I think both defenses will step up and keep the score lower than we expect.

Place Your Bets

Question: Place your bets. You get $100 to spend on the Oregon spread (-6), the money line (Oregon -225, UCLA +180), or the Over/Under (70.5). Where are you going?

Zachary Neel (Follow @ZacharyCNeel)

Yes, I’m predicting an Oregon win, but I still think it’s going to be a close game. Give me $50 on UCLA plus-6, and the other $50 on the over.

Don Smalley (Follow @Donald_Smalley)

I’d bet $15 on Oregon minus-6, another $15 on Oregon minus-225 and the rest on the UNDER 70.5.

Score Prediction

Question: Finally, what is your score prediction? 

Zachary Neel (Follow @ZacharyCNeel)

I think there will be points, and I think it will be close. Give me the Ducks, 38-34.

Don Smalley (Follow @Donald_Smalley)

Oregon 27, UCLA 24 in an overtime thriller.





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