For 30 minutes, 59,000 held their breath as UCLA matched Oregon punch-for-punch on both sides of the ball, taking a 14-14 tie into the locker room. The second half was not as close.
“Our guys responded how we thought they would,” head coach Mark Helfrich said. “People were questioning ‘could we play four quarters’ and that’s what we did.”
The Bruins weren’t dominant in the first half, but they took care of business, converting 6-of-9 third downs and taking advantage of a short field twice for their two scores. It was the Bruin defense that created those short fields, first forcing a rare turnover from Marcus Mariota on the game’s first drive and later getting a piece of a Alejandro Maldonado punt.
As they came into the locker room at halftime the Ducks defensive mantra was simple: don’t let UCLA score anymore points. It was something defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti was only too happy to hear.
“I love it when they talk dirty to me like that,” Alotti said.
Talk is cheap, but Oregon’s front seven put their money where their mouth was in the second half, shutting down UCLA’s ability to go to the ground at all. After running for 146 yards in the first half, UCLA managed just 73 in the second half. The Ducks also buckled down on third downs, holding UCLA to just 3-of-9 on third downs in the second half.
“Sometimes you like to take a lot of credit for something you did at halftime,” Alotti said. “People think you either do something really fancy or something unbelievable, but the magic is in the kids.”
The passing game was even less kind to the Bruins, with Oregon holding UCLA to just 64 yards passing, only 21 of which came in the second half.
“With us giving up 560 yards passing last week, it wasn’t a good look for us,” Avery Patterson said. “At least we were able to come back this week and have a better performance.”
It wasn’t entirely a case of defensive adjustments, however.
“Our offense put up 42 points,” Patterson said. “You can’t say it was a defense only effort.”
After two stalled drives to start the second half Oregon pulled away with four straight touchdown drives to end the game including one that lasted an eternal (by Oregon standards) 4:55, one of two four minute drives Oregon had on the night.