Ninth-ranked Oregon and UCLA will bring banged-up offenses into Saturday's 12:30 p.m. game at the Rose Bowl.
With quarterback Dennis Dixon lost for the season, the Ducks' defense has taken on added responsibility to try to ensure a possible return trip to Pasadena on Jan. 1.
"It's time for us to step it up a little more," junior defensive tackle Cole Linehan said. "It's on our backs a little bit more now. The Rose Bowl is definitely still a real possibility, so we just need to take care of business."
In the wake of Dixon's season-ending knee injury, Brady Leaf again takes over, in less-than-ideal circumstances. The Ducks (8-2, 5-2 Pacific-10 Conference) are struggling to rebound mentally and physically from the 34-24 loss on Nov. 15 at Arizona, which foiled their national championship hopes, and they need an effective Leaf to reach the Rose Bowl.
"I know I can get the job done, and the biggest thing is the guys on the team know I can get the job done," Leaf said.
Leaf has had his moments. In the final seven minutes of the 2005 Holiday Bowl against Oklahoma, he completed 11 of 18 passes for 118 yards and nearly pulled off a comeback victory. Last year against Oregon State, he completed 25 of 42 passes for 274 yards and again nearly led the Ducks to a comeback win.
"Brady is not your average, everyday second-team quarterback," Oregon coach Mike Bellotti said.
In the loss at Arizona, the Ducks held the Wildcats to three points in the final two quarters, forcing six punts and one fumble to keep the game within reach.
"Our defense played an extremely good football game," Bellotti said. "They understand now they can truly affect a game."
Junior defensive end Nick Reed, who leads the Pacific-10 Conference in sacks (11) and tackles for loss (191/2), said the loss to Arizona was a "reality check."
"With Dennis down, our offense, I'm not going to say they'll struggle, but it's not going to come as natural as it did for them before," Reed said. "So it'll give us an opportunity to shine. All year long, it's been Oregon's offense, and I think these next two games, it's going to be Oregon's defense."
They'll face a UCLA offense that will start converted wide receiver Osaar Rasshan at quarterback for the second game in a row and walk-on sophomore Craig Sheppard at tailback. The Bruins might also regain the services of senior tailback Chris Markey, who has been limited this season because of foot and ankle injuries.
No matter who plays at the two key positions, the Ducks expect the Bruins' offense to be run-oriented.
Information from: The Oregonian, http:www.oregonlive.com
Defense has to step up as Oregon hits the road to take on UCLA