With all due apologies for redacting the original LeBron James Nike campaign, we are all witnesses to possible history Saturday afternoon when the ESPN GameDay festivities conclude, and kickoff commences at 12:30 pm. Just how much possible history you ask? Well, let’s recap:
- The Bruins haven’t won three straight top 15 games since they ended the 1984 season with victories over #7 USC for the Victory Bell and #13 Miami in the Fiesta Bowl, while opening the 1985 season with a win versus the LaVell Edwards-led #8 BYU
- The Bruins haven’t beaten a top-10 team on the road since defeating #10 Arizona in 1998
- The Bruins haven’t won 10 games in a row since their school-record 20-game winning streak prior to their infamous Orange Bowl visit with Miami to conclude the 1998 regular season
- The Bruins haven’t started a season 7-0 since beginning the 2005 campaign 8-0
- Bruin careers of Dorian Thompson-Robinson and Chip Kelly have yet to include a victory over a top 15 team on the road
There’s so much historical precedence at stake, that the fact this is the first top 10 match-up in the PAC-12 since 2016 and that Bruins-Ducks is featured on ESPN GameDay two years in a row would barely be a footnote. So how do the Bruins convert the possible to the definitive?
Nerves of Steel
As spectacular as DTR has been over the past two games having completed a whopping 75% of his passes at 42-56 for 614 yards passing with seven touchdowns to only one garbage-time interception, this is his biggest emotional and execution test yet. From an emotional perspective, he has been bullet-proof in harnessing controlled rage to uncontrollable play-making versus the Huskies and Utes, while releasing swarms of emotional suppression as the clock has struck zeroes. That discipline and mental fortitude will be tested as he faces a raucous crowd of 54,000 that has seen their Ducks win 22 consecutive home games.
From an execution standpoint, he must lead the Bruins to their most fundamentally sound performance to date. The Bruins can’t afford to give up a blown coverage touchdown on fourth and six on the game’s first drive or get stuffed on fourth and one on the last possession of the first half to go up three full scores as they did against the Huskies. They can’t jump off-sides on a fourth and three in the second half or get false start penalties in the red zone to turn third and twos into third and sevens as they did versus the Utes. Those are opportunities for crowds and teams to reset their composure at home but are momentum-altering plays on the road. The Bruins don’t have to be flawless; they just need to be especially mindful on third and fourth-down situations.
Strength on Weakness
There are no two ways about it…this is going to be a track meet. The Ducks rank first in the PAC-12 in both total offense (512.5 yards per game) and rushing offense (241.7 yards per game) while the Bruins rank third in total offense (505.7 yards per game) and second in rushing offense (211.5 yards per game). DTR’s counterpart in quarterback Bo Nix has 20 total touchdowns (12 passing, 8 rushing) to Thompson-Robinson’s 19 (15 passing, 4 rushing).
While nobody can single-handedly match the brilliance of Zach Charbonnet’s PAC-12 leading 123 rushing yards per game, the Ducks bring a pair of quick-twitching backs to the table in Bucky Irving and Noah Whittingham.
While both defenses have been average statistically this season, they are the corresponding weak links going up against high-octane, explosive, up-tempo offenses. The difference in the game lies in Laiatu Latu and his team-leading 6.5 sacks bringing pressure on Bo Nix and forcing him into obvious passing situations on second and third down. For as great an athlete as Nix is, questions about his pure passing ability along with depth of outside play-makers for the Ducks remain. Furthermore, Carl Jones Jr. and his lean, robust, and perfectly proportional frame at 6’2 and 228 pounds, should be the perfect spy on Nix all day if Bill McGovern chooses that tactic.
A Play Here, A Play There
This game is going to come down to which team can make five total stops in the game to give their offense enough margin of error to capitalize. Each team will probably face 15 third and fourth-down situations respectively. The sheer variety that the Bruins bring in those situations is staggering. Power with Charbonnet, misdirection with DTR, burst with Keegan Jones, outside size with Jake Bobo, outside speed with Logan Loya and Kaz Allen, hashmark spacing with Hudson Habermehl and Michael Ezeike, precision route running with Kam Brown and TMA.
That variety, with Keegan Jones in particular, on certain change-of-pace option tosses and swing passes from the backfield will prove to be the difference. While the Ducks are explosive, they are undersized at their key playmakers. Both Irving and Whittingham are under 200 pounds with leading receiver Troy Franklin even frailer at 178 pounds. Bo Nix is the team’s power running option and ultimately that lack of situational and unpredictable power will enable the Bruins to get timely short-yardage third and fourth-down stops.
This is a magical season and in the words of the late, great Kobe Bryant, “to make history, you have to do historic things.” The Bruins will do those historic things in a 41-38 upset special.