Pac-12 football: Oregon defeats UCLA, 49-31, in championship game
As parting gifts go, perhaps the only thing UCLA players could have done better was pull off one of the biggest upsets in college football history.
Or make it close at the end.
That did not happen Friday night at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Ore., but the Bruins sent fired Coach Rick Neuheisel off with an effort worth remembering in the inaugural Pac-12 Conference championship football game.
The Bruins, a 31-point underdog, hung with No. 9-ranked Oregon through part of the third quarter before losing, 49-31.
That was more than the 59,376 in attendance or most anyone expected from a team coming off a 50-0 loss to USC and the announcement two days later that Neuheisel’s four-year tenure was over, effective Friday night when time expired on the game clock.
Oregon improved to 11-2 overall and earned its second trip the Rose Bowl in three years.
The Bruins fell to 6-7 and now await a bowl invitation for a game that will be coached by Bruins assistant Mike Johnson.
Neuheisel finished his UCLA tenure with a 21-29 record.
Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas passed for three touchdowns and ran for another as the Ducks rolled up 573 yards and won their third consecutive conference title.
Running back LaMichael James rushed for 219 yards and three touchdowns, becoming the first player in conference history to eclipse 1,500 yards in a season three times.
UCLA fumbled three times in the first half, but made the Ducks sweat a bit on a chilly evening.
The Bruins finished the first half with a field goal to make the score, 35-17, and then forced Oregon to go three and out to start the second half. Derrick Coleman’s 41-yard run set up a short touchdown run by quarterback Kevin Prince and the Bruins were within 11 points.
James carried four times during a five-play drive that he ended with this third touchdown for a 42-24 lead. Thomas’ 22-yard touchdown pass to tight end David Paulson pushed the margin to 25 points and the rout was on.
Prince passed for two touchdowns, both to receiver Nelson Rosario, and he ran for a touchdown.
Coleman rushed for 83 yards.
UCLA’s three first-half fumbles provided Oregon plenty of opportunity to build a 35-17 lead.
The Bruins wasted no time giving the game away, with running back Johnathan Franklin fumbling a handoff from Prince on the second play from scrimmage.
Oregon needed only four plays to take the lead, James breaking off left tackle, pausing for a moment and then dashing 30 yards up the middle of the field for a 30-yard touchdown.
UCLA appeared to get a break when defensive back Tevin McDonald stripped the ball from Oregon running back De’Anthony Thomas on a pass play, but the Ducks stopped Coleman on a fourth-and-one play and seemed poised to strike again.
The Bruins, however, tied the score when a pass from Darron Thomas bounced off running back Kenjon Barner’s chest and into the arms of Bruins linebacker Patrick Larimore, who returned it 35 yards for a touchdown.
Oregon came right back, Darron Thomas capping a five-play drive with a 10-yard run.
The Ducks pushed the lead to 21-7 late in the quarter after Franklin fumbled for the second time. James and Barner traded off carries before Darron Thomas connected with tight end Colt Lyerla on a seven-yard pass for a 21-7 lead.
The Bruins made it a game by getting creative, Prince finding Nelson Rosario for a 35-yard touchdown on a flea-flicker play.
But Oregon answered with a long drive that culminated with James’ second touchdown run.
The Bruins sealed their fate when another trick play went haywire. Coleman took a handoff and ran to his left, and then attempted to pitch the ball to receiver Josh Smith on a reverse. But the ball fell to the ground and Oregon recovered.
Four plays later, Darron Thomas and receiver Daryle Hawkins connected for a touchdown and a 35-14 lead.
UCLA kicker Tyler Gonzalez sent the Bruins into the locker room on a positive note by kicking a 44-yard field.
Oregon 49, UCLA 31 (1:51 left in the fourth quarter)
It seems like Nelson Rosario turns in several head-scratching plays each game.
Some are bad: Poorly run routes, dropped passes.
Some are good: Like the one-handed catch in the end zone he just made for a 19-yard touchdown reception.
Rosario, a senior, has seven catches for 101 yards and two touchdowns.
And a nice memory.
Oregon 49, UCLA 24 (4:45 left in third quarter)
Say this for Oregon: the Ducks don't drag out the agony. They strike quick and clean.
Darron Thomas now has three touchdown passes in support of LaMichael James' three rushing touchdowns.
Thomas connected with tight end David Paulson on a 22-yard scoring pass at the end of a five-play, 86-yard drive.
Oregon's scoring drives have lasted five, six, four, 10, eight, five and four plays.
Oregon 42, UCLA 24 (9:57 left in third quarter)
UCLA has half its game on track. The offense, yes. The defense, not so much.
Oregon just ran six plays in a little more than a minute to strike back after UCLA's touchdown.
LaMichael James scored on a five-yard run. He has rushed for 148 yards and three touchdowns in 19 carries.
Oregon 35, UCLA 24 (12:10 left in third quarter)
So much for UCLA, with its lame-duck coach, rolling over for Oregon's mighty eighth-ranked Ducks.
The Bruins stuffed Oregon on its opening possession of the second half, got a nice 20-yard punt return by Taylor Embree, picked up 15 yards on a facemask penalty, and scored on its fourth play from scrimmage.
Kevin Prince's one-yard run on a keeper was the scoring play.
Derrick Coleman set up the score with a burst through the line for a 36-yard run on UCLA's first play from scrimmage.
Oregon 35, UCLA 17 (halftime)
UCLA's Tyler Gonzalez kicked a 44-yard field goal as time expired in the second quarter, sending the Bruins into the locker room on a positive note.
The Bruins have fumbled three times, which is not a recipe for success against any opponent, let alone Oregon and its high-octane offense.
Ducks running back LaMichael James has rushed for 115 yards and two touchdowns in 13 carries. Quarterback Darron Thomas has completed 15 of 28 passes for 148 yards and two touchdowns, with one interception.
Oregon has outgained the Bruins, 318 yards to 115.
UCLA quarterback Kevin Prince is seven-of-13 passing for 96 yards and touchdown.
Oregon 35, UCLA 14 (4:25 left in the first half)
UCLA got tricky once and it worked.
The Bruins tried to do it again and it backfired.
Running back Derrick Coleman attempted to pitch the ball to receiver Josh Smith on a reverse, but the ball came loose and Oregon recovered.
One minute later, Darron Thomas threw a pass to receiver Daryle Hawkins in the left flat and Hawkins beat the Bruins to the end zone for a touchdown.
LaMichael James, who has 112 yards and two touchdowns in 11 carries, is the first player in Pac-12 history to rush for at least 1,500 yards three times.
Oregon 28, UCLA 14 (8:24 left in the first half)
Oregon running back LaMichael James scored on a three-yard touchdown run to cap a 10-play, 73-yard drive.
James also moved into third place on the Pac-12 career rushing list, passing Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Allen of USC. James, who has rushed for 105 yards in 11 carries, has gained 4,812 yards in his career.
Ducks quarterback Darron Thomas has completed 11 of 16 passes for 95 yards.
Oregon 21, UCLA 14 (12:22 left in the first half)
UCLA shows some imagination and stays in the game.
The Bruins broke out a flea-flicker play and scored on a 37-yard touchdown pass from Kevin Prince to Nelson Rosario.
The play ended a drive that started in the first quarter at the Bruins' 26-yard line.
Prince had rushed seven yards for a first down before the scoring play.
He handed the ball off to running back Derrick Coleman, who got to the line of scrimmage and then turned around and pitched the ball back to Prince. The quarterback calmly found Rosario cutting across the field to the right sideline and delivered a perfect pass.
Prince is four-of-10 passing for 51 yards.
Oregon 21, UCLA 7 (end of first quarter)
Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas has run for a touchdown and passed for another to give the Ducks the lead.
Oregon was ahead, 14-7, late in the quarter before Thomas and running backs LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner moved the ball down the field, setting up Thomas' seven-yard touchdown pass to wide-open tight end Colt Lyerla.
Thomas has completed eight of 12 passes for 62 yards.
James has rushed for 79 yards and a touchdown in nine carries. Barner has 26 yards in three carries.
UCLA quarterback Kevin Prince two of eight for 11 yards. Johnathan Franklin has rushed for 23 yards but has fumbled twice.
Oregon 14, UCLA 7 (6:29 left in the first quarter)
UCLA played the Ducks even for a brief time, but Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas shook off a turnover and put Oregon back in front.
UCLA had tied the score by capitalizing on the second of Oregon's two turnovers.
Bruins linebacker Patrick Larimore intercepted a pass that bounced off the chest of Oregon running back Kenjon Barner and returned it 35 yards for a touchdown.
The big play helped erase UCLA's disappointment over failing to capitalize on an earlier Oregon miscue.
Bruins defensive back Tevin McDonald had stripped De'Anthony Thomas of the ball after a reception, giving the Bruins a first down at Oregon's 43.
UCLA drove to the Ducks' 23, but came up short on a fourth-and-one play when running back Derrick Coleman was stopped for no gain.
But two plays later, Darron Thomas' pass bounced off Barner and into the arms of Larimore.
Darron Thomas was unfazed, driving the Ducks 58 yards in five plays, capping a drive with a 10-yard touchdown run.
Oregon 7, UCLA 0 (13:13 left in the first quarter)
Not exactly the start UCLA was hoping for.
Running back Johnathan Franklin fumbled a handoff from quarterback Kevin Prince on the second play from scrimmage.
Oregon recovered and needed only four plays to capitalize.
The Ducks faced fourth and one at the Bruins' 30-yard line, but running back LaMichael James had more than moving the sticks in mind.
He took a handoff from quarterback Darron Thomas, went off left tackle and then burst up the middle for a 30-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead.
Photo: UCLA quarterback Kevin Prince is tackled by Oregon defensive back Eddie Pleasant after a gain in the second quarter of the Pac-12 Conference championship football game on Friday night at Autzen Stadium in Eugene. Credit: Kirby Lee / US Presswire