Injuries leave Ducks running on empty tank
PASADENA, Calif. — This wasn't a mastery of any kind, perhaps only a reel of how the ninth-ranked team should not to play.
If this was Oregon's dress rehearsal for January's Rose Bowl, then based on Saturday's performance, production will be shut down after UCLA's unimpressive 16-0 victory over the Ducks at the place Oregon hoped to return.
Injuries at key positions have depleted the Oregon offense and a string of defeats that already burst national championship aspirations continued. This time, the smell of roses dissipated.
Brady Leaf got the start at quarterback after it was learned Heisman Trophy candidate Dennis Dixon suffered a season-ending knee injury two weeks ago.
Jonathan Stewart — the Pac-10's leading rusher with 1,273 heading into Saturday — did not look any better and still is recovering from toe and shoulder injuries.
Stewart rushed for only 48 yards on 13 carries. He was averaging 6.2 yards per carry and 127.3 per game.
"My toe is hurting," Stewart said after the game. "The (Oregon) defense did a tremendous job today making opportunities for us, but we didn't take advantage of them.
"We can't dwell on the past; I'm just focusing on sticking to the game plan, whatever that may be."
To make matters worse, Leaf was taken out of the game after UCLA's Reggie Carter sacked him for a 4-yard loss and Leaf rolled on his right ankle.
Leaf was slow to get up and spent the rest of the first quarter and half of the second quarter on the trainer's table, having his right foot examined.
Leaf later did make a few passes on the sidelines but clearly looked bothered by his ankle and did not appear again.
"With both ankles hobbled, that's probably not a good sign," said Oregon coach Mike Bellotti of the possibility of Leaf playing next Saturday against Oregon State.
Leaf's left ankle was injured against Arizona.
After Leaf came Cody Kempt, who was then knocked out of the game briefly in the third quarter on a hit by All-American defensive end Bruce Davis. Kempt was able to finish the game after Justin Roper's brief relief appearance (an overthrown pass to Terrance Scott near the end zone).
"I think it's going to be a learning experience for me," Kempt said. "(I learned to) trust the guys, stay calm in the pocket. Sometimes I was getting a little happy feet out there; first time being in the game at the Rose Bowl, sometimes you let all that get the best of you. But I just have to remember to stay confident."
It wasn't the ideal circumstance, but Leaf earlier in the week said he could get the job done. There was little Leaf could do against a staggering UCLA defense that limited him to 4 of 11 passing for 45 yards.
The Holiday Bowl is now the best bowl the Ducks can bid. The Sun Bowl also is another possibility, but there are plenty of scenarios that could play out and change those plans.
Bellotti said Kempt would start against Oregon State, but other injuries have him scratching his head.
"We have to figure things out in a very short time because we have maybe the most important game of our season, the Civil War, for the best bowl possible," he said.
SILVER LINING? If there was such a thing Bellotti was quick to find one.
"I don't know if I've ever seen our defense play better, and I've been here 19 years," Bellotti said. "The kids played inspired football and they gave us a chance to win. The only points they got were on some offensive mistakes, and that's difficult when you contribute to your own demise."
QUARTERBACK SHUFFLE: Ducks offensive coordinator Chip Kelly and Bellotti acknowledged Kemp moved to second on the depth chart after a productive practice this week, leaving Roper as the third guy despite being listed second on the roster.
"Going into (the game), we felt Cody had the best week at practice," Kelly said.
NOTES: Despite the shutout Kelly seemed unimpressed with UCLA's defense, which recorded three interceptions, forced 12 punts and contained Kempt's option pass.
"They did an OK job; I wouldn't say it was a great job on their part," Kelly said. "There were plays there and we just didn't execute."
Bellotti was a bit more neutral about it.
"The shutout doesn't bother me," Bellotti said. "The loss is what bothers me, not being able to move the ball."