After slow start, Ducks run past Bruins in conference's inaugural championship game.
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Eugene, Ore. • The UCLA Bruins caught lightning, all right.
It just wasn't in a bottle.
LaMichael James, Darron Thomas and the rest of the fast-twitch Oregon Ducks raced past a Bruin defense that grew more helpless with every play, running away with a 49-31 victory in the inaugural Pac-12 Conference football championship game at Autzen Stadium on Friday night and securing a place in the Rose Bowl for the second time in three years.
"It feels great," James said. "I can't wait to go back."
Outgoing coach Rick Neuheisel had hoped his Bruins could catch "lightning in a bottle" following a 50-0 loss to rival USC and upset the heavily favored Ducks in his final game before being fired.
But James rushed for 219 yards and three touchdowns, Thomas completed 20 of 36 passes for 219 yards and three scores he ran for another touchdown, too and the No. 8 Ducks forced four turnovers while shaking off an unspectacular start en route to their third straight league championship.
"I'm so happy," Oregon tight end David Paulson said. "There's no better way to finish off my last game at Autzen Stadium than with a win like this."
While the Ducks improved to 11-2, the Bruins fell to 6-7, and will have to use their NCAA waiver to play in a bowl game despite their losing record.
"We weren't good enough," Neuheisel said, "but it wasn't because we didn't have a lot of heart and a lot of character. We squandered some chances in that first half with some turnovers, and you can't do that against an explosive team like Oregon."
The scoreboard looked almost as lopsided at the end as it usually does at Autzen Stadium, but it actually took a minute for the Ducks to reach full throttle.
They lost a fumble and threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown in the first seven minutes, and were tied 7-7 halfway through the first quarter.
The Ducks led only 21-14 early in the second quarter, too.
But the Bruin defense steadily wore down trying to stop Oregon's no-huddle "blur" offense the Ducks reached the end zone almost untouched, on seemingly every touchdown and the offense kept committing turnovers.
"We just couldn't get enough done," said UCLA quarterback Kevin Prince, who threw for two touchdowns and ran for another, but took a pounding from the Oregon defense. "We turned the ball over too many times. … I was proud of the way we played, it just had to be cleaner."
By the time the fourth quarter began, the Ducks led 49-24 and had amassed 488 yards of offense.
Neither team scored again until UCLA's Nelson Rosario caught a spectacular one-handed touchdown pass with 1:51 remaining for the final margin, which made the game appear closer than it was. The Ducks turned the ball over on downs twice in the fourth quarter, once at the UCLA 6-yard line, and finished with 571 yards including 352 on the ground.
Now, they will take a third straight shot at a Bowl Championship Series game, having lost their previous two against Ohio State in the Rose Bowl two years ago and against Auburn in the BCS title game last year.
"It's the pinnacle," Oregon coach Chip Kelly said. "If you can't play in the national championship game … there's no other game we want to play in than the Rose Bowl."
R IN SHORT • The Oregon Ducks win their third straight league title with a 49-31 victory over UCLA.
KEY STAT • The Ducks rush for 352 yards.
KEY MOMENT • LaMichael James scores his third touchdown to give the Ducks a 42-24 lead and put the game out of reach.