Even with regular starting running back De'Anthony Thomas back in the lineup and a 122 yard advantage offensively at halftime, the Ducks victimized themselves early to set up two easy scoring drives for quarterback Brett Hundley and the Bruins offense.
A fumble by Ducks wide receiver Keanon Lowe on the second play from scrimmage led to a four-yard touchdown run for Hundley seven plays later to put UCLA (5-2, 2-2) on the board first. Late in the second quarter, with the Ducks (8-0, 5-0) nursing a 14-7 advantage, Bruins freshman Myles Jack came up with a blocked punt that led to Hundley's only touchdown pass of the day, an 11-yard strike to freshman Thomas Duarte to tie the game.
"We were kind of at fault in the first half," wide receiver Bralon Addison said. "The defense played great all game long. At halftime, we got a couple of things corrected."
A missed field goal by Alejandro Maldonado near the end of the half did nothing to build up the Ducks confidence. To add to the problems, Thomas re-injured his ankle and was unable to go in the second half. It was a position the Ducks hadn't been in since last year's matchup with Stanford, but the only ones not feeling the tension amongst the 59,000-plus, were the players.
"No panic at all," Addison said of the mood at halftime. "A great team against a great team, you're going to have a tight game."
In the second half, things changed.
The stingy Ducks defense held the Bruins scoreless and in the process gave the offense some advantageous field position. After two failed drives, including one that ended in a turnover on the Bruins five yard line, the Ducks finally broke through on the back of their most reliable player as of late, Byron Marshall.
Marshall finished with a team high 133 yards on 19 carries with three touchdowns, extending his steak of 100-yard games to five straight. His 11-yard touchdown broke the 14-14 tie and he later added another touchdown in the fourth quarter on a three-yard run to put the Ducks up by 21.
"Things just really started picking up with the offense, everything started clicking," Marshall said of the Ducks second half performance.
Freshman Thomas Tyner finished things off late in the game with a two-yard touchdown run, which was the Ducks fifth touchdown of the game on the ground counting Thomas and Marshall's first half scores.
"I thought our guys really got after it as the game went on," head coach Mark Helfrich said of his running backs. "I think we got stronger as the game went on and that's what you want. You want to finish."
Thomas agreed with Helfrich, praising the young backs that have done all of the heavy lifting in his absence.
"That group of running backs is great," Thomas said. "They've got a lot going for their future. I just try my best to keep them focused and keep them grinding."
During post game, Thomas was unsure of the severity of his ankle injury but was happy he would have the time to heal it during a bye week.
"I'm going to take advantage of that," Thomas said. "I'll try to get back out there next week."
Whether or not the Ducks have Thomas, a date with No. 6 Stanford on the road comes next. And whether or not it's evident, having the experience of taking punches from a quality opponent and emerging victorious like they did on Saturday, could pay off going forward as they try to get to 9-0.
"That's what we like," Marshall said. "People were excited that we finally had a game that we had to come back out and work hard in the second half for. To earn a win like this definitely feels nice."
Marcus Mariota's nine-game streak of running and throwing for a touchdown was snapped on Saturday as he was held to a season low 18 yards rushing.
Marshall extended his multi-touchdown game streak to three with his performance on Saturday.