Thomas Duarte

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UCLA WR Thomas Duarte latest to leave early for NFL

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UCLA has already lost its offensive coordinator to another job.   Now, the Bruins are losing one of their most productive threats in the passing game to the next level for good measure.

The father of wide receiver Thomas Duarte confirmed to the Orange County Press Register that his son has decided to forego his senior season and make himself available for the April draft.  Tim Duarte described coordinator Noel Mazzone‘s departure for Texas A&M as “the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

A short time later, Duarte posted a note on his personal Twitter account addressing his decision to leave the Bruins early for the NFL.

Duarte led all Bruin receivers in touchdown catches with 10, double the total of No. 2 Jordan Payton.  The 6-3, 225-pound junior was also second on the team in receptions (53) and receiving yards (872), while his 16.6 yards per reception was tops on the team for those with 10 or more catches.

The loss of Duarte hurts the Bruins’ returning production in the receiving corps, with the Los Angeles Times writing that “UCLA will enter next season with just one player who made at least a dozen catches in 2015: soon-to-be redshirt junior Darren Andrews, who recorded 42 catches for 429 yards and a score.”

As a reminder, the deadline for draft-eligible players to officially declare their intentions is next Monday, Jan. 18.

Adoree’ Jackson punt return gives USC halftime edge on UCLA

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Never kick to USC playmaker Adoree’ Jackson. That si the lesson UCLA learned the hard way late in the first half in The Los Angeles Coliseum this afternoon. A 42-yard punt return by Jackson gave USC a 20-14 lead late in the first half and gives the Trojans the edge at the midway point of what amounts to the Pac-12 South Division Championship Game. The winner of this game moves on to next week to face Stanford in the Pac-12 Championship Game.

USC was the first to put points on the scoreboard in the Coliseum when a lengthy drive stalled inside the red zone, forcing the Trojans to send Alex Woods out for a 30-yard field goal. It would take two more offensive possessions by UCLA to put their own points on the board. Paul Perkins ripped off a 19-yard touchdown run on a fourth and one play from the USC 19-yard line, giving UCLA the 7-3 lead.

USC put together a 10-play, 85-yard touchdown drive a couple of possessions later, with quarterback Cody Kessler punching one in from the goal line. UCLA’s Thomas Duarte hauled in a 19-yard touchdown pass from Josh Rosen in the second quarter to regain the lead, 14-10. That lead evaporated with USC’s special teams chipping in with a field goal and Jackson’s punt return.

Pac-12 South division race down to USC and UCLA

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Next week in the historic Los Angeles Coliseum, two rivals will enter but only one will leave with the Pac-12 South championship banner. Despite a loss today at Oregon, No. 24 USC (7-4, 5-3 Pac-12) will get a chance to win the Pac-12 South Division at home and earn a trip to its first Pac-12 Championship Game. Standing in the way will be rival UCLA (8-3, 5-3 Pac-12), fresh of a road win against No. 13 Utah (8-3, 5-3 Pac-12).

UCLA did what it needed to do to remain in the driver’s seat of the Pac-12 South. Needing a win against Utah to secure a head-to-head tiebreaker with the Utes, UCLA got right to work out of the gate with a game-opening touchdown drive on the road (Josh Rosen to Thomas Duarte) and eventually took a 10-0 lead before letting the Utes wiggle back in with three field goals chipping away at the double-digit lead. Once Utah kicked a third field goal to cut the lead to one point, UCLA responded with a 14-play touchdown drive ending with Paul Perkins scoring a short touchdown run to put the Bruins up 17-9. That would prove to be more than enough, as that score held the rest of the way.

USC’s secondary was picked apart by Vernon Adams and Oregon in Autzen Stadium. Adams finished his day with six touchdowns thrown and 407 passing yards in a 45-28 victory over the Trojans. USC’s offense actually did some good things, outside of protecting quarterback Cody Kessler at times. Kessler avoided throwing an interception and Justin Davis led the running game with 141 yards. Wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster had to leave the game temporarily in the first half but did return despite having to be helped off the field by trainers. USC’s defense gave up five touchdowns of at least 30 yards through the air, so they will have to find a way to tighten things up in the secondary before taking on UCLA next week. Oregon racked up 578 yards of offense in the win.

The Pac-12 South is now a two-horse race between USC and UCLA, as Utah has now been eliminated from contention. Utah needed to beat UCLA in order to stay ahead of the Trojans, but now the Utes cannot win as tiebreakers go against them. The winner of next week’s crosstown rivalry game will more than likely get a crack at Stanford. Stanford needs a win against Cal later tonight to claim the Pac-12 North title. A loss opens the door for Oregon to grab the North next week with a win over Oregon State. Stanford loses a head-to-head tiebreaker with the Ducks after Oregon upset the Cardinal last week. Stanford’s Pac-12 schedule wraps up tonight and they play Notre Dame next week.

The Pac-12 Championship Game will be played on December 5 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California. UCLA appeared in the first two Pac-12 championship game sin 2011 and 2012, although USC won the Pac-12 South and was ineligible for postseason play in 2012 (USC pounded UCLA 50-0 that season).

UCLA takes four-point lead on No. 13 Utah at the half

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UCLA freshman quarterback Josh Rosen threw a 28-yard touchdown pass to Thomas Duarte on the game’s opening drive to give the visiting Bruins an early lead in Salt Lake City on No. 13 Utah. UCLA owns a 10-6 lead at the half, putting them one half away from gaining control of the Pac-12 South heading into their final game of the season.

Utah took its first offensive possession of the game into the red zone but Joe Williams had the ball knocked out of his hands by UCLA’s Kene Orjioke and Randall Goforth recovered the loose ball. It was the second turnover of the drive for the Utes, who had a Travis Wilson interception overturned by a pass interference penalty on UCLA. Goforth, as it turned out, was the one who came away with the interception. Williams is taking on the task of running the football as Utah’s primary running back with Devontae Booker out of action this week.

UCLA will gain control of the Pac-12 South with a win today against Utah. With a win, UCLA would then play for the Pac-12 South championship next week against USC., regardless of what the Trojans end up doing in Eugene against Oregon.

No. 9 UCLA demolishes No. 16 Arizona, stakes claim as Pac-12’s team to beat

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It looked like we were going to have a duel in the desert among two College Football Playoff worthy teams… for about half a quarter. No. 9 UCLA blew past an overmatched No. 16 Arizona team 56-30 in Tucson on Saturday night. The win, coupled with what’s happened in Eugene Saturday night, establishes UCLA as a clear top-echelon team in the always hyper-competitive Pac-12 South race.

The Bruins put this one out of reach in the first half. After Arizona opened the scoring with a 34-yard pass from Anu Solomon to Nate Phillips, UCLA ripped off four unanswered touchdowns and scored on six of its first seven possessions to grab a 42-14 halftime lead. Solomon left the game with a head injury in the second quarter and Scooby Wright played through obvious rust and lack of conditioning after missing three weeks with a knee injury, leaving Arizona simply unable to compete with a supremely talented Bruins squad.

UCLA defensive coordinator Tom Bradley mercilessly sat on Arizona’s passing game, holding Solomon to just 3-of-9 for 21 yards aside from his touchdown strike and his replacement Jerrard Randall to 4-of-16 for 45 yards with a touchdown and an interception. The Wildcats ran, uh, wild on the Bruins’ front, pounding out 353 yards and two scores on 59 carries, but it wasn’t enough to play catch-up with a UCLA offense clicking on every one of its cylinders.

Josh Rosen successfully bounced back from his first rough start by nailing 19-of-29 throws for 284 yards and two touchdowns (plus one on the ground), and running backs Paul PerkinsSoso Jamabo and Nate Starks combined to carry 38 times for 209 yards and five touchdowns. Jordan Payton added seven grabs for 136 yards and a touchdown, and Thomas Duarte hauled in four catches for 65 yards and a score.

The win pushes UCLA to 4-0 (1-0 Pac-12) with Arizona State heading to the Rose Bowl next week. Arizona (3-1, 0-1 Pac-12) must regroup quickly, as a trip to No. 21 Stanford waits next Saturday.