PASADENA, Calif. — Oregon asked some of its defenders to do things they’d never done before.
After playing the first 32 games of his career at cornerback, Ugochukwu Amadi returned to the starting lineup at safety during Oregon’s 31-14 Pac-12 football loss to UCLA on Saturday at the Rose Bowl.
“Never played safety before in my life,” the junior said. “Just started this week.”
Sophomore La’Mar Winston made his fourth start of the season at linebacker but went wire-to-wire for the first time.
“By far, the most plays I’ve had in a game,” he said.
Oregon took just three inside linebackers on the road trip, with AJ Hotchkins, Kaulana Apelu, and Blake Rugraff — who all started at least one game this year — out with injuries. Linebacker Jonah Moi and defensive lineman Scott Pagano were also left home due to injuries.
“We’re beat up pretty bad,” Oregon coach Willie Taggart said. “We are playing a lot of young guys, but we knew that coming in. That’s not an excuse. We don’t have a lot of depth.”
Amadi said he was moved to safety to help defend wide receiver Darren Andrews, who came into the game leading the Bruins with 44 catches and seven touchdowns, caught five balls and scored a TD against the Ducks.
“We needed guys who could cover (Andrews) up the seam, and I felt like I was the best choice to be able to line up against him,” Amadi said. “Watching film on UCLA and their scheme, I felt they should put me over at safety.”
Amadi had a career-high nine tackles and forced a fumble while rarely leaving the field.
“It wasn’t that bad because I know football and have a high IQ,” he said of the position switch. “I was coming unblocked and able to play freely.”
Winston led the Ducks with 11 tackles, including a sack, as he teamed with Troy Dye, Justin Hollins, and Jimmie Swain to go most of the way at linebacker.
“I was tired, but I understand that I need to be more conditioned to stay and play as long as I want to play,” he said.
UCLA had 268 of its 408 yards in the second half, including 112 on the ground, after running for 30 in the first half. Quarterback Josh Rosen threw for 156 of his 266 yards in the final two quarters.
“In the first half we played better defense than the second half,” Taggart said. “In the second half, there were too many explosion plays that changed the momentum of the game, and you can’t do that.”
UCLA outscored Oregon 17-0 in the second half.
“I felt like a couple of our players were worn out, but at the end of the day it comes back to us and how well we condition ourselves,” Winston said. “We need to condition ourselves better to play with more intensity and effort late in the game. If that has been a close game or overtime, we can’t make any excuses so we need to be more conditioned.”
Taggart said one of Oregon’s three main objectives was to get some takeaways, but the Ducks had none. Oregon has one interception in five conference games.
“We get takeaways in practice, and I feel like we need to transition that to the game,” Winston said. “There are no excuses to say why we didn’t get any takeaways because there were opportunities, we just didn’t take them.”