1. OSU Offensive Line vs. UCLA Defensive Front
A lot is made of the debut of Donovan Woods, but if the veteran Cowboy offensive line can do a strong job against the UCLA defensive front then Woods will find himself comfortable passing, running and executing the offense. The Cowboys start with Chis Akin at center. Akin is not the strongest or fastest lineman on the field, but he just flat out gets the job done. He should do well against the youthful UCLA interior with sophomore Kevin Brown (6-2, 285) and squadman junior C.J. Niusulu (6-2, 280) slated to start. All-American candidate Sam Mayes at right guard and the ever improving David Koenig at left guard are in this mix too. Mayes should flat overpower anybody in his way, and Koenig uses his hands as well as anybody on the Cowboy offensive line.
Offensive tackles Corey Hilliard and Kellen Davis will also get inexperienced opposition at the defensive ends. Experienced junior Kyle Morgan and talented true freshman Brigham Harwell both had surgeries for torn meniscus in their knees and are doubtful for the game. That leaves sophomore Justin Hickman (6-1, 260) and redshirt freshman Bruce Davis (6-3, 240) to start. The Bruins are thin here and this is a possible mismatch for anything off tackle in the OSU repetiore.
Getting out on the linebackers will be important. Returning leading tackle Justin London has a high ankle sprain and is also doubtful for Saturday. Inside linebacker Spencer Havner (6-4, 236, Jr.) is the ring leader and is a very smart, heads up player. Junior Wesley Walker (6-3, 222) and sophomore Tim Warfield (6-2, 255) compliment the linebacker corps. Remember, fullback Shawn Willis and his 260-pound bulldozing frame will be helping some here as well.
The Cowboys should be able to attack this front and protect in passing situations. If they allow Woods to be very comfortable that goes a long way to success on offense.
Advantage: Big to OSU
2. OSU Secondary vs. UCLA Receivers
The memory is of UCLA receivers taking the ball away from the Cowboys' young and smaller corners back in 2002. It was a huge part to UCLA's 31 unaswered run of points that allowed them to take control of the game. All three Bruin wide receivers are big and athletic in All-American prospect Craig Bragg (6-2, 195), Tab Perry (6-3, 203) and Junior Taylor (6-1, 19 . Go ahead and toss in tight end Mercedes Lewis (6-6, 255) and this is enough to keep the defensive staff up at night this week.
Darrent Williams and Robert Jones will have the speed advantage and they are aggressive. This will be a prime opportunity for this duo to show NFL scouts they are Sunday quality. If they can hold up their end of the bargain with help from Vernon Grant and free safeties Jon Holland and Thomas Wright that will allow OSU to really put some heat on quarterback Drew Olson and put the brakes on a potentially strong Bruin running attack.
It is a classic case of size versus speed.
Advantage: Too close to call, will see Saturday.
3. OSU Defensive Front vs. UCLA Offensive Line
The Cowboys will be looking at the California redwoods in the Rose Bowl. Tackles Paul Mociler (6-6, 295) and Ed Blanton (6-9, 345), guards Steven Vieira (6-6, 31 and Robert Cleary (6-7, 299), and center Mike McCloskey (6-5, 274) represent the tallest offensive line the Cowboys will see all season. Mociler and Vieira are seniors, the rest are juniors. They are experienced and stout. The old theory of pad low and quickness apply here. The shorter Cowboy defensive front, except for Brad Girtman and freshman Walter Thomas, need to keep the pads lower and power through the big trees.
On the outside the quickness of Marque Fountain and Jerry Don Bray have to come into play. I really feel the Cowboys will be okay against the run, but with those long arms on the Bruin o-linemen, the Cowboys have to get off blocks and put pressure on Olson. We've already discussed the problem with defending the UCLA receivers. Anybody can get open if they have enough time. Too much time for Olson will make for a long afternoon for Williams, Jones, and the rest of the Cowboy secondary.
Advantage: Even. I think OSU will have its moments, but so will UCLA.
4. OSU Special Teams vs. UCLA Special Teams
The Cowboys finished last season as the number three team in the nation in special teams and UCLA was somewhere in the 80s. True, UCLA returns a good punter in Chris Kluwe (42.9 avg.) and their kicker in Justin Medlock (14-19 on fg), but the Bruins cover units were subpar. Remember Norman last season and Antonio Perkins returning three punts for touchdowns. My guess is Kluwe will give up yards to play keep away from Darrent Williams. Kickoffs will be a different story and Robert Jones and Daniel McLemore are both more than capable of breaking a big one.
The secret weapon comes into play with Cole Farden and his big average punting and kickoffs out of the end zone. His field position contributions will be huge in the game. Also, freshman field goal kicker Jason Ricks needs to just tell himself he's kicking for no sprints at the end of the game. His booming 50-plus field goals at the end of practice this month have been impressive to watch, not just a way for the Cowboys to avoid post practice sprints. The Cowboys cover units are very solid.
Advantage: Big to OSU.
5. OSU Coaching Staff vs. UCLA Coaching Staff
Nationally known tout and preseason magazine publisher Phil Steele said he would take Les Miles and staff over Karl Dorrell and staff everyday, and twice on Sunday. Dorrell has a passion for his job as UCLA is his alma mater and he did bring in a big addition in offensive coordinator Tom Cable which lends a little mystery to the Bruin offensive plans. Much of the rest of the Bruin staff is Colorado slanted with Jon Embree, Eric Bienemy, and even new strength coach Doc Kreis. Miles is familiar with that crew and with Dorrell.
The heat is on UCLA and their staff to end a five-game losing streak and show some improvement. Miles and his staff are very solid in their program, looking to bridge to another bowl season following some key personnel losses from last season.
Key Matchups: OSU vs. UCLA
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