A simple question with a not so simple answer

CORVALLIS – Talk stats, trends, about the running game and the passing game – and for both UCLA and Oregon State -- all you want. But there's also something else that will be oh-so-important in Oregon State's tilt at No. 19 UCLA? And it begs a simple question with a not so simple answer…


Brett Hundley's 827 passing yards and eight touchdowns overshadow Sean Mannion's 276 yards and one TD on paper. But if UCLA's showing against Houston were any indicator of how Hundley performs under pressure, a sheet of tree bark will mean very little come Saturday.

Every indication (spring ball, fall camp Wisconsin) has pointed to this -- OSU is going to be a larcenous defense this season. And for as much as UCLA ran away with the Houston game, they coughed it up five times – three fumbles and two interceptions.

And that was just last Saturday. In total, UCLA's opponents have forced four fumbles and three interceptions. Couple that with eight sacks and 16 tackles that have gone for negative yardage – that's not necessarily a combination that spells "dynamic offense" despite what UCLA's early season stats might show.

Turnovers are momentum changers, and OSU should be more capable than Houston was of seizing and opportunities. Indeed, momentum will always play a central role in one team walking away undefeated, and the other hanging their heads.

Early season stats are just that, early, but Oregon State is still tied for 5th in the nation in turnover margin. All else considered, if OSU takes the football away like they're capable of on Saturday, they'll almost certainly win on the road against No. 19 UCLA.

THE TURNOVER WOES at UCLA point to something else -- the Bruins do not operate very well out of a certain comfort zone. The question is, can OSU keep them there. They did against Wisconsin, but this game is on the road and against a team brimming with confidence.

If Dylan Wynn and Scott Crichton can contain the outside edges and put constant pressure on Hundley, mark it down, it will force errant throws. And at least some will (probably) end up in the hands of OSU's primary pilferers -- Jordan Poyer and Ryan Murphy. Both gave strong indications against Wisconsin that they're going to post high interception totals this season.

But if the reverse holds true, if Hundley can get into a rhythm promptly, it could just as easily get ugly for the Beavers.

The guess here is that defensive coordinator Mark Banker will throw the front seven's weight around in the early stages of the game in an attempt to spook Hundley, to tip the scales in OSU's favor and quiet down the crowd. There's no better way to replace the edge lost by not playing on home turf.

OSU LINEBACKER D.J. Welch terrorized the backfield two weeks ago, racking up seven tackles, two for a combined loss of eight yards. He will have to do more of the same and then some at UCLA – running back Jonathon Franklin doesn't hit the turf easily. What OSU needs is for Welch's speed and quick reaction time to pay dividends in both pass rush and pass defense. And help force some of those turnovers.

UCLA this week probably has a red dot on Welch's name when it comes to how they plan to pick up the blitz, such was his Pac-12 D-POW performance in the opener. But that in turn also probably gives Banker some ways to counter it.

Dropping back, different angles, all of it and more could come into play -- adding a whole new element to the reads Hundley will have to make, lessening his reaction speed and providing one less target for the QB. (A likely match-up between Welch and Joseph Fauria could provide great theater).

STILL, A GOOD amount will probably have to go OSU's way if they're to control the tempo. UCLA has proven thus far that they can turn the ball over and still win – especially in the fourth quarter. The Bruins have been a potent, high scoring offensive that will eat up chunks of yardage on the ground and through the air all day long unless a defense is properly coordinated. As with Houston, turnovers may not immediately slow down this Bruins' offensive attack IF the OSU offense doesn't then take the baton.

A brief, yet bitter history lesson – Sean Mannion threw for 16 touchdowns and 18 interceptions last season. And this game against UCLA will pit Mannion against what some talking heads are calling one of the most effective secondaries in the nation. Mannion will, at times, have to make sound decisions on the fly and moving around in the pocket – areas where the sophomore quarterback has struggled in the past.

In short, Mannion is susceptible to all the same variables that Hundley is, and does not share the benefit of three games worth of adjusting to the pace and pressure of the regular season. Mannion certainly was not perfect throwing the ball against Wisconsin -- he particularly struggled with overthrown deep balls. If that continues against UCLA, Sheldon Price and others will be there waiting to add negatively to Mannion's stats.

What to make of the Bruin's front seven? Datone Jones and Anthony Barr have combined for five of UCLA's 11 sacks. The orange and black o-line appeared to have turned a new leaf against Wisconsin, but can they maintain that type of performance on the road?

OSU's defense has a way of making a football look like it's lathered with bacon grease, and UCLA's offensive line will need to better find their rhythm early on. For Mannion and Co., though, it means executing Mike Riley's strict style of West Coast offense and not giving up the ball either, while still going downfield enough to stretch UCLA.

And for Beaver Nation, one central theme will play into all that and more against UCLA on Saturday: Let the takeaways begin.

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