Pac-12-wise, if there has been a bigger disappoint this season that Oregon, it’s UCLA. Picked to win the Pac-12 South, the Bruins are 3-6, including just 1-5 in conference play. Instead of sitting atop the South, they are just a game ahead of last place Arizona. And entering Saturday’s game against the Beavers, they are on four-game losing streak and have lost six of their last seven games.
To be fair, though, the Bruins have been hit hard by injuries, none more so than the one to star quarterback Josh Rosen, who is out for the season. Without him behind center, what was expected to be a potent UCLA offense has sputtered. However, none of their losses have been by more than 10 points, thanks to a very tough defense, especially in the secondary.
And for an Oregon State squad that’s struggled for weeks to get its passing game going, that’s not welcome news, especially considering the Beavers are on the road for the second straight week. They will need another stellar effort from the defense to keep this one close enough for their anemic offense to keep up. Here’s a quick look at what the Beavers need to do to walk away winners from the Rose Bowl.
Attack via Run. The Bruins aren’t quite as strong against the run as they are the pass; they give up about 169 yards per game on the ground, which ranks eighth in the Pac-12. With Ryan Nall likely to play this weekend, the Beavers need to establish a running game early on and pound away at the Bruins. Anything less than 30 rushing attempts would be disappointing. If the Beavers can get it going on the ground, it could open up a big play downfield.
Be Bold with Bolden. Maybe lost among all the furor about the performance of the OSU wide receivers this season is this: Victor Bolden is a legit, big-time playmaker. He leads the nation with four plays of 75+ yards. Who would’ve thought? The Beavers need to get the ball in his hands more, whether it’s through the air or the ground. If he can break off a big play, it might just be the difference between a Beavers’ win or loss.
Stick with a QB if he’s hot. Both Marcus McMaryion and Conor Blunt are expected to play this Saturday. Two-quarterback systems usually are a dicey proposition, but the Beavers must try anything to spark their offense. That being said, if one of them settles into a groove and moves the Beavers down the field consistently, the coaches need to stick with him. They should resist the urge to play both if one QB gets hot. Also, now that two QBs are able to go, let ’em run!
Finish Tackles. Last weekend, the Beavers had several near misses when it came to sacking Stanford QB Keller Chryst. This time around, they need to wrap up and bring down UCLA starter Mike Fafaul. While he’s no Rosen, Fafual completes 55 percent of his passes and has nine touchdown passes in eight games played, three of which were starts. He also has thrown nine interceptions; meaning if OSU can pressure him, there could be opportunities for takeaways.
Be Special on Special Teams. Excuse the overwrought title on this but, there’s no way around it — special teams were a disaster for the Beavers last weekend. Considering their offensive struggles, three points can go a long way for the Beavers. And with nothing coming easy this season, field position is key, both ways. So, whatever ailed this unit last week must be shored up by Saturday. It wouldn’t be surprising if we see a new kicker on field goal attempts.
All things considered, this could be another close affair, much like the Stanford game — where one play could make or break the game. So, the Beavers need to come out sharp and confuse UCLA on both sides of the ball. If they can do that, they have an excellent chance to secure their third victory of the season. One last key, they must protect the ball against the Bruins strong defense.