Preview of Oregon State Game

You may think that all hope is lost, but UCLA has a good chance to beat Oregon State this Saturday, with some match-ups working out favorably for the Bruins. OSU's offense is efficient, but its defense has predominantly been poor this season...

FACTS AND FACTORS

-- UCLA hosts the Oregon State Beavers at the Rose Bowl Saturday. The game is scheduled for 4:00 and will be televised across the country on Versus, with Ron Thulin, Glenn Parker and Kelly Stouffer in the booth.

-- UCLA is 3-5 overall and 1-4 in the Pac-10.

-- The Beavers are 4-3, and 3-1 in the conference. They're coming off a dominating win over Cal last Saturday, 35-7. They're a bit schizophrenic, though, because the week before they lost to Washington, but the previous week beat then #9-ranked Arizona.

-- In last year's game, UCLA quarterback Kevin Prince threw for 323 yards to lead a comeback, but the Beavers pulled it out with a last-minute touchdown.

-- UCLA owns a 39-15-4 edge in the all-time series, which dates back to 1930, but have dropped the last two contests, including last year's game in Corvallis, 26-19. In 2008, the Bruins lost to the Beavers, 34-7, in the Rose Bowl.

-- Before that, the Bruins were on a decent winning streak against the Beavers, winning five straight games, both home and away, dating back to 2000.

-- Oregon has won 10 of its last 15 Pac-10 conference road games.

-- Head Coach Mike Riley is in his 10th year total in Corvallis, and in his eight year in his second stint as the Beavers' head man. He will almost certainly be recognized as the best and winningest coach at Oregon State in their history – being actually just six short of tying the record for most wins as a OSU head coach. He slipped past Hall of Fame and former UCLA coach Tommy Prothro last season. He truly has done a remarkable job at Oregon State, going 56-33 since he was re-hired in 2003. In his last four seasons (not counting this one), he's recorded wins of 10, 9, 9, and 8, and has finished 3rd, 3rd, 2nd and 2nd in the Pac-10, respectively. As the story goes, and as most fans know, he was the finalist for the open UCLA job when Bob Toledo was let go and he was, in fact, the preference of UCLA Athletic Director Dan Guerrero, but the UCLA administration over-ruled Guerrero for Karl Dorrell.

-- You could make the argument that Oregon is in the midst of the best era in its football history. In its recent 11 1/2 years, it's a combined 100-50, for a 66% winning percentage.

-- Over the last 82 games, Oregon State is 33-7 when committing fewer turnovers than its opponent, 9-19 when committing more, and 9-5 when even.

-- Over the last 19 games, the Beavers have just 12 turnovers.

-- In fact, OSU is 4th in the nation in turnover margin. They've gained 13 turnovers on the year and have allowed only 4. All four of those have been interceptions, meaning that Oregon State has not had a turnover on a fumble yet this season.

-- UCLA, on the other hand, is tied for last in the conference in turnover margin (-7 on the season), and 107th in the nation.

-- UCLA kicker Kai Forbath has 82 career field goals, still just three shy of the UCLA record held by John Lee. Forbath is also five field goals away from the all-time NCAA record of 87 held by Georgia's Billy Bennett (2000-03).

-- Arizona was the fifth team to be ranked in the AP Poll at the time of its game versus the Bruins this year, which is the most in a season since 2003.

-- If you were out of the loop, you might be wondering what's up with UCLA's newly re-designed uniform. The Adidas "Techfit" jersey debuted against Oregon, and Adidas professes it has multiple innovations to reduce its weight by 30%, keep players cooler and a seamless fit to reduce opponents grabbing it.

-- If you count every player who is missing from UCLA's roster due to injury, ineligibility, redshirts or Mormon missions, UCLA is without a total of 14 players this season, including five starters.

-- Ten true freshmen have made their college debuts for UCLA this season.

-- The forecast for Saturday is ideal football weather – a high of 77 degrees and a low of 53, sunny and no rain.

OREGON STATE'S OFFENSE V. UCLA'S DEFENSE

The Beavers' offense isn't a high-octane, high-flying affair that racks up huge amounts of yards and points.

It's a very efficient, mistake-free one that gets the job done.

It's 7th in the conference in points per game (29.9), ninth in rushing (131), seventh in passing (219) and 8th overall (351). It's 77th in the country.

But if you happened to watch the Oregon State/Cal game last week, and only happened to watch long enough to see OSU's first four possession, you saw the Beavers' go up 28-0 because of their precise, efficient offensive execution.

OSU uses a spread, and does many things out of it, and mixes its formations and plays with creativity. It definitely is designed to keep opposing defenses on their back heels.

Probably what keeps defenders on their heels the most is junior running back Jacquizz Rodgers (5-7, 191) who, despite being a bit over-shadowed this season by Oregon's LaMichael James, is still one of the best running backs in the nation. Rodgers is 14th in the country, gaining 105 yards per game. He is, of course, one of the most difficult ball carriers to get a hold of, being 5-7 and very elusive and explosive. Much of OSU's offensive effectiveness is based on Rodgers being able to set up the offense with 2nd-and-shorts.

What's really been remarkable about Rodgers this season is his durability. Of OSU's 167 runs by its tailback position, Rodgers has taken 162. It's next three biggest rushers are two wide receivers and the quarterback.

Many observers comment about how OSU, year after year, is able to put together effective offenses with seemingly un-heralded recruits, and the job the OSU coaches have done with their offensive line in the past several years is truly remarkable. OSU's starting offensive line is one of the best in the conference, and it's comprised of three former walk-ons. There isn't necessarily one star, but sophomore left tackle Michael Philipp, who OSU out-recruited UCLA to get, is probably the closest to being it. The OL is made up of just one senior, center Alex Linnenkohl (6-2, 303), so be prepared again for next season when OSU's offense is even better based on this good offensive line being one more year experienced.

Quarterback Ryan Katz.


With such a solid offensive line and Rodgers, the transition to starter for sophomore quarterback Ryan Katz (6-1, 209) has been quite a bit easier. He's averaging 214 yards per game, with 11 touchdowns against 4 interceptions, to earn him a pass efficiency rating of 134, which is good enough for 45th in the country. In other words, he's efficient. Katz obviously isn't big, but he has very good mobility and most of the time is a pinpoint passer. As we said, he is a threat to run and OSU has plays specifically designed, particularly a very effective quarterback draw, that they use at least once a game.

What's been OSU's biggest challenge offensively is how they've adapted to the loss of wide receiver James Rodgers, who is out for the season with a knee injury (he played in just four games so he'll be eligible for a redshirt).

The guy who has stepped up in particular is sophomore Markus Wheaton (6-0, 181), who leads the team with 24 catches. Wheaton is a former high school track guy who is fast, and he can exploit some open space in a hurry. Last week against Cal he had a bit of a coming out party, when he caught 6 passes for 57 yards, but also ran 6 times for 73 yards. He had 67 of those rushing yards in the first half. OSU usually used James Rodgers on its fly sweeps and reverses, but Wheaton got the call against Cal last week and he made the most of it. He accounted for six first downs and drew a pass interference call that resulted in another.

Now, OSU had a bit of the element of surprise going for it with how it used Wheaton last week, and you'd think that UCLA has schemed against what they saw in that game. But you can probably expect the Oregon State offensive coaches to find new ways to get Wheaton the ball in space.

OSU's next big weapon catching the ball has been h-back Joe Halahuni (6-2, 252), who is a Ryan Moya type. They like to get him down the field, matched up against smaller DBs. Flanker Aaron Nichols (6-0, 185) is also a weapon.

Jaquizz Rodgers also has 19 receptions on the season, more than any of UCLA's <i>receivers</i>, so they like to find him out of the backfield and let him create. He, in fact, has 125 receptions in his career at OSU, the most ever by an OSU running back.

UCLA's defense has a feel to it of being in some disarray, particularly defending the run. In the last three games, the Bruins have given up 307, 270 and 264 yards against the run. Even with how vulnerable UCLA's passing defense has looked recently, UCLA's defense won't get stops if it can't stop its opponents rushing game, and that looks like a difficult proposition at this point.
Jordan Zumwalt.


A huge element to UCLA's defensive collapse has been the play of Akeem Ayers, who hasn't been the same player since the Texas game. There were reports of little injuries, and rumors of more, and that could definitely be affecting his play. It also could be that opposing offenses have learned how to take him out of a play with double-teams and going away from him. In the first four games of the season he had 29 tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss; in the last four games he's had 12 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss.

Without the real Ayers, and with the loss of middle linebacker Patrick Larimore, UCLA's front seven is at a severe deficit. Stepping in for Larimore is true freshman Jordan Zumwalt, who actually did pretty well in the first game where he played significant minutes last week against Arizona, getting six tackles and 1 for a loss. But he's learning on the fly, having played mostly at strongside linebacker behind Ayers for the first six games of the season, and getting limited snaps. On the front line, true freshman Cassius Marsh has been getting an increased amount of reps instead of Nate Chandler, which is a good thing for the future, to get a young, potential star experience. But for the most immediate future – like Saturday – it makes for two true freshmen (Marsh and defensive end Owamagbe Odighizuwa) and a redshirt freshman (defensive end Keenan Graham) on the DL.

It's no wonder UCLA is getting run over.

In the back, UCLA has also struggled as of late, allowing 312 and 319 yards passing in the last two games. Hopefully the return of starting cornerback Sheldon Price will help.

Advantage: Oregon State. As we said, they're not flashy, but the OSU offense is efficient, and we'll take that any day. It will be interesting to see what new wrinkles the imaginative offensive minds at OSU throw into the game plan – like last week putting in all of those first-half reverses to Wheaton. Even without anything new, the vision of UCLA's bad tackling from a week ago combined with Rodgers jitterbugging his way through the defense is enough to make a UCLA fan cringe.

Oregon State has been somewhat vulnerable to a pass rush this season, even though they try to move Katz's launch point a bit or give him short drops and quick throws to negate it. But, again (sounding like a broken record), they key will be UCLA putting pressure on the line of scrimmage and on Katz if it hopes at all to be effective.

It's a sign of how desperate the UCLA community is that it points to the last few possessions by Arizona last week where UCLA's defense got some stops as a sign of some defensive turnaround. But heck, we'll jump on the optimistic bandwagon and hope that the second-half stops against Arizona can continue into the Oregon State game.

UCLA'S OFFENSE V. OREGON STATE'S DEFENSE

Here's where UCLA has a chance. Really.

Oregon State's defense is not great. In fact, it's tied for 94th in the country with none other than UCLA.

But it's kind of the flip side of UCLA's defense: while the Bruin defense is 108th in the nation against the run and 85th against the pass, OSU's defense is 70th against the run and 109th against the pass.

So, that's the good news for UCLA fans. The bad news is that the OSU defense had easily its best showing of the season last week against Cal. The Beavers held Cal to 23 rushing yards and 206 total yards. And that included a 93-yard drive by the Bears in the last few minutes of the game against Oregon State's reserves. But on the other hand, Cal, if they had to play all their games on the road, would probably be the worst team in D-1 college football. And Cal was without injured quarterback Kevin Riley.

Oregon State got some improved play from its front seven last week, getting pressure on the Cal back-up quarterback. Their best d-lineman is defensive tackle Stephen Paea (6-1, 311), a Pac-10 first-teamer from last year who is incredibly strong. The other defensive tackle, senior Brennan Olander (6-1, 276) is also have a good season, with eight tackles for loss.
Dwight Roberson.


The linebackers are led by senior Will linebacker Dwight Roberson (6-0, 232), who is having a potentially All-Pac-10 season, fourth in the conference in tackles, averaging 8.3 per game. Senior strongsider Keith Pankey (6-0, 231) is also solid.

The back four for OSU has had some considerable issues. Junior safety Lance Mitchell (6-2, 207) and senior cornerback James Dockery (6-1, 181) have been trying to hold down the fort but with so much inconsistency from the other two DB spots it's been difficult. Last week junior cornerback Brandon Hardin (6-2, 215) had a big day against Cal, so OSU observers are hoping he's turned it around. Previously he was getting a huge amount of criticism for poor coverage, especially against the long ball.

On paper, then, UCLA's offense has a few things going for it. First, it will be the second game in a row that quarterback Richard Brehaut knew he was the starter, and he had a good few days of practice this week. The Bruins will get back its leading receiver, Nelson Rosario, who has been out with a sprained ankle for a few games. With Rosario back, and all the suspensions now lifted, UCLA will have its biggest complement of receivers since Texas (Jerry Johnson, however, is out for the season with a broken ankle).

Last week against Arizona, the UCLA passing game had easily its best performance of the season, opening up some and throwing deep, connecting on two bombs to Josh Smith and Randall Carroll.

Running the ball, UCLA has been struggling the lasts three weeks. After averaging 260 yards per game through the first five games, it's averaged 76 yards in the last three games. It's not necessarily the fault of Johnathan Franklin, Derrick Coleman or the offensive line, but mostly the conservative offensive mindset that has failed to counter punch when the Cal, Oregon and Arizona defenses stacked the box to take away UCLA's running game.
Josh Smith.


The rushing defenses of the last three opponents were very good, though, being #1, #3 and #4 in the conference, while OSU's is #7.

Advantage: Even. We are almost compelled to actually give the nod to the UCLA offense here, surprisingly enough. But you're basically in a crapshoot when you have the nation's 103rd-ranked offense going up against the nation's 94th-ranked defense. Most of the time when the units are evenly matched you'd give the advantage to the offense since it has the element of surprise, but UCLA's offense tends to not exploit that natural advantage much.

We also have to tend to think that the OSU defense's performance against Cal last week is a bit of an aberration. It had consistently given up about 31 points per game until last week when it yielded just 7 to the Bears. As we said, Cal is horrible on the road and was without its starting quarterback, so Oregon State was able to play Cal as a one-dimensional offense and stacked the box to stop Cal's running game.

It's a good match-up for UCLA. Against a poor rushing defense UCLA's rushing game should be able to look more like it did earlier in the year. It will help quite a bit that it will have its best chance of being successful throwing the ball against the OSU defense than it's had against any defense yet this season. So, OSU will try to stack the box, and then so much will be decided on whether UCLA can counter-adjust and be aggressive throwing the ball. The UCLA offensive coaches haven't shown a penchant for adjustment, but if there was ever a game – coming off the Arizona game and facing the OSU passing defense – where you'd think UCLA could finally be more dedicated to throwing the ball, this is it.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Oregon State has fairly bad special teams, especially now with the loss of James Rodgers as the punt and kick-off returner. Jordan Poyer (5-11, 189) now does both duties, and hasn't really been a threat.

The Beavers have the worst punting and the field-goal kicking in the conference. Their punter Johnny Hecker is averaging just 40.8 yards per punt. Their place-kicker, Justin Kahut, has hit just 3 of 6 so far this season, and he's erratic from just about any distance. He's also missed two PATs.

UCLA, of course, has stellar special teams.

Advantage: UCLA.

PREDICTION

If you throw out the Cal game last week at home, you could make a case that Oregon State really isn't very good. Without that victory, they'd be 3-3, with a loss at Washington. Unlike UCLA, though, when they lose they tend to be in the game and competitive, which drastically changes the perception of a team.

Where Oregon State has really had an edge is in its efficiency and mistake-free play.
OSU is 4th in the nation in turnover margin, and hasn't lost a fumble yet this season. UCLA, on the other hand, is mistake-prone, being tied for last in the conference in turnover margin and 107th in the nation. Also, Oregon doesn't commit many penalties and it tends to induce its opponents into them at a very high rate, and UCLA does tend to commit a good share.

This game, really, should be a shoot-out. Oregon State's offense should be able to move up and down the field against UCLA's defense, with Rodgers juking his way through UCLA's poor-tackling, injury-riddled and young defense. And UCLA's offense should be able to run against OSU's defense and exploit their poor pass coverage enough to easily sustain drives.

Looking at UCLA's remaining schedule, this could be as good a chance as any to get a win – at home, healthier than it's been in weeks, with an offense that showed signs last week of putting together a balanced attack (Did I really just write that?).

If you throw out the Cal game, all of OSU's other games have been decided by an average of 5.78 points, so it should be a high-scoring game that either team could win, that will probably be decided in the fourth quarter – or even in overtime -- by whomever scores last.

Oregon State 35
UCLA 34




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