-- UCLA travels to Corvallis to take on Oregon State Saturday, with the kick-off at 12:30 PT. The game will be televised by FSN Prime Ticket in the Southern California area, with Bill Macdonald and J.J. Stokes in the both.
-- UCLA is 1-2, coming off a beat-down by Texas last week, 49-20.
-- Oregon State is 0-2, having lost to Sacramento State to start the season three weeks ago, 29-28, in overtime, and then losing two weeks ago at #8-ranked Wisconsin, 35-0. The Beavers had a bye last week.
-- It's the Pac-12 opener for both teams.
-- It will be the 60th meeting between the two programs, while UCLA owns a healthy edge in the all-time series, 40-15-4, which dates back to 1930.
-- UCLA and Oregon State actually played in Tokyo, in the 1980 Mirage Bowl.
-- Oregon State had a two-game winning streak snapped last year when UCLA pulled out a win, 17-14, at the Rose Bowl when Kai Forbath nailed a 51-yard field goal on the last play of the game.
-- Oregon State has been the most competitive it's ever been with UCLA in the last decade or so, with UCLA holding just a 5-4 edge in the last 9 meetings.
-- UCLA lost the last time it was in Corvallis, in 2009, but won in 2007.
-- The Beavers will be trying to avoid its first three-game losing streak since 2002, and its first three-game skid to start the season since 1996.
-- UCLA is 4-2 in the last six times its open the conference on the road, including a pair of wins in Corvallis in 2002 (43-35) and 2001 (38-7). The last time UCLA started conference play on the road was in 2009 with a loss to Stanford.
-- The Bruins haven't won a conference road game since 2009, which was at Washington State, a team that was 1-11 that year. The next most recent road win was in 2008 against Washington, which had a record that season of 0-12.
-- Mike Riley is in 11th year coaching at Oregon State, and his ninth consecutive. That is the longest consecutive streak for an OSU head coach since Dee Andros in 1965-75. Riley is the second-winningest coach in OSU history with 69 victories, only 5 short of Lon Stiner (1933-48). He also has the second-most victories by any active Pac-12 head coach (at one school), trailing only Cal's Jeff Tedford (75 wins). Riley is very well liked at OSU, having taken the Beavers to 6 bowl games in 8 seasons, and four in a row from 2006 to 2009. He's generally considered a coach who has done more with less at OSU. When UCLA was looking for a head coach to replace the fired Bob Toledo, Riley was a prime candidate.
-- There is some pressure in Corvallis, however; Riley's success has bred expectations, and the Beaver natives are slightly restless after their first losing season in 2010 (5-7) and no bowl game in five years, and then beginning this season 0-2, and losing to FCS program Sacramento State. As an aside, the Hornets have subsequently lost to Southern Utah (35-14) and Weber State (49-17).
-- There is a pretty strong Bruin-Beaver connection. UCLA's Offensive Coordinator Mike Johnson worked on current OSU Head Coach Mike Riley's staff as the quarterbacks coach for the San Diego Chargers. Johnson also served on Riley's staff at Oregon State in 1997-1999 as the coach of quarterbacks and wide receivers. UCLA defensive line coach Inoke Breckterfield played for OSU under Riley in 1997-1998, then was a graduate assistant there in 2007 and 2008. Breckterfield, when he left as a player, was the school's leader in tackles for loss (55.5) and sacks (19.5). UCLA's secondary coach Tim Hundley worked at OSU for eight seasons, mostly as defensive coordinator. Brett Brennan, who is a UCLA alumnus and former UCLA graduate assistant, is the OSU wide receivers coach.
-- Oregon State has played 15 first-tme starters so far this season. Malcolm Agnew is the first true freshman to ever start an opener for the Beavers. And the number of first-time starters will probably rise on Saturday.
-- Coming off a bye week, OSU gets back some key personnel, including senior H-back Joe Halahuni, who returns from off-season shoulder surgery. Riley hasn't said for certain that All-Conference receiver James Rodgers will definitely return this week, but all indications are that he'll be ready to play Saturday.
-- The Beaver's home is Reser Stadium, which has FieldTurf and seats 45,674.
-- Saturday's weather calls for highs in the mid 80s, with light winds.
Oregon State'S OFFENSE V. UCLA'S DEFENSE
In terms of quality college football, this isn't a good match-up. Oregon State's offense is 10th in the Pac-12, averaging 390 yards per game, and UCLA's defense is 10th in the Pac-12 itself, allowing 424 yards per game.
Both units are struggling, to say the least.
You can't even say there is even a strength-vs.-strength match-up here, since both Oregon State's rushing and passing attack aren't great.
If we had to identify perhaps the best aspect of Oregon State's offense right now it is junior wide receiver Markus Wheaton (JR, 6-0, 178). Wheaton has put in two very impressive performances in OSU's first two games, catching a total of 14 passes, which puts him second in receptions per game in the Pac-12. He's done this working within one of the worst passing attacks in the Pac-12; it would be as if a UCLA receiver, in UCLA's passing game, was second in the league in receptions. And it wasn't as if he only abused the Sac State secondary, he actually had 8 catches against Wisconsin.
Then throw in some solid receivers like Jordan Bishop (JR, 6-3, 204), who had a career game against Wisconsin and is an All-American high jumper; solid tight end Colby Prince (JR, 6-5, 260), and true freshman receiver Brandin Cooks (FR, 5-9, 190), who filled in admirably with Rodgers out and is another one-time UCLA commitment that looks to have prospered at another program. Then there is also the return of veteran H-back/tight end Joe Halahuni (SR, 6-2, 255) for the first time after off-season shoulder surgery. He is a unique target, a tight end in a fullback's body.
Rodgers might be a bit rusty, but you still have to respect him, so that could possibly open up even more room for Wheaton or OSU's other receivers.
Getting more room for receivers could only help new starting quarterback, redshirt freshman Sean Mannion (6-5, 218). Riley named Mannion the starter this week to the surprise of most onlookers – and former starter Ryan Katz (JR, 6-1, 212). Katz really struggled in the first two games of the season, and it can all probably be traced back to spring practice, which Katz missed due to a fractured wrist. Mannion started making up ground then, and Riley effuses about him. When asked if Mannion is the most advanced freshman quarterback he's ever coached, Riley said, "Yes, yes – no doubt about it. I think that he is poised beyond his years and knowledgeable beyond his years.'' Even though Katz has started the first two games, Mannion has played more, and he's shown flashes. He's completing 66% of his passes, and had a respectable day against Wisconsin, going 25-of-38 for 244 yards.
Take-It-For-What-It's-Worth Department: Mannion was horrible in practice on Wednesday, throwing five interceptions.
Oregon State probably isn't a very good running team. We say "probably" because it's difficult to tell. The offense is averaging 144 yards per game on the ground, but most of that was because of the performance of true freshman tailback Malcolm Agnew (FR, 5-8, 188) against Sacramento State in the season opener, when he ran for 223 yards. A couple of things, though, have developed since: Wisconsin shut down OSU's running game, with the Beavers gaining just 23 yards; and Agnew missed that game and is out for the UCLA game with a hamstring injury. Stepping in two weeks ago against Wisconsin was former walk-on Jordan Jenkins (6-1, 205), who ran for just 20 yards on 7 carries. The projected starter in the off-season, Ryan McCants (SR, 6-1, 237) is deep in the doghouse and doesn't even have a carry in two games. It will probably be a backfield-by-committee Saturday with third-down back Jovan Stevenson (SO, 5-11, 193) and inexperienced Terron Ward (FR, 5-7, 189) contributing. It's not difficult to conclude that OSU's running game has a big vacancy where Jacquizz Rodgers used to be.
OSU's offensive line is an issue, too. Last season they allowed 25 sacks, and OSU's coaches wanted to try to find the best combination in the off-season to shore up the OL. But that hasn't really come to fruition. First, projected starting right tackle Michael Philipp asked to redshirt because of nagging knee injuries. With a thin amount of talent, former H-back Colin Kelly (JR, 6-5, 295) is the now the starter at right tackle. Starting left guard Josh Andrews suffered a knee injury against Wisconsin and is out, replaced by Grant Enger (SO, 6-5, 281), who actually played some tight end in the first two games of the season. Even the two veterans of the group, left tackle Mike Remmers (6-5, 303) and center Grant Johnson (6-4, 293), are former walk-ons.
UCLA's defensive woes stem mostly from an inability to stop the run. And that stems from its defensive line in the first four games being unable to hold the line of scrimmage. If reps in practice are any indication, it appears that defensive tackle Justin Edison, who has struggled, will be supplanted for a majority of playing time by Donovan Carter, and even Sealii Epenesa. Perhaps the most dramatic development on defense so far this season is the fact that the guy receiving all the pre-season hype (and deservedly, since he was dominating fall camp), defensive end Datone Jones, has also struggled and looks to be getting his playing time cut into by Owamagbe Odighizuwa. In other words, UCLA is trying to find some guys who can be decent on the DL at this point.
UCLA's linebackers haven't been much better. They showed improvement against Texas, actually, and Mike linebacker Patrick Larimore appears to be settling in. It does seem very evident, though, that the more talented youngsters Jordan Zumwalt and Eric Kendricks play the better the unit performs.
UCLA's secondary was exploited badly by a below-average Texas passing attack. Most of the time it was because someone blew their coverage assignment. Aaron Hester has generally played okay, but was responsible for some blown coverages. He and his secondary brethren will get exploited again in Corvallis this weekend if the coverage issues aren't cleaned up.
These are two struggling units. Oregon State probably can't run the ball, but then again, UCLA can't stop the run. Perhaps the only slight advantage you could see here would be OSU being able to throw fairly effectively against UCLA's secondary, because of the receivers OSU will put in the pattern, but it's tough to give a nod to a young, green quarterback, behind a line that has struggled to provide pass protection.
In other words, neither unit is worthy of an "advantage."
Of course, logically the best defensive tactic would be to press receivers, not allow them to even touch the ball, and try to put as much pressure on Mannion as possible Saturday, and force him into errant throws. But that's been the most logical tactic before and UCLA's defensive brain trust hasn't done it.
UCLA'S OFFENSE V. OREGON STATE'S DEFENSE
This match-up isn't much better. You have a defense that gave up almost 300 yards passing to Sac State and 200 yards rushing against Wisconsin.
Oregon State's defensive line is a bit of a mess. The one real veteran that has held his starting job from spring is tackle Kevin Frahm (SR., 6-2, 273) and he underwent knee surgery in fall camp and just returned to action against Wisconsin. Taylor Henry (JR, 6-2, 258) is the defensive end who is supposed to supply some pass rush but it hasn't been much. Two new starters are redshirt freshman Scott Crichton (6-3, 258) at the other DE spot and Castro Masaniai (JR, 6-3, 334), but Masaniai is suspended for Saturday due to a domestic abuse charge. Going into the season Dominic Glover (SR, 6-2, 263) was projected as a starter but his eligibility is up in the air because of academic issues. Walk-on Andrew Seumalo (JR, 6-3, 281) steps in to start.
|Safety Lance Mitchell.|
The linebacking unit has shown a glimmer of hope, with the new starter at middle linebacker, Feti Unga (JR, 6-1, 243), leading the team in tackles in both games, and currently fourth in tackles per game in the Pac-12. Strongside linebacker Cameron Collins (SR, 6-2, 238) was a safety last year but physically has developed into a Sam. He had abdominal surgery in fall. The biggest question is at the weakside spot, where the OSU coaches haven't been happy with Michael Doctor (SO, 6-0, 222).
In the back, the secondary is led by veteran safety Lance Mitchell (SR, 6-2, 207), who many feel is among the best at the position in the conference. New starter Anthony Watkins (JR, 6-1, 218) played better against Wisconsin and OSU is optimistic about him. The Beaver corners have shown considerable vulnerability, especially with starter Brandon Hardin still out with a shoulder injury, and he's been replaced by green Rashaad Reynolds (SO, 5-10, 185). The other corner, Jordan Poyer (JR, 6-0, 190), is a new starter himself. The Sac State quarterback pretty much owned them.
Easily the most effective aspect of either UCLA or Oregon State so far this season has been UCLA's running game. It's second in the conference, behind just Oregon, averaging 215 yards per game.
Johnathan Franklin has been good, but perhaps the biggest boost to the running attack in the last two games has been the play of tailback Derrick Coleman.
UCLA is clearly trying to get Jordon James more touches, too, at tailback and F-back, and we'll see if this is the week it happens.
UCLA, for the first time in a while, goes into this game with a quarterback that was named the starter early in the week, and Richard Brehaut has gotten the first-string reps in practice all week. He struggled last week against Texas, especially in getting the ball off quickly, but to his credit he didn't commit a turnover and did lead some UCLA drives.
UCLA has a good stable of wide receivers, that they have yet to really take advantage of. Guys like Shaquelle Evans, Randall Carroll, Josh Smith and Ricky Marvray have some tremendous play-making capabilities, but UCLA hasn't been able to get the ball into their hands.
Most amazingly is that Joseph Fauria had a breakout game in the season opener against Houston, and then UCLA didn't really even look at him in the San Jose State and Texas games.
UCLA's offensive line took a hit when it lost starting guard Sean Sheller to a broken arm against Texas. But luckily, since the OL has had some depth issues, it plugged in Chris Ward, who had started against Houston and done well.
The Bruins' running attack should dominate this game. OSU just doesn't have the horses up front to slow down Franklin and Coleman. And then, to make it worse for OSU, it has a couple of new cornerbacks who struggled against even Sac State. This means that, when UCLA needs to counter Oregon State's stacked box, it's going to be able to do it fairly easily. Expect UCLA to attack the sidelines and deep to isolate OSU's cornerbacks and steer clear of the middle of the field where Mitchell and Unga lurk. Brehaut should have plenty of time since OSU doesn't put much pressure on the quarterback.
Oregon State gets an extreme boost to its special teams with Rodgers back and returning punts and kicks. UCLA's coverage looked incrementally improved last week against Texas.
UCLA's kicking game is a bit questionable at this point, but OSU's is probably worse off. The Beavers are dead last in punting, averaging just 34 yards per punt. Punter Johnny Hekker isn't known for his booming punts but he is good at placing the ball within the 20. Freshman placekicker Trevor Romaine is supposed to be pretty accurate and so far he's 2-for-3 on the season.
It looks like UCLA's Kip Smith won't be ready to do the placekicking on Saturday, so UCLA will opt again for punter Jeff Locke to kick field goals, which he did very well last week, knocking through 49- and 51-yarders.
Oregon State is in the same boat as UCLA, basically, trying to right its ship, after starting the season 0-2. It was embarrassed by losing to FCS Sacramento State, and then trampled by Wisconsin in Madison, 35-0.
The Beavers, though, in terms of their personnel, just don't have the level of talent that UCLA has and, even despite having a bye week to get some players back, still are impacted by injuries and ineligibility on their OL and DL, where the game is really won.
While UCLA's DL hasn't won any battles as of late, it should find the OSU offensive line a winnable match-up, and UCLA's OL definitely holds an edge over OSU's DL.
UCLA's bugaboo last week, obviously, was the three interceptions, but the Bruins have also given up 4 fumbles, so UCLA is turnover prone.
The inexperience of Mannion, no matter his football IQ and having played before, will probably be an issue, especially if UCLA can make it one by putting pressure on him and taking away short routes.
UCLA hasn't won on the road in the conference since 2009, and has only won two road conference games under Neuheisel (against very bad Washington and Washington State teams). And the current issues of UCLA's program are all very well known. Do the Bruins have enough in them to play with intensity when the future of Neuheisel's program is in doubt? That has to be an intangible from here on out this season.
For UCLA, facing the beleagured Beavers is about the most fortunate timing they could have. But even so, expect the Bruins to continue with their mistake-prone and sloppy play, and allow Oregon State to stay relatively close, or at least not get completely blown out.
Oregon State 17