Things to Work on for Oregon State

To put a beating on the Beavers, UCLA will need to shore up a few things on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball...

We took a break from this feature last week, since Houston was terrible, but going into the Pac-12 slate, we decided to take a look at what UCLA will need to work on this week in practice to prepare to take on the Beavers. While the Beavers are probably not as good as the Associated Press seems to believe, there are some things that the Bruins should shore up as they dive into conference play.

1. Red Zone Offense

On some level, the relatively limited red zone production for UCLA this season is a product of the offense itself, which you could kind of see from the entire game on Saturday. With Brett Hundley unable to hit deep passes, UCLA's offense became slightly easier to defend against, and the entire Cougars' defense was able to spend most of the game pressed against the line to defend against the run and short passes. In the red zone, there isn't, of course, much possibility for stretching the field vertically, so the offense there tends to look like the one that was on the field for most of Saturday's game: still very effective, just not quite as devastating as it could be.

It does seem, too, that the play calling goes a wee bit more conservative in the red zone, with more conventional runs between the tackles. Given the success that UCLA has had so far this year running slants out of four and five wide sets, you'd like to see more of those pass plays in the arsenal within the ten yard line. Because UCLA has scored on swing passes in all three games, it also wouldn't be a surprise to see the coaching staff use motioning running backs out of the back field more frequently as decoys to free up the middle of the end zone.

Against Wisconsin, the Beavers succeeded defensively when the Badgers ran a conventional, West Coast style offense. Once the Badgers went more to a spread in the fourth quarter, the Beavers had a much tougher time defensively, and, based just off the one game, that could be a weakness to exploit.

2. Blitz Pick Up

If one unfortunate thing popped up from the Houston game, it's that teams now have at least a partial blueprint for slowing down UCLA's attack. The Cougars brought blitzers on most downs, and generally, UCLA's young offensive line had difficulty picking up their assignments. Torian White in particular failed to pick up blitzers at several points, and even moved to double team Xavier Su'a-Filo's man a couple of times when it was obvious a linebacker was coming off the edge. If Brett Hundley is still not 100% on Saturday, the coaching staff may need to leave more blockers at home to account for the pressure that Oregon State is bound to bring. Even without more blockers, the two freshmen tackles need to do a much better job of protecting the edge and keeping defenders from running free at Hundley from his blind spots. The jury is out as to whether the Beavers defense is actually as good as it looked against Wisconsin, but Houston's defense was demonstrably bad and still managed to generate a decent pass rush against UCLA.

3. Playing Less Nickel

Oregon State doesn't run quite the same kind of passing attack that Houston runs. Against Wisconsin, actually, the Beavers' offense generally looked fairly pro style on first and second down, and then went to a few more spread formations on third down. In any case, the Bruins will not be facing the same sort of spread attack that they faced against Houston, which means a significant change in the game plan. Against the Cougars, UCLA was able to run primarily its nickel package, with Dalton Hilliard or Stan McKay playing that other inside linebacker/safety role, which left Damien Holmes on the sidelines most of the game. Hilliard, in particular, had a spectacular game, and was all over the field making plays. Judging by an admittedly small sample size, UCLA's nickel has been more effective so far this season than its base defense, which is almost certainly due to getting more speed on the field. With UCLA most likely playing more of its base defense this coming Saturday, it will be very interesting to see if there are any personnel changes in the starting lineup.

4. Concentration

Coach Mora said in Monday's press conference that, while he was worried a little about a letdown last week, he wasn't worried heading into this week against Oregon State because the game marks the start of conference play. However, the Beavers have been a hapless program for a few years now, and by now many of the UCLA players have probably figured out that Oregon State's win over Wisconsin isn't as significant as previously believed. After a game where there may have been a few focus issues (see: Torian White and Joe Fauria's rough games), keeping the entire team concentrated on the task at hand will be an important step in the development of this young UCLA team.

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