• The Oregon State Beavers come to the Rose Bowl Saturday for a kick-off at 12:30 PT. The game will be televised by ABC (and shown on ESPN2 in areas of the country where it is not an ABC regional game), with Sean McDonough and Chris Spielman in the booth and Quint Kessinich on the sideline.
• UCLA is 3-0 and ranked #19 in both USA Today and the AP polls.
• Oregon State is 1-0, with a win two weeks ago against then-13th-ranked Wisconsin (10-7). It's first scheduled game of the season, against Nicholls State September 1st, was cancelled and rescheduled for the end of the season because of Hurricane Isaac. They had a bye last week.
• The Wisconsin team that OSU beat September 8th is now 2-1, with wins at home over Northern Iowa (26-21) and Utah State (16-14).
• It's a highly unusual situation where two teams meet with one having played three games and the other just one.
• The Beavers did receive 68 votes in this week's AP Poll, making it the highest team in the "also receiving votes."
• It is, of course, the Pac-12 opener for both teams.
• It's the first time UCLA has been ranked for two consecutive weeks since early in the 2007 season. UCLA, in fact, has only been ranked for four or more straight weeks once (2005) since 2001. Before 2001, UCLA was ranked for four straight weeks in 10 of the previous 11 seasons.
• The Bruins/Beaver series goes back to 1930, with UCLA leading 41-15-4. UCLA has won the last two meetings and 7 of the last 8.
• Last season, UCLA beat Oregon State in Corvallis, 27-19. In that game, OSU quarterback Sean Mannion passed for 287 yards in his first career start. OSU's Jordan Poyer returned a punt for an 85-yard touchdown.
• The last time a ranked UCLA team faced an unranked Oregon State team at the Rose Bowl was in 2005, when #8-ranked UCLA beat the Beavers, 51-28.
• Mike Riley is in his 12th year as the head coach at Oregon State, and is two victories short of being the Beavers' all-time winningest coach. He is 73-63 in Corvallis, trailing Lou Stiner, who coached between 1933 and 1948. Riley, 59, is, of course, in his second stint as the head coach at OSU, spending two seasons (1997 and 1998) before going to the NFL (San Diego Chargers, New Orleans Saints) and then returning in 2003. He has led the Beavers to six bowl games, and five seasons of 8 wins or better. Riley is generally accepted as being a good coach; he's the guy who is mentioned the most often when the discussion is about coaches who do more with less. In this second stint at OSU, he immediately elevated the program, going 8-5, 7-5, 5-6, 10-4, 9-4, 9-4 and 8-5 from 2003 to 2008. You think that might be good enough to get him enough credit in the bank that he'd be able to coach in Corvallis until he decides to retire. But, as it is anywhere, if you give the fans a taste of success they get spoiled. Riley has pretty much been on the hot seat after going 5-7 and 3-9 in the last two seasons.
• Oregon State has made a routine of beating highly-ranked teams of late: #13 Wisconsin (2012), #9 Arizona (2010), #20 USC (2010), #23 California (2009), #1 USC (2008), #2 USC (2007), #18 Oregon (2007), #3 USC (2006), #24 Hawaii (2006), and #18 California (2005). Among those games, six of them were away games for the Beavers.
• OSU receiver Markus Wheaton has put together a streak of 24 consecutive games making a reception.
• Quarterback Mannion, after just 11 starts, is sixth in career passing yards with 3,604.
• For the first time since the 2006 season, Oregon State does not have James or Jacquizz Rodgers on its roster.
• Johnathan Franklin moved to second on UCLA's all-time career rushing list last week, after gaining 110 yards against Houston, bringing him to a total of 3,210. In one game he moved ahead of five former Bruins, and now only trails Gaston Green (3,731).
• Quarterback Brett Hundley leads all freshman nationally in passing (827 yards), total offensive yards (946) and completions (23/g); he is tied for the freshman lead nationally in scoring passes with eight.
• UCLA, for the first time in its history, gained 500+ yards in three consecutive games (records date back to the 1958 season).
• UCLA and Oklahoma State are the only schools in the FBS averaging at least 300 yards rushing and 300 yards passing.
• Here are UCLA's and Oregon State's statistical rankings nationally and in the Pac-12: Stat Rankings
• The weather forecast calls for 91 degrees in Pasadena Saturday. It's significant since, so far this season, UCLA has played in 90-degree-plus temperatures, and had its fall camp in blazing San Bernardino. On the other hand, it was 68 degrees in Corvallis September 8th when Oregon State played Wisconsin.
UCLA'S OFFENSE V. OREGON STATE'S DEFENSE
It's highly unusual to write about a match-up when one unit has only played in one game and the other has played in three.
And for the OSU defense, going up against what is now looking to be a fairly mediocre Wisconsin offense in their one game doesn't give us a heck of a lot to go on.
Wisconsin's offense, though has played in three games (the other two against Northern Iowa, an FCS team, and Utah State), and that gives us enough proof that it's pretty bad: 116th in total offense in the nation (276 yards/game), 114th in passing offense (156), 94th in rushing offense (119) and 113th in scoring offense (16).
So, when you cite that OSU held Wisconsin to 207 total yards it sounds pretty good, except when you also note Wisconsin gained just 234 against Utah State, and only 387 against Northern Iowa.
At the very least you could say that Oregon State's defense has yet to really be tested, until this Saturday.
It returns eight starters from a defense in 2011 that wasn't very good -- 101st in rushing yards allowed (196) and 84th overall (411 yards per game). It was particularly not good against the run.
Up front has been the issue for quite a while. It's been especially iffy at defensive tackle, where injuries and a general lack of talent have been the story. A former walk-on, senior Andrew Seumalo (6-4, 290), is paired with another senior, Castro Masaniai (6-3, 354), and both aren't what you would call elite players. Seumalo hasn't been more than serviceable, and was pretty non-existent against Wisconsin. Masaniai suffered season-ending injuries in each of the last two seasons (shoulder in '10 and broken leg, '11). He's the run stuffer, but he's been fighting a weight and conditioning problem. Watching the Wisconsin game, even though OSU held the Badgers to just 35 yards rushing, you couldn't really say it was due much to the contributions of the OSU d-tackles.
OSU's defensive ends fared a bit better, particularly sophomore Dylan Wynn (6-2, 265), who was very active and gave the slower Wisconsin OL some problems. The other d-end is also a sophomore, Scott Crichton (6-3, 263), and he was less effective, getting sealed some times. Senior Rudolph Fifita (6-3, 263) rotates in, particularly on passing downs, and pressured the Wisconsin quarterback.
Where Oregon State's defense really showed its strength was in its linebacking crew. Sophomore SAM linebacker D.J. Welch (6-2, 225) was a standout, collecting 7 tackles and 2 for loss against the Wisconsin, being very good at out-quicking the Badger would-be blockers. Senior middle linebacker Feti Taumopeau (6-1, 248) and junior WILL linebacker Michael Doctor (6-0, 223), two returning starters, were both effective, using their quickness to an advantage over Wisconsin's big and lumbering offense.
The secondary, against Wisconsin, had a good game, even though they weren't challenged much. Senior cornerback Jordan Poyer (6-0, 190) is considered one of the best NFL cornerback prospects in the nation, with good size and quickness.
|Cornerback Jordan Poyer.|
After three games, it's now safe to call UCLA's offense explosive. It's the first time ever in UCLA's history that its offense gained 500-plus yards in three consecutive games. And you get the sense that it was an off day against Houston and it's just getting warmed up.
So much, of course, rides on the young shoulders of UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley. He was off last week, missing some of the throws he made the week before against Nebraska. He didn't really hit any passes down the field against Houston. And, crazily, he still threw for 320 yards, completing 27 of his 43 passes. He has shown some exceptional poise in the pocket, but also some freshman decision-making, throwing two bad interceptions a week ago. He's also still a bit hindered by the ankle sprain he suffered against Nebraska. All of this might be contributing to UCLA Offensive Coordinator Noel Mazzone designing a game plan that gives Hundley mostly easy throws, and easy reads.
Hundley owes a great deal of his effectiveness to the plethora of skill guys he has at his disposal. UCLA has so many weapons -- guys who have been on the roster but are now being exploited and used to to their utmost. UCLA has seven players with 7 receptions or more, and in Mazzone's offense Hundley has a chance to
All of these smaller, shifty, fast guys, together, average almost 9 yards every time any of them touches the ball. Heck, Franklin and Thigpen are averaging an eye-popping 8.2 and 7.2 yards per carry.
Then, that's not even taking into consideration UCLA's actual receivers -- like 6-8 tight end Joseph Fauria, who leads the team with three touchdown catches; or Shaquelle Evans, Jerry Johnson, and Devin Lucien, who combine for 28 receptions between them.
Oregon State's defense had a good showing against Wisconsin in its first game two weeks ago, but some factors have to be considered:
-- Wisconsin's offense has proven to be pretty bad
-- Wisconsin's offense is very one-dimensional and predictable, with a poor-throwing quarterback and an offense built around its power running game that has turned out to not be so powerful
-- Oregon State, then, schemed against Wisconsin by stacking the box and blitzing on run and passing downs, getting an advantage per man at the line of scrimmage. Oregon State's linebackers and secondary cheated up often, without too much of a threat of Wisconsin's quarterback beating them, and swarmed the Badger's running game and then also put pressure on its quarterback
-- UCLA's offense is two dimensional. If you stack the box against it, like Houston attempted, you might limit Johnathan Frannklin to 110 yards instead of 215, and you might put a little pressure on Hundley, but UCLA's offense could probably still have an off day and put up 567 total yards, 320 yards passing and 37 points.
Or, now that it has some experience playing against a defense that is going to dedicate more bodies to the line of scrimmage, Mazzone and Co. might be able to scheme even better, and Hundley could be even more comfortable.
And that's just talking schemes and tactics. When it comes to talent, UCLA's offense is far more athletic and quicker than those big, slow boys from Wisconsin. Franklin looks like he's the Road Runner in terms of quickness compared to Wisconsin's Montee Ball. OSU's defense was quite a bit smaller than Wisconsin's offense, but beat them with their quickness. Now they'll be facing an offense that's generally bigger and but now at least as quick.
But much of this comes down to the scheme. Oregon State's conventional 4-3 is going to have to go to a nickel and get stretched out across the field against UCLA. It won't be able to stack the box like it did last week against Wisconsin. If they do, Hundley will just find one of his speedy guys in space for 9 yards per pop. If they don't, they'll be pitting UCLA's running game of Franklin and Thigpen, averaging about 7.5 yards per carry, against an OSU d-line that just doesn't have the talent to stop them if they don't have the man advantage. Wisconsin's linebackers had a good game against Wisconsin's rushing attack, but the Badgers didn't seemingly run outside of the hash marks. When Wisconsin went to a spread in the fourth quarter it pretty much had its way with the Oregon State defense. UCLA's offense is going to make OSU run sideline to sideline, and in 92-degree heat that's something that will wear down Beavers.
OREGON STATE'S OFFENSE V. UCLA'S DEFENSE
OSU runs a pretty standard West Coast Offense -- a pro set, most of the time, that emphasizes a running game and quick, short, timing patterns in its passing game.
Against Wisconsin it would work out of its pro set on first and second down, and then if it found itself in a third and long, then went to a shotgun with 3 or 4 wides. It was very rare -- if they did it at all -- to utilize the spread in anything but third-and-long.
Oregon State might have thrown the ball down the field past 10 yards maybe a handful of times.
Sophomore quarterback Sean Mannion (6-5, 212) has the tools to be a good one, but he's probably not there just yet. He's a decent athlete, with a strong arm and some considerable savvy for being a sophomore. But he has some accuracy issues, at least against Wisconsin, when he went 29 of 47 for 276 yards. Again, those were mostly on short, dump-off passes, in which your completion percentage should probably be higher than 61%.
And it wasn't as if Mannion was under heavy pressure against Wisconsin. Oregon State's offensive line did a very good job of protecting him, allowing just one sack, and he generally wasn't hurried. Give a great deal of credit to the OSU OL, who are working in three new starters this season. Junior left tackle Michael Philipp (6-4, 315) and junior right tackle Colin Kelly (6-5, 295) are the veterans of the group, and both of them are on the smaller side for tackles but emphasize quickness. Inside the story is true freshman center Isaac Seumalo (6-3, 302), who was highly recruited and is clearly the most talented interior lineman. He is, though, very young, obviously, and he made some mistakes against Wisconsin -- like a couple of errant snaps and at least two holding calls. At guard are juniors Josh Andrews (6-3, 297) and Grant Enger (6-6, 293), who have some experience and, again, emphasize quickness over bulk. Against Wisconsin, even though OSU only ran for 78 yards, the Beaver faithful consider that a huge coup, after coming off a 2011 season in which they rushed for less than 50 yards in six games. They looked like they generally fired off the ball well and provided a push against Wisconsin's defensive line, even though the Badgers went with a standard four-man front for almost the entire game.
The biggest offensive issue for 2011, as we alluded to, was OSU's rushing game. It was pretty non-existent, and the Beavers are looking to their running backs to provide more of a two-dimensional attack. Redshirt freshman Storm Woods (6-0, 202) is the designated starter, but sophomore Malcolm Agnew (5-9, 204) did just as much work against Wisconsin. Agnew has a squatty, Maurice Jones-Drew-type of body, and had some flashes against Wisconsin. Woods is a longer, slasher-type, but it was his first college game and he looked a bit tentative. Most observers think Woods won the job on merit, and since Agnew has a history of hamstring issues. Put this in perspective: Oregon State watchers are hailing the Wisconsin game as a near rushing revelation when these guys gained 45 and 35 yards, respectively.
|Receiver Markus Wheaton.|
A strength of the offense is its receivers crew. The headliner for a while has been senior Markus Wheaton (6-1, 192), who has led the team in receptions the last two seasons, and is in OSU's top ten for all-time leading receivers. He has good speed and is also a threat to carry the ball on fly sweeps. Mannion looks for him quite a bit, with Wheaton catching 8 balls against Wisconsin. Perhaps, though, sophomore Brandin Cooks (5-10, 179) has emerged as at least as dangerous of a threat, if not more. Cooks, the former UCLA commit who switched to OSU, caught 6 passes in the Wisconsin game, but looked far more capable of breaking it. He had some electric YAC, with some nice moves and quickness, and they'll get him touches on fly sweeps, too. OSU's tight ends are solid pass-catchers, and present some match-up problems with their size. Senior Colby Prince (6-5, 257) and sophomore Connor Hamlett (6-7, 259) are big boys, and big targets, and are not only good at sealing off defenders but turning up field and breaking tackles.
UCLA's defense has really made strides. It has looked like a different unit in the last game and a half, settling down and settling in, with far less over-pursuit and mis-tackles. One of the big reasons for that has been the improved play of inside linebacker Eric Kendricks, who had a rocky start to the season, but has now been a steady force. He leads the team in tackles with 25. UCLA's two primary outside linebackers, Anthony Barr and Jordan Zumwalt, have been the flashier performers, with six tackles for loss between the two of them while they display some exceptional quickness in covering the field as well as in pass rush.
Probably, though, the defensive MVP for UCLA's first three games has been senior defensive lineman Datone Jones, who has a whopping 8 tackles for loss, already more than he had all of last season (6.5). Jones is clearly coming into his own, benefitting from his experience but also the defensive end spot in UCLA's 3-4.
UCLA's passing defense has been pretty exceptional, currently 11th in the country in pass efficiency defense. It's not like it hasn't been challenged, either, going up against one of the most pass-happy teams in the country last week in Houston. Cornerback Sheldon Price had a career game last week, snagging three interceptions, and is tied for the nation's lead with four. One of the most interesting developments has been true freshman Randall Goforth, who stepped in to start at safety against Nebraska, and then got a great deal of playing time in the nickel last week against Houston. He's had a couple of minor hiccups, but has been very impressive, not only in pass coverage (a great interception last week) but in run support. He has 14 tackles on the season, which has him tied for second on the team, having not even played in the majority of the defensive snaps.
This is being a bit generous to Oregon State's offense. They looked effective enough against Wisconsin's defense, but we just can't take away much from that match-up. Still, OSU only scored 10 points, and even doubling that output against UCLA probably won't get it done in the Rose Bowl Saturday.
The coaching chess game will be an interesting one. Oregon State is a pretty straight-forward West Coast offense that tries to utilize a power running game, many times with two tight ends. UCLA, so far this season, has gone to its nickel defense quite often and has been very effective with it. But it will probably have to go back to its standard 3-4, and actually put more defenders in the box against OSU, which enables UCLA to blitz more and try to pressure Mannion. It will be interesting to see if Mora and UCLA's Defensive Coordinator Lou Spanos sit back in a zone, give the OSU receivers a bit of a cushion and make Mannion have to execute his short passing game to move the chains. Or, will Mora and Spanos press the receivers, try to take away the short dumps, risking Wheaton or Cooks get behind their man? Against Wisconsin, perhaps OSU's most effective offensive plays were when Mannion saw that Wisconsin's cornerbacks played off their receiver and executed a quick pitch and catch, and Cooks and Wheaton gained some YAC. So far this season, Mora and Spanos have come down on the more aggressive side in terms of scheming, so we'd expect at least some pressure on the line of scrimmage for some of the game.
If UCLA has had a defensive weakness, at least in its first game and a half, it was some softness against the run between the tackles. It will be interesting to see if the UCLA coaches go with a bigger body at the other inside linebacker spot, Damien Holmes, or opt more often for the quicker linebacker/safety hybrid, Dalton Hilliard.
On one hand, Oregon State can be dangerous on their return teams, with Jordan Poyer returning punts. If you remember, he's the guy who returned a punt 85 yards for a touchdown last season against the Bruins, and he had a big return called back against Wisconsin.
On the other hand, OSU looked a little shaky in some aspects of special teams, with some high snaps on punts; their punter, Keith Kostol, fumbling a snap; an easy, missed field goal, and some penalties.
Kostol, who replaced the very good Johnny Hekker from last season, is decent. Place kicker Trevor Romaine wasn't consistent in 2011 and he missed a 40-yarder against the Badgers.
UCLA's field goal kicker, Ka'imi Fairbairn, definitely settled down last week, making all three of his field goals. Punter Jeff Locke was again a big weapon against Houston with his ability to pooch punts within the 20. Steven Manfro had a 27-yard punt return and Damien Thigpen a 55-yard kick-off return, and the two look dangerous, which is something completely revolutionary for UCLA.
Like I said, it's difficult to evaluate Oregon State, because its game against Wisconsin just isn't a very good indicator of what type of team this is. And it was just one game.
The Beavers are probably a bit better than they were last season, even though they returned a good number of starters from that team, which went 3-9. But concede that they're better a year later, and Mannion has more experience.
But that just isn't going to be enough. As I said, Wisconsin just isn't very good, and Oregon State has really yet to be tested, especially its defense against an offense like UCLA's that's going to make you defend the entire field, instead of just that 10-yard portion of it from tackle to tackle like Wisconsin. On the other side of the ball, UCLA's defense is more athletic than Wisconsin's, and what it probably lacks in inside, run-stuffing capability, it makes up for with quickness. UCLA's defense should put in a comparable performance to Wisconsin's, perhaps conceding more yards on the ground but be stingier through the air. And again, 10, or probably even 20 points, isn't going to get it done Saturday.
Last year, in Corvallis, UCLA beat the Beavers, 27-19. Be conservative and concede each of these teams some improvement, and now with the game at home this year, UCLA wins. But then, factor in the sea change in the UCLA program, and in UCLA's offensive and defensive schemes, under Mora, and you have to figure in a couple of touchdowns worth of difference.
A big topic of discussions this week has been about UCLA having played three games and Oregon State only one, and coming off a bye week. Most of the time, bye weeks are good only to get back your injured players, but OSU didn't really have injured to get back. it can give you an advantage injury-wise over your opponent, but UCLA is pretty injury free. On the other hand, there is a distinct disadvantage, especially for a team to have its bye early in the season, in terms of getting experience and its comfort level. With UCLA getting through its three games very healthy, the fact that it's played three games to OSU's one is a distinct advantage in experience and comfort level. Oregon State will still be shaking off the rust, not just because it's only their second game of the season but since they haven't played in two weeks.
Then, because of the 12:30 game time, and the 92-degree weather expected in Pasadena Saturday, UCLA gets another advantage. UCLA is severely heat-tested, while OSU hasn't seen anything like playing on a Rose Bowl field that will heat up to 100.
Oregon State 21