Oregon State’s Offense vs. UCLA’s Defense
When Gary Andersen made the decision to leave Wisconsin for Oregon State, he obviously must have done it with the long view in mind. He couldn’t have possibly thought there was any chance to win early in Corvallis. Andersen walked into an incredibly depleted roster, with a lack of talent and depth on both sides of the ball. The season has certainly reflected that lack of talent and depth, with Oregon State putting together one of its worst seasons in memory, especially on the offensive side of the ball.
The big loss, obviously, was the four-year starter at quarterback Sean Mannion. Although his career ended poorly with a lackluster senior campaign, Mannion was, overall, a good quarterback for the Beavers, and certainly gave the Oregon State offense some continuity. Of course, much of that continuity was due to former head coach Mike Riley, who built a pretty effective pro-style offense in Corvallis over his many years as the head coach. With Andersen, Oregon State has transitioned to more of a shotgun-spread offense, with plenty of zone read and other trappings of the spread offenses that have taken over the Pac-12. Given Andersen’s track record, we have little doubt he’ll eventually be able to build a solid offense at Oregon State.
The key word there is “eventually” though. As it stands, Oregon State is, by many metrics, the worst offense in the Pac-12. The Beavers average the fewest yards per play in the Pac-12 (4.8), and much of that is due to an almost complete inability to pass the ball. Despite having a credible rushing attack (4.4 yards per play, 58th in the country), Oregon State is averaging an abysmal 5.5 yards per pass attempt. That puts the Beavers at 115th in the country, a full yard per attempt behind Colorado, the next worst passing team in the Pac-12. The Beavers are on pace to score their fewest points since 1997, when Oregon State only played 11 games and when college football was a very different game.
Oregon State has not gotten solid quarterback play this year, and it’s understandable since the Beavers had little depth behind Mannion and had to audition a variety of true and redshirt freshmen this spring and fall for the job. True freshman Seth Collins (6’3, 195) won the starting job, but he hurt his knee last Thursday before Oregon State’s game against Utah, and has actually been ruled out for this weekend against UCLA. It’s a blow to Oregon State because, despite not being a great passer, Collins was very effective running the ball (team-high 536 yards on the ground) and UCLA has struggled to defend running quarterbacks. With Collins out, Oregon State will turn to redshirt freshman Nick Mitchell (6’3, 198) to start for the second week in a row. Mitchell actually performed surprisingly well against Utah’s tough defense last week, completing 19 of 35 passes for 204 yards and a touchdown. That came on the heels, though, of a nine of 24 showing against Colorado, so the jury is still out whether he can put together some consistently effective performances. He did run the ball fairly well against Utah as well, carrying the ball 12 times for 40 yards, but he’s not the runner that Collins is.
The immortal Storm Woods (6’0, 207) is back for his redshirt senior year, and he’ll probably start against UCLA on Saturday. He’s been banged up this year with a lingering knee injury, so he has only carried the ball 28 times over the last four games, and hasn’t been particularly effective, with just 111 yards to show for those carries. He’s been an effective back throughout his career, though, and can be dangerous catching the ball out of the backfield. With Barrs-Woods ailing, Oregon State has turned to redshirt freshman Ryan Nall (6’2, 255) more and more. Nall is more of a fullback, but he’s been pretty effective running the ball this year. He had 20 carries for 122 yards against Colorado, but somewhat inexplicably didn’t have a single carry against Utah last week, as the Beavers opted for speedier running backs with the ability to get to the edge. Against UCLA, Nall will probably get more substantial carries. Junior receiver Victor Bolden (5’9, 174) has also gotten a considerable amount of touches out of the backfield, where he’s been able to use his speed and quickness to good effect. Redshirt junior Chris Brown (5’10, 202) will also see time as the third true back in the rotation.
In the receiving game, it’s basically a three man show between Bolden, redshirt sophomore Jordan Villamin (6’5, 231), and redshirt freshman Datrin Guyton (6’5, 203). It’s actually a pretty talented triumvirate of receivers, but they just haven’t been rewarded with very good quarterback play. Bolden is the speedster in the group, with the ability to play a variety of roles in the slot, outside, or even out of the backfield. Villamin has been the primary outside target for Oregon State this year, and he’s made a number of big plays. He has good hands, and, with his size, can present mismatches for any defender matched up against him. Guyton has emerged in Pac-12 play as a legitimate weapon, with very good athleticism and, like Villamin, the kind of size that causes mismatches. Again, though, the issue is that Oregon State just doesn’t have the quarterback talent to take advantage of some solid pieces in the receiving corps.
The OSU offensive line is actually not half bad. The Beavers have only allowed 14 sacks this season, which is good for a really bad offense, and Oregon State has run the ball pretty effectively. The line has been banged up recently, with starting left tackle Sean Harlow (6’4, 300) going down with a season-ending ankle injury against Colorado. In his stead, redshirt sophomore Will Hopkins (6’7, 278) got the nod against Utah and performed pretty well, given the circumstances. Redshirt junior Isaac Seumalo (6’5, 298) is probably the best of the remaining group, and he has the ability to play all five positions on the line. He’ll start at right guard, most likely, on Saturday. He, too, has been nicked up, and was nursing a foot injury for most of the early season. At left guard, sophomore Fred Lauina (6’4, 316) could start, but he also missed last week’s game against Utah with a hamstring strain. If he’s unable to go, former UCLA target Kammy Delp (6’3, 327) could get the nod. Redshirt senior Josh Mitchell (6’3, 305) will start at center, and, more than likely, redshirt junior Dustin Stanton (6’6, 300) will start at right tackle.
Oregon State is obviously pretty banged up coming into this game, and for an offense that was already not very good, suffering this many injuries is pretty well devastating.
Speaking of devastating injuries, UCLA has weathered more than its fair share this year. Already losing three starters to season-ending injuries within the first three games in Fabian Moreau, Myles Jack, and Eddie Vanderdoes, the Bruins have since lost, for various periods of time, Deon Hollins, Kenny Young, Isaako Savaiinaea, Marcus Rios, Ishmael Adams, and Josh Woods. As it stands, heading into Saturday’s game, it’s uncertain who will play, but Jim Mora said this week that of the injured, Hollins, Young, and Rios were all practicing this week, which leaves Adams, Savaiinaea, and Woods as the remaining players questionable for this week’s game.
In any case, UCLA has had to do some shuffling, particularly in last week’s game against Colorado. The defensive line has remained relatively healthy since the injury to Vanderdoes, but the linebacker corps has been a disaster health-wise. UCLA was down to moving Cameron Judge inside at one point after the injuries to Savaiinaea and Woods, and Judge hasn’t practiced inside all year. Jayon Brown had to play nearly the entire game, and spent the majority of the second half playing Mike linebacker, a position he hadn’t practiced all year. Shockingly, the results with Brown and Judge in the game at the same time were probably better than any other linebacker combination throughout the rest of the game, so UCLA might have stumbled upon a solid combo there.
The secondary was also in bad shape by the end of the game, with both Rios and Adams missing time. True freshman safety Nathan Meadors had to come in and play cornerback and naturally, given the weirdness of the game, he sealed the win with an interception in man coverage on the outside.
UCLA’s defense has been nowhere close to the near-elite unit we were expecting this year. Injuries have done a share of the damage, but UCLA has also probably been too passive at times, with the corners often playing off coverage, and the staff very rarely electing to bring extra pressure. It’s a true bend-but-don’t-break scheme, arguably even moreso than the previous three years under Jim Mora.
We’re not a huge fan of this defense at this point, so read this more as our overall appraisal of Oregon State’s offense. If the Beavers had Collins available in this game, we’d be more inclined to call this a draw, since UCLA hasn’t defended running quarterbacks well, but with him most likely out for the game, there’s little Oregon State can do that UCLA can’t contend with.
Oregon State, if it’s smart, will probably still try to establish the run against UCLA. If Barrs-Woods is healthy, he could have a nice day against UCLA’s defense, and Mitchell, while not the runner that Collins is, could get some nice gains against a UCLA defense that’s proven pretty undisciplined against the zone read and running quarterbacks. But neither Barrs-Woods nor Mitchell is particularly scary as a runner, and it’s hard to envision Oregon State hitting the big plays necessary to keep the offense out of 2nd and long and 3rd and long consistently.
If UCLA can force Oregon State to throw the ball, which we’d anticipate happening to some extent, the Bruins should be able to consistently get off the field against a bad passing attack. We’d like to see a real effort by UCLA to stack the box and dictate Oregon State’s decision-making. If the Bruins opt for pure base defense against the Beavers, Oregon State could have some success on the ground, which could needlessly prolong the competitive portion of this game.
The Bruins are not as talented as they were at the beginning of the year with all of the losses, but even with those losses, they are a few orders of magnitude more talented than the Beavers. If UCLA can key on stopping the run, and load up the box a bit against Oregon State’s rushing attack, the Bruins could have a really nice bounceback performance.