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.
Oregon State’s Defense vs. UCLA’s Offense
Oregon’s State’s defense is helmed by Kalani Sitake, the well-respected former defensive coordinator for Utah who decided to come to Corvallis when Andersen was hired as the Beaver head coach. Sitake is a rising star in the coaching profession, and he is working on installing an attacking, physical defense at Oregon State, similar to the one he helped to build at Utah.
It’s a work in progress, obviously, and Oregon State’s defense this year is far from a top-level Pac-12 unit. As it stands, the Beavers are one of the worst defenses in the Pac-12, pretty much across the board. The Beavers give up six yards per play (100th in the country), five yards per rush (99th in the country), and 7.8 yards per pass attempt (91st in the country). They give up a lot of explosive plays, and don’t do a great job of disrupting offenses, with one of the worst sack percentages in the country at 118th in the nation.
They have been marginally better of late, though, with nice showings against both Colorado and Utah in the last two weeks. Oregon State actually did a very nice job of holding down Utah’s rushing attack last week, and the Beavers limited Utah’s big play potential. Perhaps the past two games are a sign that the Beavers are starting to gel under Sitake’s scheme (or, perhaps it’s a sign that neither Colorado nor Utah has a great offense). Sitake runs primarily a 3-4 scheme, though Oregon State will occasionally go with a four-man front.
Oregon State’s defensive line hasn’t been great this year, but they have gotten solid play at the nose tackle position. Senior nose tackle Kyle Peko (6’1, 305) hasn’t put together a super-impressive year statistically, but he has actually been very solid on the interior, and has occupied blockers well. He’ll be flanked by senior defensive end Jaswha James (6’2, 266) and redshirt sophomore defensive end Baker Pritchard (6’3, 258). Both players give up some weight for typical 3-4 defensive ends, and they haven’t really provided much in the way of disruptive play on the edges. Oregon State has made an effort to get backup defensive end Titus Failauga (6’3, 258) more involved recently, and in fact even started him in a four-man front last week against Utah. Failauga and fellow backup defensive end Lavonte Barnett (6’3, 265) actually are the co-leaders on the team for tackles for loss this season. Outside of Peko, it isn’t a very talented group, and the players are a bit undersized for a three-man front.
The best player in the linebacker corps is probably junior middle linebacker Rommel Mageo (6’2, 233). He leads the team in tackles, but is also effective in coverage and is a decent blitzer when Oregon State brings pressure. Junior outside linebacker Caleb Saulo (6’1, 225) and sophomore outside linebacker Manase Hungalu (6’1, 230) have improved since the beginning of the year. Saulo in particular has become a bit of a playmaker, with a pick-six this year and a team-high 14 tackles against Stanford. The final linebacker position is in a bit of a flux this season, with redshirt freshman Bright Ugwoegbu (6’2, 217) listed as the starter, but his backup, redshirt freshman Jonathan Willis (6’1, 216) consistently outplaying him over the last few games. Willis had a really nice performance against Utah last week, recording 11 tackles and looking very energetic on the field. He actually leads the linebackers with 2.5 tackles for loss this season, so he’ll probably see plenty of time on Saturday.
The secondary has also been fairly poor this season for Oregon State, though much of that is probably due to the lack of a significant pass rush up front. It’s a young group, for the most part, with the older player a true junior, so there’s hope that this will gel into a very good Pac-12 unit in the next couple of years. Sophomore free safety Justin Strong (5’11, 198) is the second-leading tackler on the team this year, which really speaks to the lack of great play Oregon State is getting up front. Strong is nursing an ankle injury and is unlikely to play on Saturday — with him out, junior Devin Chappell (6’2, 200) is expected to get the nod alongside fellow safety Brandon Arnold (5’11, 198). Junior nickel Cyril Noland (6’1, 206) has started every game for the Beavers this year and he’s been solid enough in the slot, with an interception and a couple of passes defended this season. Junior Kendall Hill (6’2, 204) and redshirt freshman Dwayne Williams (5’9, 176) were the team’s two starting cornerbacks against Utah last week. Oregon State lost starters Larry Scott (6’0, 192) and Treston Decoud (6’3, 208) to injury in recent weeks, which thrust Hill, especially, into the limelight. He drew praise from Sitake for his performance against Utah last week, and he’s a physical corner. Scott has been back in practice this week, though, which should put Hill back on the bench.
UCLA’s offense was explosive but inefficient last week against Colorado. The Bruins punted on 7 of 12 drives against the Buffaloes, but had a number of huge plays in the game, including an 82-yard touchdown run for Paul Perkins. That inefficiency, though, cost UCLA, with the many lost drives, coupled with Colorado’s ball-control offense, adding up to a near-crippling deficit in total offensive plays.
Josh Rosen wasn’t at his best against Colorado, looking a little more inaccurate and indecisive than he’s looked in his better performances this year. He was aided, though, by exceptional play from receiver Jordan Payton, who had one of his best performances as a Bruin against the Buffs. Rosen reverted a bit to throwing mostly to Payton and Thomas Duarte against Colorado, and it’s understandable, given how reliable those two have been for him.
On the injury front, Perkins was limping pretty heavily against Colorado at times, so it’ll be interesting to see if he’s 100% against Oregon State. Stephen Johnson, the freshman receiver, is questionable for the game, as is senior receiver Devin Fuller, who appeared to suffer an ankle injury against Colorado. Caleb Benenoch and Kolton Miller both practiced this week, per Jim Mora, so they should be good to go for the game.
Oregon State doesn’t do anything particularly well on defense. The Beavers don’t rush the passer well, they don’t defend the run well, and they don’t defend the pass well. They’ve been a little bit better of late, especially against the run, but Utah was also really trying to force the run against Oregon State last week after not running the ball enough against USC, so it’s hard to take too much from that defensive performance for the Beavers.
UCLA has a pretty good offense. The Bruins are prone to a little inconsistency, and the play calling can get a little predictable at times, but the talent is good, Josh Rosen has been very effective this year, and the running game, if Perkins is able to go, is generally pretty good.
UCLA should be able to get what it wants against Oregon State’s defense. There isn’t a really scary matchup for the offensive line, and the Bruins should be able to get a nice push up front. With the lack of pass rushers, Rosen should also have plenty of time to pick apart the weakened secondary as well.
It’s hard to envision a way that this defense does a real number on UCLA’s offense. About the only way we’d see it is if Oregon State elects to stack the box and UCLA still tries to run up the middle even with no numbers advantage. As that has already happened this year once or twice, we’re not ruling it out, but the talent disparity between these teams is so stark that UCLA should be able to put together plenty of scoring drives int his one.
Oregon State’s kicker is Garrett Owens (5’9, 181), and he’s been solid this year. He has made 10 of 13 kicks, with all three misses coming from 40+. He has hit a 50-harder this year, and has been automatic from inside of 40. Ka'imi Fairbairn, though, is probably the best kicker in the Pac-12 this season, and has only missed one kick, from 50 yards. He’s also been great on kickoffs, so we’ll give the advantage here to the Bruins.
Sophomore Nick Porebski (5’10, 185) handles punting duties for the Beavers, and like most punters, he’s better than UCLA’s collective punting situation. He’s averaging 41.7 yards per punt, with 17 of his 46 punts downed inside the 20, and only one touchback. He doesn’t get great hangtime, which has led to 24 of his 46 punts being returned. Matt Mengel had a nicer day last week against Colorado, but he’s still a below average Pac-12 punter, and is prone to inconsistency. Kenny Walker could also fill in at a moment’s notice, and he provides an intriguing option as a punter since he can also take off and run for a first down. We’ll give the advantage here to Oregon State.
UCLA’s return game is completely up in the air heading into this one. Ishmael Adams, Devin Fuller, and Stephen Johnson are all nicked up in some way or another, so it’s unknown who will even be handling kicks and punts in this game. We could see Randall Goforth taking a stab at it, or perhaps Darren Andrews. On Oregon State’s side, junior receiver Rahmel Dockery (5’10, 180) and Bolden handle the majority of kick and punt returns. Bolden has been excellent on kick returns this year, and has one kickoff return for a touchdown. Dockery has been solid, but unspectacular, with punt returns, recording 10 for 68 yards. Oregon State is very good on kick return coverage as well, so we’ll give the edge here, given the uncertainty on UCLA’s end, to the Beavers.
ADVANTAGE: Oregon State
If last week’s performance against Colorado is any indication, no games remaining on UCLA’s schedule can be considered “easy”. Oregon State isn’t very good on either end, but neither was Colorado, and the Bruins still managed to find themselves down in the 4th quarter of that game — at home.
That said, we can’t imagine UCLA will, first, have the same number of players injured throughout the game this Saturday, especially at inside linebacker, and, second, if they do, the Bruins will likely be better equipped to deal with it now that they’ve gotten guys like Jayon Brown, Cameron Judge, and others experience playing unfamiliar positions.
UCLA has a massive talent advantage in this game, even with all of the injuries. UCLA should be able to move the ball with relative ease on the Oregon State defense, and should be able to convert a healthy percentage of drives into touchdowns. On the other side, Oregon State’s offense isn’t good, and the passing attack is very bad. If UCLA can stop the run (which will probably require putting extra guys in the box), that’ll go along way toward completely shutting down the Beaver offense. Whether UCLA actually does elect to stack the box is anyone’s guess, though.
There is some inclement weather to consider, but it’s hard to project who that will favor at this point. UCLA should win this game fairly handily, since the talent disparity is so great and given that UCLA’s offensive and defensive lines are better than their Oregon State counterparts. Heading into the three tough games at the end of the year, UCLA should exit Corvallis still in control of its own destiny in the Pac-12.
Oregon State 24