This story is by BRO contributor, herenowucla.
Oregon State’s Offense vs UCLA’s Defense: Men Versus Boys
The Oregon State Beavers came into their first season under new Head Coach Gary Anderson with a depleted roster. Anderson’s predecessor Mike Riley was a less than passionate recruiter, and toward the end of his time in Corvallis, a very ineffective coach. Under the Riley regime, the Beavs ran a pro-style offense, and last year marked the end of the college career for the PAC-12’s career passing-yardage leader, Sean Mannion.
The new offensive coordinator for Oregon State is Dave Baldwin. Baldwin had the #1-ranked offense in the country last season at Colorado State, so there was hope that he would be able to make magic in Corvallis. However, the conversion from the pro-style offense of Riley to the spread attack of Baldwin has proven to be a difficult one. This program is going through one of the biggest rebuilds that I can remember. Gary Anderson and his staff are the right guys for the job, but this is going to take some time.
Baldwin’s biggest challenge heading into the season was finding a quarterback who could play in the spread system. Mannion, even though he was a sub-.500 quarterback for his career at OSU, was still a third-round draft choice of the St. Louis Rams. As a 4-year starter at OSU, Mannion prevented anyone on the current roster from seeing significant snaps, and as such Anderson inherited nobody at the position with any game experience. Enter the trio of true freshman Seth Collins, and redshirt freshmen Nick Mitchell and Marcus McMaryion. These three have split time at the quarterback position for OSU in 2015, with Collins getting the most reps, Mitchell as the current back-up and McMaryon playing spot minutes as the third stringer. None of the three quarterbacks are ready to play at the PAC-12 level, and developing a game plan to get any production out of them has been a huge challenge for Baldwin and the coaching staff.
In this game, OSU tried to run the ball to set up the pass. Against Utah last week, OSU did a pretty good job of keeping the Utah defense off balance, and was able to move the quarterback around enough to move the ball a little and keep the game close. It looked like OSU took the same tact against UCLA, starting out their first few drives with first-down runs, followed by short passes designed to get the chains moving. For the majority of the first quarter OSU played pretty clean football offensively, and although never really threatening to score on the UCLA defense, did control field position.
But like all young teams, the dreaded turnover can unwind any progress an offense is making. Nick Mitchell, who got the start in this game for the injured Collins, fumbled with 5 seconds left in the first quarter. This was a deflating blow to the fragile psyche of the Beavers, as they had just gained three first-downs running the ball and looked like they might have something going against the UCLA defense.
On this specific play, UCLA showed a look defensively with Aaron Wallace on the line as a potential fifth rusher and safety Adarius Pickett up to the edge of the box, something UCLA showed of a lot in this game. The boundary corner, Nathan Meadors, also came to the edge of the box, indicating cover of the back. This look caused Mitchell to check out of a pass play. It appeared that OSU’s basic check was to the zone-read play and that was the audible they used here. Mitchell faked a sweep to running back Ryan Nall, and kept the ball on an inside zone play. Meadors hit Mitchell from behind and popped the ball loose and it was recovered by UCLA at midfield. What struck me as hopefully a sign that the UCLA defense has grown up a lot it the last few weeks was Pickett calling the audible out pre-snap, and relaying it to his teammates. When the ball was snapped they all stayed true to their assignments and handled the run play beautifully. Nice adjustment after being gashed earlier in the drive.
The turnover led to a field goal for UCLA, but you could see the momentum shift away from Oregon State. Two plays into the next OSU drive, Mitchell rolled out to his left and threw a really poor pass in traffic, against his body. The pass was intercepted by Randall Goforth, off a tip of the ball by Jaleel Wadood, and the Bruins were in business again, this time in OSU territory. What is hopefully another good sign for the UCLA defense was the recognition of Wadood on this play. He moved up to the line pre-snap, recognized it was a pass play, and turned around and sprinted to a spot before looking for the ball. This recognition comes from film sessions and shows how the defense might be growing a bit in its feel for the game.
This turnover led to a UCLA touchdown, and you sort of got the feeling the route was on. The next drive was dominated by Takkarist McKinley and the defensive line, forcing a punt. After the UCLA offense had made the game 17-0, another turnover by Mitchell gave the Bruins the ball again near mid-field and they cashed it in from there to make it 24-0 at halftime. At halftime this game was over, but the defense was able to control the line of scrimmage against OSU in the second half and preserve the shutout.
OSU is a very bad football team, but the UCLA defense played really well in this game. What the defense did really well was get pressure rushing four, and the game is pretty easy defensively when you can do that. The UCLA defensive line came to play, and after a few runs in the first half where they looked to be caught off guard some by the blocking scheme of OSU, they really adjusted well to shut down any ball movement.
The UCLA defense didn’t blitz a lot, nor did they outright stack the box, but what the scheme did do was shade the box against the run, and that seemed to confuse the OSU quarterback. There was a lot of safety presence in the box, and that slid Wallace or Kene Orjioke down to the line of scrimmage as a potential fifth rusher. OSU didn’t have a counter for that look and when they tried to run outside the two rush ends in that formation, Wallace, Orjioke and Deon Hollins did a nice job of flattening the run and forcing the back either toward the sideline out of bounds or back to the middle of the field.
My only complaint is that OSU was able to get rushing yards in between the tackles in this game, and that has to be a concern going forward with Utah and USC being power run teams. Yards-between-the-tackles against a 3-4 usually is a sign of poor linebacker play, and we saw more of the same from Kenny Young in this game. Jayon Brown was pretty good at diagnosing the play and filling a gap against the inside runs, but Young is still struggling with his reads and fills.
UCLA’s Offense vs Oregon State’s Defense: Let the Freshman Drive
Oregon State has been pretty good defensively this season and that should come to nobody’s surprise given that the new defensive coordinator in Corvallis is Kalani Sitake. Sitake built one of the best defenses in the country during his time at Utah, leading the nation last season in sacks and putting multiple guys into the NFL. Sitake’s scheme likes to bring pressure, but unlike other defenses in this conference who like to bring pressure for bringing-pressure sakes (I’m talking to you, Todd Graham) Sitake likes to bring smart pressure. He also likes to employ multiple fronts and disguise coverages on the back end. To define his defensive scheme is hard, because he is really good at adapting the scheme to fit the personnel. But like with the Beaver offense, the OSU defense is exceedingly light on personnel, and there isn’t much of a scheme that a coordinator can employ that will produce a dominating defense with this group.
When a team wins 41-0 on the road, running up nearly 700 yards of offense, there isn’t much to write about schematically. But what was interesting about this performance from the UCLA offense is that most of the yardage and all of the points came in two quarters of the game, and that is really impressive.
Early on in the game, OSU looked to be using a base, 4-man front with nickel coverage. Mixing zone and man coverage seemed to confuse UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen for a few plays but that was about it. On UCLA’s first series Rosen threw a ball that appeared to hit the OSU defensive back in the leg (as he was basically tackling the receiver before the ball arrived). This was sort of a nothing play, but on replay Rosen just made the wrong read, as he had a wide-open Darren Andrews running past the second level of the defense. I think the zone coverage might have surprised Rosen and what I found interesting is after the play he immediately signaled something to the sideline and began communicating something to the UCLA offensive linemen. On the very next play, Rosen audibled to a designed throw and had Jordan Payton on a corner route open. The ball was thrown a bit high and probably could have been caught by Payton but went incomplete. The result of the drive was a punt, but it looked like Rosen saw something recognition-wise that he was able to use in deciphering when OSU was in zone versus man coverage.
On UCLA’s next drive the run game with Paul Perkins led the way. Using designed runs the UCLA offense was able to stay on schedule. Rosen was able to convert two third-down passes to Andrews that put the UCLA offense in plus territory. If not for two drive-killing penalties by left guard Alex Redmond, the drive would have resulted in points. Even though UCLA didn’t score on that drive, it was pretty clear two series into the game that Rosen had the OSU defense figured out.
By the third UCLA drive, the offense had established Andrews and Payton. With Perkins continuing to pound away, the OSU defense had to bring their safeties up toward the box and play almost pure zone coverage. Defending UCLA can be such a pick-your-poison proposition when the offense is humming. UCLA can hurt you with Perkins and his vision and ability to make people miss, or they can hurt you with its passing game, or they can use their packaged plays to take advantage of match-ups when you’re cheating. In this game, OSU had no answer for defending the UCLA wide receivers one-on-one, and with 6-7 guys consistently committed to stopping the Perkins-led running game, OSU was forced to play zone coverage in the secondary. This is where Thomas Duarte really took over. He’s always been a zone killer for the UCLA offense, and in the second quarter Duarte caught two touchdown passes from Rosen and had a another 51-yard catch to set up a touchdown run by Perkins, almost all against zone coverage. Rosen’s recognition of what the defense was doing led to 24 points in the second quarter and really put the game away for UCLA, with the help of his wide receivers. It’s a great sign that the UCLA coaching staff is willing to turn a game over to a true freshman like they have these past three games, and Rosen has earned that with his ability to understand defenses and execute the UCLA offensive playbook.
This was a really explosive effort by the UCLA offense in this game. 41 points in two quarters, regardless of the caliber of the other team, is impressive. Obviously Rosen was excellent in this game, but the skill guys for UCLA all played well. Playing in that weather in front of maybe 10,000 fans is not an easy task.
The offensive line went with a different lineup this week and I’m not sure why. Alex Redmond had a tough game, several mental mistakes with the penalties, and a few missed blocks. He’s had a mixed year and at this stage, unless Kenny Lacy is hurt, I’d prefer to see Lacy in there if UCLA is going to stick with Caleb Benenoch at guard.
It was great to see some of the back-up receivers get some time in this game. Austin Roberts, Alex Van Dyke and Jordan Lasley all looked like they got significant reps against OSU. That’s been something we’ve been calling for all year, if for no other reason than they’re all going to be needed next season and could use the game experience. Glad to see them travel this week and contribute in this game.
Conclusion: Corvallis In The Rear View
Obviously, OSU is really bad, but this was a dominating “box-to-wire” performance for UCLA. Sure, the first quarter was scoreless, but it was pretty clear it was only a matter of when UCLA took over the game and not a matter of if. This was the type of performance many of us expected to see against Colorado and didn’t get it, but we got it this week against OSU. The gameplan sets the tone with college players, and the coaching staff did a nice job of putting the players in a position to succeed and trusting them to execute. The defensive gameplan forced OSU to throw the ball, and throw it from the pocket and the coaches trusted the defenders to make plays. The offense was put in the hands of Rosen to make the right reads and execute, and Rosen and the offense delivered. Not much more to it than that. Morale-wise, this has to be a confidence-boosting win for UCLA as well. Coming home for Washington State, the Bruins should be feeling good about their chances. Wazzu presents some issues and UCLA doesn’t play well on Senior Day, but given where this team is, to me that game looks like a match-up that favors UCLA. Utah and USC are still looming, but if UCLA can beat Washington State they’re sitting at 8-2 and have some momentum heading to Salt Lake. That’s more than I thought they would have after leaving Palo Alto a few weeks ago. Good win at Reser, back home for Wazzu.