UCLA's Offense vs. Oregon State's Defense
Let's be clear up front that Oregon State is not, in any way, shape, or form a good football team. They're 2-7 for a reason. That said, they've been much more competitive this year than they were last year, and they certainly do pose some challenges.
The defense is, inasmuch as there is one, the strength for Oregon State. The Beavers don't have a great rush defense, ranking 121st in the country according to Bill Connelly's S&P+ measure, and they allow about 5.4 yards per rush attempt, which is somehow not dead last in the Pac-12, with Oregon and California both worse. The pass defense is pretty good, ranking 29th in the country according to S&P+, and they allow about 6.6 yards per pass attempt. Of course, some of that pass defense is probably due to teams having such an easy time running on the Beavs, but still, they're much better defending the pass than the run. Interestingly, the Beavers have the least disruptive pass rush in the Pac-12, recording a sack just 3.5% of passing plays. They also don't force many turnovers, with an average of just 1.2 takeaways per game.
Up front, the 3-4 defense that Oregon State runs has a few big bodies but an overall lack of experience. There hasn't been a lot of stability on the line, with a variety of players having 4 or 5 starts, so it's hard to get a handle on who will actually play the most. Among the group, junior defensive end Baker Pritchard (6'3, 272) might be the best player. He has 1.5 sacks this year and 22 tackles. The interior defensive line is comprised of either a redshirt freshman nose tackle in Elu Aydon (6'3, 327) or a sophomore in Sumner Houston (6'2, 289). Houston has started six games, with Aydon starting just four, but neither has made a significant impact. The other defensive tack/defensive end position will be manned by a combination of sophomore Kalani Vakameilalo (6'3, 311) and junior Paisa Savea (6'4, 293). Vakameilalo has started five games with Savea just getting one start, but Savea might be the more effective player. Overally, it's not a playmaking defensive line, but it has shown up at times with great short yardage stops.
The linebacker corps has had its issues as well, and has allowed some big plays on the ground to get past them. Senior inside linebacker Caleb Saulo (6'1, 235) is the leading tackler, and he has good mobility and can pursue pretty well sideline to sideline. He's asked to do a little bit of everything, from rushing the passer (two sacks, four tackles for loss) to covering running backs and tight ends (4 passes defended, one interception). Junior Manase Hungalu (6'1, 232) has been a little banged up this year, but he has been solid as well. Sophomore outside linebacker Bright Ugwoegbu (6'2, 226) is the best pass rusher in the group, with 11 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks. Oregon State spends a lot of time in nickel, so typically those are the three major players, but you can also expect to see sophomore Jonathan Willis (6'1, 228) and junior Titus Failauga (6'3, 249). Overall, it's a bit of an undersized linebacker corps, which might also be causing them some issues in the run game.
The secondary has been legitimately decent, and it's led by senior safety Devin Chappell (6'2, 203). Chappell is the second-leading tackler on the team, and also has six passes defended and has forced an astonishing four fumbles. Oregon State will bring him up to the line of scrimmage quite a bit, and he has five tackles for loss. Redshirt freshman cornerback Xavier Crawford (6'1, 188) has been a nice surprise for the Beavs. He has eight passes defended this year, and has the size and speed to match up pretty well with a variety of receivers. Chappell's safety mate is junior Brandon Arnold (5'11, 206) and he has recorded 54 tackles this year. Arnold and Chappell are both asked to play quite a bit of run defense, and they do about as well as can be expected. Crawford's cornerback partner is senior Treston Decoud (6'3, 208) is an experienced corner with good size, and he has two picks this year for 88 return yards.
For UCLA's purposes, the offense looked very bad last week against Colorado, with the Bruins going back quite a bit more to the offensive style of the first seven weeks of the season, and going quite a bit away from the pass-happy attack against Utah. The Bruins were still unable to run the ball, with Sotonye Jamabo taking the vast majority of the snaps at running back and not getting much traction up front. UCLA's run game is abysmal, with terrible blocking on the offensive line that has led to tentative running from every running back UCLA throws out there. It's possibly unfixable.
UCLA's passing game was not much better against Colorado, and Josh Rosen has been ruled out for the season after shoulder surgery, meaning that this is truly Mike Fafaul's show. Even with Fafaul's struggles last week, we still tend to think that any hope for the UCLA offense rests on the passing game, given the complete failure of the run game, and that means the offense rests on Fafaul's shoulders. He looked capable enough against Washington State and at times against Utah, but he looked pretty bad last week against Colorado. If UCLA wants to win two of the next three, he's going to have to significantly raise his level of play.
Eric Yarber told reporters this week that Theo Howard will get more time going forward, and we're really hoping that's true. UCLA's receiver rotation has been questionable at best this year, and Howard's playing time has been the most inexplicable issue in that rotation. With how many drops issues the receivers are having, it can't hurt to get Howard more time going forward.
UCLA's offense is below average and so is Oregon State's defense, so this is pretty much a wash. We thought about giving it to Oregon State, just because UCLA's run offense is worse than pretty much any other team's anything this year, but we think the Bruins should be able to get something through the air. Ultimately, even though Oregon State's run defense is bad, we have zero confidence in UCLA's ability to run on anyone this year, and that includes a bad run defense.
The Bruins will no doubt try to run, and maybe they'll have some success. We doubt it, though, and the end result is going to be that UCLA probably expenses a decent amount of offensive possessions trying to run the ball. Fafaul should be able to lead some drives through the air, especially as the run offense looks increasingly inept over the course of the game. The big key for Fafaul will be avoiding turnovers, but, like we said, Oregon State's defense isn't good at forcing them.
So, Oregon State should be able to stop UCLA's run-heavy drives, but the Bruins will be able to score some through the air, and should put up 20+ points.