DE Takkarist McKinley (Photo by Steve Cheng)

Game Week: UCLA vs. Oregon State Full Preview

Nov. 10 -- UCLA is a somewhat heavy favorite going into this game, but much will still depend on how the offense can perform against the Oregon State defense...

Facts and Factors

• The Oregon State Beavers come to the Rose Bowl Saturday to face the UCLA Bruins. 

• The game will be televised on the Pac-12 Networks at 6:00 p.m., with Ted Robinson, Yogi Roth and Cindy Brunson calling the action.

• UCLA is 3-6 and 1-5, while the Beavers are 2-7 overall and 1-5 in the conference.

• UCLA is currently fifth place in the Pac-12 South, and Oregon State is sixth -- last -- in the Pac-12 North. 

• UCLA leads the all-time series, 42-16-4, that goes back to 1930.  In the last six games, going back to 2008, the match-up is 3-3. 

• Last year, UCLA dominated OSU in Corvallis, 41-0, with UCLA running for 284 yards in that game.  Soso Jamabo ran 9 times for 90 yards and Nate Starks 3 times for 48 yards.  

• The last time the two teams played in the Rose Bowl, in 2012, the Beavers upset #19-ranked UCLA, 27-20.  UCLA's record against OSU in Los Angeles is 23-8-3 and 9-4 at the Rose Bowl. 

• In 1980, UCLA played Oregon State in Tokyo, Japan, in the Mirage Bowl, which was a regularly-scheduled game played in Japan from 1977 to 1993.  The 14th-ranked Bruins, led by Terry Donahue, beat OSU 34-3 to finish the season 9-2. 

• UCLA’s relationship with OSU for the last 21 years is probably one of the weirdest with any Pac-12/10 opponent.  UCLA hasn’t played OSU last year, but then didn't play them the previous two seasons, and didn’t play them in 2004 and 2003; UCLA played the Beavers two straight years at home (2005, 2006), and then two straight years in Corvallis (1998, 1999); and UCLA is 6-2 in Corvallis, but 4-3 at home against the Beavers in that time.

• The Oregon State game marks the 20th consecutive year UCLA will hold Military Appreciation Day at the Rose Bowl.  All active members of the U.S. Armed Forces can receive one free bench ticket to the game by showing military ID to the Rose Bowl ticket office on game day. 

https://twitter.com/CoachJBills/status/795988172148654081

•  UCLA will dress out in alternate uniforms in honor of U.S. service personnel. 

• In fact, UCLA went three years in a row without playing OSU (81-83). 

• Oregon State has a second-year head coach in Gary Andersen (52).  Andersen spent just two years in Wisconsin before making the semi-curious jump to Corvallis last season, which many felt was a lateral move, at best.  He was 19-7 at Wisconsin, and had the Badgers finish both seasons in the AP top 25.  He is now 4-17 at OSU, in two and 2/3s seasons, and will almost certainly finish his second season in a row in last place in the Pac-12 North.  He had to, in fact, pay a $3 million buyout for departing within the first two years of his contract.  Andersen admitted publicly that he left Wisconsin because he was frustrated with the school’s high academic standards for athletes. It’s also been rumored that he didn’t get along with micro-managing AD and former head football coach, Barry Alvarez.  Before Wisconsin, Andersen made a name for himself as the head coach at Utah State – in 2012 finishing the season 11-2 and ranked 16th in the nation.  He’s considered a good defensive coach that has gotten his teams to over-achieve.

• The combined records of teams that have beaten UCLA this season is 39-15.  

LB Jayon Brown (Photo by Steve Cheng)

• The 19 tackles recorded by UCLA linebacker Jayon Brown against Colorado is the most by a Pac-12 player this season.  He currently leads the Pac-12 and is 11th in the nation in total tackles, averaging 10.1 per game, and is 4th in the nation in solo tackles (6.4 per game). 

• UCLA defensive end Takkarist McKinley ranks first in the nation in tackles for loss (2.0 per game) and second in the nation in sacks (1.13 per game). 

• UCLA is favored by 12 points. 

• The weather forecast calls for a high of 80 degrees in Pasadena, with a game-time temperature in the mid-70s. 

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.

S Devin Chappell (USA Today)

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. 

QB Mike Fafaul (Photo by Steve Cheng)

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.

ADVANTAGE: Even

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.

UCLA's Defense vs. Oregon State's Offense

Oregon State's offense isn't great, but it does one thing pretty darn well: run the football. The Beavers average 5.4 yards per rush attempt which is -- are you sitting down -- third best in the Pac-12 behind USC and Washington. The offense overall, though, is well below average, and that has to do, largely, with a passing attack that is pretty close to abysmal. Oregon State is third-to-last in the country in yards per pass attempt at 5.3, which puts them as maybe the only team in the country that averages more yards per rush than per pass attempt. As you might expect, Oregon State gives up a fair amount of sacks (6.72% of all dropbacks), and they're about average in terms of turnovers (they give the ball away 1.6 times per game).

The passing attack has been an issue this year, and OSU has certainly had to deal with some injury issues that have caused some flux. Transfer quarterback Darell Garretson started the first six games of the season, but was lost for the year due to injury. In his place, redshirt sophomore Marcus McMaryion (6'1, 193) has stepped in, and has actually been perhaps a bit more effective than Garretson was, at least in terms of throwing the ball (Garretson was a little bit more of a runner). McMaryion has completed just over 50% of his passes in his three starts, and has thrown four touchdowns against four interceptions. He hasn't been great, by any means, but for a guy who started out as perhaps Oregon State's third-string quarterback, he hasn't been much of a step down from the starter, which is about all OSU could have asked. With McMaryion, OSU's passing attack has become much more big-play oriented, with McMaryion averaging nearly 7 yards per attempt, while Garretson was averaging closer to 4.

WR Victor Bolden (USA Today)

Oregon State's receiving corps is pretty limited, with senior Victor Bolden (5'9, 183) the one real star in the group. Bolden is fast and quick and possesses qualities that would make him a top two receiver on most Pac-12 teams. This year, he has 38 catches for 477 yards and two touchdowns, but with more competent quarterback play, he would look quite a bit more productive. He's a tough cover and could absolutely cause UCLA some issues. After him, though, it's a very limited group. Converted sophomore quarterback Seth Collins (6'3, 188) is now at receiver and he is electric with the ball in his hands, but he's far from a polished receiver at this point. He has 34 catches for 374 yards and a touchdown. Oregon State will try to get both him and Bolden the ball in a variety of ways, since those are the two fastest playmakers on the team. The other two receivers to watch are junior Jordan Villamin (6'5, 220), who's had a pretty disappointing season, and sophomore Timmy Hernandez (6'0, 195), who's a solid big-play threat with 13.1 yards per catch on nine catches.

The running game is where Oregon State has its most success, as we wrote up top, and a huge part of that is bruising sophomore running back Ryan Nall (6'2, 234). Nall is averaging -- averaging -- 7.2 yards per carry this year on 93 attempts, and has eight touchdowns. About the only thing that's limited him has been injury, as he's been nicked up with a variety of things over the last few games. He has had rushing success against basically everyone on the schedule, but he was in a boot in practice this week and is questionable for Saturday. Without Nall, the running game looks a bit more pedestrian, but there are still some talented pieces. First, Oregon State loves to use Bolden on sweeps and reverses out of the backfield, and he has been devastating doing that, recording 337 yards on 23 carries for two touchdowns and an average of 14.2 yards per carry. Freshman Artavis Pierce (5'11, 201) is the primary backup, though, and he has recorded 58 carries this year. He's been a little banged up at times this year too, with a shoulder injury, but he's still averaging 5.3 yards per carry. The other two guys rounding out the rotation are senior running back Tim Cook (6'1, 233) and sophomore scatback/slot receiver Paul Lucas (5'11, 188).

As we indicated up top, the offensive line gives up a good amount of sacks, but the run blocking has been pretty good all year. It certainly isn't a bad offensive line, but it's probably not a top-half unit in the Pac-12. For the most part, it's a very experienced unit, with senior Sean Harlow (6'4, 310) starting at left tackle, redshirt senior Gavin Andrews (6'6, 327) starting at center, senior Dustin Stanton (6'6, 305) starting at right guard, and junior Fred Lauina (6'4, 307) at left guard (Lauina just returned from injury). The lone inexperienced player in the group is redshirt freshman Blake Brandel (6'7, 296).

For UCLA's purposes, the defense got back on track in a big way last week against Colorado, putting together an elite performance in all aspects of the game -- rush defense, pass defense, turnovers, pressure, etc. Considering the quality of the opponent, it was almost certainly the best performance for the Bruins' defense this season.

A huge part of UCLA's defensive success has been the play of senior defensive end Takkarist McKinley, and he was at his best against the Buffs last week. McKinley seems to have gotten even better as the season goes on, and -- to reiterate once again -- it's a shame that he doesn't have another year of college, for purely selfish reasons. If you believe draft prognosticators, and this certainly fits what we've seen this year, McKinley has a chance to be a first-round pick in the NFL Draft, and that would be awesome to see.

LB Jayon Brown (Photo by Steve Cheng)

Linebacker play, aside from a blip against Utah, has been much better since the first couple of games of the season. Jayon Brown was the non-McKinley MVP for the defense last Thursday, recording almost 20 tackles against Colorado. Kenny Young also performed fairly well against Colorado after struggling more against Utah.

At cornerback, Fabian Moreau has been exceptional this year, and, again, was at his best against Colorado. We'll see if his performance holds up over the last few games of the season, but you have to figure that he's going to start climbing draft boards as well based on the quality of his play this season.

ADVANTAGE: UCLA

This is a matchup that, in theory, UCLA should dominate. Oregon State is below average in terms of quarterback play and they give up a good amount of sacks, which seems like the perfect opportunity for McKinley to have his way with things. With UCLA's corner play looking so good of late, we could see the Beavers getting harassed and harried into a truly bad passing performance.

The run game for Oregon State might have some more success, even without Nall, but even there we like the matchup for UCLA. The Bruins are especially good pursuing to the sideline, and a healthy portion of OSU's run action involves Bolden running sideline to sideline. Now, if Nall plays, OSU can expect to generate some yards up the middle, but without him, UCLA's defensive line should hold its own there. The Beavers have a good rushing attack, so we don't think UCLA will shut it down completely, but the Bruins should hold them well below their averages.

There's a decent chance that this could be another very disruptive game for McKinley, and we wouldn't be shocked if he recorded 3+ sacks.

Special Teams

Oregon State's special teams are pretty pedestrian, except for the return game, where Bolden once again has made a considerable impact this season. He averages 25.2 yards per kick return and has one kickoff return for a touchdown. In addition to that, he's averaging 3.9 yards per punt return, but he could always break a big one there at any moment.

The kicking game isn't great for Oregon State. Junior kicker Garrett Owens (5'9, 182) has made just 10 of 17 kicks this year, and has been sporadic, with misses from 48, 45, 51, 27, 50, 45, and 26. He has a biggish leg, but just hasn't been accurate enough. The punting game isn't great either, with junior Nick Porebski (5'10, 198) averaging 42.1 yards per punt on 52 punts, with 16 downed inside the 20.

Their special teams coverage units are excellent, though, which is a mark of good coaching. The Beavers give up just 17.9 yards per kick return and just 1.5 yards per punt return.

Jim Mora said this week that he is going to 100% stick with freshman specialists J.J. Molson and Austin Kent going forward, and we think it's the best move. While Molson and Kent have had some struggles this year, they'll be relied upon for next year and need to build confidence and consistency. The only way to do that is with game reps, so it'll be good to see them with a little bit of job security.

UCLA's return game isn't great, but Ishmael Adams looked a little better last week than he did earlier in the year. Hopefully that can keep up.

ADVANTAGE: Oregon State

Prediction

This is probably going to be the last game of the year where UCLA is favored, and they're favored by a pretty wide margin in this one (at time of writing, they're favored by 12.5). The Bruins have the Beavers tipped athletically, and last year the Bruins blew out Oregon State badly on the road.

Of course, this is a different team this year, and the Bruins are certainly a significantly worse offensive team. Oregon State, for that matter, is qualitatively better than a year ago, even if they're not good yet. So, even though this game is coming in Westwood a year after UCLA blew out the Beavers on the road, we're not ready to say this will be a repeat of that performance.

UCLA should be able to shut down the Oregon State offense. The Bruins should make that passing attack look even worse than it is -- and it's already very, very bad. While Oregon State might get something on the ground, we'd be stunned if they scored more than a few times without something truly crazy happening in terms of turnovers and field position. The Beaver offense simply should be unable to drive long fields on the Bruins.

UCLA's offense, though, could have some issues against Oregon State's defense. The one weakness for the Beavers is rush defense, but UCLA's rushing offense is such a cataclysm that we have no confidence in the Bruins' ability to take advantage of that weakness. UCLA has talent, though, and Fafaul is good enough to generate at least a couple of drives with his arm, even against a decent pass defense.

Ultimately, we think this will be a low-scoring affair, with UCLA's ability to shut down Oregon State ultimately setting the tone for what should be a solid win on Saturday.

UCLA 17
Oregon State 7


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