Ohio State Preview

While UCLA is feeling pretty good about its first two wins, it will face its best opponent yet in Ohio State at the Rose Bowl Saturday, and it will be a good test in determining how good this Bruin team is...

NOTEWORTHY FACTORS:

-- UCLA again is the only team whose game is being televised nationally that involves two ranked teams. UCLA is ranked 12th and 14th by USA Today/AP while Ohio State is ranked #21 in both polls, respectively.

-- There will be heightened security at the Rose Bowl. No bags, backpacks or coolers will be allowed into the stadium.

-- OSU freshman walk-on Andrew Maxwell's mother worked at the World Trade Center. Maxwell didn't hear from her until late in the day last Tuesday. Luckily, she didn't work that day.

-- 6,000 Ohio State fans had made plans to travel to Pasadena for the game, but reports are that possibly a third of those have decided to stay home in light of last week's events.

-- UCLA upset then #1-ranked Ohio State in the 1976 Rose Bowl, 23-10, led by John Sciarra, the father of current freshman quarterback, John Sciarra.

-- Ohio State beat UCLA in their last meeting, 42-20, in 1999, when 11 members of UCLA's roser were suspended in the handicapped parking scandal. Ohio State leads the all-time series, 4-3-1.

-- Big Ten teams have yet to beat a ranked opponent this year.

-- For the first time since 1981, UCLA has opened the season with two consecutive road victories.

-- Ohio State played sloppily in a 28-14 win against Akron, who is picked to finish in the middle of the pack of the Mid-American Conference.

-- Once again, UCLA faces an opponent with a new coaching staff, and again found itself this week scrambling to find scouting tape of other programs. OSU's new head coach, Jim Tressel had coached Youngstown State for 12 seasons, winning four Division I-AA championships, the most for a head coach in I-AA history. UCLA coaches were also watching Michigan State tapes since it was the last stop for new OSU Defensive Coordinator, Mark Dantonio.

OHIO STATE'S OFFENSE VS. UCLA'S DEFENSE

While OSU senior quarterback Steve Bellisari has been maligned in Columbus for not becoming a megawatt star, he's still probably the most dangerous player on their offense. Bellisari is a good athlete, and a threat to run, much like the quarterbacks UCLA faced against Alabama and Kansas. Bellisari is perhaps a better combination of throwing and running than what UCLA has seen yet this season, and the defense has shown vulnerability in its first two games to containing a fleet-footed quarterback. UCLA will attempt to keep Bellisari in the pocket and make him beat them with his arm. Against Akron, he threw for 246 yards and two touchdowns, but he fumbled four times, mostly on mis-snaps from center and on one sack. UCLA's All-American candidate middle linebacker Robert Thomas (pictured above) will have a big assignment keeping Bellisari contained. Last year, UCLA took Thomas out on obvious passing downs; this year, he stays in, and the odds are he'll be more effective in either getting to the quarterback on a blitz or keeping him within the first down marker on a scramble.

Perhaps why UCLA will want to keep Bellisari through the air is the fact that they have a huge offensive line and a very inexperienced wide receiver corps. The OSU line averages 300 pounds across its front five, with two senior anchors, left tackle Tyson Walter and All-American candidate, center, LeCharles Bentley. OSU, behind this line, is going to try hard to establish a ground game. UCLA will try to thwart it early, crowd the box with 8 or 9 defenders and hope for OSU to take to the skies. UCLA will use Mat Ball quite a bit at strongside linebacker, to go up against OSU's big tight end, Darnell Sanders, and to also help stop the run. The OSU tailback, new starter Jonathan Wells (pictured at left), is a big back, running behind a big line. He had a pretty good showing against Akron, but the UCLA defensive line will be a dramatic step up from Akron's.

OSU lost its four top wide receivers from a year ago. Sophomore Michael Jenkins had a nice debut against Akron, catching six balls for 106 yards, but the OSU receivers are pretty unproven, young, and inexperienced, and UCLA's passs coverage would like to take advantage.

Interesting, the strengths and weaknesses of UCLA's defense and OSU's offense match up. UCLA's strength is it frontline, as is OSU's offense. OSU's weakness is its receivers, matched up against possibly UCLA's Achilles Heel, its defensive secondary. Whether OSU can run the ball will be determined by OSU's offensive strength ovecoming UCLA's defensive strength, or their offensive weakness overcoming UCLA's defensive weakness.

OSU will unveil some new wrinkles, probably geared toward taking advantage of Bellisari's versatility and athleticism. Look for OSU to give Bellisari the opportunity to take off, on quarterback draws or scrambles. And watch for UCLA to have a defender shadowing Bellisari. Probably the real battle here will be fought in the trenches, between UCLA's d-line and OSU's offensive line. If UCLA can stop OSU from running the ball and pressure Bellisari, he doesn't have many weapons to take the heat off of him.

Advantage: UCLA. While OSU's offensive line is big, UCLA's defensive line is too, and more experienced and deep. UCLA will allow a few drives, when Bellisari gets loose occasionally, but the defensive line should be able to contain OSU's offense.

UCLA'S OFFENSE V. OSU'S DEFENSE

OSU's defense is led by Junior All-American Mike Doss (pictured below left). At 5-11 and 203 pounds, he packs more punch per pound than probably anyone on the field. He'll be all over the field and get his name called so many times you'll think OSU cloned him.

OSU's other defensive strength is its linebacking unit. Weakside LB Joe Cooper was a third-team All-American. Its middle linebacker is no slouch – second-team all-Big-Ten selection Matt Wilhelm, who's 6-4 and 245 pounds.

But OSU does have some vulnerability on its front line. The Buckeyes graduated its two starting defensive ends from a year ago and one of its tackles departed early for the NFL. That leaves tackle Mike Collins as the one returning starter, and he's good, but he's now joined by three green sophomores who had their first career starts against Akron. While UCLA has said it will open up its passing game this week against OSU, it would actually be wise to try to pound this OSU offensive line and make them stop DeShaun Foster. Akron gained only 114 yards on the ground, but OSU did not look dominant against their running game.

What could make the difference here is if UCLA is effective in its short passing game. If Cory Paus can complete some basic passes, UCLA will have a very good chance of moving down the field. Expect UCLA to loosen up the OSU front line with a short passing game that includes short drops and quick outs, spreading out the field a bit and keeping the ball away from Doss. But Paus has to be on target for it to work. Also, it's again time for Brian Poli-Dixon (pictured at right) to have a good game. It doesn't need to be spectacular, but solid, with sure hands. OSU also is breaking in a couple of new cornerbacks, so watch for UCLA to try to take advantage. And UCLA will use its short passing game to set up its deep passing game, and UCLA is hoping the inexperienced corners will bite.

Advantage: The matchup is relatively even. You have Doss on one side, DeShaun Foster on the other, and both units have some nice supporting players. UCLA's offensive line might have an advantage over OSU's frontline, and UCLA's receivers should have an advantage over OSU's cornerbacks. With OSU trying to stop DeShaun Foster, packing in the box, a lot will depend on whether UCLA can execute its short passing game, that is, whether Paus can be accurate and whether Poli-Dixon can catch. More than likely, at home in the Rose Bowl, this is the game where Paus and Poli-Dixon find their games. Again, nothing spectacular, but solid, and able to move the UCLA offense down the field. So, a slight advantage to UCLA's offense.

PREDICTION:

UCLA has played two fairly mediocre teams. Ohio State is by no means a powerhouse, with too many holes on both sides of the ball. But it is a quality of team that UCLA has yet to see this year. The fact that Ohio State looked mediocre against Akron is deceptive and there's a general feeling that the UCLA coaches need to keep the UCLA players well aware that this is a good football team and not let down. If this game were in Columbus, the call would go toward OSU. But in the friendly confines of the Rose Bowl, with a packed UCLA crowd, the emotion running high, and the players comfortable at home after two games on the road, UCLA wins this. But it's close, and it comes down to the wire.

UCLA 27

Ohio State 24



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