Oklahoma Preview

Analyzing some of the matchups, particularly the UCLA offense against Oklahoma's defense, gives you the shivers, and makes you worry for Drew Olson's safety. What, though, will it take for UCLA to pull off perhaps one of the biggest upsets in college football in recent years?


-- UCLA (1-1) travels to Oklahoma (3-0) to take on the #1-ranked Sooners. UCLA is unranked.

-- Oklahoma has beaten North Texas (37-3), Alabama at Tuscaloosa (20-13) and Fresno State (52-28).

-- UCLA and Oklahoma have faced each other twice and the Bruins are 0-2 against the Sooners.  The two schools last met in 1990 at the Rose Bowl, with 23rd-ranked Oklahoma prevailing, 34-14.  The last time the two teams met in Norman was 1986, when #1-ranked Oklahoma beat #4-ranked UCLA 38-3.  UCLA Head Coach Karl Dorrell played in that game, catching two passes.

-- The series between the two programs continues in two years, when Oklahoma returns to the Rose Bowl on Sept. 17, 2005.

-- Oklahoma is attempting to sweep all of its non-conference opposition for the third year in a row with a win over UCLA.

-- Oklahoma's Head Coach Bob Stoops is in his fifth year with the Sooners, posting a 46-9 record overall.  When he arrived in 1999, it had been five years since Oklahoma finished above .500.  In the next four years under Stoops, the Sooners won a national championship (2000), had 43 victories, made four bowl appearances and Stoops was named the consensus 2000 National Coach of the Year.  As a former defensive coordinator at Florida and Kansas State, his reputation is that of a great defensive mind.

-- In Stoops' three seasons, Oklahoma is 17-1 in regular season non-conference games.

-- In its history, when Oklahoma is ranked #1, it's 30-0 in games played in Norman. When ranked #1, it's 46-1 home and away when playing against a non-ranked opponent.

-- There are six current Sooners from California: TE Chris Chester (Tustin), QB Tommy Grady (Huntington Beach), LB Pasha Jackson (Hayward), DB Aaron Miller (Fresno), LB Lance Mitchell (Los Banos) and S Dante Nicholson (Walnut).

-- In 26 home games under Stoops, the Sooners have outscored their opponents 874-239.

-- Stoop's Oklahoma teams are 14-0 in the month of September.

-- Oklahoma has not committed a turnover in two straight games and only one in the three games it's played.

-- In its history, UCLA is 4-7 when playing against the #1 team in the country.  The last time UCLA played against a #1-ranked team was against Oklahoma, in the 1986 loss.

-- The game will be televised regionally at 12:30 PST on ABC, with the broadcast team consisting of Brent Musburger and Gary Danielson.


Oklahoma, under Stoops, runs a balanced offense, which for traditional Oklahoma fans, would be considered pass-happy.  In its first three games this year, however, it has thrown the ball more than its run, perhaps because the Oklahoma coaches are playing to the strength of its personnel, which this season looks to be in its passing game.

Oklahoma's offense, objectively, isn't particulary star-studded.  In fact, it lost its starting quarterback, an 1,800-yard rusher and its top four receivers from last season. It's a testament to the Oklahoma program that it could lose so much and return the next season ranked #1 in the country.

WR Brandon Jones (AP).

The one star who has emerged in the offense is senior quarterback Jason White (6-2, 224. Even if you're not a Sooner fan, you have to root for White. In the 2001 season he tore the ACL in his left knee, which ended his season and it took a near-year to recover. Last season he then tore the ACL in his right knee and was lost for the season.  He's the consummate trooper who has fought back and is now seeing his hard work pay off. So far in three games he has a quarterback efficiency rating of 156, having thrown for 911 yards, completing 64% of his passes, connecting on 9 touchdown passes with only one interception. He's a smart, veteran quarterback who can make quick, correct reads in Oklahoma's offense.  He once was considered pretty mobile, but now, with two surgicallly-repaired knees, Oklahoma doesn't like to move him around much and tries to keep him away from any chances of open-field hits.  He's most comfortable lining up in the shot gun, where he tends to stay healthier, but also is able to look down the field quicker. 

The passing game is what has fueled Oklahoma's offense in its first three games, and with losing four receivers from last season, White quickly needed to find a #1 receiver, which he's found in junior Brandon Jones (6-3, 208).  Jones leads the team in most receiving categories, averaging 8 catches in his first three games.  The one aspect of the Oklahoma passing game that the Sooner coaches wanted to improve upon from last season was being able to throw more down the field and stretch opponent's defenses. With Jones, they've been successful. He's had a couple of long touchdown receptions in the first couple of games, has good size, hands and speed.  Stepping into another starting wide receiver position with Jones has been junior Mark Clayton (5-11, 187), who definitely is good at stretching defenses, averaging almost 18 yards a reception.  He's a veteran receiver who runs good routes with very sure hands.  Oklahoma uses more than two wide receivers in most of its sets and has good depth behind Clayton and Jones.

It's going to be one of the best match-ups of the day when UCLA's talented defensive backs go up against Oklahoma's receivers.  Watch for White to go right at UCLA cornerback Matt Clark, with Clark being the most inexperienced UCLA DB who has also shown some vulnerability so far this season.  It's imperative that UCLA nail down one side of the field and that Matt Ware has a good day so its safeties can possibly cheat over and help out Clark.  Ware has played exceptionally well in his first two games this season and will be looking to make his name more known on a national level in this game. Watch for UCLA to work out of its nickel set quite a bit having to match up with three or more wide receivers for most of the game.  For UCLA, that's good news since it gets Nnamdi Ohaeri, the designated nickel back, on the field.  Ohaeri has shown some potential greatness in the last two weeks, being able to not only cover well but being a big hitter defending the run and blitzing.  

If there is any question to Oklahoma's offense it could be their offensive line, but in the first three games it hasn't actually been that much of a question.  Having to replace two starters from last season, most Oklahoma on-lookers were the most worried about the OL, but thought that some of the young talent the team had to plug in to the starting vacancies could actually be eventual improvements.  The OL has looked solid while it's still getting familiar with one another. 

UCLA cornerback Matt Ware (Getty Images).

The pre-season question was primarily whether the line would be able to generate running room for the Oklahoma tailbacks, and so far, after three games, you could say it's been acceptable.  The line has opened enough holes to average 130 yards a game so far in 2003, but that pales compared to last season when it averaged a whopping 190 yards a game. The line is anchored by junior veteran tackle Jammal Brown (6-6, 310) and junior center Vince Carter (6-3, 277).   The line has been good at providing White protection, only giving up two sacks so far this season in three games.

Another concern for Oklahoma was replacing running back Quentin Griffin from a year ago. In trying to do so, it's been a shared duty so far this season, with both senior Renaldo Works (6-1, 220) and sophomore Kejuan Jones (5-9, 187) carrying the load. Works obviously is the bigger pounder while Jones the smaller, flashier back. Neither has shown the big-play talent of Griffin so far in the first three games.  Jones got his first career start against Alabama, and is still a little green.  The two have combined to average 102 yards a game, averaging 3.6 yards a carry.  The Sooners looked quite a bit better rushing the ball against Fresno State last week, but it was also against a team that didn't defend the run well in Fresno State, and the Sooners were blowing out the Bulldogs and ran the ball 48 times.  Against North Texas, Oklahoma ran for 105 yards and against Alabama for just 74.

If there was a clear unit match-up where UCLA looks to have an advantage it would be its defensive line against Oklahoma's offensive line.  UCLA is giving up only an average of 77 yards on the ground in its first two games. It's had seven sacks and put consistent pressure on the Colorado and Illinois quarterbacks.  It has talent and experience in tackles Rodney Leisle and Ryan Boschetti and in defensive ends Dave and Mat Ball, and good depth. 

UCLA's linebackers have played very well also, with Brandon Chillar registering star-level performances in his first two games, leading the Pac-10 in tackles with 26.  Sophomore middle linebacker Justin London had a very good game in his second career start against Illinois last week, and the freshman All-American from last year, Spencer Havner proved he was completely healthy. 

While you might be led to believe that, Oklahoma being ranked #1 and it being Oklahoma, that they'll be able to dominate UCLA with its running game, all indicators point to UCLA's front seven having a good chance of shutting down Oklahoma's running game and putting more pressure on the Sooners to gain yards through the air.

Advantage: Even.  Straight-up, all things considered, if this were on a neutral playing field and UCLA's offense could hold on to the ball for 30 minutes, you'd give the advantage to UCLA's defense.  UCLA's defense is the superior unit, with more talent and experience than OU's offense.  But there is the factor that UCLA's defense could get worn down. They've shown a tendency to get worn in the first couple of games this year. If UCLA's offense can't sustain drives but gives the ball back to OU quickly, and UCLA's defense finds itself out on the field too much and inadvertently (because of turnovers) with its back to the wall, by the third quarter UCLA's defense could start to break down. The breakdowns probably won't come in the running game, but in being able to pressure the quarterback, giving White too much time to pick apart UCLA's passing defense.  On the other hand, with the way Oklahoma schemes its passing game, matched up with UCLA's passing defense, it could give UCLA's athletic linebackers more chances at interceptions.  And for UCLA to win this game, it will simply have to create points from its defense, either directly in scoring points or getting its offense good field position through turnovers. 


For a UCLA fan, this is perhaps the most frightening match-up of two units in any UCLA game in the past five years. 

You have what is vaunted to be the best defense in college football - against what is currently the worst offense. 

You have a young, somewhat suspect offensive line against what could be the best defensive line in the country.

OU's Tommie Harris (AP).

You already have your starting quarterback injured and out for the game, and your backup quarterback is a true sophomore who is still learning how to make reads and decisions, going into a hostile environment of 85,000 screaming Sooner fans with some of the best pass rushers in the nation trying to put him out of commission.

You have a group of wide receivers who have been going through a phase of dropping passes at the most inopportune time.

You have a head coach that is considered probably the #1 defensive coach in the country conceiving of schemes for his defense against a first-year head coach who is, to put it nicely, still developing his offensive system. 

It's very scary thinking about this match-up.  It's almost as if, as a UCLA fan, you'd be satisfied if just quarterback Drew Olson comes out of this game alive. 

Oklahoma's defense deserves all of its accolades. It's led by a defensive tackle that many think is the best player in the country, junior Tommie Harris (6-3, 289). Harris was named pre-season first team by everyone on the planet. He's not only strong but makes a living by out-quicking his blockers. He's the new-style prototypical NFL defensive tackle and there are many who assert he could be the #1 pick the NFL draft. UCLA's right guard Paul Mociler will get the Harris assignment for most of the day, along with a tag-team of help from center Mike McCloseky and running backs to try to keep Harris contained. 

If that's not enough, Harris is surrounded by athletes with quickness and speed.  Junior Dan Cody (6-5, 270), who stepped into the starting position when Jimmy Wilkerson left to the NFL after last season, has looked exceptional, particularly quick in rushing the passer and being able to get around his blocker, registering four sacks and four tackles for loss in three games.  At the other defensive end position is another standout, junior Jonathan Jackson (6-3, 235) who is all about speed and quickness.  He's an expert at quarterback hurries. 

The Sooners took a bit of a hit with the loss of their star middle linebacker, senior Lance Mitchell, to a torn ACL, knocking him out for the remainder of the season.  A starter hasn't been named as of yet, but whoever it is it will be a considerable drop-off from Mitchell, who made many pre-season first team lists and was considered the heart of this defense.  Senior Teddy Lehman (6-2, 243), the Sooners' other All-American linebacker, will be expected to pick up the slack. 

Drew Olson (Getty Images).

The Sooner's attacking, gambling defense is based almost completely on the play of its cornerbacks. Without elite cornerbacks that can cover receivers man-to-man, Oklahoma can't bring 8 and sometimes 9 defenders up to the line to shut down an opponent's running game and continually blitz the quarterback. As Stoops says, the Oklahoma defensive philosophy is to "destroy" the running game, mostly through stacking the box, and then pressure the quarterback. They key to this are excellent cornerbacks. 

Oklahoma has a pair of nice ones in senior Derrick Strait (5-11, 195) and junior Antonio Perkins (6-0, 188), both returning starters and standouts.  Strait was injured last week and, at the beginning of this week it was uncertain whether he'd play, but the latest is that he will start.  Strait actually, while being named to many All-American lists, is considered even under-hyped; he's that good.  They are talented, quick and physical and they, of course, will have the hometown referees on their side.  Last year, Oklahoma led the country in interceptions with 24.  Nineteen of those were by defensive backs that returned to the team this season.

UCLA's offense, to put it mildly, has a bit of a challenge to face on Saturday.  The offense, truly, is not as bad as the stats represent; If UCLA holds on to three or four passes it should have caught against Illinois it's a completely different ball game, literally and in regards to UCLA's offense.  The UCLA wide receivers have a big assignment in getting open against OU's corners.  Craig Bragg is perhaps a huge key to the game; he's very difficult to cover one-on-one, and if he can get consistently open, and quickly, it will spell relief for the rest of UCLA's offense.  Marcedes Lewis is also a key factor. Watch for him to line up wide quite often in this game, his size and athleticism being used to challenge the man coverage.

The running game looks to be dependent on Manuel White particularly.  The effectiveness of OU's front seven is dependent on quickness, not really on strength or over-powering their opponent. White, after showing he can move a pile for over 100 yards a game last week against Illinois, could be the key to UCLA's running game being effective.  He'll have to selectively pound on Oklahoma's front seven to try to loosen them up early, and that possibly could open up running room with the change of pace of Tyler Ebell and Maurice Drew as the game progresses. 

All indicators, though, are that UCLA will have to throw the ball to be effective against OU's defense. If it stubbornly tries to run on predictable downs, against OU's stacked box, UCLA will find itself in the same difficult 3rd-and-longs it's experienced in its first two games.  So much of UCLA having a chance to be productive is, then, dependent on UCLA's quarterback, Drew Olson, having an efficient day.  Olson has showed great consistency for being as young and inexperienced as he is. Much of whether he'll be successful could then depend on how well the UCLA coaches scheme to keep the pressure off him, and how well the offensive line protects him.  Olson has a much better chance of moving the chains throwing on first and ten than he does on 3rd-and-long against OU's defense.  He's got a much better chance with short drops, quick hitters, and waggling outside to throw downfield.

Advantage: Overwhelmingly Oklahoma.  No matter what angle you look at it from, as long as it's from a UCLA perspective, you get the shivers.  There is a real chance that it could get ugly, given how UCLA's offense has looked in the first two games of the season.  UCLA's O will have to take advantage of every opportunity and not hurt itself with penalties if it even hopes to move the ball on OU.  Throw in the noise from the crowd, and with a young UCLA offensive squad, you shudder even more. OU's attacking D will be salivating over UCLA's still-getting-it-together offensive line and its young quarterback. If UCLA's offense can just move the chains, eat up the clock and keep their defense off the field it would be considered somewhat of a victory.

PREDICTION:  It's the easiest call ever to predict that Oklahoma will win this game. No one needs to analyze the respective units to come up with that conclusion.  Oklahoma is the #1 team in the country, with a smothering defense against a highly-struggling UCLA offense, at home, in front of 85,000 partisan fans and referees.  Oklahoma doesn't lose these types of games much - if ever - especially under Stoops. 

But this is a UCLA site, and every once in a while we have to be able to pull the homer card.

So here's the homer prediction: UCLA's defense will step up on the national stage and show that it should be considered among the best defenses in the country on Saturday.   It will not only fluster OU's offense, it will create turnovers. OU's special teams have been vulnerable, with OU's punter Blake Ferguson getting four punts blocked in three games. UCLA's special teams have been very good in its first two games.  So, between UCLA's defense and its special teams, the homer call is that UCLA gets at least 13 points through its defense and special teams, which is enough to edge the Sooners in one of the biggest upsets in recent years in college football.

Oklahoma 17

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