Oklahoma State Preview

UCLA comes into its season opener with a revamped offense and plenty of offensive weapons. But with the Bruins' defensive line depleted, will they have enough defensively to hold off the big and experienced offensive line of the Cowboys?


-- UCLA (Last season: 6-7, 4-4) will take on visiting Oklahoma State (Last season: 9-4, 5-2) Saturday at the Rose Bowl in both teams' season openers. The game will be at 12:30 PST, and televised on ABC, with Keith Jackson and Dan Fouts commentating.

-- It's the second year of the Karl Dorrell era. The former UCLA player had a disappointing season in his first year, and found himself a bit under fire. In the off-season, Dorrell hired a new offensive coordinator/offensive line coach in Tom Cable, the former head coach at Idaho, as well as bringing in quarterbacks coach Tom Svoboda and wide receiver coach Dino Babers.

-- Oklahoma State is coached by Les Miles, who is beginning his fourth season at OSU. Miles, who was the former offensive coordinator at OSU, took the head job in 2001 and has turned the Cowboys into a solid program in the Big 12, guiding them to back-to-back bowl games, including the school's first New Year's Eve Bowl game in 55 years when they played in the 2004 Cotton Bowl. Miles is 21-16 and 12-12 since being at OSU, and won the Big 12 coach of the year in 2002. He's known as being a very good offensive coach.

-- UCLA and OSU have only met one time, in 2002 with UCLA beating the Cowboys, 38-24 in Stillwater, Oklahoma. Cory Paus went 13-for-27 and passed for 277 yards, while UCLA also forced five turnovers.

-- Oklahoma State has a record of 16-31-1 when opening away from home. The Cowboys coming to Los Angeles on Saturday is the second-longest road trip for an opening game in OSU history.

-- UCLA is 21-18-1 against Big 12 schools in its history.

-- The season opener marks UCLA's 86th season of football.

-- UCLA wide receiver Craig Bragg begins a potentially record-breaking senior season. Bragg is 23 catches away from being UCLA's all-time reception leader, the title currently held by Kevin Jordan with 179 career receptions. Bragg also is 659 yards away from eclipsing the all-time receiving yards mark held by Danny Farmer at 3020.

-- The 2004 season will be UCLA's 23rd in the Rose Bowl. Since moving in 1982, the Bruins are 90-40-2. They were 5-1 in the Rose Bowl last year.

-- The temperature is expected to be very warm at 12:30 Saturday on the Rose Bowl field.


The strength of OSU's team lies with its offensive line, which is about the worst possible scenario for UCLA's depleted, young and inexperienced defensive line.

OSU returns four starters from a year ago, including all Big-12 senior right guard Sam Mayes (6-3, 330), as well as senior center Chris Akin (6-2, 300), and both tackles, junior Kellen Davis (6-5, 290) and sophomore Corey Hilliard (6-5, 300). It's a very good, big, strong veteran group.

On the other hand, OSU will start a redshirt freshman quarterback, Donovan Woods (6-2, 215) who is the younger brother of former All-American OSU receiver Rashaun Woods. OSU lost two other players who probably would have started at quarterback this season, one to injury and one to a baseball career, leaving the young and inexperienced Woods with the starting quarterbacking spot. He's an exceptional athlete, who is a great ball carrier while still a suspect passer.

OSU also has a couple of nice tailbacks in junior Vernand Morency (5-10, 215) who ran for 918 yards as a second-stringer last year, and senior Greg Jones (5-9, 205). They also have one of the best fullbacks around in huge junior Shawn Willis (6-1, 260) who is one of the strongest players on the OSU team.

OSU running back Vernand Morency (AP).
On the other side of the ball UCLA started out with an inexperienced defensive line, and now it's become an injured inexperienced defensive line. Three projected starters from spring will not start against OSU – defensive ends Kevin Harbour and Kyle Morgan and defensive tackle C.J. Niusulu. Its other starter, tackle Kevin Brown, sat out most of last week with a contusion on his knee that was thought to be more serious. On top of that, UCLA's touted true freshman defensive end Brigham Harwell was injured for the majority of camp. Morgan and Harwell are expected to play, but not start. Even so, if UCLA had all of those guys back, not one has started a Division 1-A college football game. That kind of puts it in perspective the kind of players UCLA will actually play at defensive line this Saturday. It could either start at tackle an undersized walk-on, Robert Garcia (5-11, 270), or a true freshman who most considered an underdog to even play at this level, much less start as a true freshman, Kenneth Lombard (6-1, 270). At the two starting defensive end spots are JC transfer true sophomore Justin Hickman (6-1, 260) and redshirt freshman Bruce Davis (6-3, 240). Backing them up are two undersized, inexperienced redshirt freshmen, one of whom has been moved from offensive line to fullback to the DL.

There just isn't a way to spin this. The UCLA defensive line should get dominated Saturday. If it doesn't, it would be a miracle or one of the biggest surprises in recent Bruin football history. If UCLA's defensive line can actually play the OSU OL tough, these guys – Hickman, Davis, Brown, Lombard and the rest – will have to be anointed as true Bruin heroes.

On top of that, in its front seven, UCLA is missing its top returning tackler in middle linebacker Justin London. It's starting JC transfer sophomore Dan Nelson (6-1, 239) in his place, a guy who went from not thinking he could play football ever again a year ago, to playing JC ball to starting at UCLA. Of course, Nelson (as well as Hickman, Davis, etal) could very well end up being very talented and play formidably, but you have to admit, the odds are against it since they're still so inexperienced.

So, this isn't a difficult game plan to call. You have a big, experienced and talented offensive line, and a stable of good running backs and a good-blocking fullback, with only a young, inexperienced quarterback who can run but is shaky with the pass. They face a defensive front seven that lost five starters from a season ago, and then has lost four projected season starters. Let me see...uh, I believe OSU will try to run the ball. Often.

In fact, UCLA can expect OSU to break out the option with Woods. OSU will believe it can not only exploit the true freshman/walk-on combo inside in Lombard/Garcia but, with its big, strong offensive tackles, exploit UCLA's undersized and inexperienced defensive ends.

If OSU can't run the ball when UCLA is in its base defense or not blitzing, knock me over with a feather.

The issue will be how often UCLA is in its base defense or doesn't blitz.

You would think that UCLA defensive coordinator Larry Kerr will have to resort to surprise and trickery to offset the obvious disadvantage he has. If UCLA doesn't, and actually deludes itself into believing its depleted, inexperienced and injured front seven can actually play straight up against OSU's running game, it's going to be a long, deluded afternoon.

UCLA's Spencer Havner (AP).
It makes sense that OSU will see quite a bit of UCLA blitzes. It has a young quarterback in Woods who UCLA will need to rattle. OSU also doesn't have proven wide receivers, with D'Juan Woods (6-1, 195) its best returning pass-catcher, with just 31 receptions a year ago. Its next best returning receiver is senior tight end Billy Bajerma (6-5, 265) who had 12 receptions for the year. The other three receivers on OSU's depth chart caught a total of four passes between them last season.

Pass blitzing, run blitzing, and stacking the box should be the order of the day for UCLA. The Bruins will try to put the effectiveness of the defense in the hands of its talented linebacker Spencer Havner (6-4, 236) and its fleet of talented safeties, Ben Emanuel (6-3, 216), Jarrad Page (6-2, 220), Eric McNeal (6-2, 209), Chris Horton (6-1, 195) and Dennis Keyes (6-1, 192). McNeal, Horton and Keyes will all probably see a lot of time in nickel and dime packages, rushing Woods from many different alignments. Zone blitzing should also be another thing in UCLA's arsenal, intended to confuse Woods and his offensive line. OSU, when they try to pass, will probably try to exploit new starting cornerback Marcus Cassel (6-0, 182) by getting the receiver Woods matched up on him.

Advantage: OSU. No matter how good UCLA's linebackers and defensive backs are, OSU is bound to gain some yards on the ground. It will just be a matter of how much, and how many points that translates into. If this were later in the season and Woods had, say, 6 or 7 games under his belt, and UCLA was still in this state of disarray in its defensive front, I'd say that the Cowboys would ride right over the Bruins. But given that it's Woods' first start ever, and he's going to be seeing waves of blitzes coming at him, that's going to limit the horsepower of the Cowboys' offense. UCLA probably won't be able to shut down OSU, but it will probably be able to confuse them enough to slow them down.


Oklahoma State's defense is a bit like UCLA's defense: strong in its back seven and a bit suspect in its front four. With OSU running a nickel package as its base defense, OSU returns four of the five starters in its defensive backfield from a year ago.

The star of the Cowboys' defense is senior cornerback Darrent Williams (5-9, 175). Williams led the team with six interceptions a year ago and was third in the country in deflections, with great speed and cover ability. He also has a knack for returning interceptions for touchdowns.

OSU linebacker Paul Duren (Getty).
Opposite Williams is senior corner Robert Jones (5-11, 190), and many consider Williams and Jones the best cornerback combo in the Big 12. Two good safeties also return in junior Vernon Grant (5-9, 180) and junior Jon Holland (5-11, 185).

You might, though, recognize a pattern here with OSU's defensive backfield – there just isn't much size. The projected other starting safety is just 6-0, so four of the five starting cornerbacks are under 6-0. While talented and experienced, there is a problem matching up with UCLA's receiving group, with star senior Craig Bragg (6-2, 195), Tab Perry (6-3, 205) and Junior Taylor (6-1, 198) looking like a trio of giants against them. And then throw in tight end Marcedes Lewis (6-6, 250), and fourth receiver Joe Cowan (6-4, 209) and the height advantage is overwhelming. Even though OSU's defensive backs are good, that's a great deal of size to offset. There is no way to manipulate the matchups when you have five defenders under 6-0 and five receivers over 6-1.

OSU also is pretty strong in the middle, with linebacker Paul Duren (6-1, 240). Duren has led the team in tackles for both his sophomore and freshmen seasons.

The question with OSU's defense is up front. The Cowboys return only one starter in senior noseguard Clay Coe (6-2, 295), who isn't really a star. The rest of the line, well, looks like UCLA's defensive line. They'll start a junior and two sophomores at the other three spots, and their two-deep then is filled out by a junior, two sophomores and a freshman.

UCLA's Maurice Drew (AP).
It's a good opening game for UCLA's revamped and hopefully revitalized offensive line. They have looked good throughout camp, especially big junior Ed Blanton (6-9, 345). In fact, now that Robert Cleary (6-7, 300) starts at one guard position, UCLA's o-line is huge. They have experience, they're bigger and stronger, and they have the benefits of Tom Cable's coaching, which most believe will be significant.

So, even though Cable has changed UCLA's offense considerably, their game plan against OSU should still be to establish a run. UCLA has a big offensive line that's looking to prove itself and one of the best collection of running backs in the west. Sophomore tailback Maurice Drew (5-8, 198) and senior Manuel White (6-2, 239) are formidable, but you now have to pay attention to redshirt freshman fullback Michael Pitre (5-11, 232), who will become another big weapon for the Bruins.

Quarterback Drew Olson (6-3, 217) had a very good fall camp, looking far more comfortable in the offense and throwing the ball better. The utilization of the running backs and tight ends in the passing game, and moving the pocket will help Olson find his receivers.

It's difficult to put too much importance on the presence of one player in the game, but whether Tab Perry plays or not this Saturday has a impact. There is not enough that can be said for the impact that wide receivers that can get open have on an offense, and with Perry, UCLA has two that are very hard to cover, along with Bragg. With Perry it's a great deal to expect the OSU defensive backfield to keep track of every receiving weapon in UCLA's arsenal, and it should open up UCLA's running game.

Advantage: UCLA. UCLA just has too many guys who can hurt you. There are so many you tend to even forget about some of them. While OSU is concentrating on Bragg or Perry, or White out of the backfield, watch for Marcedes Lewis to find some seams in OSU's defense. He's been doing it all fall with ease, and it looks almost as if he's indefensible. But with OSU's defensive strength being in its back seven, and its front four suspect, UCLA will probably have one of its best days running the ball in recent memory. With UCLA's new passing game keeping defenses honest, Maurice Drew and company will see some holes.


Darrent Williams is probably one of the best kick-off returners in the country. OSU's recent teams have been known for very good special teams, in fact. UCLA has good skill guys in their special teams, but is coming off a year when their punt coverage wasn't exactly stellar. Both teams have good punters, with UCLA probably having the advantage in its kicker, Justin Medlock (6-1, 185). OSU's new kicker is Jason Ricks (6-1, 180), a freshman.

Prediction:: While many are predicting a high score, there are factors that might lead you to believe the game won't be that high scoring. Both UCLA's and OSU's defense are light up front and strong in their defensive backfield, so both offenses should dedicate quite a bit of effort to running the ball. It's the first game for both teams, so there are going to be some misfires. And it's going to be hot out on the Rose Bowl field, so both teams will probably get run down. If UCLA had some of its defensive line healthy, and Justin London, UCLA would have the advantage. But even so, with both UCLA's and OSU's defenses being young and inexperienced on the line, it might come down to which offense can exploit it better. With OSU's offense seemingly pretty one-dimensional, you'd have to give a nod to UCLA's offense probably being able to move the ball easier against OSU's defense. But we reserve the right to go back on the prediction that UCLA will win this game if Tab Perry isn't cleared by the NCAA in time to play.

Oklahoma State 24

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