Preview of the Oklahoma Game

It's perhaps the most significant game in the UCLA head coaching career of Karl Dorrell. UCLA is favored over a team they have yet to ever beat in their history. It's the victory that could give UCLA legitimacy. So, how will the UCLA-Oklahoma game play out Saturday?

NOTEWORTHY FACTORS:

-- UCLA (2-0) welcomes Oklahoma (1-1, #21 AP, #17 USA Today) to the Rose Bowl Saturday for a 12:30 kick-off. The game will be televised by ABC, with Keith Jackson and Dan Fouts providing the commentary.

-- It's the fourth meeting between the schools in football, with Oklahoma having won all three previous games. In 2003, in Karl Dorrell's first year as head coach, the #1-ranked Sooners romped in Norman, 59-24.

-- In the 1986 game, Oklahoma was ranked #1, while UCLA was ranked #4, and the Sooners dominated in Norman, 38-3.

-- In their only meeting in Los Angeles, Oklahoma converted six Bruin turnovers into 20 points to prevail, 34-14, at the Rose Bowl in 1990.

-- This season, Oklahoma dropped its home opener against TCU, 17-10, and then beat Tulsa last week at home, 31-15.

-- Oklahoma, by no means, dominated Tulsa. The score was 17-15 and the game still very much in doubt with five minutes left.

-- Tulsa lost to Minnesota, 41-10, the previous week. TCU lost to SMU in its second week, 21-10.

-- Oklahoma is coaching by Bob Stoops, who is in his 7th season in Norman. He is 68-13 overall, and won the national championship in 2000, in just his second season as head coach. He has won three Big 12 titles in six years.

-- Oklahoma is one of the most traditional college football powers, boasting seven national championships, 39 conference titles, four Heisman Trophy winners, and the NCAA record 47-game winning streak. Since World War II, Oklahoma is the most successful college football program with 505 victories, 750 overall. It's also the most successful college football program in the 21st century, owning the most wins (61) of any school since 2000. The program was in a prolonged slump until Stoops took over in 1999.

-- Stoops is off to his worse start since being at Oklahoma. In fact, in the last five seasons, the earliest Oklahoma has lost was the eighth game in 2001.

-- If Oklahoma loses to UCLA and goes 1-2, it will be its worse start since 1997 when it went 4-8.

-- A trendy theory is that Oklahoma's huge loss against USC in the National Championship Game at the Orange Bowl last January, 55-19, has sent the program into a bit of a tailspin.

-- UCLA is sixth in scoring in the nation after two games, averaging 53 points per game. The Bruins are also third nationally in net punts (43.7) and punt returns (32.3).

-- UCLA quarterback Drew Olson is ranked 6th in the country in passing efficiency (188.83 rating).

-- Oklahoma's offense is 113th in passing in the nation, averaging just 85 yards through the air in its first two games.

-- Oklahoma running back Adrian Peterson is averaging 141 yards per game, which ranks him eighth nationally.

-- Oklahoma had 18 first-year players see action last week against Tulsa, including 16 freshmen and 10 true freshmen. Nine players have made their first career start this season, including seven on defense.

-- Oklahoma has spent 85 consecutive weeks in the AP poll. If they lost to UCLA, it could end that streak.

-- If UCLA beats Oklahoma, it could find itself nationally ranked for the first time since November of 2002, when it was ranked 25th heading into the USC game that year.

-- UCLA is favored by seven points.

OKLAHOMA'S OFFENSE V. UCLA'S DEFENSE

These are two units with their issues.

And actually, in its first two games, the issues of the Oklahoma offense have been more pronounced than those of the UCLA defense.

OU Head Coach Bob Stoops.
Oklahoma's offense is struggling on many fronts, suffering mostly from having to play young and inexperienced players (much like UCLA's defense).

The youth and inexperience starts with its quarterback, redshirt freshman Rhett Bomar (6-2, 215). Bomar, you may remember, came out of high school as one of the most acclaimed quarterbacks in the 2003 national class and Oklahoma won a tough recruiting battle to get him.

Bomar started last week against Tulsa, took every snap, and struggled. In fact, Oklahoma didn't complete a pass in the second half, and Bomar was just 5-for-13 in the first half for 42 yards.

Junior Paul Thompson (6-4, 210) started OU's first game against TCU, but also struggled, going 11-for-26 for 109 yards and one interception, and was replaced by Bomar.

Thompson is a good athlete, but not a very good passer. Bomar is by far the better thrower, and more than likely OU's quarterback of the future, thus the reason why the OU staff went with him in the second game and is trying to stick with him. But this week, OU coaches didn't exclude the possibility of Thompson playing if Bomar falters.

In other words, Oklahoma has a quarterback controversy.

The talk out of Norman this week is that the Sooner offense will make a concerted effort to throw the ball, at least to a degree. The word is that they'll try to utilize some short passing routes to get Bomar confident. While the stats might lead you to believe that Bomar isn't very good, it's really a case of him just being very young and making poor decisions.

UCLA's job is to keep Bomar unconfident, and make Oklahoma remain a one-dimensional, running team. The Bruins will try to do that by stacking the box, then putting pressure on Bomar (sound familiar?) and not let him get in any kind of rhythm. You can probably expect a number of UCLA players blitzing from various spots on the field. Tulsa last week kept pressure on Bomar and forced him into bad decisions, like two badly-thrown interceptions.

On the other hand, you might want to give Bomar a little confidence and get OU throwing the ball, because no matter how confident Bomar is he's not going to be as effective as Oklahoma's elite sophomore running back Adrian Peterson (6-2, 218). Peterson is one of the few best running backs in the country, combining great straight-ahead speed with very good strength and a good ability to stay on his feet. Tacklers tend to bounce off him like bugs on a semi's windshield.

Peterson is so good that, with Oklahoma obviously not throwing the ball in the second half of the Tulsa game, and the Tulsa defense keying on him, he still ran for a total of 220 yards. You could make a case that Tulsa more or less even contained Peterson, except for a few 20+ runs. When he gets it going, gets in a groove, he epitomizes the term "running downhill."

OU has a pretty good back-up running back to Peterson, senior Kejuan Jones (5-9, 189) who is more of the shifty, side-to-side runner that complements Peterson's straight-ahead strength.

The youth and inexperience quotient extends to Oklahoma's offensive line, which has been controversial itself among Oklahoma fans. The Oklahoma OL is still trying to find itself, with the OU coaches still moving around players, trying to find a winning combination. It has moved its starting right tackle, junior Chris Messner (6-6, 280) to left tackle. It's flip-flopped its center and right guard, with senior Chris Chester (6-4, 295) now at center and senior Chris Bush (6-3, 305) now at right guard. It moved its starting left tackle to left guard, senior Davin Joseph (6-3, 312). This week, the OU staff said they actually still weren't sure where Joseph would play. Then, true freshman Brandon Braxton (6-6, 318) will make his first start at right tackle. Plus, another true freshman, Duke Robinson (6-5, 360) will reportedly rotate at left tackle.

All of these changes signify one thing: The OU offensive line hasn't been doing very well and the OU staff is stabbing a bit in the dark to find something that will work.

Even so, even with the OU offensive line being in a state of flux, it's still not difficult to assert that it's better than anything UCLA has faced yet this season. They're not the typical big, experienced Oklahoma-type OL, but they're still Oklahoma. They are guys who are bigger, stronger and more talented than anything that SDSU or Rice has to offer.

UCLA's Brigham Harwell.
So even though Oklahoma has said they'll try to get their passing game going against UCLA, with UCLA's biggest weakness being its defensive line and its rush defense, why wouldn't you just run the ball if you're OU? You have Adrian Peterson, running behind three senior interior OLs, looking across the line at two undersized, inexperienced UCLA defensive tackles in true sophomore Brigham Harwell and true freshman Chase Moline.

The biggest responsibility to stop OU and Peterson will fall, as we've said, on UCLA's veterans defenders up the middle – linebackers Justin London and Spencer Havner and strong safety Jarrad Page. They'll be keying on Peterson and it's really a huge test for these guys, to see if they can contain him.

If Oklahoma actually does try to throw the ball, they have some capable, but maybe not spectacular, receivers. The most productive is senior Travis Wilson (6-3, 213) who has good speed to go along with his size. Senior JeJuan Rankins (5-11, 182) is the shifty guy after the catch. Redshirt freshman Quentin Chaney (6-5, 200) is their matchup-problem guy, with his size making him difficult to defend. Oklahoma likes to throw the ball to Peterson out of the backfield, to get him out in the flat running upfield, and it's very likely that could be a major component of their plan to get Bomar some easy throws. They also have a back-up tight end, sophomore Joe Jon Finley (6-6, 244) who has shown some good athletic ability. It will easily be the best group of receivers UCLA's secondary will have faced in its first three games. If UCLA's young corners, like Trey Brown and Rodney Van, can keep the receivers contained, giving UCLA's front seven time to pressure Bomar, they'll make OU's offense one-dimensional.

It will also be interesting to see if OU utilizes its quarterbacks to run the ball, which has always been a component of Stoop's offense and conspicuously missing from OU's first two games this season. Bomar is a pretty nimble runner, and it's Thompson's specialty. When you have the choice of having your quarterback run the ball, or Peterson, it does seem a bit silly to not give the ball to Peterson.

Advantage: Oklahoma. In the Oklahoma offense and UCLA defensive matchup, Peterson is the difference-maker. If Oklahoma had just an ordinary running back, or just even a good running back, you might give the advantage here to UCLA's defense. But Peterson is not ordinary and just not good. He's freaky good. And the thought of him running through UCLA's interior defensive line is a bit frightening. UCLA's interior D-line got pushed three or four yards down the field commonly against SDSU, so again it's scary to think what's going to happen against Oklahoma. If Peterson takes the handoff, trips and falls down he'll probably get four yards. If UCLA can hold Peterson under 300 yards rushing it would be considered a victory. No joke.

UCLA will put 8-9 players in the box, try to contain Peterson (you can't really stop him), and try to make Bomar beat them. Hopefully Peterson, if he carries 30+ times, will get tired in the Rose Bowl mid-day heat.

Expect UCLA to use many different defensive looks, like nickel and dime packages, with players blitzing from many different spots on the field. Expect quite a bit of interior, run blitzing, to help plug those holes that Peterson will be running through and, if in the off-chance Bomar actually fades back to pass, to put on a pass rush.

If UCLA can limit Peterson, and keep Oklahoma's offense below 40 points, UCLA has a good chance. That's not a joke either.

UCLA'S OFFENSE V. OKLAHOMA'S DEFENSE

It's UCLA's strength versus Oklahoma's stronger unit, and it should make for a very interesting match-up and a good test of just how good UCLA's offense is.

Oklahoma's defensive strength is its front seven, led by junior weakside linebacker Rufus Alexander (6-1, 230), who is on the watch list for the Butkus Award. Alexander is one of those great athletes that always seems to be in your television screen around the ball. The leading tackler on the team is his ‘backer mate, junior middle linebacker Zach Latimer (6-2, 220), who UCLA fans might remember since the Bruins recruited him heavily out of high school. Latimer is a new starter

OU linebacker Rufus Alexander.
this season, but has quickly taken to the task, with 15 tackles against TCU. Alexander and Latimer could be the best combination of two linebackers UCLA could see all season.

Up front, Oklahoma has gotten through some injury and adversity to piece together a solid d-line. They lost Larry Birdine, who was projected to be a starting defensive end and a star, before the season to a bicep injury. Then another bicep injury (is it in the Norman water?) was suffered by star senior defensive tackle Dusty Dvoracek (6-3, 298). Dvoracek was kicked off the team last January, returned and then suffered the injury, but he's playing, although a bit hampered, not having the ability to use his hands to fend off blocks as well as he might. Back-up sophomore tackle Steven Coleman (6-4, 291) is one to watch.

Junior college transfer defensive end C.J. Ah You (6-4, 265) has filled in well for Birdine in the first two games, and senior Calvin Thibodeaux (6-1, 261) has returned from a season ending injury in 2004 to play solidly. OU has kept its defensive ends fresh by rotating in the back-ups.

The front seven are allowing just 2.1 yards per carry in OU's first two games.

They haven't faced a running game the caliber of UCLA's so far this season, though. UCLA is averaging 222 yards on the ground per game and 6 yards per carry. Like UCLA hadn't seen a running back the caliber of Adrian Peterson, Oklahoma hasn't come close to seeing a back the caliber of UCLA's Maurice Drew, or even UCLA's back-up Chris Markey.

UCLA's three starting sophomore offensive linemen have done very well, but playing against Oklahoma will be the real true test for tackle Brian Abraham and guards Sonny Tevaga and Chris Joseph.

OU has generated only a decent pass rush in its first two games, relying mostly on blitzes from its linebackers to get pressure on the quarterback. They like to stunt their linemen, in much the same way UCLA does. It's critical for Oklahoma's defense to get pressure on UCLA quarterback Drew Olson; he's a different quarterback when he has time to make decisions, as he showed last week against Rice.

What scares Oklahoma most about UCLA's offense is tight end Marcedes Lewis. Last week, Tulsa tight end Garrett Mills had 13 catches for 152 yards. Mills, a good tight end in his own right, is Ryan Moya-sized, and the Oklahoma faithful are legitimately scared about what the 6-6, 250-pound Lewis could do against its defense. Mills was practically unstoppable, particularly in routes over the middle where the Tulsa offense found some soft spots in OU's coverage. Oklahoma threw every different type of coverage at Mills they could, but still he was effective against the OU defense.

If OU does what Rice did and dedicate two to three defenders to limit Lewis, UCLA will do what it also did against Rice, and look to its receivers. It looks to be a very good idea since Oklahoma's back four were definitely their defensive weakness in its two first games. Like with its offensive line, OU is juggling players in its defensive secondary, trying to find the right combination, and it appears they'll do it again this week. Freshman Reggie Smith (6-1, 190) might get his first start at strong safety, with sophomore Lewis Baker (6-3, 203) mostly playing the nickel back. At free safety there's been a battle for the starting spot and it appears that sophomore Darien Williams (5-10, 197) has won out. At one corner, new starter, sophomore D.J. Wolfe (5-11, 196) won the job over projected starter, sophomore Marcus Walker (5-10, 197). Senior cornerback Chijoke Onyenegecha (6-1, 202) has six starts, and that's the most among OU's projected starting secondary. Bottom line on the defensive backs – they looked

UCLA's Brandon Breazell.
vulnerable against Tulsa, often giving up third-and-longs with ease. Not only with Lewis, but with Junior Taylor coming off his career day and Brandon Breazell stepping up, UCLA looks to be able to exploit OU's weakness in pass coverage. They have given up 236 yards per game through the air, while UCLA is averaging 241.

Much of UCLA's success rides on the shoulders of quarterback Drew Olson. He has looked smart, poised and efficient in UCLA's first two games, but he'll get the kind of pressure he hasn't seen yet this season and probably less time to get the ball off. Look for UCLA to throw short quite often to counter Oklahoma's blitzes, and try to get the ball to Lewis matched up with Oklahoma's relatively inexperienced defensive backs.

On special teams, OU was worried about its punter, Cody Freeby in spring, but Freeby had a huge game against Tulsa, averaging 50 yards on five punts. UCLA has done very well on special teams as a whole, but has concerns about its own punter, redshirt freshman Aaron Perez. He's only punted three times in two games, but will almost assuredly punt more against Oklahoma Saturday. His potential inability to punt effectively and impact field position is a factor that UCLA hasn't had to face really in its first two games.

Advantage: UCLA. Even though UCLA hasn't faced a high-caliber defense, it's done enough to prove that it's a dangerous offense. What was probably most encouraging was how diversified the offense was against Rice, and you can almost certainly expect the UCLA offensive brain trust to pull out all the stops against Oklahoma. Watch for continued dynamic play-calling, and the nice, well-rounded passing game that was on display against Rice. It's imperative that UCLA get the ball into the hands of as many receivers as possible as it did last week, to keep Oklahoma from merely keying on Drew and Lewis.

Oklahoma will probably be able to keep Drew and UCLA's running game under relative wraps, but with its secondary still struggling to find itself and its personnel, you can expect UCLA's experienced passing offense to be the difference-maker in this match-up.

UCLA, again, will want to dominate the time of possession. Big strikes are well and great, but keeping Oklahoma's offense off the field is probably UCLA's most effective strategy. Driving the field, eating up 6-8 minutes per drive, and putting the ball in the endzone is the ideal. To do that UCLA will have to be effective in its short passing game more than just about any aspect of its offense.

Prediction:

There are many great intangibles going on with this game.

Oklahoma has never lost to UCLA. OU is a proud program that has been on a roll for five years and they want to dispel the theory that losing to USC in the national championship game in January was a major setback in the program.

UCLA is favored, while it's unranked, over a team ranked 17th. IF UCLA wins it almost certainly will be ranked for the first time in three years.

Oklahoma, a team that isn't used to being an underdog, has to be very motivated by the fact that UCLA is favored.

For Karl Dorrell, it's arguably the most important game of his UCLA head coaching career. If he wins this game, it greatly increases his chances of getting at least an 8-win season, and getting over the hump. It will be a huge cornerstone game in regards to recruiting; UCLA is doing well with many elite recruits in the class of 2006 and a win like this would give the program and the UCLA coaching staff the validation it needs in the eyes of those recruits.

When looking at the matchups themselves on paper, everything points to an offensive show. It would be a great surprise if UCLA could limit Adrian Peterson effectively. After what UCLA fans have seen in recent years in regard to UCLA's run defense, it's just so easy to see Peterson slicing through UCLA's defense. Rhett Bomar isn't as bad as everyone is making him out to be. You can't, by any means, expect him to suddenly become Troy Aikman, but he could be effective enough throwing the ball to keep UCLA honest.

Oklahoma's defense is good, but is vulnerable. If UCLA's young offensive line can be effective, it will give Olson, Drew, Lewis and the rest of the receivers enough opportunities to exploit Oklahoma's weakness in their secondary. So much will depend on UCLA's offensive line being able to give Olson time to operate.

OU's offense hasn't produced many points in its first two games against mediocre opponents. However, those mediocre opponents had decent rush defenses. For an offense that is struggling to throw the ball, with probably the best running back in the country running from tackle-to-tackle, UCLA's defense is exactly what it needs.

Everything points to a score-a-thon, with the team able to out-score the other prevailing. OU's defense doesn't look to be good enough (at least at this stage in the season) to limit UCLA's offense and its multiple weapons.

UCLA 34
Oklahoma 28


Bruin Report Online Top Stories