Preview of Oregon State

The Oregon State Beavers are on a roll coming into the Rose Bowl Saturday. While UCLA has lost four straight, the Beavs have won four straight, including the big upset over USC two weeks ago. Can UCLA turn around the direction of its season and beat the Beavers?

NOTEWORTHY FACTORS

-- The Oregon State Beavers come to the Rose Bowl Saturday, with kick-off at 3:15.  The game will be televised on Fox Sports Net Prime Ticket, with commentators Bill Macdonald and Mike Sherrard in the booth.

-- OSU is 6-3 overall and 4-2 in the Pac-10. They started out slow this season, going 2-3 in their first five games, with a blow-out against Boise State. But the Beavs have now won four in a row, including the big upset over USC two weeks ago in Corvallis, 33-31. They also beat Washington (27-17), Arizona (17-10) and last week stomped Arizona State, 44-10.

-- The Beavers are at #24 in the BCS rankings, its first appearance since 2000.

-- OSU's current four-game winning streak is its longest within the Pac-10 since the 2000 season.

-- OSU, since it has 13 games on its schedule, has to win seven games to become bowl eligible.

-- One month ago, Oregon State was tied for seventh in the Pac-10, had lost two in a row and had been outscored in two league games, 54-19.  Since, it has moved into a tie for third and has outscored its last four conference opponents, 121-68.

-- UCLA is 4-5 and 2-4 in the Pac-10, and trying to win at least two more games to become bowl eligible and stop a 4-game losing streak.  The Bruins are currently tied for sixth in the Pac-10 with Arizona State and Arizona and, even if they did get to six wins, there is no guarantee they would be picked up for a bowl game.

-- UCLA leads the all-time series, 37-13-4, which dates back to 1930.  The Bruins have won the last three meetings (the teams did not meet in 2003 or 2004), which is the longest against OSU by a conference school. 

-- This is the second year in the row the two have played in the Rose Bowl, with UCLA having not played in Corvallis since 2002. 

-- Last season, UCLA routed OSU, 51-28. The Bruins were ranked 8th in the nation going into the game, and quarterback Drew Olson set a school record, throwing for six touchdown passes.

-- The Beavers are coached by Mike Riley, who is in his second stint at Corvallis. In this most recent one, he's in his fourth year, with a record in those four years of 26-19.  He was also the OSU head coach in 1997 and 1998. In the interim, Riley went to the NFL, to coach the San Diego Chargers, and then worked as an assistant with the New Orleans Saints, before returning to OSU.  Riley is probably best known to UCLA fans as the other finalist for the Bruin head coaching job along with Karl Dorrell after Bob Toledo was fired. In fact, many sources close to the program have indicated that Riley was, in fact, the first choice of Athletic Director Dan Guerrero, but he was over-ruled by UCLA administration.

-- Riley, at OSU, since 2003, is 26-19; Karl Dorrell, in the same period, at UCLA, is 26-20.

OREGON STATE'S OFFENSE V. UCLA'S DEFENSE

Remember Washington State's offense?  That's just about what you'll see Saturday against Oregon State.

OSU utilizes a similar spread, with just an average running game, and a strong passing game.

You will remember the Oregon State quarterback.  Former Bruin Matt Moore (6-4, 193) is having a fine senior season, having thrown for 1815 yards and 8 touchdowns.  He started out the season roughly, without go-to receiver Mike Hass from a year ago, but has now settled down, throwing for an average of 257 yards in OSU's last four straight wins.  He hasn't thrown an interception in his last two games, which was instrumental in OSU prevailing against ASU and USC.  He still makes bad decisions at times, and tries to force throws into coverage, but he's improving, especially with how OSU is giving him better pass protection.

Pretty much if you want a big indicator as to how OSU will do in a game, look at its sacks allowed. In its six wins, it's allowed just 1.1 per game. In its three losses, 5.3. In four of its wins, it didn't allow a sack. 

So, for OSU, it's all about pass protection, and giving Moore time enough so he doesn't make a bad decision.

OSU's Sammie Stroughter.
It also helps that coming on strong is junior receiver Sammie Stroughter (6-0, 199) who, with all of the big-named receivers in the Pac-10, leads the conference in receiving yards per game (96.1).  He had 223 receiving yards against Washington. He's fast, shifty and hard to stay in front of. 

Then maybe the other most distinct offensive threat for OSU is senior tight end Joe Newton (6-7, 256).  This is WSU's Cody Boyd and Notre Dame's Jeff Samardzija all over again - the big, strong receiver that has been able to more or less have his way with the UCLA defensive secondary.  Newton has caught 28 passes for 348 yards for the season, which is more than UCLA's leader in either category.

On the ground, it's been another relative no-name story, with junior Yvenson Bernard (5-9, 204) quietly having an all-conference caliber year.  In fact, the scat back is second in the Pac-10 in rushing, averaging 101 yards per game.  Bernard and the OSU running game are not spectacular, but consistent, getting its 120 total yards consistently and not getting held below that very often.  It's a reliable running game, and OSU uses it that way.

Probably the biggest reason OSU is having such success this year is a veteran (and, again, no-name) offensive line. It's a strong line in the middle, with junior guard Roy Schuening (6-4, 318) probably an all-conference candidate.

UCLA's defense, again, will be up against it, facing another very good offense that's hot.  So much will depend on whether UCLA can garner a pass rush, something it hasn't done well in its four-game skid. Not only are defensive ends Justin Hickman and Bruce Davis seemingly getting better contained, it also seems like UCLA isn't blitzing as much, or at least, as effectively, as it was at the beginning of the season.  

Advantage:  OSU.  It's pretty blatant that UCLA has been particularly susceptible to the pass in recent weeks, and the fact that it's what Oregon State has been doing so well lately is what makes this a bit scary for Bruin fans.  But, just to scare you a little more, UCLA hasn't been exactly stellar against good running teams either, and while Oregon State isn't a powerhouse running offense, they do it consistently, and are good at blowing holes through the middle of the line of scrimmage.

OSU knows how to keep the ball in its hands, too, leading the Pac-10 in time of possession, so the UCLA defense will be on the field quite a bit.

If you think turnovers are the key to success, you have to note that OSU hasn't turned the ball over in its last two games, has forced five from its opponents, and is second in the confererence in turnover margin.

OSU's offense this season is like a train that took a while to get its steam going and now it's moving downhill. UCLA's defense is a bit on its heels. 

UCLA'S OFFENSE V. OREGON STATE'S DEFENSE

This is perhaps the more interesting match-up of the game.  OSU's offense versus UCLA's defense might have more marquee value, but UCLA's O against OSU's defense holds more mystery and intrigue.

It's a bit mysterious since Oregon State's defense is perhaps the surprise of the conference.  We've been talking up UCLA's defense all season long, but Oregon State's has probably proven itself to be better, third in the conference by allowing 301 yards per game (UCLA's defense is fifth, allowing 311). 

And it's been improving as the season has progressed. Its one bump in the road was against USC two weeks ago when it allowed USC almost 500 yards of offense. But sandwiched around the USC game, OSU allowed Washington and Arizona just 256 and 183 yards offensively and, last week, gave up just 223 to Arizona State.  If there are two offenses in the Pac-10, in terms of production, that UCLA could be compared to it would be Arizona State and Washington, each gaining about 340 yards of offense per game.

Beav's safety Sabby Piscitelli.
The OSU defense is really a story of a number of guys living up to expectations and a few others who are blossoming into stars.

The guy living up to expectation is senior strong safety Sabby Piscitelli (6-3, 225), who will make money playing football next year. Piscitelli is the heart and soul of the OSU D, and he's pretty talented to boot, having linebacker size with defensive back speed.  He's a big-play maker, providing a big hit or a big interception (he's fifth on the list of most career interceptions among active players in the nation with 13). 

Also in the secondary is a rising star, sophomore safety Bryan Payton (6-2, 211) who UCLA fans might remember since he committed to being a Bruin before de-committing, unable to meet UCLA's academic admission standard.  Payton has had 2 interceptions in the last two games and had a big play against USC, returning a pick 52 yards.  If he's not in the game, it's sophomore Al Aflalava (5-11, 198) who's a big hitter. 

The linebackers have also been a success story, led by junior middle linebacker Alan Darlin (6-1, 251) who leads the team in tackles (56) and also has four sacks.  A huge impact has been felt by JC transfer Joey LaRocque (6-2, 230) who has stepped in and become the team's second-leading tackler (53).

Up front, OSU has benefitted by a long-time contributor putting together a good season, senior tackle Ben Siegert (6-4, 288).  Passing-down end, junior Dorian Smith (6-3, 258) is the man to pressure the quarterback, with six sacks.

Oregon State's good pass rush, however, is more of a team effort, with 14 different players having sacks on the season. That has put OSU in the lead for the most sacks in the Pac-10, with 32.

UCLA's offense, on the other hand, is coming off its best performance of the season, piling up 516 yards of offense against Cal last week.  Quarterback Patrick Cowan easily had the best day of his career, throwing for 329 yards and the running game was solid.

There is the theory, however, that Cal's defense just isn't very good, particularly against the pass. It's defense is ranked 97th in the country, and 113th against the pass. 

Karl Dorrell apparently had more of a hand in the offense last week, and many are citing that as factor in the UCLA offense's improvement.

Was it that the offense improved, or was it just that Cal's defense wasn't very good?

That's one of the mysteries in the match-up.

Advantage: Even. Even because UCLA's offense will be at home, feeling more confident after last week's good performance against Cal on the road.  Cowan will have gained confidence, and even if it's not true, they'll believe they're better with more input from Dorrell in the offensive play-calling.

So, we're calling it even mostly on the intangibles. But on paper, you'd have to give it to Oregon State.  Really simply, here's a good measuring stick: Two weeks ago, home against WSU, UCLA's offense sputtered. This week, probably after Cal being an aberration because the Bears' D isn't very good, it makes sense to think that UCLA's offense will return to its struggling ways.  OSU's defense is far superior to WSU's. 

And OSU's defense has enough intangibles of its own to play with. It's having its best season in a while, playing with a lot of confidence, and playing for a decent bowl game.

UCLA's running game last week did well against Cal, but Oregon State's run defense is far stingier.  Also, OSU is the best pass-rush team in the league, and it's going to be putting pressure on Cowan.

On special teams, UCLA's field goal kicker, Justin Medlock, will be looking across the field at a comparable one in OSU's Alexis Serna, the Lou Groza Award recipient last year.  OSU has a weapon in Stroughter as a punt returner, returning three for touchdowns so far this season. 

Prediction:

It's not difficult to pick either team in this one. You could go with the fact that UCLA's offense has finally seen the light of day and its defense will be solid. Or, you could go with OSU's offense continuing to blossom and it's defense continuing to be one of the best in the conference.

Really, though, it's hard to go against OSU, with so much of the emotional factors on its side.  You could look at this game as two teams going in different directions: Oregon State starting the season slow and now finding itself after the big win over USC and continuing to get better; and UCLA, spiraling after four straight losses. 

It's a big game for UCLA, needing to right the ship, and desperate for a win. If UCLA could win this one, it could rejuvenate itself to the point you could reasonably see it winning its last two games, against ASU and USC.

Oregon State 27
UCLA 20

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