Oklahoma State Preview

UCLA takes a young team on the road to face Oklahoma State Saturday in Stillwater. the Cowboys have a weapon that they'll try to exploit. Can UCLA's passing game get on track?


-- It's the first-ever meeting between UCLA and Oklahoma State, and only the twelfth time in history that OSU has played a Pac-10 team.

-- In 1988, UCLA's Troy Aikman came in third in the Heisman Trophy voting, losing out to Oklahoma State's Barry Sanders.

-- Oklahoma State's Head Coach Les Miles is in his second year at the helm. In his first year last season, he had a 4-7 record. But among those four wins was an upset over then-fourth-ranked Oklahoma, in Norman, 16-13, to end their season. They also beat eventual WAC champion Louisiana Tech, and lost to Missouri and Colorado by a combined 6 points. The Missouri game went into triple overtime.

-- Oklahoma State is a fairly experienced team. They'll probably start ten seniors (UCLA – 9), and have 13 players with 10 starts or more.

-- Rashaun Woods, Oklahoma State's star wide receiver, is third on Oklahoma State's career receiving list with 1653 yards. Only a junior, Woods has a chance to overcome Oklahoma State's all-time leader, Hart Lee Dykes, who had 3172 career receiving yards. Woods is also second on the list of OSU career receptions, with 128, trailing Dyke's 203.

-- Last week, when UCLA defeated Colorado State, it was UCLA's eighth straight regular-season victory over a non-conference opponent.

-- UCLA jumped into the rankings this week, being ranked #23 in the Associated Press poll, but is still unranked in the USA Today/ESPN Coache's Poll.

-- In an online poll conducted by the Oklahoman, the local newspaper covering OSU, and the local TV station, over 74% of the fans who voted believe UCLA will win the game, and 72% "in a romp." Only 25% believe that the Cowboys will win the game.

-- Five of Oklahoma State's next six opponents are ranked: No. 23 UCLA, No. 3 Texas, No. 26 Kansas State, No. 8 Nebraska and No. 21 Texas A&M.

-- UCLA played fourteen freshman last week against Colorado State. Head Coach Bob Toledo said that, while many of those freshman got plenty of playing time – like Mike McCloskey (starting center) and Spencer Havner (starting linebacker) – a few others could see more time on the field this week. Toledo said that safety Jarrad Page, who he said played very well against Colorado State, might get more time. Toledo said that Justin London, the freshman middle linebacker, could see more time, especially with it's starter, Marcus Reese, nursing a minor injury. Also, Toledo said that linebacker Wesley Walker and tailback Jason Harrison could see more playing time.

-- Toledo said he'll take 69 players on the road trip. Since it's a non-conference game he's allowed to take more than the 60 that are allowed on conference road trips.

-- OSU Head Coach Les Miles has an interesting take on California. When he was a member of the Colorado coaching staff, he recruited California. He told the Oklahoman: "One (high school) overlooked the ocean and was really gorgeous," Miles said. "I was walking back to the coaches office and heard two kids, two boys, saying, 'Are you getting your windsurfer?' They were meeting after school. As I was walking by, I was like, 'Thank God I was born in Ohio,' because I'd have never played anything. I'd have been sitting there with pooka shells around my neck and some kind of tan."

-- The weather forecast for Saturday night in Stillwater is warm and possibly wet. It will be humid, with highs for the day in teh mid 80s. There are some thunderstorms foreseen for the day, but most weather forecasts predict it will clear up by the evening.


The Oklahoma State defense is good at one thing and not-so-good at another. It's pretty good defending against the run, and not-so-good defending against the pass.

Which is really a great matchup for the UCLA offense.

Now, quite a bit of Oklahoma State's statistics for the season are a bit askew since they played Division 1-AA Northern Iowa last week. But perhaps their one legit statistic is that they're giving up an average of only 71 yards on the ground, which is currently 17th in the country. Okay, well, it was against a 1-AA team and a Louisiana Tech team its first week that only ran the ball 23 times.

But really one of the strengths of this Cowboy team is its two interior defensive linemen. They're both pretty big (both 6-5 and around 300), which is a stark contrast from the smaller, quick Colorado State defensive tackles from last week. Kevin Williams is the real veteran, having started the most games on the entire team. He's the anchor of the defense. Next to him at nose guard is LaWaylon Brown, who is in his second year as a starter. Last week he led the team with five tackles, including two sacks, giving him three sacks in two games.

The defensive line, though, lost one of its starters when defensive end Khreem Smith suffered a knee injury last week that will keep him out of the UCLA game.

Besides the interior defensive line, the Oklahoma State defense is a question mark for the Cowboys. They run a 4-2-5 defense, with two linebackers and five defensive backs. But even having five defensive backs hasn't helped the Cowboys defend against the pass. In its first game, Louisiana Tech, which is admittedly a passing team, threw for an astounding 448 yards against OSU. Their defensive backs are hurting, in more ways than one. Safety Elbert Craig is the veteran and is coming off a pretty big game against Northern Iowa where he collected two interceptions. The other two safeties are senior Chris Massey (pictured above), who is one of the best kickoff returners in the country (averagind 24 yards a return) trying to make a name on defense, and senior Kirk Milligan, who is undersized at 5-9. A freshman safety, Charlie Ward, who saw playing time in the season's first two games, is out for the season with an ACL tear in his knee. A huge question for the Cowboys going into the season was at cornerback. 5-9 sophomore Darrent Williams had two picks last week and they're hoping he secures one side.

At linebacker, senior Terrence Robinson is the veteran, but then surrounding him are three freshmen in the two-deep at linebacker (remember, they only play two LBs).

UCLA's offense, as stated above, matches up well against Oklahoma State's defense. UCLA showed in its first game against Colorado State that running the ball is a strength, and it goes up directly against OSU's defensive strength. Perhaps what might make this UCLA offensive line better this year is the better play from its interior linemen – with guards Eyoseph Efseaff and Steve Vieira being a year older and better. They'll have perhaps the most challenging matchups of the day (behind of course, Ricky Manning's matchup on Rashaun Woods). It will be a good test to see how Efseaff, Vieira and redshirt freshman center Mike McCloskey do against Williams and Brown, not only on the ground but in pass protection. UCLA showed last week that running the ball is probably going to be one of the strengths of the team, again. It will use its big offensive line and five tailbacks to pound against the OSU defensive front and wear them down and hopefully, like against CSU, in the second half, a fresh UCLA tailback will be able to exploit a tired OSU defense. Watch for Jason Harrison to get in the game more, and look for him to catch some balls out of the backfield.

With the running game trying to tenderize OSU's defensive line, the UCLA passing game will have a great opportunity on Saturday to get on track. The OSU passing defense just isn't very good, and UCLA's array of talented wide receivers should be able to get open for most of the day. This could be the game that Mike Seidman (pictured above) gets 5+ catches, and that freshman Marcedes Lewis gets his hands on the ball. But you can expect UCLA to go to its reliable Craig Bragg. With a couple of smallish, inexperienced cornerbacks defending him, it's a good opportunity for Tab Perry to break out, too.

But perhaps OSU is the best opportunity for UCLA's quarterback Cory Paus to get on track. It won't really be an overly hostile crowd, with only about 45,000 expected (and probably less hostile than the hometown crowd at the Rose Bowl). It's his second game, coming off a second half of the CSU game where he seemed to get the jitters out. He'll be going against a questionable secondary that is currently 106th in pass defense in the country, with one of their games coming against a 1-AA team. He has steady targets, like Seidman, Bragg and Ryan Smith. And UCLA's passing game plan should include short, easier-to-complete passes to help him get in a rhythm.

Advantage: UCLA. Really Oklahoma State's only chance of keeping UCLA under 30 points is if they can stop UCLA's running game. UCLA will probably see OSU's version of a stacked box, bringing up its defensive backs to plug running holes. After Paus's shaky performance against Colorado State, with only a true freshman in Drew Olson to back him up, OSU's defensive philosophy would have to be to try to make UCLA beat them through the air. But even with just an average performance from its quarterback position, UCLA is still going to be good enough to throw on OSU. Heck, UCLA is probably going to be able to run on Oklahoma State pretty easily also.


The story of OSU's offense is dominated by its star wide receiver, Rashaun Woods (pictured at right). He's a 6-2, 190-pound junior, and he's one of the best wide receivers in the country. He's coming off his best performance of his career, gaining 175 yards on nine catches (again, though, this was against a 1-AA team). He's third in the nation in receiving yards (150/game) and fifth in the nation at receptions per game ( 9.5).

OSU's offense is designed almost entirely to get the ball into Woods' hands, and primarily in one-on-one coverage. They do many things to try to get Woods isolated. They'll split out three wide receivers to one side, pulling three DBs over to that side, and then split out Woods to the other side. They'll line up with five wide receivers just to force defenses to play Woods one-on-one. They'll use a no-huddle offense just so defenses can't get in enough DBs to match up against all of its wide receivers.

UCLA is obviously well aware of this. The defense in practice this week spent most of its time lining up against different multiple wide receiver sets and against the scout team running a no-huddle offense.

While there is quite a bit of hype surrounding the matchup of UCLA's star defensive back, Ricky Manning (pictured below), on Woods, the way OSU uses Woods, lining him up just about everywhere, Manning might not match up against Woods most of the time. When he does, the battle should be glorious. While Woods has an advantage of a few inches, Manning plays bigger than he is and is a very physical player. Watch the matchup in this game, particularly when Manning is in his bump mode. When he is, it's very difficult for a wide receiver to even get in his pass route.

Joe Hunter might be seeing Woods as much as Manning. That's a big challenge for Hunter.

Woods injured two fingers Wednesday in practice and left practice. OSU is saying they don't expect it will affect his performance.

Perhaps the best defense against Woods is to not allow Oklahoma State's quarterback, sophomore Josh Fields, to get Woods the ball. It's a numbers game. If you have five receivers on the field, you only have five blockers up front protecting the quarterback. If everyone's matched up man-for-man, that leaves UCLA with the ability to blitz and have a man advantage in the pass rush. Watch for UCLA to trust its defensive backs in coverage and blitz quite a bit, trying to put the responsibility of OSU's offensive success on Fields rather than Woods. Fields is young and inexperienced, starting only his third game against UCLA, and looked shaky at times in the first two. He threw for 261 yards against Northern Iowa and 204 against Louisian Tech. You would hope that UCLA's pass defense might be a little bit more formidable than a 1-AA team and Louisiana Tech. So, if UCLA's defensive backs can contain the flood of OSU wide receivers for a few moments, UCLA should be chasing around Field for a good part of the day. Fields will try to throw a lot of quick hitters or swing passes to get the ball off quickly.

OSU starts three wide receivers and no tight end. It's other wide receivers are pretty good, too. John Lewis sat out the Northern Iowa game with an injured hamstring, but is expected to play against UCLA. Terrance Bryant-Davis is a quick little threat as the other wideout. He's also a great punt returner.

The bigges problems Oklahoma State faces on its team is with its offensive line. They've been trying to piece together an offensive line since fall practice. Since the beginning of its fall practice, OSU has had four different centers and six guards lined up with the first-team offensive line at different times. Three OLs are pretty solid bets. Big left tackle Kyle Eaton (6-8, 300) is the vet. The other tackle is also a senior, Jason Russell. Probably their next most dependable lineman is sophomore right guard Sam Mayes. A redshirt freshman, Bryon Machado is listed on their two-deep at #1 center, but OSU just made another change, replacing him with redshirt sophomore Ben Buie. Buie had knee surgery last year and has been slowed by an ankle injury so far this season. Neither Buie or Machado were on the depth chart at center a month ago. Sam Hall, who going into the season was the projected starting center, is now seeing time at guard, where he's competing with starter Cory Curtis, a freshman.

This uncertainty at OL has shown in OSU's first two games. They're averaging 144 yards a game on the ground in two games, against two teams that should have been sieves. And that was with two 70-yard-plus runs against Louisiana Tech by two different tailbacks, which practically was their entire rushing yardage total for that game.

What has also hurt the Cowboy running game is that their tailbacks have been plagued with ankle sprains. Tatum Bell, the returning starter, was nursing an ankle sprain, but should be okay. The #2 tailback, Seymore Shaw is a big, north-south runner who also has been hampered by an ankle injury but is said to be healthy. OSU's third back is Vernand Morency who is thought to not be 100% this week due to a sprained ankle. If they were all healthy, and had a good, healthy offensive line to run behind, OSU's tailbacks could be pretty good. But that second "if" is a big one.

UCLA's run defense should have a good day against OSU's running game. Rod Leisle will see a pretty consistent double-team, like he did against CSU, but all that does is open up others, like Steve Morgan, to make the tackle. Watch for UCLA's linebackers to be all around the ball, their quickness probably too much for OSU's offensive line.

Advantage: UCLA. It will be a good test for UCLA's defense in trying to shut down Woods. But UCLA just has too much of an advantage in every other aspect of this matchup. OSU, in trying to exploit Woods, leaves the rest of its offense pretty vulnerable when it plays against a good defensive team. Fields is really the key; if he can get time and complete some passes, OSU has a chance to move the ball. If he gets pressure and can't get in a rhythm, OSU's offense should be pretty rested by the end of the day.


UCLA is just too talented for OSU to give it much of a game. One big factor here that could keep it close is the special teams matchups. OSU has some dangerous kickoff and punt returners. And UCLA will have to at least catch its own punts and kickoffs and not make mistakes. The game, though, should be similar in type to the Kansas game last year, when UCLA was just too strong and talented for KU to keep up. OSU will get some points, with UCLA not able to completely contain Rashaun Woods. But UCLA should have an easy advantage in time of possession, the best way to keep the ball out of Woods' hands.

Oklahoma State 17

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