Oregon State Game Preview

It's a close game, any way you slice it. UCLA will have to be able to run the ball, going up against one of the best rush defenses in the country, and the Bruins will have to force a rookie quarterback into mistakes. It could come down to the homefield advantage...

NOTEWORTHY FACTORS

-- UCLA takes to the road to play the Oregon State Beavers in Corvallis, Oregon, Saturday at 3:30. The game is being televised by FSW with Barry Tompkins, Petros Papadakis and Jim Watson calling the action.

-- UCLA is 3-1 overall and 2-0 in the Pac-10, with wins over Stanford, BYU and Washington, and a loss against Utah.

-- Oregon State is 2-2 and 0-1, with wins over Utah and Idaho State, and losses against Cincinnati and Arizona State last week, 44-32, after leading 19-0.

-- There is one common opponent between the two programs this season - Utah. UCLA, as everyone knows, lost on the road to Utah, 44-6, while Oregon State beat Utah in the season-opener at home, in a game where Utah lost its starting quarterback and running back to injury, 24-7.

-- The series between UCLA and OSU goes back to 1930, with UCLA holding a 38-13-4 advantage.

-- Last year, UCLA beat the Beavers at the Rose Bowl, 25-7. UCLA trailed at halftime, 7-6, but UCLA's defense held the Beavers scoreless in the second half and quarterback Patrick Cowan engineered two scoring drives that resulted in touchdowns.  The Bruin defense recorded five sacks and limited OSU to just 85 yards on the ground while forcing four fumbles.

-- Karl Dorrell is 2-0 against the Beavers. Because of scheduling, UCLA didn't play OSU in Dorrell's first two seasons.  UCLA has not played a game in Corvallis while Karl Dorrell has been its coach.

-- The last time UCLA played in Corvallis was in 2002, in Bob Toledo's last season, when the Bruins had to rally from a 14-0 deficit to win 43-35.

-- In the last 20 years, UCLA is just as good against OSU at home as it is on the road, posting 6-2 records for both. 

-- In 1999, Toledo faced one of his worst defeats when he lost 55-7 in Corvallis.  That season, the Bruins were ranked as high as #13 to ultimately go just 4-7.

-- UCLA has a four-game wining streak against OSU, which is its longest against any Pac-10 opponent, and the longest losing streak for the Beavers against any Pac-10 opponent.  OSU's last win over UCLA was in 2000, 44-38, in the Rose Bowl. 

-- Last year, Oregon State won 8 of its last 9 games, and its one loss during that stretch was to UCLA.  It finished the season 10-4 with a win over Missouri in the Sun Bowl.

-- UCLA has a conference best, five-game winning streak on the line.

-- Oregon State is coached by Mike Riley, who is in his seventh year overall as the Beaver coach.  Riley coached OSU for two seasons before going to the NFL's San Diego Chargers.  After spending four mediocre years in the NFL, including one year as an assistant with the New Orleans Saints, he returned to OSU as its head coach for the 2003 season.   He has led the Beavers to three bowl games in four years in his second tenure, winning each. Oregon State's 10 wins in 2006 marked the second-most in school history. He's the only coach to lead OSU to two winning marks in conference play since 1969.  Riley attended high school at Corvallis High, where he lead his team to the state title in 1970, before going on to play football at Alabama.

-- Riley was the other finalist for the UCLA head coaching job in 2003, with the UCLA administration opting for Dorrell over him.

-- Riley is 0-8 against UCLA in his lifetime. He is 0-4 as a head coach at OSU and 0-4 as an assistant at USC (1993-1996). Perhaps his most painful loss to the Bruins was in 1998, in Corvallis, losing 41-34, in what amounted to the defeat that kept OSU out of its first bowl game since 1965.  In that game, Oregon native Cade McNown led the Bruins, hitting Brad Melsby on a 61-yard touchdown with 21 seconds left for the win. 

-- Riley, in his fifth year of his second stint in Corvallis, is 32-22, the exact same record that Dorrell is in his fifth year at UCLA.

-- UCLA is 8-15 on the road under Dorrell, while going 22-5 at home (not counting neutral sites). 

-- It is expected that Reser Stadium will be sold out (45,674) and loud. 

UCLA'S OFFENSE V. OREGON STATE'S DEFENSE

This is a tough match-up for UCLA any way you look at it.

Here are just some of the elements that jump out at you:

-- UCLA's offense needs to run the ball to be successful and OSU enters the game second in the nation in rush defense, allowing just 29.5 yards per game.

-- UCLA is still without its best offensive lineman, Shannon Tevaga

-- After UCLA's offense seemed to get a bit on track last week against Washington under quarterback Patrick Cowan, Cowan injured his knee and is out for at least a few weeks. UCLA will be starting Ben Olson, who has had a shaky start to the 2007 season, after he didn't play last week against Washington due to concussion-related headaches.

-- Oregon State is #1 in the Pac-10 in sacks, collecting 14 so far this season, while UCLA is dead last in sacks allowed, having given up 9.

Man...

Oregon State's defense, which is ranked 19th in the country, is a veteran, experienced and deep crew.  They return eight starters from last season and eight of the starters this year are seniors, with the other three being juniors.

It's led by its front seven, and this is how deep the OSU defense is: Slade Norris (JR, 6-3, 254), its third-string defensive end, leads the Pac-10 in sacks with 4.5.   You also have the two very experienced and good starters at DE, Dorian Smith (SR, 6-3, 258), who is very quick, and Jeff Van Orsow (SR, 6-4, 266), the savvy vet, who actually has two interceptions in his career.  Victor Butler (JR, 6-2, 233) is another pass rush specialist, with 2.5 sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss.

Inside there is the classic run stopper in Curtis Coker (SR, 6-1, 309), who clogs up the middle. If there is a weak link at all to the front seven, you'd probably say it's the new starting tackle, Gerald Lee (SR, 6-1, 280), but that'd be nitpicky.  OSU also uses back-ups William Akau'ola Vea (SR, 6-2, 282) and Pernnell Booth (JR, 6-1, 302) extensively. 

The Beavers commonly use up to 10 defensive linemen in a game.
Linebacker Derrick Doggett.


And the DL isn't even the defense's true strength; the linebacking unit is.  Strongside linebacker Derrick Doggett (SR, 6-3, 210) is one of the best in the Pac-10 - a UCLA-sized linebacker but very quick.  He's been a second-team all Pac-10 player for two years but is playing like a first-teamer so far this season.  Joey LaRocque (SR, 6-2, 230), at the weakside spot, could content for post-season honors himself, with as many tackles as Doggett (21) on the season, and four of those being tackles for loss.  There isn't a weak link with middle linebacker Alan Darlin (SR, 6-1, 251), another experienced veteran, who is a strong hole stuffer.  Like on the DL, OSU uses its depth at linebacker, routinely subbing in Isaiah Cook (JR, 6-2, 225) at the Sam, and Keaton Kristick (SO, 6-3, 229) at the Will.

If the OSU defense does have a weakness it's pass defense. It's allowing 259 yards per game in the air, which gets it ranked 7th in the conference and 90th in the country.  Last week the Beaver defense was torched for 361 yards through the air by pass-happy Arizona State. 

One of its best players, too, resides at free safety in Al Afalava (JR, 5-11, 198), the team's leader in tackles (30), who has a rep as a big hitter.  Daniel Drayton (SR, 5-10, 204) is a first-year starter who has had to replace all-Pac-10er Sabby Piscitelli from a season ago and has shown some vulnerability against the pass, but he's also been very active, especially in run defense.  Their cornerbacks are experienced, but have struggled some.  Brandon Hughes (JR, 5-11, 174) has been the better of the two, while Keenan Lewis (JR, 6-1, 194) has been burned a few times. He sat out some of the ASU game with cramps.  OSU continues with its use of its depth in the secondary, using upward of nine defensive backs in a game.

The depth of OSU's defense is a key, with the Beavers constantly shuttling in fresh bodies. It also helps that most of those bodies have experience.

UCLA's offense has its work cut out for it.  The Bruins are dependent on the run, averaging 216 yards per game on the ground. For UCLA's offense to be successful, like it was last week against Washington, and wasn't the week before against Utah, it will need to be able to move the ball with its ground game.  That's going to be tough sledding against Oregon State's rush defense.  UCLA running back Chris Markey had one the best games of his career last week against Washington, looking quite a bit better than he did in UCLA's first three games.  And if he's on his game this week, that gives UCLA two effective running backs with Markey and Kahlil Bell, who is now the official starter.
Ben Olson.


So much, however, could be dependent on how UCLA's passing game fares against the Beavers.  OSU is far more vulnerable against the pass, but UCLA's passing game hasn't been spectacular.  Ben Olson, after sitting out last week with headaches from a possible concussion, returns to start this week, after Patrick Cowan went down with a knee injury.  

Advantage: Oregon State. This isn't a hard one to call.  UCLA hasn't seen the likes of a rush defense like this one and you'd have to think it's going to struggle against OSU's front seven in running the ball.  Arizona State, last week at home, which is a good running team, gained only 35 yards on the ground. And that wasn't for trying - that was in 36 attempts. 

So, it's going to be on the shoulders of UCLA's passing game to have to move the ball. And that's an iffy proposition.  It's hard not to envision Olson fading back to pass, taking too much time to find a receiver and OSU's big-time pass rush swarming him.   Last week the OSU pass rush battered ASU's Rudy Carpenter. Since UCLA won't have a great deal of time to throw, it will have to emphasize its short passing game, also trying to get Olson in a rhythm. It would be smart to get UCLA's tight end Logan Paulsen involved in the game plan, which UCLA has failed to do generally in its first four games. 

The game at Utah, which most Bruins fans don't want to remember, is really a comparable situation. On the road, in a stadium that has a loud 45,000 fans, and Olson under center, not being able to run the ball much.  UCLA had five turnovers in that game, with Olson throwing three interceptions, and they didn't score a touchdown.  Hopefully it won't be that bleak and UCLA fares better. The Bruins have to be better prepared than they were against Utah but, on the other hand, OSU's defense is on a completely different level than Utah's.

OREGON STATE'S OFFENSE V. UCLA'S DEFENSE

As match-ups go, this isn't one that looks particularly good for UCLA either.

UCLA's vulnerability on defense has been its pass defense, and Oregon State's strength has been throwing the ball. UCLA's pass defense is dead last in the Pac-10, giving up an average of 304 yards per game, while Oregon State's passing offense is ranked #2, gaining an average of 289 yards per game.

Oregon State's rushing offense isn't too bad either, averaging 160 yards per game.

Overall, it's a well-balanced and pretty good offense, averaging 450 yards per game - and that's with an inexperienced quarterback still learning the ropes.

Sean Canfield (SO, 6-4, 222) is the new starter and he's had some struggles so far this season.  He won the position over Lyle Moevao (SO, 5-11, 225), who's more mobile and can be more effective with his legs in OSU's spread offense. But OSU is sticking it out with the young southpaw Canfield, and he's having a hard time finding receivers quickly, and then has had a tendency to throw into coverage.  He has thrown 9 interceptions in four games, and five last weekend against ASU. 

But, take into consideration that 8 of his 9 interceptions have been in road games. 

And it's not like Canfield hasn't been give a lot of time. OSU's offensive line has provided him ample, allowing only 6 sacks in four games.  Coming into the season, the offensive line was projected to be a real strength, with four returning veteran starters. The interior of the OL is considered to be perhaps the best in the Pac-10, but it's without all-Pac-10 guard Jeremy Perry who's been out since the season-opening game against Utah with a leg injury.  Stepping in for him has been Adam Speer (JR, 6-3, 276), which many have noted has been a considerable drop-off.  Trying to pick up the slack are the two other exceptional veterans inside, guard Roy Schuening (SR, 6-3, 318) and center Kyle DeVan (SR, 6-2, 294).  At tackle is returning starter Andy Levitre (JR, 6-3, 324) and new starter Tavita Thompson (JR, 6-6, 319).

Without Perry, the line has been up and down more than expected so far this season.  They haven't been near as effective in providing holes in the running game, which was supposed to be the real strength of the offense.
Receiver Sammie Stroughter.


That was expected mostly because of the return of Yvenson Bernard (SR, 5-9, 204), the running back who will probably end his career among the top ten in rushing in Pac-10 history.  He's rushed for over 1,300 yards in each of his past two seasons, and is a steady and sometimes devastating threat out of OSU's backfield. He's not the fastest, nor the strongest, and definitely not the biggest, but he's tough, runs hard, has good instincts and a good burst.  It's funny that his performance so far this season has been seen as below expectation, when he's currently fifth in the conference in rushing, averaging 94 yards per game and 4.5 yards per carry, which is a higher per-carry average than in any of his previous seasons.  He started the season in his old form, gaining 165 yards against Utah, but then fell off against Cincinnati and Idaho, only to regain form against Arizona State last week, going for 128 yards.  He's a type of guy that needs 20+ carries to be effective, and seems to get stronger as the game goes on.  And he's always a threat to bust one.

OSU doesn't use its back-up tailbacks much, with Bernard getting about 80% of the tailback carries. They'll go to Matt Sieverson (SR, 6-2, 220) as a change of pace and in short-yardage situations. 

They do have a fullback, Andy Stewart (SR, 5-11, 235) but he's used sparingly in the spread.  Gabe Miller (R-FR, 6-3, 242) is the H-back, and OSU will look to him on short passes. 

They do, however, like to give the ball to their receivers and flankers out of the backfield.  So, watch for some end-arounds with flanker James Rodgers (FR, 5-7, 181) and others.

The receivers and flankers have done a good job catching the ball, too, with Canfield having a number of weapons.  Sammie Stroughter (SR, 6-0, 189) and Anthony Brown (SR, 6-1, 218) have been very reliable, combining for 31 catches. Stroughter, who was thought to be one of the best receivers in the Pac-10 coming into the season, has put together two very good games in the last two weeks and is always a long-ball threat.  Brown is a big, steady possession receiver type. Brandon Powers  (SR, 6-2, 215) has caught 13 passes from his slotback position, and Howard Croom (SO, 6-3, 241) is a pretty mobile tight end who is good at finding a seam.  OSU also throws to its running backs quite a bit, with Bernard and Sieverson having 20 receptions between the two of them.

The receivers had an issue of dropping catchable balls early on, but were good last week against ASU.
Kevin Brown.


UCLA's defense, once again, finds itself up against a spread offense with a great deal of weapons.  Stopping Bernard on the ground is going to have to be a huge priority, and UCLA's defensive tackle Kevin Brown has been a very good, steady force on UCLA's defensive line, especially when it's been without Brigham Harwell the last two weeks. UCLA does get back its starting defensive end, Nikola Dragovic, but he's not expected to start.  The Bruins also get back Aaron Whittington, its starting strongside linebacker.

While UCLA's rush defense has been good, it has yet to really be challenged by an exceptional running team. OSU hasn't shown itself to be that team just yet this season, but it definitely has the history, with Bernard, to be it. 

The Bruins will need to shore up its passing defense and keep track of all of the guys OSU has coming out of the backfield. 

Advantage: Even. And that could be a stretch.  If you take away OSU's turnovers, they've been very good offensively.  And UCLA's defense really has yet to put together a game where they shut down anyone this season. 

UCLA will try to go after Canfield, trying to hurry him into interceptions.  It's curious, too, because his interceptions really haven't been as a result of him being hurried, but just bad decisions.  He'll be on a roll, throwing a few consecutive completions, and then, without being rushed, throw into double coverage. But regardless, UCLA will try to force him into them. 

When analyzing Canfield, you have to consider that he's been more prone to throwing inteceptions on the road.  And last week on the road against ASU, even though he threw five of them, he also passed for 324 yards and two touchdowns. 

There has been some criticism of Riley for throwing the ball too much. Last week, when OSU was up 19-0 against ASU, they continually went to the pass and Canfield threw those five picks, which allowed ASU back in the game.  But the Oregon State offense is predicated on throwing first and running second, and they'll stick to what they do.

Special teams haven't been stellar for Oregon State. They do have one of the best field goal kickers in the country in Alexis Serna (SR, 5-8, 162), and he has a big, accurate foot. He hit a 58-yarder last year.  But Serna is also the punter and he's not doing too well in that role, in fact, he's last in the Pac-10, averaging 34.5 yards per punt, which has really hurt their field position.  UCLA's special teams has been generally pretty good, with kick-off returner Matt Slater returning one to the house last week and also making a number of tackles on kick-off and punt coverage, while UCLA's punter, Aaron Perez leads the league, averaging 44.3 yards per punt.

Prediction

This is a close game, with two teams that are pretty evenly matched, both in talent and experience.  When looking at the more specific match-ups, though, with strengths and weaknesses, UCLA doesn't match up well. 

On offense, UCLA needs to run the ball and it will be going up against one of the best run defenses in the country.  Oregon State's defense has been vulnerable to a big-play passing game, and UCLA's passing game wouldn't be characterized that way.  ASU's defense is the best at rushing the passer in the Pac-10 and, so far, UCLA's offense has been the worst at protecting its quarterback.  Last week, ASU's Rudy Carpenter compensated for the OSU pressure with his feet, making plays on scrambles, but UCLA's Olson isn't mobile. 

On defense, UCLA has been giving up big chunks of yardage through the air, and Oregon State has been good gaining big yardage through the air. 

It's a home game for OSU, where they've been night-and-day different than on the road so far this season. That could be because their rookie quarterback is far more comfortable at home than on the inhospitable road.   UCLA, also, has a track record of not being good on the road under Dorrell.  Its quarterback has generally struggled in his career on the road. 

There is also the assertion by the OSU program and its fans that this is a must-win. The way their schedule works out, the Beavers face many tough opponents on the road, so they feel they have to hold serve at home to get themselves to another bowl game.  The OSU players are talking this week is like this <i>is</i> a bowl game. 

It will be interesting to see if UCLA has as much urgency.  You'd have to think they learned their lesson when they went on the road complacently to Utah and got spanked. 

UCLA also hasn't been good with penalties in recent weeks, getting hit with 10 in each of its last two games.  On the road, in a hostile environment, playing a cleaner game will be a huge challenge this week for the Bruins.

It could come down to turnovers, and whether Canfield will throw interceptions. He hasn't done it at home. 

But the game, as most do, will come down to who owns the line of scrimmage. It's hard to envision UCLA's offense getting the best of OSU's excellent front seven.  And on the other side of the ball, OSU's offensive line against UCLA's front seven is probably a push.

If UCLA can't run, it will really struggle. And every indication here is that it won't be very effective running the ball.

If this game is played in the Rose Bowl, we'd give it to the Bruins.  But there are just too many indicators that favor OSU at home and go against UCLA on the road.

Oregon State 33
UCLA 20

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