Preview of the OSU Game

Coming to the Rose Bowl Saturday is Oregon State, and the Beavers are a pretty good team, balanced on both sides of the ball. The OSU starting quarterbacks is questionable, though, and there are enough factors here that could make this game closer than it should be...

NOTEWORTHY FACTORS

-- UCLA will host Oregon State at the Rose Bowl Saturday. Kick-off is 3:00, with the game being televised locally by FSN Prime Ticket. Bill Macdonald and James Washington will be calling the action.

-- Oregon State is 5-3 overall and 4-1 in the Pac-10. The big win, of course, was against USC, beating the Trojans 27-21 in Corvallis and potentially derailing USC's ultimate bid for a national championship.

-- All three of the Beavers' losses have come on the road, with its only road win being at Seattle against winless Washington.

-- Last week, OSU beat Arizona State in Corvallis, 27-25. ASU had a chance to tie the game with 21 second left but ASU's Rudy Carpenter threw an interception on a 2-point conversion attempt.

-- OSU is one of three teams in the Pac-10 with one loss. USC is 5-1 and Cal is 4-1.

-- After the Beavers play UCLA this weekend, they play Cal, Arizona (3-2) and Oregon (4-2).

-- The last time OSU started Pac-10 play 4-1 was in 2000. That year, the Beavers also beat USC, which was ranked #8 at the time.

-- It will be the 57th meeting between UCLA and Oregon State, with the series dating back to 1930. UCLA leads the series, 39-13-4.

-- UCLA has won the last five straight against OSU, including the last two played in the Rose Bowl. Oregon State's last win in the Rose Bowl came in the 200 season (44-38).

-- Last season, in Corvallis, OSU went up 14-0, but then UCLA scored 40 unanswered points to win 40-14. UCLA only led 19-14 with 9:12 to go in the game, but then OSU fumbled a couple of kick-off returns that led to two more UCLA touchdowns, and a blocked Beaver punt set up another. OSU Head coach Mike Riley called it a "five-minute nightmare."

-- UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel is 3-1 as a head coach against Oregon State, with each win coming while he was head coach at Washington.

-- OSU needs one more win to become bowl eligible. It would be a third consecutive year for the Beavers and the fifth time in the last six seasons.

-- UCLA needs to win 3 of its last four games (Oregon State, Washington, Arizona State and USC) to be bowl eligible.

-- OSU has finished third in the Pac-10 the last two seasons.

-- OSU has done very well in the Pac-10 under Mike Riley, except against UCLA. Riley is 0-5 against the Bruins. He, in fact, has a Bruin jinx; when he was the offensive coordinator at USC, he went 0-4 against UCLA.

-- Mike Riley is in his eight year as Oregon State's head coach, first being hired in 1997, and then being re-hired in 2003 after a short stint in the NFL. Since OSU doesn't have an illustrious football history, the Riley era in Corvallis is considered one of the best in its history. He is the first coach in OSU history to win more than one bowl game. He's the first OSU coach to lead the team to more than one winning conference season. In 2006, the Beavers won 10 games, only the second time in OSU history a team has done that. He is 52-41 at OSU overall, which makes him the third most-winning coach in OSU history. Riley is an offensive mind, known for his good offensive scheme. It's pretty widely known that Riley was second choice when UCLA hired Karl Dorrell. He is an OSU grad, and grew up in Corvallis.

-- Oregon State true freshman wide receiver Kevan Walker, who is redshirting, is the son of UCLA Defensive Coordinator DeWayne Walker.

-- Oregon State is been excelelnt at taking care of the ball. The Beavers have rushed the ball 265 times this season and only lost two fumbles, which makes them tied for second in the nation for fewest fumbles lost (Oklahoma has lost the fewest: 1). Both OSU fumbles, too, were flukes, with one being a backward pass. Both, too, came in OSU's season opener, putting them on a 7-game streak without a fumble.

-- Oregon State currently has the longest active bowl win streak in the Pac-10, at four.

-- Saturday calls for a high of 82 degrees and partly cloudy skies.

OREGON STATE'S OFFENSE V. UCLA'S DEFENSE

It might not ultimately be that significant, but the fact that Oregon State's starting quarterback Lyle Moevao (JR, 5-11, 220) is injured and could possibly miss Saturday's game could be the biggest break of the season for UCLA. Moevao is currently being called "day-to-day" because of an injury to his throwing shoulder he suffered last week against Arizona State.

OSU's offense is easily one of the best in the conference, both with a very good passing and running game. But it needs Moevao, who has proven to be very effective throwing the ball (227 yards per game, third in the conference), and has that "it" quality, the savvy and poise to lead a team on the Pac-10 level.

Receiver Sammei Stroughter.
Without Moevao, who is a big reason why Oregon State is having a successful season, the quarterback duties fall to Sean Canfield (JR, 6-4, 220), who was the starter last season before Riley had to pull him because of his ineffectiveness (You might remember the pretty poor game he had against UCLA last season). Riley did say, though, that Canfield might have had the best performance of his career last Saturday when he filled in after Moevao was injured in the second quarter against ASU. Canfield, a lefty, completed 19 of 28 passes for 218 yards and two second-half touchdowns, and reports are that he looked like a different quarterback It was the first time he had had any significant snaps in a game since last December.

So, the big question will be if Moevao can play Saturday. The next biggest question: Which Canfield will show up?

Even if OSU can't get adequate production out of its quarterback, it does have the best running back in the conference in Jacquizz Rodgers (FR, 5-7, 193), who is averaging 118 yards per game (1st in the Pac-10, 10th in the nation). Rodgers, who was ranked the 22nd-best running back in the nation as a high school senior, is one of those guys who not only has overcome his height, but uses it as an advantage. He's very elusive, and sometimes it's difficult for tacklers to find him squirting through a small hole in the line of scrimmage. He's not like Maurice Drew, who would run over someone in his way, but Rodgers relies more on his elusiveness. He has 945 yards on the season, and will almost certainly become only the third freshman in Pac-10 history to rush for over 1,000 yards as a freshman. It's very good bet that he'll end the season as the top yardage gainer of any freshman running back in the history of the Pac-10.

OSU also has one of the best receivers in the conference, if not the best, in Sammie Stroughter (SR, 6-0, 186), who is second in the league in receptions per game (5.5) and receiving yards per game (70.8). But it's not all Stroughter; OSU has been getting great production from Shane Morales (SR, 6-1, 209) and James Rodgers (SO, 5-7, 185) the older brother of Jacquizz.

It's all made possible by a very good, veteran offensive line, led by tackle Andy Levitre (SR, 6-3, 324) and guard Adam Speer (SR, 6-3, 301).

UCLA's defense is healthier than it's been in weeks, but it looks like true freshman Datone Jones will still start at defensive end, with senior Tom Blake and sophomore Reginald Stokes still sidelined.

Cornerback Alterraun Verner.
UCLA's passing defense has been good so far this season, allowing just 99 yards per game through the air in UCLA's last four games. Not only have cornerbacks Alterraun Verner and Michael Norris had good seasons, but true freshman free safety Rahim Moore has done exceptionally well having been thrown in the fire.

UCLA's nickel package might be a bit vulnerable this week since its nickel back, Tony Dye, could be out with an injury, or at least slowed by one. Aaron Ware or Glenn Love will fill in.

Advantage: Oregon State. Even without Moevao, and if Canfield returns to his struggling ways, the Beavers could still be very effective against UCLA by just handing the ball to Rodgers. The UCLA rushing defense, which is already one of the worst in the country (ranked 98th), has really struggled against the shifty, elusive-type of tailbacks. If you watched Rodgers juke his way through the USC defense it gives you shivers to imagine him running through and around the UCLA defense.

But OSU's passing offense isn't #1 in the Pac-10 (259 yards per game) merely because of Moevao. Its receiving group is excellent, and it's going to be the biggest challenge of the season so far for UCLA's secondary. UCLA, who hasn't been great at pressuring the quarterback so far this season, will have to do it Saturday, hopefully forcing Canfield into his old, shaky habits. If there's a chink in the armor of Oregon State's offense you'd say it was their pass protection, which hasn't been near as good as its pass blocking. To slow down OSU's offense, UCLA Defensive Coordinator DeWayne Walker will have to bring some pressure on the OSU quarterback, neither of which are greatly mobile.

UCLA'S OFFENSE V. OREGON STATE'S DEFENSE

The more perspectives you get on Oregon State, the more you realize that they're a pretty good team. Their 5-3 record isn't just a result of a good offense but a very solid defense. It's currently the #4-ranked defense in the conference, behind USC, Arizona, and Cal.

It's been doing it with very good play in both its rush and passing defense.

And to be blunt, some of the Beavers who are carrying the defense seemingly have come out of nowhere this season.

Safety Greg Laybourn.
Having one of the best seasons of any defensive lineman in the Pac-10 is Slade Norris (SR, 6-3, 245). Norris was considered a pass-rush specialist last season, but it wasn't even sure he'd be the starter heading into fall camp. He's definitely convinced anyone who was uncertain about him, currently second in sacks in the league (6.5) and third in tackles for loss (11.5).

Stephen Paea (SO, 6-1, 303) is looking like one of the best young defensive tackles in the league.

OSU lost its three starting linebackers from last season, but some long-time back-ups have stepped up. Keaton Kristick ((JR, 6-3, 226) is having a season that could get him some post-season honor consideration, with 51 tackles and 8 for loss.

The story in the back seven, when you're talking about unknowns stepping up, has been safety Greg Laybourn (SR, 5-10, 205). Laybourn had started just two games in his career before this season. He's gone from unknown to merely the leading tackler in the Pac-10, with 70 on the season so far.

It might have helped Laybourn that he's surrounded by three talented veterans who made up the returning strength of the OSU defense: cornerbacks Keenan Lewis (SR, 6-1, 197) and Brandon Hughes (SR, 5-11, 182), and safety Al Afalava (SR, 5-11, 215).

You would think that UCLA's offense, after a bye week, would have a chance to get some of the injured back and get some depth. But two sometime-starting offensive linemen, Micah Reed and Scott Glicksberg, were suspended for this game.

Kevin Craft and Kahlil Bell.
Luckily, UCLA has had to juggle its offensive line so much this season it has some guys that have also started to fill in. And Jeff Baca, the true freshman, returns from his injury to split time at right tackle with Micah Kia.

Freshman receiver, Nelson Rosario, who had a big game against Stanford three weeks ago, looks like he's out for the game.

But Kahlil Bell, UCLA's senior running back, appears to have really benefitted from the bye week, looking the quickest and healthiest he's been yet this season in practice this week. UCLA hasn't had a running game yet this year, and it's folly to expect one to magically materialize. But the only moments this season when it appeared to have one was when Bell ran with some explosion.

Quarterback Kevin Craft, who had perhaps his toughest outing of the season against Cal, has had a good week of practice.

Advantage: Oregon State. The only two worst offenses in the Pac-10 other than UCLA are Washington and Washington State. Thank goodness the state of Washington is horrible this year.

OSU's defense, like we stated above, is a good, solid one, good at both defending the run and the pass. Having that kind of balance will give it some options against UCLA's offense – namely being able to trust its rush defense against UCLA's poor rushing offense and drop an extra man back into pass coverage, or to pressure Craft.

OSU has gotten just decent pressure on the quarterback this season – nothing noteworthy – and you can expect UCLA Offensive Coordinator Norm Chow to get Craft out in space to operate, where he tends to execute much better.

If there's one aspect of the game UCLA clearly has an advantage it's on Special Teams. OSU doesn't present any particular threat in its kick-off or punt return units, and it has the worst punter in the conference in true freshman Johnny Hekker, who is averaging 35.9 yards per punt and really struggling. He was about to be pulled in last week's game, so we could see Ryan Allen, another true freshman.

Prediction:

I don't know if I've ever gave an "advantage" in both the offensive/defensive match-ups to one team, but then predicted the other would win.

But this is what happens in a season when UCLA needs to "steal" its wins. While one team can dominate the offensive and defensive match-ups on paper, there are other contributing factors, like homefield advantage, coaching and the mental state of the team that can easily combine to have more impact.

This very well could be the case with this game. Oregon State should win; it clearly has better units on both sides of the ball.

But Oregon State has played dramatically worse on the road than it has at home this season. Yes, two of those games were against ranked teams (Penn State and Utah), but OSU's defense, in particular, just didn't have the same intensity or aggressiveness on the road as it has at home.

And, when talking about intangibles, Oregon State only has to win one more game among its remaining four to be bowl eligible. And the games it has remaining on its schedule after this Saturday (Cal, Arizona, and Oregon) could very much be distracting the Beavers from the task at hand. You would think that OSU feels that the UCLA game is the easy one left and they could be looking past it, and not taking it as seriously as they might. It has let-down written all over it for the Beavers.

Also, take into consideration that UCLA overall will benefit from the bye week, getting guys who were a bit nicked up more healthy, getting an extra week of practice, etc.

These factors are going to make this a much closer game than it should be. So far, UCLA has been pretty good at stealing games at home (Tennessee, Stanford) and this has all the earmarks of another one.

UCLA will also gain an edge with Moevao out and OSU having to go with Canfield.

Really, we should pick OSU to win this game, 31-20, but we're going to go out on a homer limb this week.

UCLA 27
Oregon State 24


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