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November 7, 2008It's no secret the Oregon State football team has struggled against UCLA in recent years. The Bruins have won five straight against OSU, often in bizarre fashion. Take the teams' past two meetings for example.
Last season, UCLA scored 40 unanswered answered points to shock the Beavers at Reser Stadium. OSU had led 14-12 too, going into the fourth quarter. The year before, the Beavers won six of their last seven games to earn a berth in the Sun Bowl. Their only setback during that stretch? A 25-7 loss to the Bruins at the Rose Bowl.
And the latter is what OSU will try to avoid when they take on UCLA in Pasadena on Saturday afternoon. The Beavers are currently in the midst of another strong late-season push, having won five of their last six.
While a win against the Bruins would make them bowl eligible, the Beavers firmly control their own destiny and could play in the Rose Bowl in January. But first, they must find a way to get past UCLA (3-5, 2-3 Pac-10). OSU hasn't beaten the Bruins since the Fiesta Bowl season and even that contest didn't come easy.
"Since I have been here, I haven't been able to get over that hump of beating UCLA and they are a good team," OSU defensive end Victor Butler said at Tuesday's press conference. "I know they have been a little shaky, but that's just what happens. They have got a great coach and he's got them running. They have potential to be a great team and they are going to put up a fight."
UCLA is coming off a bye week. They last played on Oct. 25, a 40-21 loss to California and have dropped five of their last seven games. OSU is coming off a thrilling 27-25 victory over Arizona State last Saturday.
The Bruins offense has struggled under first-year head coach Rick Neuheisel, who owns a 3-1 record against the Beavers in his career. The rushing game is ranked eighth in the Pac-10, averaging just 81 yards per game. Meanwhile, the passing game is sixth with 291 yards, but quarterback Kevin Craft has been erratic, throwing 11 interceptions compared to seven touchdown passes.
However, the defense has been solid against the pass under highly-regarded defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker, giving up just 172 yards a game. But the UCLA defense has allowed teams to score an average of 30 points against them, due to a run defense that's ranked eighth in the conference at 188 yards per contest. Still, OSU coach Mike Riley expects a tough go of things on Saturday.
"I think they have a good speed defensively. This is probably the best duo of inside defensive tackles that we've seen. They've got explosion and strength. They get a lot of penetration. No. 55 (Korey Bosworth), their defensive end, is also a very good pass rusher. You put those two things together and they have caused some people some problems."
So expect a heavy dose of Jacquizz Rodgers against the Bruins, especially since Lyle Moevao maybe not be at full strength, if he even plays. The junior quarterback suffered a sprained shoulder in the ASU game and was replaced by Sean Canfield in the second quarter. Either way, an effective running game would take pressure off whoever plays quarterback for the Beavers.
Defensively, OSU should be fine as long as it cracks down and stops giving up big plays. Last season's game against UCLA illustrated how one play can change the momentum of a game in no time at all. The Beavers simply have too much at stake in this game, since it's their most favorable one the rest of the season. So they are treating it like the ASU game, where they must play their best against a team hungry for a win.
"UCLA is just like Arizona State," offensive lineman Adam Speer said. "They don't have the greatest record, but they are a talented team with a good coaching staff. They are definitely going to play hard. They are another Pac-10 game no one wants to lose and I think it's going to be just another tough game. It's going to be a tremendous challenge for us and we just have to get this one."
BeaverBlitz's Five Things to Watch:
1. Can the Beavers shore up their coverage issues?: The past two games, the OSU secondary has been prone to giving up big passing plays, especially on third down. The safeties especially have been exploited at times.
2. Can Johnny Hekker rebound?: The freshman punter struggled against ASU. Shanked punts gave the Sun Devils good field position, or punts with little hang time, didn't give the coverage team enough time to get in position. This allowed ASU to stay in the game. Give any team a short field often enough, and they will breakthrough. And UCLA is just as desperate as the Sun Devils were.
3. Can the Beavers put pressure on Craft?: While Craft has been erratic, when he gets into a rhythm, he can be a deadly quarterback, as evident by his performance in the Bruins' season-opening upset of then-ranked Tennessee.
4. How will the QB situation for the Beavers play out?: If Moevao is able to go, how effective will he be? Can he do enough to keep UCLA's defense honest and not stack the box against the run? Will he try to do too much? If Canfield plays, can he repeat his solid performance against ASU on the road this time?
5. How many carries will it take Jacquizz Rodgers to reach a 1,000 yards rushing on the season?: Rodgers only needs 55 yards to become only the third freshman in Pac-10 history to accomplish the feat. The last one to do so was Ken Simonton back in 1998, who finished with 1,028 yards. Considering UCLA's pass defense, it wouldn't be surprising if Rodgers reaches the mark in the first quarter. With 124 yards, he could break the conference record by a freshman (1,069), which was set in 1977 by Stanford's Darrin Nelson.