Big special teams plays by Jordan Poyer (14) and Jovan Stevenson (19) could very well prove to make the difference when Oregon St. visits UCLA today. (Photo by Andy Wooldridge)
So many questions! As we head into the conference opener for Oregon St. and UCLA, there are as many questions as there have been around a game in a long time. Are the Beavers as good as they looked what seems like a long time ago against Wisconsin? Are the 19th ranked Bruins as good as they have looked in jumping to a 3-0 start? What if they both are?
Can Oregon St. start the season with wins against ranked teams back to back? Can UCLA keep it rolling? The Bruins haven't started a season 4-0 since 2005. Can the Beavers win a road game before October under coach Mike Riley? Can Riley tie Lon Stiner for most wins in program history? Which young quarterback is better, Sean Mannion or Brett Hundley? And that's just the beginning. At least there's plenty of reasons to watch this one!
It has been a long time since Oregon St. has played well on the road. Even the last win 2 years ago in Tucson was marred by missed opportunities and mistakes. You have to go back to the beatdowns the Beavers applied in Pullman and Berkeley in 2009 to find good efforts in a true road game, and many members of the current team weren't even around then, much less had much to do with it.
The program has historically had a hard time with UCLA as well, and when the Beavers have had the Bruins number, it hasn't lasted.
That all suggests another assault on the glass ceiling, which we suddenly and unexpectedly are facing again, will be unsuccessful, as has happened time and again. The next step for the program has been for some time now to be able to break through that ceiling in other people's houses, putting forth a performance like the win over Wisconsin, or the victories over USC, on the road.
This is probably the best opportunity to do so that Oregon St. will have in a while (Beating the 'Cats next week in Tucson, like they did 2 years ago, would be a major accomplishment, but face it, on the national level, beating a ranked UCLA team will get much more attention than beating a ranked Arizona team unless their ranking is in the top 5.), and it comes when Beaver Nation is still hoping to find out if their team can even be competitive on the road.
Through the quirks of scheduling and nature, Oregon St. is rested, prepared, and healthy, to a degree not seen at this date in modern memory. The good news is a win is within their capability. It will be tough, but it won't be impossible. Especially if special teams can deliver a couple of big plays, be they positive plays of Oregon St., or negative ones for UCLA.
I'll be watching for the Beavers to act like its their game to dictate as they did against the Badgers, and for special teams to turn the tide (what could be better for the Orange than to put the game on Jordan Poyer?) in what could be one of the best games we have seen in a while.
Beaver Beliver Belives:
There are 3 keys to this game.
1. Stop the Run. The Beavs defense might not be quite as good as we thought after Wisconsin has continued to struggle, but UCLA's strength is undoubtedly the run game. If the Beavs can hold off the running attack of Johnathan Franklin and UCLA they will be in good shape to win. Brett Hundley has been solid for the Bruins so far, but I'd take my chances with the secondary holding the pass game down.
2. Mannion improves. My biggest problem with the offensive performance against Wisconsin was that Mannion kept missing open receivers or receivers breaking open. I never played quarterback, but there were several times where Mannion just checked down instead of looking a little further down the field. The offensive line gave him sufficient time to throw, so now he needs to take advantage of that.
3. The offense has to convert good drives into touchdowns. The offense got the ball up and down the field against Wisconsin, but once they got over midfield they had more trouble with third downs. To beat a very potent UCLA team the Beavs need to put up more points on the board and then means finishing drives.
My gut says the Beavs run defense is for real and that matches up well with the strength of UCLA, but at the same time the home field advantage might be the difference for the Bruins. I'll go ahead and follow the Beaver homer in me and say Beavs win 27-24.
We now know that this is the tougher of the Beavs' first two games, which is strange considering Wisconsin was the "biggest non-conference game" played in history at Oregon State. This week's intriguing matchup will revolve around the Beavers trying to prove that the Wisconsin win wasn't a fluke.
The parallels between UCLA and Oregon State are plentiful. Nobody thought either would be ranked as high as they are (19 and 26 respectively), yet both teams are still relatively unproven--one home victory against a Big-10 school apiece. After several less-than-successful seasons, UCLA is looking to come out from the shadow cast by USC; the Beavers doing the same with the Ducks.
The point is, these teams matchup well, like they always seem to. But can the Beavers avoid a loss in back-to-back trips to the Rose Bowl? The first step to that, of course, is stopping the run. Was two weeks ago a fluke, or can the defense stop (or at least slow down) the 5th ranked rushing offense in the country? That comes down to whether the D-Line enables players like D.J. Welch and Michael Doctor to make plays in the open field.
The Beavers' offensive efficiency simply needs to improve; scoring 10 points while gaining 350+ yards won't get the job done this week. For this to happen, Trevor Romaine needs to find some consistency, because the game could easily come down to 3 points.
One thing I'm scared of is UCLA's potential defensive adjustments. A huge part of Oregon State's offense last week were quick, short passes behind or just in front of the line of scrimmage. If UCLA can do a good job of eliminating these plays, possibly by giving Oregon State receivers less of a cushion, we could see a frustrated Beaver offense for a quarter or two.
Like the Badgers game, I don't see Oregon State winning this one, although they certainly can. However, I wouldn't be hugely disappointed about losing a close game on the road to the #19 team in the nation.
In this strange start to the 2012 football season I don't really have a specific position-by-position analysis of this upcoming and very important conference game against UCLA. Basically I believe if the Beavs can 1) play as aggressive and smart defense as they did against the Badgers, especially how they shut down Ball, and 2) they can find more scoring and rushing offense that they can win this game.
What I would like to do is break down my thoughts into these set of possibilities (as in choose one after 60 minutes of game time this Saturday):
1) The Beavs are as good as they looked against, at the time, 13th ranked Wisconsin team. They have a defense that plays smart and aggressive and is a well-rounded OSU defense that we haven't seen for a few years now. And their offense looks posed to give teams fits with some dynamic receivers, a smart and confident QB, and a solid running game. I'm still holding off judgement until this team goes to the desert.
2) The Beavs are even better than they looked against a possible underachieving Wisconsin team this year. They have a defense that looks posed to have this program competing at a high level in a dynamic Pac-12 conference, and they have an offense that continues to improve and looks to be ready to finally hit a Mike Riley play-calling-stride that will compete with the 2006 and 2008 seasons. I'm really starting to believe again!
3) The Beavs are going to be a difficult team to figure out this season for one weekend they can look great and the next not so much. I'm wondering if the strange start to the season is becoming a disadvantage for this team, but I still also see some possibilities with this team to do some damage in the conference.
4) The Beavs look like a team that could barely beat a pretty bad Wisconsin team and now the defense and offense are showing some holes that are going to be hard to get filled as we are already deep into the season even though they only played two games. I'm thinking oh no here we go again.
Which one will it be? You probably see where I'm going with this, but I really don't know. I'm hoping and thinking it could well be one of the first two choices. They looked really good against Wisconsin, but that was only one game and UCLA has looked really good in three games!
One thing I do know is that this is the first conference game for both teams and it is a huge game for both teams in determining how their seasons are going to really begin.
After playing 2 game in nearly 4 weeks, the Beavers embark today on 11 games in 11 Saturdays. And Beaver Nation is really ready for some football!