Oregon State hasn't seen this week's opponents, the UCLA Bruins in over 3 years, since early in the 2012 season, thanks to the Pac-12 LA school schedule rotation. Saturday's game is also the only trip to the northwest that UCLA will make this season. As a result, most Beaver fans aren't that familiar with what they will see from the Bruins.
To get up to speed for Saturday, we got with Greg Burcham, who writes for Bruinsnation.com, our SB Nation brother site that covers UCLA all day everyday.
Thanks, Greg, for taking time to catch us up on the Bruins!
BTD: Josh Rosen has had some good games and some freshman growing pains, but he appears from the outside to be the Bruins quarterback of the future, and seems to be the best of the bunch of new qbs this season in the conference. Do Bruins see him that way? Or are there some concerns?
Greg: I don't think there is any question that Bruin fans see him that way. He came in as the highest ranked QB in the country (by all eyes except ESPN's - no surprise there) so most Bruin fans expected a lot of him right off the bat. Those with any reservations had their doubts answered either when he "won" the job in preseason camp or at the latest following his incredible debut performance against Virginia.
Since then, he's had some rough moments (3 first half picks against BYU) here and there that would be expected of most average quarterbacks, let alone a true freshman, but he's bounced back quickly form his mistakes and shown that his ceiling is enormous, and I think Bruin fans are very comfortable with what we have in Rosen. If there are any concerns, they lie more with his coaching.
Noel Mazzone is the Bruins offensive coordinator and his son Taylor is the QB coach, and there have been a lot of reasonable questions about their ability to really develop the QB position. Brett Hundley was a fantastic athlete and smart mind who never overcame some basic problems with technique in his years at U.C.L.A. (and which seem to have been promptly corrected in his NFL time already) so people have asked whether the Mazzones are the right ones to really help a young QB grow in both the physical and intellectual components of the position. If there is anything that will hold Rosen back, it won't be his own talent. It might be his coaching.
BTD: It looked like Paul Perkins was going to miss some time, but he bounced back, and had a good game against Colorado. What's his status heading into this week's game?
Greg: Like seemingly the whole U.C.L.A. roster, he's a bit banged up, but he is expected to start this Saturday. He suffered a bone bruise on his knee against Cal and had to leave the game in the mid 2nd quarter. It looked bad at the time, but he stayed on the sidelines and was riding a bike through the game, and didn't miss any practice time. He had a bit of a limp at times last week against Colorado, but it didn't slow him from outracing the defense on an 82 yard TD run, so he should be another week better by this Saturday.
BTD: UCLA has lost a number of top defensive players. How are the Bruins adjusting to address this? What will Oregon State see in terms of alignments and defensive schemes?
Greg: The injury bug has been more like the injury black plague to the Bruins this year. The defense alone lost 3 All Conference caliber players (DE Eddie Vanderdoes, CB Fabian Moreau, LB Myles Jack) for the season by week 3, and have seen several others miss a game or more from injury. It's sucked a lot.
Fortunately, the Bruins are deep and though they've lost a lot in terms of experience, the next men up, and in some cases the next next men up have played admirably. Last Saturday, the Bruins had two players playing strong side inside linebacker who had never practiced the position before and one of them, Jayon Brown, made 18 tackles on the day.
The loss of experienced players has limited the versatility that the Bruins can employ on defense, and defensive coordinator Tom Bradley said they only ran two formations at the end of the Colorado games because so many players were playing new positions and didn't know the formations. Look for U.C.L.A. to simplify the defensive schemes this week and follow their bend but don't break mindset in favor of more creative formations (no down linemen v Cal, for example) or aggressive blitz packages with the safeties.
BTD: Coach Jim Mora has had a lot of success recently compared to previous staffs. But those back to back losses seemed to be a setback, and one that seemed to have Bruin fans concerned, only to have a good bounce back at Cal's expense. What would you say his strengths are, and what are your biggest concerns? Is Mora on much of a hot seat?
Greg: He is on a hot seat with a few fans and on a warm least with a few more, and that's a pretty marked change from previous years. Many feel the Bruins football program has hit a plateau. They'll win 9-10 games a year and get to a mid tier bowl like the Holiday, but they haven't been able to beat the Oregons or Stanfords (and really haven't even been competitive), and they'll also drop a game each year that they shouldn't.
I might be wrong but I think Mora has yet to beat a favored team. That pattern has repeated the last 3 years, and some Bruin fans are getting visibly frustrated. Many Bruin fans would attribute this to a classic NFL mindset that plays too conservatively, allows too many penalties and comes out flat too often, and doesn't capitalize enough on the talent gap that the Bruins have over their opponents.
Many fans are also critical of his loyalty to some of his assistants who seem to consistently underperform from a coaching standpoint. On the plus side, Mora has been a good advocate for U.C.L.A. and he's certainly improved the talent on the roster due to better recruiting. Overall the program as a whole is much better off than before his arrival, but that was a pretty low bar, and a lot of Bruin fans are ready to see more from this team than what Mora has achieved to this point.
BTD: How do you expect UCLA to attack this weekend's game? Will they be aggressive on defense, or sit back and contain an OSU offense that hasn't had much success this season. Will the Bruin offense try to run away behind a big early score? Or will they attempt to run the ball a lot, and shorten the game in the process.
Greg: I think the Bruins will play pretty straight up on defense, in part because of their personnel issues, and in part because they Beavers are going with their backup QB. He looks like a very good player, but just isn't the dynamic runner that the starter was, so I think the Bruins will try to keep things in front of them, and not allow big plays and trust that the OSU offense can't break through too often.
On the other side of the ball, the Bruins will run the ball plenty because that is one of their strengths, and the weather might make that an even safer bet. But they will still try to run high tempo, so they aren't really looking to shorten the game. If they can establish an effective run game, that makes things easier for the true freshman quarterback, and lets him pick and choose his spots rather than being forced to make plays.
The Bruins have been a real Jeckyl and Hyde team this year, so these plans may sound great on a computer screen but if U.C.L.A. doesn't travel to Corvallis with a serious and focused approach (including the coaching), execute well, and play smart and avoid big mistakes, then OSU has more than enough to make them pay.
Thanks a ton for doing this, Andy. All the best to your crew at BtD, and let's declare a moratorium on injuries for both sides this week.
And thanks again for your help and insights, Greg. It should be interesting to see how this one unfolds.
Remember to check back often at Bruinsnation.com for last minute news about the Bruins as game time gets closer.