Oregon State returns home, for their next to last home game of the season this afternoon. It's a real throw-back feel, as its a 1:30 kickoff, for the first time in the modern tv era, and against a conference opponent in UCLA that the Beavers haven't seen in over 3 years. There are non-conference foes that are more familiar than the Bruins.
Further, substantial shakeup due to the coming and going of injuries, on top of total turnover of the system, leaves us with very little to base any prediction about how the game will go on.
This lack of familiarity, which goes both ways, thanks in large part to a long list of injuries that UCLA has had to work past, might actually be a good thing for the Beavers. There's not going to be much in the way of pre-conceived notions in anyone's mind when the ball is kicked off, at least not validated ones.
That doesn't mean the Beavers should just go play playground football; the whole purpose of the second half of the season, which has shown progress the last 2 1/2 games, is to get beyond individual football, and on to the schemes and systems the coaches are implementing. But there won't be pre-conceived apprehension about what might happen when any given play is run, based on what happened last year.
This could be what led to resorting to old habits at times during the first part of the season, to the frustration of the coaches. Today's measure of success will be independent of the outcome; it will be the degree to which Oregon State accurately executes both the play call and the game plan.
The keys are the usual ones; run the ball, throw the ball under control in a balanced manner (especially without running threat Seth Collins available) that could become Nick Mitchell's strength, get pressure on a good but disrupt-able freshmen quarterback in Josh Rosen (the Beaver defense did that, for a refreshing change, more against the Utes than they have all season), play with discipline in the secondary (also something that Oregon State did surprisingly well with totally inexperienced corners in Utah), and be opportune and ball-secure when it comes to turnovers. Turnovers have been a big factor, pro or con, for UCLA too, so that aspect of the game is doubly important.
Defensive Coordinator Kalani Sitake has stated that adding impact plays is the next step once the base defense is soundly being executed, and so watching for that without reintroducing breakdowns will make the game worth the look.
I sense there's players really trying to make this thing work, and a feeling of support for those efforts will help them stay the course. Let's hope the losing streak and the rain don't deter too many Beaver fans, some of whom have work to do on their game as much as the less experienced of the players.
Beaver Believer Believes:
UCLA is a much more talented team than the Beavers and if the Bruins play up to their potential OSU is likely cooked. Even despite their injuries they have plenty to go around still, there will be some narratives about attacking their depth but they are just as deep as the Beavers still.
Like every game OSU needs to execute at a high level, there cannot be missed tackles, assignments, or any sort of poor technique. There needs to be success up front especially, where the Beavers have been losing more and more. They need to attack Josh Rosen and force the freshman into poor throws, though the dinged up secondary will have trouble capitalizing even then. If the defense puts in an effort like last week though they will have something to hang their hat on, no need to be ashamed of a good fight with teams that are just better at the moment.
The offense will need to be focused on the ground, hopefully a mixture of Nall and Barrs-Woods could pound away over a full game and start to loosen up lanes. This will require a whale of a performance from the offensive line, and with injuries there it could be another struggle. If the defense can let the offense have a chance to start wearing down the defense.
OSU will need some bounces to go their way as well, it's going to be an uphill battle and not a climb that I expect the Beavers to complete this week. I don't see that happening this time however, 34-13 Bruins.
Last week's game overall against the #13 ranked Utah Utes team was in theory more of what I have been looking for in terms of something to possibly to build upon as this program refocuses and moves into the future. Sure it was rough at times, and the Beavs lacked the skill, and the depth needed overall to fully compete with a top tier Pac-12 team this year.
At the same though, the defensive looked more competitive after some adjustments that needed to happen with Utah's first two possessions, and the offense did have a little more evenness with its opponents performance (though not sure the stats fully tell the story of showing flatness again on offense for OSU, but the numbers were not bad when compared to Utah's own offensive numbers for the game).
Now the thing here does become: What did this all show us? How will this translate to playing the #23 ranked Bruins this Saturday afternoon?
Personally I think the Beavs, right now can be read coming into this UCLA game in two ways:
1) The game against Utah was a decent step forward for the team, and a positive move forward in a season that has been very tough up to this point. As such, the team will have more of a newly found confidence coming into a match up at home, which will translate into a more competitive football game than we may have imagined would happen just two weeks ago.
2) The game against Utah was a blip on a more negative radar screen. The team found some spark on defense with the help of a coach that knew the opposing offense well, and against a Utes team in a bit of a letdown slide after running at full speed towards the college football Playoffs. This then translates to more of the same for Oregon State against UCLA in terms of what we saw in the games against Stanford, Arizona, and WSU, and against a UCLA team that is seemingly finding their second wind after a disappointing skid a few weeks back.
Honestly I have no idea what to expect. One moment I think maybe this could be a decent match up for an improving, small steps forward improving, Oregon State football team. The next moment I feel we will get a Beavs team that has an offense that can do nothing in the run or passing game, and we see a struggling Nick Mitchell still trying to find his way on the field; additionally we will see a defense regress against a decent UCLA passing attack led by a young, but more seasoned first-year QB Josh Rosen.
Call me out on all of this right now and I would say I am feeling a bit more confident coming into this game than I have for any of the Pac-12 games to date. That said, I think I felt decently optimistic for a competitive showing against Washington State too. So I just don't know. What I do know is that another competitive football game against another Pac-12 ranked team will be another, even if it is a small one, step forward.