UCLA Defensive lineman Takkarist McKinley:
McKinley’s height/weight of 6’2’’ - 265 lbs do not do justice to describe the freakish athleticism he possess. McKinley has been a backfield terror this season thus far with nine sacks and 16 tackles for loss. The best way to curb McKinley is to let him take himself out of downs through overplaying and getting out of position. Oregon State will have to neutralize his disruption through quick passes, screens, draws, the fly-sweep, and occasionally running directly at him.
OSU QB’s Marcus McMaryion and Conor Blount:
McMaryion is slated to start but I expect to see Blount get at least a few series. Whichever player can more consistently complete the easy and mid-range throws will probably play more as the game progresses. I’ve never been one to like a two-QB system and I’d prefer to have “the guy” figured out by midway through the second quarter. McMaryion has shown that he can throw the ball, but appears to sometimes have trouble reading defenses at times. The walk-on Freshman, Blount, has shown some positives but is still very young. Whoever plays needs to complete 60%+ of passes for the Beavers to win.
Keys to the Game:
1. Smarter not harder - win the turnover battle: UCLA’s chosen one, QB Josh Rosen, is out for the season and it’s been redshirt senior Mike Fafaul that has stepped in to try and fill the void. Though Fafaul has been around UCLA a few years, he recent play suggests that he might not know his own receivers that well (or the UCLA colors). He has thrown nine interceptions through four games of late. In order for Oregon State to win, they will have to create turnovers (or simply catch Fafaul’s passes thrown to those in Orange/Black uniforms) and limit their own mistakes.
2. Sustain drives - less than four three-and-outs: UCLA’s defense is athletic and talented, and has shown the ability to make some plays. I would argue that UCLA’s underperformance in the standings reflect the UCLA offense much more so than the defense. As mentioned earlier, the Beavers will have to play offense smarter to counteract the Bruin athleticism - an offensive mixture of quick passes, screens, draws, fly-sweeps and the occasional downfield shot. WRs Victor Bolden Jr and Seth Collins need to get the ball and be play makers in space and the Beavers must continue to grind with the running game. Third-and-long should hopefully not be a recurring theme. OSU will need to score more than 21 points to get the W.
3. Turn the corner - play like winners: Oregon State has excusable reasons for where they are in the standings. What has been undeniable though is the progress they have made towards being a solid, competitive team. The last thing missing is the attitude that they should win games. This translates on the field to getting that fourth-and-one, holding the opposition to a FG when they get into the red zone, and getting that crucial turnover in the fourth quarter. Throughout the season OSU fans, coaches, beat writers, and even the players themselves have witnessed that the Beavers are close. The missing ingredient is the self-confidence to make plays when it matters and win the game. Oregon St is not as talented as UCLA -- but proper execution can win games if you have the right attitude.
Prediction: OSU 27, UCLA 21
Maybe it’s because I’ll be attending this game in person. Maybe its because UCLA is overlooking lowly OSU. Maybe its because Mike Fafaul is struggling to fill the shoes left by the golden one. Maybe it’s because Victor Bolden has a spectacular game. Whatever the reason, I see the Beavers finally capitalizing on turnovers and turning the corner. OSU won their first Pac-12 game in the Anderson era, and I think today they’ll win their first road Pac-12 game since Oct 2014.
For what it’s worth, my ELO model still gives UCLA a 57% chance of winning.