As the clock ticks closer and closer to the start of football season, we continue our pre-season game previews and predictions. We move on from the Beavers’ match-up with Stanford and look forward to their next road trip to UCLA.
Game 10: UCLA
Coming off the heels of a daunting road trip to Stanford, Gary Andersen and company return to the field a week later at UCLA, hopeful to catch a Bruins team sleeping in a “trap game” scenario. The Beavers will meet UCLA just a week before the Bruins’ own showdown with rival USC, a match-up of two currently ranked in the Top 20 nationally. If the hype around this UCLA team is warranted, Oregon State will need all the help they can get.
The Bruins are ranked as the #16 team in the country in the initial debut of the AP Poll (#24 Coaches) and are expected to contend for a Pac-12 title with some talented returning pieces. While they must plug holes on the defensive side of things, mostly in finding a more consistent run defense, like most teams, everything starts and ends at the quarterback position for UCLA. And the Bruins look like they may have gotten themselves a pretty damn good one in sophomore Josh Rosen.
Rosen, a native of Manhattan Beach, California, burst onto the scene last season as a freshman, when UCLA jumped out to a 4-0 start to begin the season. However, the Bruins struggled to manage tougher competition and struggled in match-ups against Arizona State, Stanford, Washington State, USC and Nebraska, finishing the season at 8-5 after a loss in the Foster Farms Bowl. UCLA finished their Pac-12 slate with a 5-4 mark. Yet, Rosen remained a bright spot, completing 60% of his passes on the year, totaling 3,670 yards and 23 touchdowns. To duplicate his 2015 success, Rosen will have to take the next step in controlling and managing this team’s expectations.
The Bruins will not only need to find some consistency in their run defense, where UCLA allowed 13 touchdowns and an average of 187.8 yards per game but they’ll also be tasked with reworking an absolutely depleted receiving core. In SB Nation’s college football previews, done each season by the legend Bill Connelly, the receiving problems for the Bruins are given an in-depth breakdown.
The receiving corps, however, faces a pretty significant reset. Only one of last year's top five targets returns; Jordan Payton, Thomas Duarte, Perkins, and Devin Fuller combined for 22 targets, 14.2 catches, and 190.7 receiving yards per game. And of this year's returnees, only senior Kenneth Walker III and sophomore Stephen Johnson had the chance to prove any sort of explosiveness.
Strong recruiting rankings are about odds as much as anything else -- the more star recruits, the higher the ranking, the more likely you are to find someone capable in a given role. From this perspective, the odds of some solid weapons emerging are pretty good. Johnson, juniors Eldridge Massington and Alex Van Dyke, and three freshmen (Theo Howard, Damian Alloway, Dymond Lee) are all former four-star recruits, and another four-star, converted cornerback Ishmael Adams, evidently joined the receiving corps this spring. Athleticism certainly isn't an issue.
Still, this is a bit scary. Continuity in the receiving corps is important, and Rosen is going to be surveying a field full of receivers he didn't establish much of a rapport with last fall. Add in a new center and right tackle, and you've got a recipe for regression. Or at least, if Rosen improves, it might be hard for the overall Passing S&P+ to improve, too.
For Oregon State, it looks like the key in this one will be asserting the ground game early and making an unproven receiving core for the Bruins get the job done. On offense, the Beavers will have to win the turnover battle against a loaded Bruins secondary. On defense, they’ll have to contain a UCLA offense that has shown strides (but not consistency) of being prolific. More than anything else in this one though, the Beavers may just have to manage their own mid-season fatigue, which will likely be in full force.
Prediction: The Beavers face a brutal stretch from October 22nd to November 12th, where they’ll meet three teams currently ranked in the AP Poll all on the road, in the span of four games. Their meeting with UCLA will be the last of those four awful scheduling quirks. While the heart and fight of this Oregon State team is expected to make a major upswing, the natural talent and cohesiveness will still take some time. Like it or not, the Bruins will be good and they should control the Beavers in Los Angeles. UCLA 38, Oregon State 21.