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Week 7 Matchups to Watch: Heavyweight Battle in the Trenches

Oregon State’s elite offensive line goes up against some of the best edge rushers in the country

NCAA Football: Oregon State at California Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

There are differences in scheme and focus areas, but UCLA and Oregon State come into week 7 with very similar seasons. Both are 5-1, ranked in the top 20, and have knocked off top 15 teams in recent weeks. While Oregon State took down a Utah team that defeated UCLA 14-7 earlier this year, the Bruins shut down the Washington State passing attack that crippled the Beavers in a 25-17 win last week.

To emphasize the evenness of the two teams, the Beavers and Bruins have three common opponents so far this year (San Diego State, Utah, and Washington State). Oregon State has gone 2-1 and has a positive point differential of 28 points in those games. UCLA is also 2-1 and has a point differential of 26. Home field advantage may be a difference this weekend, and a loss for either team will likely put to bed any hopes of competing for a Pac-12 title.

In the preview this week, we are going to mix in some different statistics when describing each team. If you are not familiar, here are some definitions:

Expected Points Added (EPA) quantifies the impact of a play by assessing the change in a team’s expected point outcome before and after the play, providing a measure of its offensive or defensive contribution to overall scoring potential. Positive EPA indicates a play that enhances a team’s chances of scoring, while negative EPA reflects a play that diminishes those chances.

Success Rate is the percentage of plays with a positive EPA.

Quality Possession is when a team scores a big play touchdown, or gets a first down inside of the opponents 40 yard line.

Beavers on Offense

UCLA’s defense is elite. Through 6 games the Bruins are 8th in the country in points allowed per game, and 1st in EPA per play allowed (-0.117). They are equally dominant against both run and pass, holding opponents to under 2 yards per carry and 6 yards per attempt. For an on-field comparison between OSU and UCLA, the Bruins are coming off a game in which they held WSU’s Cam Ward to 197 passing yards on 39 attempts (it was 404 yards on 34 attempts in OSU’s effort).

The facet of the game to watch will be the Beaver offense on early downs. That is where Coach Smith and company like to lean on the run game to put themselves in advantageous spots. It has worked so far this year, the Beavers success rate on early downs (1st and 2nd) is 38.7%, good for 12th in the country. Those same situations are a strength of the Bruin defense, who’s 21.9% success rate is 3rd in the nation. Whoever can win that battle will have the upper hand on Saturday night.

RT #75 Taliese Fuaga OR #66 Grant Starck vs EDGE #15 Laiatu Latu

The Beavers have faced some talented edge rushers this year, but none compare to the 6’5” Junior from Sacramento. After starting his career at Washington, Latu transferred south for the 2022 season and has established himself as perhaps the best edge rusher in the country and a potential top 10 pick in this year’s NFL draft. He leads the Bruins pass rush with 28 pressures and 5 sacks, and his 93.7 PFF grade is over 3 points higher than the next edge defender.

Smith indicated in his press conference on Monday that Fuaga’s injury is not a long term issue and the hope is that he is on the field this weekend. Latu will line up on both sides of the line of scrimmage so Joshua Gray will get his opportunities, but expect to see Latu testing the right side of the Beavers offensive line throughout the evening.

TE #88 Jake Velling vs S #27 Kamari Ramsey

A strong run defense is not only about the line, and UCLAs safeties have played well in that facet of the game as well. Ramsey has 19 tackles and 9 stops so far this year, and is also a solid coverage player. Velling had his best game of the year last week and should have opportunities to stress the UCLA back end as they creep up to stop Martinez, Fenwick, and the Oregon State run game.

Beavers on Defense

As outstanding as the UCLA defense has been, the offense has been a question mark. For the second week running, Oregon State will be facing a team that likes to combine a high tempo with a volume rushing attack. The Bruins can move the ball, but have averaged just 3.23 points per quality possession, the same amount that Oregon States defense has allowed. Keeping UCLA in that range by holding them to field goals and short field punts will be a win for the Beavers.

UCLA QB Dante Moore is a true freshman, 5 star recruit, #4 overall prospect and #3 QB in 2023 recruiting class. He is highly talented but learning the ropes against Pac-12 defenses. His yards per attempt have dropped from 12.1 in his first three games against Coastal Carolina, San Diego State, and NC Central to 6.6 in the last two games against Utah and Washington State. He as thrown 3 interceptions in his Pac-12 starts as he has been asked to throw more (80 attempts in his last 2 games vs 51 in his first 3).

DL #52 James Rawls vs C #62 Duke Clemens

Clemens is a 5th year Senior and has been a starter for at least parts of all five of those years. The veteran is the Bruins highest graded run blocker per PFF with an 83.4 grade and is the linchpin of the UCLA offensive line. The stats for Clemens and Oregon State’s Jake Levengood are strikingly similar, which emphasizes the quality of the matchups along the line on both sides of the ball in this game.

Rawls will look to bounce back from a rough 2nd half against Cal and disrupt the timing and coordination of the Bruins run game. Oregon State will face a steady dose of running plays and run/pass options that will try to force hesitation in the linebackers and secondary, so the line holding up the point of attack and freeing up those players to diagnose and make plays will be key.

LB #5 Easton Mascarenas-Arnold vs HB #33 Carson Steele

Both Steele (6’1”, 215) and backup TJ Harden (6’2”, 215) are big backs and capable of breaking tackles, something the Beavers struggled with last week at Cal. Steele averages 4.42 yards after contact on his 71 carries, and the Ball State transfer is a handful to take down. Calvin Hart Jr. should be back on the field for the full game, and if Ryan Cooper Jr. and Jaden Robinson can return that will allow the coaching staff to free up the safeties to help out more in the run game, but regardless of whether or not that’s the case Mascarenas-Arnold will be the focal point to stopping both the run and the quick over-the-middle passing game.