- Peter Yoon, ESPNLosAngeles.com
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The No. 19 UCLA Bruins (3-0) begin conference play against the Oregon State Beavers (1-0) in a Pac-12 opener for both teams Saturday at the Rose Bowl. Kickoff is at 12:30 p.m. PT and the game will be televised by ABC and ESPN2. Here are five things to watch:
1. Eager Beavers
Oregon State has played only one game so far this season because its opening-week game against Nicholls State was postponed when the Louisiana team was unable to travel during Hurricane Issac. Last week was a scheduled bye week so Oregon State has had 44 practices since the start of training camp with only one game and that means they are probably really sick of practicing against each other. It could mean a bit of rust for the Beavers, but it could also mean coach Mike Riley, a very good coach, has had plenty of time to sharpen up their game plan.
2. Running man
UCLA running back Johnathan Franklin leads the nation with 541 yards rushing and is closing fast on Gaston Green's UCLA career rushing record of 3,731 yards. Franklin, second on that list, has 3,210. He might find the going tough against Oregon State, however. The Beavers shut down Wisconsin's running game in Week 2, limiting the Badgers to 35 yards rushing. Wisconsin running back Montee Ball, a 1,900-yard rusher last season and a Heisman hopeful coming into this season, had only 61 yards in 15 carries. For Franklin to have success, the UCLA offensive line will have to find a way to open holes against a stout Oregon State four-man defensive front that includes talented ends Scott Crichton and Dylan Wynn as well as space-eating tackle Castro Masaniai (6-3, 350 pounds).
3. Third down is the charm
UCLA enters the game having converted only 16 of 48 (33.3 percent) third downs this season and ranks No. 94 in the nation in that category. The Bruins had their worst third-down performance of the season last week, when they converted only five of 17 third downs in a 37-6 victory over Houston. Based on Oregon State's performance against Wisconsin, it doesn't figure to get any easier trying to convert those crucial plays. The Beavers held Wisconsin to only two of 14 (14.3 percent) third down conversions on Sept. 8. It's a skewed statistic because Oregon State has only one game, but the Beavers are currently second in the country in third-down defense.
4. Well received
UCLA coach Jim Mora has spent a lot of time this week talking about the Oregon State running game, but the Beavers' top offensive weapons are receivers Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks. Wheaton has led Oregon State in receiving in each of the last two seasons and, as a sprinter for the Oregon State track team, has plenty of speed. Cooks, a sophomore, is another speedster who had seven receptions against Wisconsin. They are also a part of the running game as fly sweeps and end-arounds have long been a part of the Oregon State offense, so while Mora may be worried about facing a power running game for the first time this season, the UCLA secondary will have its hands full with Oregon State's outside guys.
5. Back in the groove
Even though the Bruins tallied 567 yards in offense last week, quarterback Brett Hundley was a bit out of synch. He missed his target on several passes, failed to see open receivers on some plays and threw two interceptions, yet still passed for 320 yards. Hundley's mobility also was affected by a gimpy ankle and he had -2 yards rushing against Houston after totaling 121 in the first two games. On paper, getting back on track against Oregon State appears to be a challenge as the Beavers gave up only 207 total yards to Wisconsin. That might not be all that impressive, however, considering Wisconsin is No. 116 in the nation in total offense despite playing FCS team Northern Iowa and Utah State as well as Oregon State.