Friday, September 23, 2011
Five things to watch: UCLA at Oregon State
By Peter Yoon
1. PASSING FANCY
Richard Brehaut has the opportunity to seize the starting quarterback job and end the controversy once and for all. He will get the first merit-based start of his career after standing in the shadow of Kevin Prince since he arrived on campus and should be able to move the ball through the air against an Oregon State defense that ranks 117th out of 120 FBS teams in pass efficiency defense. The Beavers have an inexperienced secondary with three players having made their first career start this season. Oregon State has yet to intercept a pass, has allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete nearly 70 percent of their passes and have given up seven passing touchdowns in two games. It's exactly the kind of defense a sputtering UCLA passing game needs. The Bruins have averaged only 160.5 yards passing the last two games.
2. SACK IT TO 'EM
Oregon State has shown vulnerability up front in pass protection, giving up five sacks in its first two games to rank 1tth in the Pac-12 in sacks allowed per game. Guard Josh Andrews is out with a knee injury, forcing Grant Enger, a tight end the first two games, into a starting guard role. Redshirt freshman quarterback Sean Mannion will make his first career start in this game, ending a streak of 14 consecutive starts by Ryan Katz. Datone Jones, Cassius Marsh, Patrick Larimore and Co., The Bruins can make it a forgettable first start by applying some pressure against the weakened Oregon State front five. Mannion has passed for 387 yards in a relief role, but the Beavers have yet to score a touchdown through the air.
3. THE THIRD DEGREE
UCLA has a chance to reverse a disturbing trend. The Bruins are currently No. 101 in the nation in converting third downs at 31.6 percent. The inability to convert has consistently killed drives and momentum. But Oregon State's defense has allowed opponents to convert 51.7 percent of third downs and ranks No. 112 in the nation in that category. Oregon State will be thin on the defensive line with projected starting tackles Castro Masaniai and Domonic Glover both out, so UCLA should be able to get Johnathan Franklin and Derrick Coleman some holes up front to gain those crucial yards that have seemed so hard to come by.
4. GETTING DEFENSIVE
UCLA's much-maligned defense ranks near the bottom of the Pac-12 in several major categories, but has a chance to right the ship against an Oregon State squad that has struggled just as mightily on offense. The Beavers are eighth or lower in the conference in passing (9th), rushing (8th), total offense (10th) and scoring (12th). And freshman running back Malcolm Agnew, who had 233 yards against Sacramento State, won't be playing because of a hamstring injury leaving the lead running role to former walk-on Jordan Jenkins. On paper, this is a golden opportunity for the Bruins to get the defensive house in order after giving up and average of 215 yards rushing, 424.7 total yards and 34.7 points through the first three games.
5. Mr. RODGERS' NEIGHBORHOOD
Oregon State receiver extraordinaire James Rodgers is the X-factor that could help elevate the struggling Beavers' offense. He has been cleared to play after sitting out nearly a year with a knee injury, but it remains to be seen how much. If he's at full strength, he's one of the best in the business. He holds the school record with 5,784 total yards and is third with 177 career receptions. He does it all, from catching to running sweeps and returning punts and kickoffs, but will almost certainly be limited in his first game back. Still, he's had 16 catches for 211 yards in his career against UCLA and had a 17-yard game-winning touchdown run on a sweep in Oregon State's 26-19 victory over UCLA in 2009.