By T.J. Mathewson
Contributor, 750 The Game
If this is the last time Oregon State and UCLA will clash at Reser Stadium, it’s sure going to be fun. It’s been eight years since the Josh Rosen-led Bruins shellacked the Beavers 41-0. There’s been a lot that’s happened since then, swap Jim Mora and *gulp* Gary Andersen for former Duck nemesis Chip Kelly, who has never lost at Reser Stadium as a visiting coach, and Jonathan Smith. Unlike the last time Kelly brought a team to Corvallis, this one starts and ends with his defense. First-year defensive coordinator D’Anton Lynn has done a masterful job crafting one of the best defensive units in the nation. This game just screams similarity to what Utah and Oregon State did on a Friday night two weeks ago. Vegas agrees, favoring the Beavers by the same amount (-4) with the total being nine points higher. Here’s how the Beavers head into the bye week bowl-eligible.
1. WIN THE BATTLE OF STRENGTHS
If you hang around enough Oregon State media sessions, you’ll hear the same verbiage over and over in preparation for next week’s opponent: process. A well-established part of the process is the running attack the Beavers throw at the opponent. Even against the stout Utah front, the Beavers hammered 54 yards on the ground on the opening touchdown-scoring drive to let the Utes know they weren’t going to go away from their strength. The Beavers are going to have to do the same to win on Saturday against a Bruin defense that is second nationally against the run (1.7 yards per carry allowed). The highest average UCLA has given up on the ground? 2.4 YPC against NC Central, a 59-7 Bruins win. Washington State didn’t even bother last week in the Rose Bowl, managing just 12 yards on 19 rushes. Laiatu Latu is a future first-round pick and the star of this group, but don’t overlook the great pieces that surround him that have helped UCLA be among the best in the country at pressuring the QB and defending the run.
2. MAKE THE FRESHMAN QB LOOK LIKE ONE
Just 18 years old, Dante Moore will make his second career road Pac-12 start on Saturday. His first one didn’t go great, 15/35 with a touchdown and a pick against Utah in week four. Moore was sacked seven times and threw a pick-six on his first play from scrimmage, while Saturday against the Cougars didn’t fair much better (22/44, 1 TD, 2 INT). Now Moore and this offense walk into Reser Stadium against a team that has won 14 of its last 15 games at home, a raucous homecoming crowd, and a pissed-off Beaver defense that was shredded by a redshirt freshman quarterback a week ago. The Beavers could get both starting cornerbacks Jaden Robinson and Ryan Cooper Jr. back for this weekend, Jonathan Smith said they will see how close they are at the end of the week after the duo went through parts of warmups at California.
3. IF SO… TACKLE EVERYTHING ELSE.
The Beavers really have struggled tackling at times this season. Cal RB Isaiah Ifanse seemed like he was bouncing off one if not two Beavers every time he touched the ball last weekend. Running the football is a huge part of Chip Kelly’s offensive philosophy, but the Bruins have really been mediocre at toting the rock, ranking 75th nationally in YPC (3.9). Draw the comparison here: Utah came into Corvallis two weeks ago with a freshman quarterback, a bad offense, and an amazing defense. Oregon State isn’t going to let anyone but the quarterback beat them, holding the Utes to 1.8 YPC. The tackling was pretty good there, and it will have to be good to not let the group of Carson Steele, T.J. Harden, and Anthony Adkins supplement the offense and allow Moore to get comfortable.
Both the Oregon State offense and the UCLA defense haven’t faced a unit as good as the one they’ll line up across from on Saturday. I think each of those units is going to get its blows on each other, Oregon State is going to turn the ball over once or twice, and DJ Uiagalelei is going to cool down from the dazzling performance he put on at Cal. The real X factor sits on the other side of the ball. Can Dante Moore win a battle against this Oregon State defense at home? I’m not liking his chances. The Beavers have yet to give up double-digit points at home this season and I can easily see that streak extending.
Beavers 17 UCLA 7