UCLA Football: 3 Keys to Beating Oregon State
On Saturday at 12:30 p.m. PT, the Oregon State Beavers will paddle their way to the Rose Bowl, where they hope to build a dam strong enough to keep the No. 19 UCLA Bruins away from a victory.
Oregon State has only played one game up to this point—a 10-7 victory over Wisconsin in Week 2. The season opener against Nicholls State was postponed due to Hurricane Isaac, and the team is currently coming off of a bye after the win two weeks ago.
This game does hold some significance. It marks the opening weekend in Pac-12 play, and both the Bruins and Beavers want to come away with a win to start their conference campaign.
Let's take a look at three ways that will help the Bruins beat the Beavers this Saturday.
Contain Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks
If the Bruins are to be victorious this weekend, they'll have to slow the dynamic duo of Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks.
Cooks is "rabbit-esque" with his quickness, and is a nightmare to defend in space. The 5'10" 179-pound sophomore utilizes his superlative agility in order to create separation and get yardage up field. He'll be employed in a myriad of positions on the field, with the ultimate goal of getting him in space so he can create.
Wheaton is more of a known commodity, and has been one of the more impressive wideouts in the conference the past few years. His versatility is what makes him so impressive as a football player.
At 6'1", he's a bigger target when compared to Cooks. The Beavers like to put Wheaton in motion frequently. It allows for OSU to disguise how Wheaton will be used—as he's often lined up all over the field.
One of Wheaton's staples is getting the ball on fly sweeps and reverses. He's also a threat on screens and on drag routes that exploit the area between the defensive line and linebackers.
Head coach Mike Riley wasn't too adventurous with his play calling in the Wisconsin game. However, expect him to try and stretch the field vertically with both Cooks and Wheaton. Quarterback Sean Mannion has a very strong arm, and that makes it easier for the Beavers to go over the top.
Cooks and Wheaton comprise one of the better wide receiver twosomes in the conference. UCLA will have their hands full with both, and have to make sure that they not only stay in front of them, but contain and gang tackle. If they don't, either Cooks or Wheaton can take a five yard pattern and turn it into a 40-yard gain.
Make Oregon State One Dimensional
There's no secret that the Beavers have had trouble running the ball of late.
Last year, Oregon State ranked dead last in the conference with a paltry average of 86.9 yards a game. They also only managed a 3.3 yards per carry.
With that lack of balance on offense, it's not a surprise that the Beavers went 3-9 last season. Rightfully so, a big point of emphasis for this upcoming season was to create a marrying of the pass and run game.
From the Bruins' perspective, shutting down the run game is imperative. Too many times, OSU quarterback Sean Mannion felt the need to force things down the field due to a lack of a running game. That pressure resulted in 18 interceptions a year ago.
Dually, UCLA can't let Mannion get comfortable in the pocket. They need to apply pressure from all angles, starting with outside 'backers Jordan Zumwalt and Anthony Barr.
The Bruins' defense has been victimized a bit by running quarterbacks throughout the first three weeks. Often times, pressure came too far up the field, allowing for the opposing quarterback to step up in the pocket and take off for good yardage.
UCLA shouldn't fear that same sort of running element with Mannion under center. As a result, expect defensive coordinator Lou Spanos to use his base 3-4 defense more, and expect to see pressure in droves thrown at Mannion.
As evidenced by the 18 interceptions thrown from a season ago, he's prone to making mistakes when pressured. The Bruins currently lead the conference in interceptions with seven.
Protect Brett Hundley
The health of quarterback Brett Hundley is a question mark at this point.
He's suffering from a gimpy ankle due to a malfunctioned slide against Nebraska in Week 2. The pain was evident against Houston the following week. It wasn't so much that Hundley had trouble moving around, but the game plan didn't cater to his mobility at at.
Last week, plays designed for the quarterback to run were minimized considerably from the previous two weeks. With head coach Jim Mora's reluctance to convey any injury news to the public, it's still a question mark as to how healthy Hundley truly is.
For the Beavers, they possess good team speed on the defensive side of the ball. Linebackers D.J. Welch and Michael Doctor are very fast. Welch in particular has a great nose for the football. He led the team in tackles against Wisconsin, and was literally all over the field. Unsurprisingly, he was recognized as the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week.
Defensive ends Dylan Wynn and Scott Crichton also pose problems for the Bruins' young offensive line. Both Wynn and Crichton were freshman All-Americans last season, and attack with a relentless nature.
It will be up to the freshmen-laden offensive line to withstand the talented quartet in the Beavers' front seven. Against Houston, the line didn't have the best game. The Cougars did game plan well against UCLA, and filled in gaps with blitzes from the linebackers. It would not surprise me to see Oregon State do things similarly with their speedy defense.
Freshmen tackles Simon Goines and Torian White have to withstand the pressure of Wynn and Crichton. White in particular had a rough game last week.
He even committed three penalties on one drive alone.
He will have to play much better against the toughest defense the Bruins have faced thus far.
Keeping Hundley upright is paramount for the young squad. Picking up blitzes will be key, as will playing with leverage and technique on the offensive line. Oregon State is a fundamentally sound football team. The offensive linemen have to match that type of discipline and technique in order to protect their quarterback.