If I told you at the beginning of the year that this would be a match up of two of five undefeated PAC 12 teams, and that USC was not among the five, you'd call me crazy. Funny season in the PAC 12.
For all that UCLA has done so far however, it really hasn't done anything of substance yet. Beating Nebraska is a nice feel good story, and blowing out Rice and Houston were fun, but it'll mean nothing if the Bruins can't climb up the conference ladder. UCLA has gone 13-23 over the last four years in conference play, and while its had some success in the non-conference games, the conference schedule has often brought things back down to earth. Yes, in college football, your constantly trying to prove something new, and now its about getting back to the upper end of the PAC 12. Oregon State looked like a walkover at the beginning of the season, but thanks to a win over Wisconsin, its looking to make a statement on a national scene. A lot is at stake for the Bruins this weekend, namely a 5-0 start, a potential top 15 ranking, and a 2-0 start in conference play.
Why to be excited:
It's possible the win over Wisconsin doesn't really mean anything.
Wisconsin might be the defending Big Ten champs, but it was lucky to get by FCS opponent Northern Iowa and should have lost to Utah State if not for a missed game winning field goal. Sure Oregon State is improved from last year, but don't let anybody fool you into believing that Wisconsin is good at the moment. Besides all that, the win really was only about one side of the ball: the defense.
Oregon State scored a grand total of ten points against the Badgers, and doesn't seem to have much firepower on offense. Outside of the Sean Mannion-Markus Wheaton connection, there aren't many reliable options. Malcolm Agnew and the running game never really got going against Wisconsin, and if Mannion is dropping back to throw 47 times again against a revamped Bruin defense that has seven interceptions on the year and the nations 11th ranked pass efficiency defense, forget about it.
Why to be grouchy:
That win really was only about one side of the ball: the defense.
Oregon State has a front seven that's playing with loads of confidence. Wisconsin might be down, but holding Montee Ball and the Badger ground game to 35 yards is something worthy of praise. Scott Chricton and Dylan Wynn are fantastic pass rushing ends, while Michael Doctor and D.J. Welch form as good a linebacker tandem as there might be in the conference. So the defense is only big on stopping the run right? Yeah, right. CB Jordan Poyer will be in charge of neutralizing the opposing teams best receiver, something he does successfully more often than not.
UCLA meanwhile might have shown a formula to beat its offense last weekend: sell out on Franklin, keep the big plays to a minimum, and make Brett Hundley go 8-12 plays down the field to beat you. Oregon State possesses all the tools to execute this plan. The Bruins better be ready.
What to watch for:
-How does the UCLA offensive line respond after a poor showing in week three? The biggest battle of this game might be the Bruin o-line against the Beaver front. If Hundley is given time to throw the ball like he was against Nebraska, then UCLA will absolutely positively win this game.
-The Johnathan Franklin Heisman hype has reached new heights thanks to USC's loss to Stanford. Ironically off his worst game of the year, Franklin is now listed in the top three on most Heisman charts. Of course, worst game is all relative, he still had 168 yards of offense, and if he rocks again in a Bruin win, the noise might reach a whole new level considering that there really isn't any front runner at the moment and that the Bruins could crack the top 15 based on what happens nationally.
-The Bruin defense had a nice showing in week three, the offense had a nice showing in week two, and both had nice moments in spurts in week one. So whats real here? Improvement has beThe beaen shown from week to week in several areas for UCLA, and now, consistency on both sides of the ball is the next step for this team.
-Was that really Sheldon Price? I still don't believe it. I still have memories of Marquise Lee and Robert Woods torching him on two different touchdowns last season. It wasn't just Price however, the entire Bruin secondary seems to be transformed. Another good performance Saturday, and you'll start to have a believer here.
What will happen:
This is Oregon State's big chance, and they know it. They'll come out with a sense of urgency and purpose, on defense. Franklin for the first time won't have much room for a couple quarters, while Brett Hundley will gut out a couple of scoring drives in the first half. The Beavers however won't have much fire power to keep up. Oregon State will look to establish a run early, and when that fails, Mannion will be forced to go to the air more than 35 plus times, resulting in him getting a good view of the Arroyo Seco Mountains on his backside. In the second half, Franklin will pull out a couple big runs, and the Bruins will put the game away in the fourth quarter with a late stop.
UCLA 31, Oregon State 20