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Bruins hoping the dam will burst on the ground

Times Staff Writer

CORVALLIS, Ore. -- There is an easy, no-homework-necessary key to UCLA’s game against Oregon State today.

The Beavers rank second nationally against the run, giving up a shade more than 29 yards a game, with teams averaging less than a yard a carry.

Class dismissed.

With six seniors returning as starters along the defensive front, Oregon State is bulging with talent and experience. The onus, it appears, falls on the Bruins’ offensive line to budge that Beaver dam.

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“They have the combination of size speed and physicalness,” UCLA offensive line coach Bob Connelly said. “Overall, this is probably the best defense we’ve seen.”

Bruins responses may vary, especially without Shannon Tevaga (knee), who is considered their best offensive lineman. Another shake-up came this week, as Aleksey Lanis will start in place of a healthy Micah Kia at left tackle.

Will this be the line that did a bump-and-grind against Washington last week, rolling up 333 yards on the ground? The one that plowed the farm at Stanford, where UCLA had 338 yards rushing?

Or is it the unit that could not move a couple of Mountain West Conference teams -- 83 yards against Utah, 110 yards against Brigham Young?

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Connelly is banking on the Washington model: “Obviously, we left some plays on the field and we didn’t feel we played exactly the way we wanted to play, but any time you rush the ball for over 300 yards, I don’t care who you’re playing, you’re doing something right.”

That, though, was followed by his carrot-on-a-stick.

“The challenge is week-to-week, day-to-day,” Connelly said. “That’s my goal as offensive line coach, our goal as a unit and our goal as a team, to work toward something. That’s what championship teams do.”

Oregon State ranks second only to Louisiana State against the run and is tied for 19th nationally in total defense. Granted, there are no Heisman Trophy candidates in the Beavers’ wake, but neither are there any in UCLA’s backfield.

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Still, the Bruins had two 100-yard rushers against Washington -- Chris Markey with 193 yards and Kahlil Bell with 109. Bell is the Pacific 10 Conference’s third-leading rusher, averaging 110.5 yards.

“We definitely had better preparation last week than the week before,” center Chris Joseph said. “We knew what to expect. That took the mental aspect out of it, where we didn’t have to think about it on the field. We could just go out there and perform athletically and read our keys.”

Though it leads the conference in sacks, the Oregon State defense is giving up 259 yards a game through the air. That would seem to indicate Bruins quarterback Ben Olson will have opportunities to shake off back-to-back poor games against Brigham Young and Utah.

“They are a veteran group and present a lot of challenges,” Olson said. “If we run ball and throw the ball the way we should, we should be good.”

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Olson has not thrown a touchdown pass since the season opener at Stanford, when he threw a career-high five.

UCLA will be without Tevaga, quarterback Patrick Cowan (knee), receiver Marcus Everett (ankle), receiver Gavin Ketchum (ankle) and defensive tackle Brigham Harwell (knee). . . . Oregon State will be without its best receiver, Sammie Stroughter, who has a bruised kidney.

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chris.foster@latimes.com

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