Defense wins championships, or so goes the cliche. UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel would be happy if it could win just one game this season. The Bruins have been pacifists on defense too often this season — especially against teams like Oregon State, which has a strong running game. Staff writer Chris Foster looks at the game's key issues and matchups:
UCLA has been flattened by some of the best backs in the nation. Kansas State's Daniel Thomas (234 yards), California's Shane Vereen (151) and Oregon's LaMichael James (123) all left cleat marks on the Bruins.
Then someone named Keola Antolin ground out 111 yards for Arizona last Saturday as the Wildcats rolled up 264 rushing yards.
That should make UCLA fans squeamish about what Oregon State's Jacquizz Rodgers might do should the Bruins regress to their matador ways.
Rodgers runs for an average of 105.7 yards a game, ranking him 14th nationally. He had 112 yards rushing, 96 yards receiving and threw a 14-yard touchdown pass against the Bruins last season. He had 144 yards rushing against UCLA in 2008.
Take a pass
Rodgers is the focal point of the Beavers' offense, but he's hardly a one-man show.
Sophomore quarterback Ryan Katz, who played at Santa Monica High, has 11 touchdowns and four interceptions. True, he had a costly interception in a 35-34 overtime loss against Washington, but he also threw for 393 yards in a victory over No. 13 Arizona.
Wide receiver James Rodgers was lost for the season because of a knee injury. Markus Wheaton stepped in and has 22 receptions for 276 yards in the last four games. Wheaton also gained 73 yards in six carries against California last week.
UCLA dusted off its long-range passing attack last Saturday, with quarterback Richard Brehaut connecting on scoring passes of 68 and 49 yards.
Defensive questions haunt both teams.
UCLA is giving up an average of 203 yards rushing a game. Opponents have gone for more than 200 yards five times — all UCLA loses — and twice they have surpassed 300 yards.
Oregon State has been nearly as leaky. The Beavers have had five teams rush for 160 or more yards. But they have played a heartier schedule that included No. 2 Boise State and No. 4 Texas Christian along with Arizona.
Last week, the Beavers held California to 23 yards rushing. Bears running back Vereen, who ran wild against UCLA, had 53 yards against Oregon State.
The past three weeks, the Bruins' opponents have dared the quarterback to keep the ball in the "pistol" offense. Brehaut may have to prove he's a running threat to free up the rest of the Bruins' rushing attack.
Oregon State has the nation's fourth-best turnover margin at plus-nine. The Beavers have yet to lose a fumble and Katz has had only four passes intercepted — three against Washington.
UCLAis minus-seven in turnover margin, tying them at 107th out of 120 teams that play at college football's top level. The Bruins have had eight turnovers during their current three-game losing streak.
Oregon State has an 18-5 record in November and December since 2005. The fast finishes have secured bowl games appearances in each season. November is here and the Beavers are in the conference title race, though they still have to play No. 1 Oregon and No. 10 Stanford.
UCLA won three consecutive games last November, then sweated out Navy beating Army to get into the EagleBank Bowl. November is here and the Bruins need to find three victories to get bowl-eligible again. They have road games at Washington and Arizona State, and a home game with USC, after Saturday.