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UCLA (3-5, 2-3) VS. OREGON ST. (5-3, 4-1) Today at
the Rose Bowl, 3 p.m., FSN Prime Ticket

Stop Mr. Rodgers

The Pac-10's leading rusher is only part of the challenge the Bruins will face

November 08, 2008|David Wharton | Wharton is a Times staff writer.

Coming off a loss to California two weeks ago, UCLA is in a tough spot. The Bruins don't have their backs against the wall, but they're close, needing to win three of four remaining games to become bowl eligible. Times staff writer David Wharton looks at some of the key issues and matchups as UCLA plays an Oregon State team that is in the thick of the Pacific 10 Conference's race for the Rose Bowl:

Pop quiz

Numbers probably don't tell the whole story when it comes to the UCLA defense. The unit ranks about the middle of the conference in total defense, even lower against the rush, but those statistics might be better if the offense could generate more time of possession and avoid turnovers.

Now comes Oregon State with the Pac-10's leading rusher, Jacquizz Rodgers, the little back who could. Standing only 5 feet 7, he demolished USC with quick cuts and cutback runs in September and is currently averaging 118 yards a game.

On their shoulders

UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel says the embattled Kevin Craft used the last two weeks in practice to cement his status as starter. Craft says he used the time to revisit the basics and refine his mental approach to the game. With seven touchdowns and 11 interceptions, it is clear that the junior must start making better decisions.

The quarterback situation is just as shaky for Oregon State. Lyle Moevao, an efficient passer, hurt his right shoulder last week and is doubtful. If he cannot play, the Beavers will turn to the left-handed Sean Canfield, a junior who started much of last season but has yet to recover fully from a shoulder injury of his own. A limited passing attack would diminish the threat of three receivers -- Sammie Stroughter, Shane Morales and James Rodgers -- who rank among the top 10 in the conference.

Far side

On an offensive line that has experienced all manner of flips and flops this season, Micah Kia and Jeff Baca have taken turns starting at left tackle. Kia began this week at No. 1 on the depth chart, but Neuheisel said that Baca will start against the Beavers.

The freshman could see a lot of Oregon State defensive end Slade Norris, a senior who converted from linebacker last season and quickly proved to be an effective pass rusher. He ranks second in the Pac-10 with 6.5 sacks. Given that UCLA is surrendering three sacks a game, the matchup is critical.

Running low

With the ground game averaging only 81.5 yards, UCLA ballcarriers haven't been breaking free for many big plays. Running backs coach Wayne Moses wants his guys to be more patient, taking short gains or even no gain when nothing is available, rather than dancing around and losing yards.

There may be some room to run against the Beavers, who have been giving up 120 yards a game.

Happy returns

Maybe UCLA's most consistent weapon on offense this season has been receiver Terrence Austin on returns. Austin ranks second in the conference on kick returns at 25.1 yards per attempt and sixth on punt returns at 10.5.

Oregon State averages only 39.7 net yards on kickoffs and 30.1 net yards on punts.

Streaking

Not that the Bruins can count on history, but they might take some comfort in thinking about it. They have defeated Oregon State five consecutive times dating to 2000. Even better, they have a 9-0 record against Mike Riley, including both his stints as Beavers coach and his time as an offensive coordinator at USC.

Last season, UCLA scored four touchdowns late in the game -- Riley called it a "five-minute nightmare" -- to win, 40-14.

By the numbers

*--* UCLA CATEGORY OSU 20.4 Scoring 33.6 30.6 Points given up 23.9 219.4 Passing off. 259.9 81.5 Rushing off. 165.6 300.9 Total offense 425.5 172.6 Passing def. 182.5 188.8 Rushing def. 120.0 361.4 Total defense 302.5 *--*

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david.wharton@latimes.com

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