First Look: Oregon State at UCLA

Oregon State may be the “other” team from Oregon this season, but the Beavers are used to being under the radar.

Every year, it seems, Oregon State is overlooked and every year, it seems, the Beavers are right in the thick of the conference title race.

This year is no exception.

Oregon State (4-3, 3-1 in Pac-10) hopes to keep its conference title hopes alive when it visits UCLA at the Rose Bowl Saturday at 4 p.m. Pacific.

“They are doing well in our conference, so they have a lot to play for,” UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel said. “That certainly adds to the challenge.”

The Beavers have won three of their last four games and are coming off an impressive 35-7 victory over California last week, the best defensive performance they have turned in this season.

On paper, the Beavers seem extremely average. They rank no higher than 48th in any major offensive or defensive category, but have a knack for staying in games. Until last week’s victory over Cal, all of Oregon States games had been decided by nine points or fewer and three had been decided by three points or fewer.

And that is the way Oregon State operates. The last two seasons, the Beavers stared 2-2, but hung around long enough to have a shot at the conference title in the regular season finale. This year, the Beavers dropped two of their first three games, but are again making a conference title run.

Running back Jacquizz Rodgers, who is averaging 105 yards rushing to rank 14th in the nation and is tied for the national lead with 15 touchdowns, is the clear standout player—especially since his brother James is out for the season with a knee injury.

But Oregon State still ranks only 88th in the nation in rushing offense and 77th in total offense, despite a balanced attack. Sophomore quarterback Ryan Katz, in his first year as a starter, has emerged as a legitimate passing threat with 1,521 yards and 11 touchdowns passing.

On defense, the Beavers are No. 109 in the nation against the pass and 94th in total defense, so UCLA’s newfound vertical passing game could find some big plays. Defensive tackle Stephen Paea, however, is a returning All Pac-10 selection and will create problems in the trenches.

One thing the Beavers will have to protect against is road weariness. This will be Oregon State’s third road game in four weeks and its fourth in six weeks. They are 1-2 in road games this year, though have a distinct advantage over UCLA when it comes to common opponents: Oregon State defeated California and Arizona, both teams that defeated the Bruins.