Not many of us were expecting UCLA to make a bowl game this season. Given what CRN and his staff had been working with heading into this season, if somehow UCLA sneaks into a bowl game at the end of this year, he will most likely be the leading candidate to become Pac-10’s coach of the year. Then as the season begin Tennessee happened which was immediately followed by the crushing defeat at BYU. Yet the Bruins have kept fighting in every game this season since that loss and still has maintained a shot at getting into a bowl game. For them to keep those hopes alive and end the season on a sky high note, they will have to pull out a win against a heavily favored Rose Bowl contending Oregon State Beavers today. It’s a do-or-die Saturday for UCLA:
"Oregon State is basically a do-or-die game for us," UCLA defensive tackle Brigham Harwell said. "We're taking it as our last game. You know what? If we want to get to that bowl game, we know we have to win this game this week." […]
With "winnable" games at Washington and Arizona State ahead before a season-ending tilt against sure-to-be heavily favored USC, the Bruins likely will need to beat the Beavers for a sixth consecutive time to be bowl eligible for a ninth straight season.
Cornerback Alterraun Verner said UCLA's bye last week enabled the team to re-focus.
"I think it gave us a chance to heal up and give some mental questions to ourselves, and really re-focus on the season and realize that goal that's ahead and what there is to fight for," Verner said.
"It gave us a chance to re-evaluate ourselves and see what is needed to make it so we can still finish strong. We're trying to have the team play a full, complete game."
ATV and his team-mates will have a huge challenge against the Beavers’ potent offense. I am sure everyone is going to be keeping their eyes on Jacquizz Rodgers, the explosive MJD clone from Corvallis, who has exploded into the national scene, and leading the Pac-10 in rushing. Price, Harwell and the UCLA DL will have their hands full against this freshman phenom:
UCLA boasts one of the top defensive tackle tandems in the nation with Harwell and sophomore Brian Price.
Harwell has 40 tackles, and Price has 10 tackles for loss. They will be integral is UCLA is to slow Rodgers.
"I'm very impressed with their defensive line," Beavers coach Mike Riley said.
"It's a high energy group, and what looks to me like a lot of talent. Price is a very, very explosive player. Very quick for a big man, and has been very disruptive for teams."
While Price and Harwell will be busy trying to contain Rodgers and pressure Oregon State QB, UCLA’s defensive backs will face a stiff challenge facing off against a potent Beaver’s passing game:
UCLA defensive backs have been pretty stingy about surrendering yards through the air this season, the pass defense ranking third in the Pacific 10 Conference, but they'll face a test today.
While the Bruins' opponents have averaged less than 173 yards passing a game, Oregon State has averaged almost 260.
It should help the Bruins that the Beavers are expected to start backup quarterback Sean Canfield in place of an injured Lyle Moevao, but UCLA cornerback Alterraun Verner says his unit must keep track of several talented receivers, each with his own specialty.
On split end Sammie Stroughter: "He's an older guy, the most experienced. Obviously he's a punt returner, very shifty, and gets in the open field."
On flanker James Rodgers: "He's basically a running back as receiver who can catch, so he's got open-field ability too."
On slotback Shane Morales and flanker Darrell Catchings: "They're just great possession guys."
Now to make their jobs a little easier, it will be imperative for Kevin Craft and the UCLA offense to sustain drives and even more importantly not turn the ball over. Simply put Craft needs to stop putting our defense under pressure in short yardage situations:
In an ideal world, the UCLA defense would start every drive at or inside the opponent's 20-yard line and have 80-plus yards of real estate at their backs when they jog onto the field.
But with Kevin Craft at quarterback for the Bruins, few things around here are ideal.
With Craft learning through a baptism by fire this season, UCLA is feeling the pinch and paying the price on offense and defense.
Through eight games, Craft has turned the ball over 13 times -- including two four-interception games -- and the Bruins defensive unit is often the one responsible for bailing out Craft's bad decisions and has more often than not been left with almost no room for error.
"The reality is we are put in bad situations as a defense, but we have to handle it and play to the best of our abilities as a defense," senior defensive tackle Brigham Harwell said. "It (stinks), but it's not an excuse for us to complain about it.
"We're used to it. We don't expect it to be like this all the time, but when it happens, we have to go on the field and fight it out and deal with it."
Hopefully Harwell and co will not have to deal with many short field situations today. For more on the game today check out the storylines at PE.com.
The Bruins need to put together a complete game on this do-or-die Saturday. The game is scheduled for kickoff around 3 pm PST. We will have a pre game thread shortly around 11 am PST followed by game thread which will go up about half hour before our kickoff. Enjoy your Saturday.