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Oregon State Beaver Preview: Defense

Oregon State's inexperienced front seven will need to step it up against UCLA's rushing attack in what may be a cold and rainy day in Corvallis.

Oregon State free safety, Justin Strong, wraps up Christian McCaffrey
Oregon State free safety, Justin Strong, wraps up Christian McCaffrey
Steve Dykes/Getty Images

Welcome to Bruins Nation’s preview of the Oregon State Beavers’ defensive. We previewed OSU’s offense yesterday.

It should be an interesting game on Saturday, as the weather forecast for Corvallis calls for high temperatures in the low 50s and a 100% chance of rain, up to ½ inch. UCLA has not seen these types of conditions this season. In fact, it seems that the Bruins might not have played in rain since the Southern Cal game in 2012 (the infamous "Barr sacks Barkley" game). This could have a major effect on the game.


Total Defense

Oregon State is ranked #67 among the FBS schools in total defense, giving up an average of 398.5 yards per game ("YPG"). UCLA is #25 in total offense, churning out an average of 468.9 YPG.

Rushing Defense

The Beavers are ranked #97 in rushing defense and give up an average of 192 YPG on the ground. The Bruins are #42 in the nation, averaging 187.3 YPG. These numbers match up pretty well for UCLA, and its stable of backs. Do not be surprised if the Bruins rush for somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 yards (especially if it is raining).

Passing Yards Allowed

OSU allows 206.5 passing YPG, good enough for #47 in the country. UCLA averages 281.6 YPG in the air, #25 in the country. And Josh Rosen is gaining experience each game. UCLA appears to have a slighter advantage in this department than against the Beavers' rushing defense. That advantage might be even slighter if the weather forecast holds true. Did Rosen ever play in 53 degree weather and/or in the rain while at St. John Bosco? I would say doubtful, at best. After watching Monday Night Football earlier this week, and seeing the effect the rain had on Andrew Luck and Cam Newton early in the game (it stopped raining in the second half, and both QBs played much better), one would be naïve to think that rain and cold would not adversely affect UCLA’s passing game.

Thoughts on the Stats

Simply looking at the numbers, the Bruins should be able to move the ball against the Beavers. UCLA appears to have a significant advantage over OSU when they rush the ball, and a decent advantage when they pass, although this advantage might be lessened because of weather. Of course, there will be at least a drive or two where the Bruins are predictable in play calling and/or are stymied by a penalty, and go three and out. From the statistics, however, the Bruins, appear to be more than able to score points on the Beavers, perhaps as high as 35 points, depending on the weather.

Defensive Units

Before we get into the specific units on OSU’s defense, it is important to note that the Beavers have used a ton of guys on D. In fact, 24 different players have played on defense in each of their eight games. Another eight players have played in at least seven games. So that is 32 guys (almost 3 deep at every position on defense) who have played in seven or eight games.

The Beavers typically play with 3 down linemen and 4 linebackers, although they have started games this season in the nickel package (3-3-5). For the purposes of this preview, we will assume that OSU will start in their base defense with four LBs.

Defensive Line

At left defensive end, redshirt senior, Jaswha James has started seven of Oregon State’s eight games. James, who is expected to start on Saturday, has 22 tackles, 1.5 of which were tackles for loss (TFLs).

Kyle Peko, a senior junior-college transfer, has started all eight games for the Beavers at nose tackle, and nothing suggests that he will not start against UCLA. On the season, Peko has recorded 26 tackles, 2.5 TFLs and a sack.

Although James and Peko have been mainstays on OSU’s defensive line this year, the right defensive end position has seen three different players start. Redshirt sophomore, Baker Pritchard, who has three starts this season, should slot in at right defensive end against the Bruins. Although Pritchard only recorded one tackle last season as a redshirt freshman, he has 23 tackles so far this season, 1.5 TFLs, and 1.5 sacks.

Oregon State's defensive line is inexperienced. Only James started last season, and he only started in seven games. This, to some extent, could explain the Beavers’ poor showing against the run so far this season.


Rommel Mageo is the star of the Beavers' linebacking corps. A redshirt Junior, Mageo leads the team with 61 tackles, and is tied for the team lead with two interceptions. Mageo has also recorded two sacks and has three passes defended. Mageo will start at the MIKE linebacker position. At the JACK position, redshirt freshman Jonathan Willis has moved up the depth chart, and made his first career start against the Utah Utes last week, recording 11 tackles. Willis should get the call again at the JACK position this Saturday.

Caleb Saulo should start at the weak outside linebacker (WILL) position against UCLA. Saulo, a redshirt Junior, has 41 tackles on the season as well as an interception. Although he started seven of the eight games this season, Saulo only has two starts in his prior two seasons at OSU.

Manase Hungalu, a redshirt sophomore, is emerging as the Beavers’ play-maker at the strong side outside (SAM) linebacker. Although Hungalu only has three starts on the season and did not play prior to this season, he has recorded 31 tackles and has an interception this year. He’s expected to start against the Bruins.

Like Oregon State’s defensive line, there is only one player—in this case, Mageo—with significant experience prior to this season. Oregon State’s inexperienced front seven helps explain why the Beavers are ranked #97 in rushing defense among FBS schools.


Oregon State has a couple of solid safeties in redshirt Junior, Cyril Noland-Lewis, and redshirt sophomore, Justin Strong. Both have started all eight games for the Beavers this season and both saw significant action in 2014. This season, Strong has 54 tackles and Noland-Lewis has 34 tackles and an interception.

The cornerback position, on the other hand is somewhat unsettled. Treston Decoud, who had started every game this season, suffered a head injury two weeks ago against Colorado. He was immobilized and taken by ambulance to the hospital. Although he was released and rejoined the team prior to the end of that game, he did not play last week and it does not appear that he will play this week. In his absence last week against Utah, redshirt Junior, Kendall Hill, started and made 15 tackles. Hill could get the start and/or Larry Scott could start at CB for OSU. Scott, redshirt senior has started six games this season and has recorded 18 tackles. Dwayne Williams, a redshirt freshman, has also started three games at cornerback, making 14 tackles. Redshirt Junior, Devin Chappell, who has recorded 23 tackles on the season and started five games, may also start. Even if he doesn’t, Chappell figures to get plenty of playing time in the Beavers’ nickel package.

Strategy and Analysis

UCLA needs to exploit its advantage against Oregon State’s inexperienced defensive front seven. Although UCLA has suffered from losses on the offensive line, this is still a match up that favors the Bruins, especially if the weather forecast holds, and the teams are playing in cold, wet, rainy weather. Offensive coordinator, Noel Mazzone, will need to call a solid game and mix in just enough of the pass to keep the Beavers off balance, without risking potential turnovers in the passing game in inclement weather. It will be very interesting to see how Josh Rosen plays if the weather does not cooperate.

Thank you for reading BN’s preview of the Oregon State defense. I hope that you enjoyed it. Feel free to comment if you have any additional information to add.

Kickoff is only two days away! Go Bruins!!!