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Scouting Report: UCLA football vs. Oregon State

By Joseph Crosby

Oct. 12, 2023 6:38 p.m.

This post was updated Oct 12 at 9:55 p.m.

No. 18 UCLA football (4-1, 1-1 Pac-12) will journey to Corvallis to face No. 15 Oregon State (5-1, 2-1) after its win over No. 19 Washington State. The Bruins and Beavers have shared three opponents this season, with Oregon State defeating No. 16 Utah while falling to Washington State – the inverse of UCLA’s results – and both schools defeating San Diego State. Here is this week’s scouting report from Sports editor Joseph Crosby – who is happy that this weekend’s schedule allows him to watch No. 8 Oregon at No. 7 Washington.

Oregon State’s offense
Offensive scheme: Run-first offense
Run-pass percentage: 56.3% run, 43.7% pass
Strength: Rushing
Weakness: Downfield passing
X-Factor: QB DJ Uiagalelei

Oregon State likes to run the ball.

That’s not to say the Beavers never pass, but running the ball is certainly their strength. Ironically, Saturday’s game will likely boil down to quarterback DJ Uiagalelei’s ability to pass the ball over the top of the second-best run defense in the nation.

But before Uiagalelei can try his hand in the air, coach Jonathan Smith will probably look to first to establish his team’s ground game.

The Beavers’ No. 15 rushing offense not only surpasses that of the Bruins, but also slates in as third-best in the Pac-12.

Led by running back Damien Martinez – whose 97.7 rushing yards per game is good for 19th in the nation – Oregon State has outgained its opponents on the ground in five of six games this season.

Oregon State frequently bunches up around the line of scrimmage on run plays, using multiple tight ends or a fullback out of the I-formation to generate extra blockers for Martinez, Uiagalelei and secondary running back option Deshaun Fenwick.

Martinez has displayed consistency in shedding tackles, finding holes and using his elite speed to dash past defenders, leading to his top-20 ranking in yards per game. Although his abilities haven’t yet translated to finding the end zone as frequently as his teammates – trailing both Uiagalelei and Fenwick in rushing touchdowns – Martinez has been a considerable factor in the Beavers’ ability to move the ball downfield.

Fenwick’s 5.7 yards per carry narrowly trails Martinez’s 6.5 figure, but the pair makes the majority of the contributions to Oregon State’s 1,233 total rushing yards.

Wide receiver Silas Bolden is a bit of a wild card for the Beavers’ rushing game. While being Uiagalelei’s primary target in the passing attack, Bolden has also carried the ball five times for 87 yards – highlighted by a 45-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-1 to extend his team’s lead over Utah.

Bolden’s three receiving touchdowns trail only tight end Jack Velling’s five. Velling has emerged as a red zone threat, picking up three touchdown catches of seven yards or fewer against California alone.

With UCLA boasting the country’s No. 2 rushing defense, Oregon State will need Uiagalelei to excel in the passing game and exploit the weaker of the Bruins’ defensive fronts.

However, that might be a tall task for the Clemson transfer.

Uiagalelei has yet to exceed the 300-yard mark in any game, even falling short of 200 yards twice. His longest pass of the season – a 75-yard touchdown against San Diego State – was a screen pass caught at the 25-yard line before wide receiver Anthony Gould ran the length of the field.

UCLA’s No. 5 total defense has been the team’s anchor this season. Oregon State will likely struggle to run the ball against its competitor’s front seven, necessitating a successful passing attack to consistently find the end zone.

That’s still a big ask against a defense that just held Washington State quarterback Cameron Ward to under 200 yards of passing – a figure that he, unlike Uiagalelei, regularly exceeded before arriving in Pasadena.

Oregon State’s defense
Defensive scheme: Multiple
Strength: Stuffing the line of scrimmage
Weakness: Stopping upper-tier offenses
X-Factor: ILB Easton Mascarenas-Arnold

The Bruins and Beavers have had three common opponents – yet each encounter transpired in opposite venues.

While UCLA played Utah and San Diego State on the road and Washington State at home, Oregon State saw the former two in Corvallis before losing in Pullman against the latter.

Both teams delivered similar performances against the Utes and Aztecs. The Bruins allowed Utah to score seven offensive points and San Diego State to tally 10, while the Beavers yielded seven and nine, respectively.

It was only against Washington State where the teams had vastly different outings – one that highlighted Oregon State’s glaring pass defense issues.

While the Beavers rank 15th nationally in rushing defense, their No. 71 passing defense drags them down to a top-30 total defense – considerably lower than the Bruins’ fifth-ranked unit.

Throughout the season, Oregon State’s defense has proven to be that of a mixed bag.

In Weeks 2 and 5, it held UC Davis and Utah to under 200 yards of offense, respectively. On the flip side, the Beavers conceded over 400 yards of offense against the Cougars and Golden Bears – capped off by Washington State’s 528-total-yard outing in Week 4.

More simply, Oregon State has performed as expected against weaker offensive opponents but struggled against the higher-powered ones.

So what will that mean for UCLA on Saturday?

The Bruins’ run game has been the better of their two offensive strategies thus far – and while not as successful as the Golden Bears’ through the beginning of the season – does display some measure of comparability to their fellow UC school.

Meanwhile, freshman quarterback Dante Moore has not shown the same level of passing proficiency as Ward did before his game against UCLA, but the Bruins’ overall passing attack slots in as the second-best that Oregon State will have faced.

Thus, the Beavers’ defensive performance Saturday can be expected to parallel its showing against the Cougars and Golden Bears more than how it shut down the Aztecs and Utes.

Inside linebacker Easton Mascarenas-Arnold has been a jack-of-all-trades for Oregon State. His 50 total tackles eclipse the second-highest tackler on the team by 16, and he’s also picked up two tackles for loss, interceptions and quarterback hurries on top of a sack.

Beyond Mascarenas-Arnold, defensive lineman Isaac Hodgins has been a premier rusher for the Beavers – notching 5.5 tackles for loss and three sacks. The two have combined with the rest of Oregon State’s interior to lead one of the better run defenses in the nation.

Overall, the Beavers’ offense and defense mirror each other: they’re good on the ground, and weaker in the air. If UCLA’s offense plays more like Cal or Washington State did, Oregon State may struggle to stop the Bruins.

But, if coach Chip Kelly’s offense starts its day like it did in Salt Lake City, the Beavers may find themselves climbing the ranks by the end of the weekend.

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Joseph Crosby
Crosby was the 2023-2024 Sports editor on the football, men's basketball and NIL beats. He was previously an assistant Sports editor on the baseball, women's golf, men's water polo and women's water polo beats and a contributor on the baseball and women's golf beats.
Crosby was the 2023-2024 Sports editor on the football, men's basketball and NIL beats. He was previously an assistant Sports editor on the baseball, women's golf, men's water polo and women's water polo beats and a contributor on the baseball and women's golf beats.
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