Published November 20, 2014
The 19th-ranked UCLA Bruins have gotten off to a surprising start, and they will try to keep the good times rolling as they begin Pac-12 Conference play on Saturday afternoon against the visiting Oregon State Beavers.
Oregon State is one of the few teams in the nation to have played just one game so far. The Beavers made the most of it however, winning a home matchup over nationally-ranked Wisconsin on Sept. 8, 10-7. It was their first win over a ranked opponent since defeating No. 20 USC in 2010 (36-7). The win over the Badgers was a great sign for a program that went just 3-9 a season ago.
After starting the year unranked, UCLA has risen to its current position behind a trio of impressive wins -- at Rice (49-24), and at home versus nationally-ranked Nebraska (36-30) and Houston (37-6). As a result, the Bruins are 3-0 for the first time since 2009.
These conference rivals are meeting for the 61st time, with UCLA having a decisive 41-15-4 series advantage, which includes wins in the last two matchups
Against a tough Wisconsin defense, Oregon State managed to put up just 10 points, but it was able to amass 354 total yards while controlling the clock for more than 35 minutes.
Quarterback Sean Mannion played mistake-free football, completing 29-of-47 passes for 276 yards and a touchdown. The start was a promising one for the sophomore, who threw 18 interceptions in 2011.
Markus Wheaton (eight receptions, 87 yards) and Brandin Cooks (six receptions, 80 yards) both proved to be reliable options for Mannion. Cooks reeled in the Beavers' lone touchdown on a 20-yard strike from his QB in the third quarter.
Wisconsin was able to bottle up the OSU ground game, holding it to just 78 yards on 30 attempts (2.6 ypc). Malcolm Agnew led the team with 45 rushing yards.
The story of the Beavers' first game was without question the impressive play of the defense, which held Wisconsin to 207 total yards and kept 2011 Heisman finalist Montee Ball to only 61 yards.
"It was just a great performance (by the defense)," head coach Mike Riley said. "Guys were very sound. I think one of the key elements was that everyone worked hard and was winning off the block. It is about play making and they played really hard."
The unit made six stops in the backfield, forced two fumbles, and recorded three sacks. Ryan Murphy also made a timely interception midway through the third quarter.
UCLA's offense this season has been clicking on all cylinders, averaging more than 40 points per game. It also ranks second in the nation in total offense (622 ypg), and it is one of only two schools (Oklahoma State being the other) to average at least 300 yards passing and 300 yards rushing per game.
The success of first-year quarterback Brett Hundley is a big reason for the Bruins' offensive prowess. He leads all freshmen nationally in passing yards (827), total offense (946), completions (69), and passing touchdowns (eight). He is also the first rookie in school history to throw for 300 yards in back- to-back games.
"Because he played so well last week, our expectations have gone through the roof," head coach Jim Mora, Jr. said of his QB. "(But) there is going to be some inconsistency in his game sometimes before he's a young player."
Helping take pressure off Hundley in the running game is Johnathan Franklin, who leads the nation in rushing with 541 yards, while he's also added 121 receiving yards and four total touchdowns. Franklin has rushed for at least 100 yards in three straight games, the second time in his career he has accomplished that feat.
Hundley has spread the ball out to several different receivers in the early going. In addition to Franklin, Steven Manfro, Joseph Fauria, Damien Thigpen and Devin Lucien all have more than 100 yards receiving.
The UCLA defense has been stout (20 ppg), especially in the second half of games where the unit has allowed a total of 282 yards and 12 points.
Of the team's seven interceptions, Sheldon Price has four of them, which is tied for the most in the nation. The defensive line has been dominant as well, anchored by Datone Jones (eight TFL, two sacks) and Anthony Barr (four TFL, three sacks). Eric Kendricks leads the team with 25 tackles, 11 more than any other player.