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Beavers' big tasks: Stop UCLA's run game and Johnathan Franklin in space

CORVALLIS — Notes, quotes and other stuff from Oregon State’s Monday practice session at Prothro Field as the Beavers (1-0) prepare for Saturday’s Pac-12 opener at 19th-ranked UCLA (3-0) ...

• Oregon State goes from facing one Heisman Trophy candidate to another.

First was Wisconsin’s Montee Ball, who was held to 61 yards on 15 carries in OSU’s 10-7 upset of the 13th-ranked Badgers.

Next up is UCLA’s Johnathan Franklin, the nation’s leading rusher with 541 yards, a 180.3-yard-per-game average. The 5-11, 195-pound senior has an 8.2-yard average per carry in first-year coach Jim Mora’s spread offense.

Mark Banker keeps no secrets about which ballcarrier he thinks is better.

“Franklin will be the best running back we’ve faced,” OSU’s defensive coordinator says. “He is having a good time in the open offense they’re running. He is great out of the backfield catching the ball.

“He has good size — he is built like a pro-style running back. And he has the ability to pick and slide, to change direction and make that lateral cut and then get vertical, turn the edge on you. He is a guy you have to work at tackling in space.”

A year ago, Franklin was injured early in UCLA’s 27-19 win over Oregon State in Corvallis, getting only six carries for 36 yards. The Beavers know they’ll have their work cut out for them trying to tackle him this time.

“You have to come hard,” OSU middle linebacker Feti Unga says. “He’s a really tough runner. He has a vicious mentality — not only to get away from people, but he likes to dip his shoulder and bring it. Coming up against him, we’re going to have to be ready to do the same.”

• UCLA has a multi-threat quarterback in Brett Hundley, a 6-3, 225-pound redshirt freshman

Brett Hundley who ranks third in the Pac-12 with 275.7 passing yards per game (69 for 103 for 827 yards, with eight TDs and three interceptions). He ranks second in the loop in total offense at 315.3 yards per contest. OSU’s defense will be particularly mindful of his ability to scramble.

“He is a big ol’ kid with a lot of poise,” Banker says. The Bruins “have designed plays where he can run, though they’ve used them a little less over the last game and a half.

“In the passing game, when he is standing back there, he is a big threat to pull the ball in and run. He’s not crazy wild. He believes in his protection, but you can sense that timing. He looks, nothing’s there, and all of a sudden, he’s gone.”

• UCLA, averaging 40.7 points per game, ranks second nationally in total offense (622.0) and fifth in rushing offense (311.3). Oregon State ranks fifth in total defense (207.0).

OSU’s defensive plan will be to stop the run first.

“We’re going to be dealing with a better overall offense (than Wisconsin), both on the ground and in the air,” Unga says. “They have really good running backs and their quarterback is mobile. He reads his options well. It’s going to come down to being able to contain both the run and the quarterback option and force them to take to the air.”

“We’ll have to be able to make tackles in space,” OSU cornerback Jordan Poyer says. “We’re going to have to make plays and force turnovers. (The Bruins) had five turnovers against Houston (one nullified by penalty). They will turn the ball over, so when those opportunities are there we have to take advantage of them.”

• UCLA uses a no-huddle offense, which makes it harder for an opposing defense in a lot of ways.

“The lack of oxygen in the brain harms you from the standpoint of thinking,” Banker says. “You need to be sound in what you do.”

Banker used 24 players on defense against Wisconsin. Will he be able to get to his substitutions against the fast-paced Bruins?

“Well, we’ll see,” OSU’s D-coordinator says. “We’ll game-plan for that. When a play is just ending, (the Bruins) are putting a new substitution group in.

“We have to be heads-up on the sideline, but there’s still time to get our substitutions done.”

The OSU scout team has been using UCLA’s no-huddle offense this week in practice.

“There are no (defensive) huddles,” Unga says. “Everything is line up and get the call from the coach (at the sidelines), and everyone is echoing it.”

“It’s going to take a lot of attention to detail,” Poyer says. “Guys on the sideline have to be ready to go if we need to put in our nickel and dime package. But we can do it.”

• UCLA has won seven of the last nine meetings against Oregon State, including the last two.

The Bruins’ 17-14 win at the Rose Bowl in 2010 was an all-timer. Put succinctly, the Beavers got hosed — at least to the point of getting a chance to win in overtime.

With the score tied 14-14, the Bruins lined up with four seconds to go and completed a long sideline pass that went out of bounds at the OSU 34-yard-line as time expired, and it appeared overtime loomed. But UCLA challenged the call and officials inexplicably put a second back on the clock. Kai Forbath’s 51-yard field goal gave the hosts the triumph.

Had the Beavers won the game, they’d have improved to 4-0 in Pac-10 play.

UCLA gained 210 yards rushing in that game and 211 yards rushing in last year’s 27-19 victory at Corvallis.

“They got us with the run both years,” Unga says, “We have to stop the run. But they’re a lot more versatile offense this year. It’s going to be really hard with the backs and the quarterback they have.

“We’re a different defense this year. But we’ve played only one game; we shouldn’t take it for granted. We’re going against a way better offense overall than we did last week.”

• UCLA led 21-3 late in the first half last season when Poyer returned a punt 85 yards for a TD in the closing seconds to get the Beavers back in the game.

“We had a perfect return set up left,” Poyer recalls. “As soon as the ball went off the punter’s foot, I knew it was there.

“(UCLA punter Jeff Locke) booms it. He’s going to give us some opportunities to return punts. I’m sure they’ll talk about what happened last season, but I’m going to try to get back there and return some punts Saturday.”

• Oregon State — which saw its Sept. 1 opener against Nicholls State postponed to Dec. 1 because of Hurricane Isaac — is the nation’s only team to have played one game through the first three weeks. Will that be a detriment against an opponent that has played three times?

“I don’t think so,” Poyer says. “Our guys have been working hard at practice and have gotten better every single day. I don’t think it’s a disadvantage. We’ve played in big games before. The Wisconsin game was big, and it will carry over to UCLA.”

“I would take the experience (of playing three games),” Unga says. “But we have fresh legs with the bye week. We should be ready to be physical and we’ll have had more time to prepare.

“We’re ready to come out and prove what we’ve got. It comes down to us doing it ourselves.”

• Last season, Unga was second in the Pac-12 in tackles when he went down with a knee injury on the first defensive play of a 38-28 loss to Brigham Young. He missed the next five games, returning for the final two games against Washington and Oregon, but at less than full speed.

“I couldn’t really run those last two games,” the 6-1, 250-pound senior says. “Now, I’m good. I’m 100 percent. There’s a big difference. On top of that, I have a great defense around me now. That’s a big difference, too.”

• Starting receivers Markus Wheaton, Brandin Cooks and Kevin Cummings went almost the entire way against Wisconsin as backups Obum Gwachum and Richard Mullaney played sparingly and Micah Hatfield didn’t play at all. The 6-5, 225-pound Gwachum, at least, will see more duty Saturday.

“'Boom' is a big target, and he’s deserving of playing,” offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf says. "He’ll play more. You’d like to give the starters a rest here and there, but as long as they’re playing fast and staying healthy, we’ll use them a lot.”

Wheaton, who had eight receptions for 87 yards against Wisconsin, ranks eighth on the school career receptions list with 144 and is tied with Steve Coury for eighth in receiving yardage at 1,837. Wheaton needs 10 catches to move past Phil Ross into fifth place and 109 yards to surpass Roddy Tompkins for the seventh spot.