A four-game losing streak has taken UCLA from preseason Top 25 status to fighting to reach bowl eligibility. The Bruins (3-6, 1-5 Pac-12) have no room for error as they travel to face Oregon State on Saturday. UCLA needs to win its final three regular season games just to get to the required six wins.
Going to a bowl game is already out of the question for the Beavers once again. Oregon State (2-7, 1-5 Pac-12) has won just one Pac-12 game in the last two seasons and has lost three straight since escaping with an overtime win over California a month ago.
UCLA holds a 42-16-4 lead in the all-time series with Oregon State. The Bruins won last year's meeting 41-0 after racking up 676 yards of total offense. It was their first road shutout since blanking Stanford in 1987. The Beavers won the most recent game played at the Rose Bowl, prevailing 27-20 behind 379 passing yards from quarterback Sean Mannion.
Oregon State at UCLA
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 12 at 9 p.m. ET
TV Channel: Pac-12 Networks
Spread: UCLA -12
Three Things to Watch
1. Can Oregon State or UCLA finish out a close game?
Close losses have become a trademark for both UCLA and Oregon State this season. The difference between wins and losses have literally come down to just a handful of plays in each game.
All six losses for the Bruins have been by 10 or fewer points. UCLA is just 1-4 in games decided by seven or fewer points this season. Offensive inconsistency has derailed the Bruins at critical junctures in several close games. UCLA has had at least one scoreless quarter on offense in each game so far this season and was shut out altogether during the second half of its 20-10 loss to Colorado.
The Beavers have fared no better. Three of their seven losses have been decided by one possession. Oregon State's main issue has been fading late in games on offense and defense. The Beavers blew fourth quarter leads against Minnesota, California and Washington State and ended up eventually losing to the Golden Gophers and the Cougars.
2. Will UCLA's pass defense make Oregon State one-dimensional?
Opponents have not had an easy time getting into a rhythm in the passing game against UCLA. The Bruins lead the Pac-12 and rank fifth nationally in pass efficiency defense (97.32). Their opponents are completing a Pac-12-low 51.6 percent of pass attempts this season and gaining only 5.4 yards per attempt. UCLA has given up just eight touchdown passes while gaining 12 interceptions.
A strong pass rush led by Takkarist McKinley has been the biggest driving force behind this defensive success. McKinley ranks first in the nation in tackles for a loss per game (2.0) and is second nationally in sacks per game (1.13). He has totaled nine sacks and 16 tackles for a loss in nine games – highlighted by five TFL against Utah, which is the highest single game total for any Pac-12 player this season.
What does this mean for Oregon State? It isn't good news. The Beavers have had only two games this season where they have totaled 200 or more passing yards. Oregon State ranks 11th in the Pac-12 and 112th nationally in passing offense with just 165.3 yards per game.
3. Can Victor Bolden Jr. provide a big play spark?
Gashing defenses for tons of yardage on a single play is Victor Bolden Jr.'s trademark. Bolden poses a threat all over the field and Oregon State has put his skills to full use. The Beavers might need a big game from him to finally get a second Pac-12 victory.
Bolden is the only FBS player this season with two scoring plays of more than 90 yards. The senior cashed in a 92-yard jet sweep against Idaho State and returned a kickoff 99 yards against Boise State. He also tallied a 75-yard touchdown run against Washington and a 75-yard touchdown reception against Stanford.
Currently, Bolden ranks third at Oregon State for career all-purpose yards. He has accounted for 4,948 total yards so far in his career, trailing only former Beavers standouts James Rodgers and Ken Simonton. Bolden also ranks in the top 15 at the school in career receiving yards (1,798) and is seventh in career receptions (162).
UCLA is on the ropes. The Bruins are in serious danger of missing a bowl game for the first time since 2010. Oregon State offers a less challenging opponent than what they have faced recently. The Beavers are dealing with a slew of injuries on both sides of the ball that has left them with paper-thin depth. Oregon State won't go down without a fight, but UCLA should be able to keep its bowl hopes alive for at least one more week.
Prediction: UCLA 31, Oregon State 24
— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.