LOS ANGELES (AP) —So much for easing into the job.
Nick Mitchell’s first tests at starting quarterback for Oregon State have been challenging, to say the least. While Seth Collins has been sidelined with a hyperextended knee, Mitchell got his first career start last weekend against No. 13 Utah.
The redshirt freshman will get his next on Saturday when the Beavers (2-6, 0-5 Pac-12 ) host No. 22 UCLA (6-2, 3-2).
Collins, a freshman, hurt his left knee in practice last week before the 27-12 loss to the Utes. Mitchell, who fell to third in the tight competition between Collins and Marcus McMaryion in fall camp, had played his way into a backup role a couple of weeks ago.
Mitchell completed 19-of-35 passes for 204 yards and a touchdown against Utah, with no interceptions. He also rushed for 40 yards on 12 carries.
“It was a good step. We’d all like to have some throws back, some calls back, some whatever it is on offense, defense and special teams, but he gave us an opportunity to be able to stay in the game and manage it enough to be able to be within striking distance,” head coach Gary Andersen said. “Now we’ve just got to get him and the rest of the offense to be able to take the next step and score more points.”
Oregon State, rebuilding in its first year under Andersen, is the last winless team in Pac-12 play.
The Bruins have won two straight at home against Cal and Colorado after tumbling with consecutive losses to Arizona State and Stanford.
Already bowl eligible, the Bruins are favored against the young Beavers, but they’re wary given the close 35-31 victory over the Buffaloes at the Rose Bowl last weekend.
“You can’t ever sleep on these teams,” said Bruins wide receiver Jordan Payton. “There is no bad team in the Pac-12. It’s always the wild, wild West. Every week we have to bring the intensity and bring the focus and gut out a win.”
Other things to consider when the Bruins visit the Beavers on Saturday:
BEEN A LONG TIME: Payton, a senior, is among the dwindled list of UCLA players who have faced the Beavers — the two teams haven’t met since 2012. And that game wasn’t very memorable for the Bruins. The Beavers were unranked when they visited the Rose Bowl and upset then-No. 19 UCLA 27-20. Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion threw for 379 yards in that one. That said UCLA has won seven out of the last 10 in the overall series with the Beavers.
IMPROVING D: Oregon State’s defense is showing signs of improvement. The Beavers have allowed just 10 touchdowns and 821 yards total offense to opponents over the last 10 quarters. In the previous 10, they allowed 17 touchdowns and 1,531 total yards. “I think their belief in what they can do is continually getting better. But it’s week-in and week-out, because as we see in this league, that Grim Reaper of a whole bunch of points is right around the corner for a lot of teams if you’re not careful,” Andersen said. “So you’ve got to be able to prepare every week for a great offense, and this one is no different.”
THE OTHER FRESHMAN QB: UCLA also has a promising young quarterback in Josh Rosen, who is considered among the top freshmen in the country at his position. Rosen is averaging 278.8 yards passing a game and he’s thrown for 16 touchdowns. In the last five games, Rosen has found success in connecting with Payton and fellow receiver Thomas Duarte, who have a combined 939 yards receiving and seven touchdowns.
LOOKING AT THE STANDINGS: UCLA sits a game back of Utah in the Pac-12 South, with the meeting between the teams set for Nov. 21 at the Rose Bowl. The Bruins host Washington State next week, before wrapping up the season with the Utes and the annual rivalry game against USC at Memorial Coliseum.
WOUNDED D: Injuries this season have hit UCLA particularly hard. Myles Jack, the Bruins’ star linebacker, left school last month to prepare for the NFL draft after tearing the meniscus in his knee. Junior Isaako Savaiinaea, sprained his ankle and his status for Saturday remains uncertain. Kenny Young is questionable, too, after an upper body injury against Colorado. Deon Hollins is coming off a knee injury and freshman Josh Woods pulled a hamstring against the Buffaloes.
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