Same UCLA Team?

As the Cougars prepare to play against UCLA, will they be seeing the same team they saw in early September? Will the Bruins be presenting the same sort of challenges on either side of the ball that aided them in their 27-17 victory over the Cougars? What type of UCLA team will the Cougars be seeing come December 22?

"They're pretty much the same team," answered Cougar linebacker Kelly Poppinga. "They have really good weapons that can beat you on any play, but they've struggled to get those guys the ball, which has held them back."

"They definitely have some dangerous guys on offense that can beat you," said Bryan Kehl. "This year they had a tough time getting it together offensively, but we're definitely aware of the potential they have and the talent they have at key positions to beat you on any given play."

Indeed, the Bruins have managed an average of 335 yards per game, which could define them as "mediocre" or even below that. The passing attack of the Bruins has been the biggest struggle for them this year, as they only have managed 185 yards per game through the air.

"They just haven't had much success throwing the football for whatever reason," said Kehl. "But like I said, they have fast and talented guys on the outside, and if they can work to get those guys the ball they'll be dangerous."

UCLA has had some success running the football, averaging 150 yards per game on the ground. Unfortunately for the Bruins, they'll likely be without their top running back - Khalil Bell - due to injury.

"Even though [Bell is] their top runner, they still have [Chris] Markey, who played well against us last game," said Poppinga. "UCLA runs a run-first offense that doesn't do anything abnormal. They're a pro-set offense that likes to take it right to you."

Although UCLA beat BYU at the Rose Bowl earlier this year, the Cougars were the clear winner in the statistical category, having outgained the Bruins 435 yards to just 236 yards.

"You look at the stats when we played and I think you can see who was the more physical opponent," said Kehl. "We out-gained them in yardage by a pretty large margin, but what they did was out-execute us in limiting their turnovers and penalties. That's how we lost the game. I think we've gone a long way in fixing those problems and we've already proven that we can be the more physical team. Now we just need to keep being physical with them and execute on both sides and we'll be fine."

On the offensive side of the ball, quarterback Max Hall is well aware of UCLA's strengths, having played against the Bruins in what was only the second start of his college career. Hall knows that while UCLA has had their struggles offensively, they're a solid unit defensively.

"They play well defensively," said Hall. "They have some great athletes and they're really quick to the ball. The have good defensive ends that can put a lot of pressure on you, and they did well in not letting us execute during key moments of the game last time."

Hall has spent a lot of time in the film room watching how he and the offense performed at the Rose Bowl. He's obviously seen a lot of progression personally and within the offense he directs.

"It's definitely slowed down for me," said Hall regarding how he sees the field. "I remember how fast everything seemed for me when I played against UCLA this last time, but everything has slowed down for me since, and I think I'll be able to have better success against them this time around because of it."

Hall also believes that the offense as a whole has seen its own progression, and that the different players are more aware of themselves this time around regarding what they can do best to beat an opposing defense.

"We're running it better now for one," said Hall. "Harvey [Unga] wasn't much of a factor against UCLA last time, but this time we know that he'll be able to help us a lot against them. For me and the passing game, our protection has gotten better, and I've learned how to manage the pocket better. We're a different offense. I feel that we execute much better now than what we did last time we played them in almost everything we do."

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