UCLA Preview: Key Match Ups

It's college football season. Take a moment and let that sink in. If you are a Nevada Wolf Pack fan, don't think for too long because our last memory is the Gildan New Mexico Bowl against Arizona in which the team snatched a defeat from the jaws of victory. Let's take a look at some of the key head to head battles for the Wolf Pack heading into their season opener against UCLA at the Rose Bowl.

In many ways, the Nevada team that takes the field against UCLA on Saturday will be vastly different than the one we last saw in the New Mexico Bowl. The biggest difference will of course be the coach on the sideline. As we all know Chris Ault is out and Brian Polian is in. But finally, that offseason storyline can be put away. Now it is time to get down to the X's and O's, the match ups, and simply the football.

One of the biggest story lines during fall camp this year for the Wolf Pack surrounded the depth and talent on the offensive line. While the left side of the line is pretty solid with team captain and left tackle Joel Bitinio, sophomore guard Connor Talbott, and junior center Matt Galas, the right side of the line is a major weakness. Starting right guard Fred Lavulo was only just recently moved to the offensive side of the ball after spending his first three years playing defensive tackle. Kyle Roberts the right tackle, played in nine games last year, but had zero starts. This would be a major weakness going into the opener any year, but UCLA can specifically take advantage of this weakness with arguably the best pass rusher in the nation Anthony Barr. Other than Barr, they return four out of six from a defensive front that last year got to the opposing quarterback 45 times. Nevada may not be able to completely control the UCLA pass rush, but they will need to contain it.

The Bruins last year struggled with keeping Brett Hundley, their impressive young quarterback, from being sacked. Hundley was taken down 52 total times last year, which shows how poor the pass blocking was up front. Meanwhile the defensive front four for the Wolf Pack is arguably their best and most talented group led by defensive end Brock Hekking and tackle Jordan Hanson. Nevada can take advantage of the fact that while the UCLA offensive line will be improved, they are still relatively young. If Nevada can get to Brett Hundley early in the game and rattle him up a bit, it would be a huge momentum boost for Nevada.

For Nevada to win the ball game, this may be the most important matchup. Fajardo is going to need to be able to throw the ball and throw it effectively against a Bruins secondary that loses all four starters from last year's team. Fajardo may not be able to have a big game on his feet merely because UCLA has the speed and athleticism to matchup with Fajardo's legs, but Fajardo, who is a very accurate passer, should be able to complete passes against a weak UCLA secondary. Look for offensive coordinator Nick Rolovich to call more passing plays in the beginning of the game to truly test UCLA's defensive backfield. Look for Fajardo to target his favorite and most experienced receiver Brandon Wimberly early and often.

This matchup obviously is not about talent or athleticism, but about a mental battle that the Wolf Pack will have to face at the Rose Bowl. This is one of the most historic sites in college football. Will the bright lights of the Rose Bowl be too much for the Nevada players to handle? Doubt it. But you never know.

This game should be competitive no matter who wins. The 20-point spread seems to be giving UCLA too much and Nevada too little credit. I see this game becoming a shootout between the two schools with Nevada pulling away late, similarly to Cal last year.

Nevada 34 UCLA 31

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