The 2006 game between these two teams showed what a stout and aggressive defense the Bruins can be. 20 of the top 22 players from that defense are back this season. What UCLA can do is get after the quarterback. They have 16 sacks on the year, and this unit harassed Brady Quinn last year into five sacks, and the Irish offense into just 4-of-19 in 3rd down opportunities. I don't expect things to be any different this year. They'll come after Clausen and/or Sharpley no matter which guy is in the game. The Irish quarterback will have to get the ball out of his hands quickly to have much of a chance.
The Bruins are somewhat suspect in the passing game if you can get the ball off. They've allowed opponents 272 passing yards per game and 12 touchdowns through the air. Most of those yards have come when others teams were behind, however, but you can have success if you can protect your quarterback—something the Irish haven't done well all season.
The scary stat for me is UCLA's third down defense. The Bruins are allowing just 25 percent conversion on the year on third down. That is simply outstanding defense.
The Bruins are also very solid against the run allowing just 89 yards per game and just two touchdowns all season. This is concerning because for the Irish to have much luck throwing the ball, they'll need to be able to run the football. Play-action passing is a staple of the Weis offense, and without the threat of the run, the Bruin pass rushers can pin their ears back and get after the quarterback. Irish fans were giddy with glee last week to see freshman Golden Tate making a number of big plays downfield last week, but without the threat of a running game to set up the play-action game, I'm not sure the Irish O-line can protect long enough to get the ball to Tate downfield. Establishing a running game early would go a long way in getting a victory on Saturday.
Once again, UCLA's strength (running game) is Notre Dame's weakness. The Bruins have averaged almost 200 yards rushing in their five games this season. The Irish are surrendering an average of 210 yards per game on the ground. I fully expect the Bruins to try to pound the Irish defense with a healthy diet of Kahlil Bell, and to let their defense take over the game.
The Bruin passing game has been just average. Quarterback Ben Olson has completed just over 51 percent of his passes with seven touchdowns and five interceptions. What he does do well is throw the deep ball, so the Irish will have to be careful to keep the Bruins in front of them on Saturday. The Bruins do run very well, so they're play-action passing game is also solid and why they hit a lot of big plays in the passing game. If Notre Dame can shut down their running game, they'll have a great chance to win this game.
The good news for Notre Dame is UCLA is converting just 37 percent on third down this season on offense. If the Irish can force this unit into a number of third-and-long situations, they could have a lot of success on Saturday.
The Bruins are ranked No. 17 in kickoff returns averaging 25.5 yards per return with one touchdown. They haven't been very effective in punt returns with just 8 yards per return.
UCLA is also ranked No. 14 in kickoff return defense allowing just 18.6 yards per return, and are pretty solid on punt returns allowing just 8 yards per return. Neither unit has surrendered a touchdown at this point.
Looking at UCLA I see a pretty good football team. They're not a great football team, but I think this is where the "X" factor comes in…..I think they'll play like a great football team on Saturday.
UCLA will definitely remember how they lost to the Irish last season. That loss had to sting worse than any other they had last season. This team is capable of playing outstanding football, and they showed that by beating USC last season. They also had a dramatic come-from-behind win last week against Oregon State. This is a football team that will be confident and ready for the Irish.
Mike Frank Prediction: I just don't see how the Irish can win this game. The only way I see the Irish winning is if they up their level of confidence and execution and the Bruins come out flat. I just don't see that happening. UCLA's strengths match up perfectly against Notre Dame's weaknesses. I have a feeling we could be in for another long night on Saturday.
UCLA 34 Notre Dame 14