UCLA Preview

In a flash, it might appear that the tables have been turned. A backpedaling Stanford squad has a little forward momentum, while UCLA's worldbeaters are beaten down with injuries and doubt. Make no mistake, though - this Bruin squad is stacked with talent that will provide formidable matchups in a big defensive battle this Saturday.

Renewed rumors of a coaching change? Two injured quarterbacks? Yet another loss to Cal? Bruin football futures took a steep plunge on the market this last week, as very little seemed to go right in Baby Blue Land. Hampered by graduation and injuries, the Bruins (4-3, 1-2) have played an unprecedented nine true freshman this year… and will probably burn a tenth redshirt on Saturday with the unveiling of Matt Moore at quarterback.

Unlike the previous few years, little seems to be on the line this year from a Stanford perspective. Stanford-UCLA recruiting rivalries aren't as intense this year as in years past, and many Cardinal fans have largely resigned themselves to a rebuilding year- even if it's the O and not the D that seems to need more work. UCLA might, however, see it differently. It's a season-defining game for UCLA head coach Bob Toledo (isn't it always?), as men of ripe judgment estimate he needs seven wins to achieve even stop-gap job security. Quite frankly, Toledo can't afford to lose this game. UCLA's quarterback fiascos may make his task difficult – if Stanford can keep moving the chains and not turn the ball over, there's a very good chance for a Cardinal dubya…

Offense:

Exactly how the Bruins maneuvered themselves into this quarterbacking quagmire has me puzzled – three freshmen are vying for the starting position, and one of them is already injured. What has Toledo been doing with his QB recruits for the last few years? The more important question remains, however: how good is Matt Moore, the projected starter this weekend? Reports point to an accurate arm, a tight spiral, and legit 6'4" height. On the downside, he'll be taking his first snaps in a college game, is six months out of high school, weighs just 185 lbs, and there's little chance he'll be ready for the speed and ferocity of D-1A football. Sack-master Julian Jenkins is assuredly licking his chops at the prospect of turning Moore into a pretzel at his first opportunity.

Of further interest is the fact that Moore and Stanford QB Kyle Matter, who each figure to play extensively this weekend, are both graduates of Hart High School in Newhall, California. Add Hart grad Kyle Boller to the list, and the Pac-10 could conceivably start three QBs from the same high school this weekend. When is the last time that happened? I dug up Matt Moore's and Kyle Matter's old high school stats for a casual comparison (senior years only), and found some striking similarities:

  Nat'l QB rankings Yds passing TDs Completion % INTs
Moore 8, 9, 17 3343 33 66 ?
Matter 5, 12 3754 33 66 9

Another QB to look out for is John Sciarra, who stepped in after Drew Olson went down in the fourth quarter last week. Sciarra had a disastrous outing, hitting one of seven passes, fumbling twice, and throwing an interception.

Fortunately for the Card, even with its two starting quarterbacks, UCLA's offense was never more than adequate. The Bruins average 30 points and 400 yards of total offense a game, numbers that place them from 5th to 7th in the Pac-10 offensively. Fortunately for the Bruins, they're facing a team this Saturday that gives up 366 yards a game (seventh in the conference), and ranks dead last in points allowed per game (33).

Wide receivers Craig Bragg and Tab Perry highlight a passing game that has been picking up 265 yards per game. Tab Perry, a 6'3" junior, is a load for any backfield, and was given top billing coming into the season. It has been Bragg, however, who has most impressed. A 6'2" sophomore who runs a nasty slant, Bragg leads the team with 36 catches for 633 yards and seven touchdowns. He had an unbelievable night against Oregon two weeks back, exploding for 230 yards and three touchdowns on nine catches. In comparison, Perry has just 25 catches and one touchdown on the entire season.

The two receivers are complemented by one of the best receiving tight ends in the nations, Mike Seidman. The 6'5" senior is tied for second on the team with 25 receptions this year, and has 3 touchdowns to his credit.

The offensive line has been the offense's chief disappointment thus far. Returning all but one starter, and laden with size and experience, the line has successfully created holes for Bruin backs (who are gaining 142 yds per game at 3.5 yds per carry clip) but has nevertheless provided simply wretched pass protection. The Bruins have allowed a conference-leading 102 sacks over the last three seasons, and UCLA QBs have been drilled 16 times in the last three games. Not exactly an ideal situation for the team's two true freshman QBs to walk into this weekend, even against Stanford's historically anemic pass rush.

Heading up the O-line is Mike Saffer (6'5, 304), an Outland and Lombardi Award candidate who has 36 starts to his credit. Redshirt sophomore Mike McCloskey (6'5, 280) is snapping the ball at center, which is the only position on the line without a returning starter. Senior Bryce Bohlander (6'6, 296) starts at left tackle, and sophomore Eyoseph Efseaff (6'3, 301) starts at LG.

Tyler Ebell has done a terrific job at running back this year, ever since he came off the bench vs. Oregon State to run for 203 yards and two touchdowns. Standing just 5'9" and 170 lbs, Ebell is picking up a shifty five yards per carry, and may be one of the most dangerous playmakers Stanford faces this year. The Bruins are also looking forward to the return of big, bruising running back Manuel White, who is capable of picking up crucial inches in 3rd and short situations.

Defense:

The Bruins are coming off a fabulous defensive game at Cal, where they allowed just 173 net yards to the Bears, including a mere 40 on the ground. While UCLA ranks 3rd in the conference in total defense (338.9 yds allowed per game), they rank a sobering 9th in rush defense, allowing 140 yards a game and four yards per play on the ground. Stanford, meanwhile, has the 2nd ranked rushing offense in the Pac-10, and has high hopes to repeat last week's 199-yard rushing performance against UCLA.

UCLA has some future stars on defense, particularly in the secondary. Senior corner Ricky Manning, a candidate for All-America honors and the Thorpe Award, has started 39 straight games for the Bruins and has 27 tackles to his credit. Matt Ware, known for his freakish combination of size, speed and athleticism, is playing both cornerback and free safety this year. Ware was the only true frosh to play last year, and has the honor of being the first UCLA true freshman to start every regular season game since 1972.

If Manning and Ware aren't enough for Stanford's receivers to grapple with, Ben Emanuel is also hiding out in the Bruin secondary. The speedy sophomore safety was the number two DB in the country out of high school, and with 28 tackles and 2 interceptions to his credit on the year, Ben is a key part of the Bruins' stellar pass defense.

The loss of junior defensive tackle Rodney Leisle to injury was a major blow to the Bruin defensive line, and without him the unit has struggled. Senior Steve Morgan (6'3, 313) and junior Ryan Boschetti (6'4, 274) start at tackle in his absence, and 6'6" pass rush specialist Dave Ball has 16 tackles and 6 sacks on the year at DE.

The linebacking corps is also not up to last year's lofty standards, when Nece and Thomas were prowling the line of scrimmage. The linebackers played a stellar game against Cal, however, and have shown consistent improvement over the last several games. Marcus Reese is the heart and soul of the linebacking corps, and leads the team with 52 tackles and a sack. The senior is accompanied in the backfield by the surprising Spencer Havner (a redshirt freshman who collected 11 tackles against Cal and leads the team in both interceptions and solo tackles) and the solid Brandon Chillar at strongside linebacker.

Prediction:

It's amazing to look at UCLA's roster, year in and year out, and to see all that underachieving talent. I think UCLA is just about ready to call it a season, and will begin their funk in style this homecoming weekend. Stanford takes it, 27-17.


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