The UCLA Bruins come to College Station to open the season on Saturday and Aggie Digest takes you behind enemy lines in this week's 'Know Your Foe" piece with Bruin Report Online publisher Tracy Pierson.
It's game week, which means Aggie Digest wants to take you behind enemy lines. Each week during the football season we will visit with the opposing team's publisher or beat writer to get the answer to five questions about that week's match-up.
This week, Jim Mora Jr brings his Bruins of UCLA into Kyle Field for an opening weekend match-up with the Aggies.
As part of our weekly content for game weeks, we will ask five questions from a journalist who covers the opposing program and this week we talk with Bruin Report Online publisher Tracy Pierson.
QUESTION 1 - What do you think UCLA’s approach will be to to slow down Myles Garrett?
They'll probably scheme away from him some in the passing game and then run the ball. UCLA does have a pretty good tackle tandem in senior Conor McDermott, who made some pre-season All-American first teams, and sophomore Kolton Miller, who is less experienced but is considered by many to be the better of the two. So, they'll absolutely give them the chance straight up against Garrett. They are both 6-9ish, 310 pounds and are very athletic for their size. Probably the best way to minimize Garrett is to run the ball well, and UCLA went to a more power-running scheme in the off-season.
QUESTION 2 - Of the questions the Bruins had coming into camp a month ago, what is one key answer they found and one you think will carry over into the season?
Both answers are depth-related. It might seem like it's not that serious of an issue, but coming into fall camp UCLA didn't really have a viable back-up quarterback to step in if something happens to Josh Rosen. But fifth-year senior Mike Fafaul had a very good fall camp -- in fact, he was probably overall more efficient than Rosen. The question that still lingers is offensive line depth. The starting five are good and all have experience, but after that there's a considerable drop-off in terms of proven talent and experience.
QUESTION 3 - What is one key on each side of the ball that UCLA has to be successful at in order to win this game?
On offense UCLA needs to run the ball. The new offensive scheme installed by offensive coordinator Kennedy Polamalu emphasizes the run game, and the offensive game plan is designed to build off it. Then, A&M didn't defend the run well last season, and UCLA would like to exploit that. The goal would be to minimize Garrett with a consistent run game, eat up clock and keep UCLA's defense off the field on the hot day. On defense, it should be to rattle Trevor Knight with some pressure, but last year UCLA was notorious for playing more bend-and-not-break. Still, I think keeping Knight out of a rhythm is the key.
QUESTION 4 - Should Texas A&M fans, and college football in general expect an even better Josh Rosen in 2016?
I think that's not too much to expect. Just from the standpoint that he's a year older and has a year of college football under his belt. He did, though, have an inconsistent camp. He also did that last season and then came out in the season opener against Virginia and had a near perfect performance. So, there's that.
QUESTION 5 - What do you feel is the strongest and weakest position unit on the UCLA team?
UCLA is deep on every unit, except, as I said, offensive line. The guards might be a little bit of a weakness, and probably not at the level of just about every other position on the team in terms of talent. The strongest unit is probably a toss-up between the defensive line and the secondary. UCLA's defensive backfield led the Pac-12 in pass defense last year, and they return everyone and even get their star cornerback, Fabian Moreau, back from injury. Similarly, UCLA gets back from injury its star defensive tackle, Eddie Vanderdoes. While everyone in the stadium has eyes on Myles Garrett, UCLA's version of Garrett is Takkarist McKinley, a hyper-athletic defensive end who has been on another level since spring practice.
PREDICTION: How do you see the game playing out?
I'll go with UCLA. Besides Garrett, I think UCLA matches up well with the Aggies. It seems like the A&M program has lost some personnel, and isn't as talented on the top-end as it might have been. I think the key to the game is UCLA being able to run the ball, sustain drives and keep its offense on the field, and given the vulnerability of A&M's rushing defense last year I think the Bruins will be able to do that. But even with all of that piled on, there is no way it's going to be easy. I'd expect Rosen to be a little out-of-sync given the environment, and the offense faltering enough to make it a close game. One thing: For whatever reason, under Jim Mora, UCLA has been phenomenal on the road. It actually hasn't lost a non-conference regular season road game in four years.