Texas enjoys running the ball to the left side to take advantage of the size and experience of tackle Kyle Hix and guard Michael Huey. But that makes sealing off the right side extra important because a play can be won, or lost, on the backside block Mitchell will find himself going up against an interesting player, one who isn't much smaller than he is (305 pounds to 290 pounds) that should make for a different kind of challenge than he's been used to. On third downs, don't be surprised when the Bruins slide Akeem Ayers, a high-level pass rusher who will likely play as a 3-4 outside linebacker at the next level, to Mitchell's side to try and pressure quarterback Garrett Gilbert. Texas can win without a great game from Mitchell, but Mitchell's play will be one of the keys toward generating explosives and putting up a high number of points.
Texas's defensive tackles vs. the UCLA interior offensive line
This is the big one the Texas defense needs to win. UCLA's Pistol offense is intriguing in that it utilizes both power and misdirection elements. That can be difficult for a young tackle group as the Bruins will alternate between running right at them and using their momentum against them. One of the most interesting factors will be how Texas utilizes Sam Acho. Defensive coordinator Will Muschamp said that Acho would still play several downs on the interior, but his role will change dramatically as a tackle from what it is as an end. As an end, Acho will be responsible for contain, and for helping to shore up UCLA's quarterback run game. As a tackle, he'll need to avoid being creased or pushed off the point of attack.
Texas's linebackers vs. UCLA QB Kevin Prince
So much of what UCLA does in the Pistol is focused on what Muschamp calls "the eyes game." They'll run motion, play-fakes, misdirection and all sorts of different tricks to get the linebackers looking the wrong way and flowing the wrong way. At the center of it all is Prince, who will play a role similar to an old wishbone quarterback, whirling, faking, pitching and trying to catch the defense off-guard. At 230 pounds, Prince is a mobile and strong quarterback who can hurt you in the run game. Ignore his passing efficiency: like an option quarterback, his success level should be evaluated by the way he puts the Bruins in the right spots to make plays. If he can be clever with the ball, it will set up the pass by finding ways to suck the linebackers up and flowing them out of position.
Texas S Blake Gideon vs. UCLA RB Jonathan Franklin
Keep in mind, Gideon won't typically find himself covering Franklin in the passing game. But the play-side safety is typically the most important player against an option attack. He plays the alley (or pitch), and needs to make the right decision in terms of flying up and eliminating Franklin's opportunities to make plays on the outside. When run properly, the option is the ultimate big-play offense because it creates a one-on-one matchup (at worst, at times you create a two-on-one when assignments are missed) in space with the opportunity for a big play. But as Texas's deep safety, Gideon must also make sure that he's playing run when he flies up from his spot. Should he come screaming up on a play-action pass, the Bruins will have an opportunity for a deep pass play.
Texas QB Garrett Gilbert vs. UCLA FS Rahim Moore
Garrett Gilbert will have to play a different kind of eye game to defeat future first-round pick Rahim Moore. By all accounts, Moore is a player with unnatural instincts and a talent for reading the quarterback's eyes. He used that to acquire 10 interceptions a year ago, while being named the Pac-10's most dominant defensive player by The Sporting News. On the other side, Gilbert is a young quarterback, and simplistically speaking, young quarterbacks tend to stare down their receivers more than older quarterbacks do. At the same time, offensive coordinator Greg Davis said Gilbert does a nice job of looking off coverages, though Davis said at least one of Gilbert's picks a week ago came when he stared down a receiver, allowing the defensive lineman the opportunity to time his pass, tip it and come up with an interception. A turnover or two could be just what the doctor ordered in terms of keeping UCLA in this game.
X-factor: Texas's first-down defense
It's a coaching cliché, but one that is repeated because it has been proven true: when playing a run-heavy opponent, it's important to win first down. Putting UCLA in second-and-seven or worse drastically alters the offense's game plan, and increases the defense's chance of putting the offense in a third-and-long situation. If Texas can consistently put UCLA in longer second down situations, the Longhorn defense should be able to put the Bruin offense in jail, using its pass rushers to clean up what little of a passing attack the Bruins are bringing to Austin.
This game is considered a trap game for the Longhorns, as it's nuzzled between an emotional win over Texas Tech and the Red River Shootout next weekend. But while the Bruins have some players who can be considered elite talents, they simply lack the depth and the offensive firepower to compete with the Longhorn defense. Don't be shocked if the game is close for a while, but Texas pulls away late.