Texas Preview

UCLA goes to Austin to take on #4/7 Texas on Saturday. While the Longhorns aren't necessarily the juggernaut they've been in recent years, the have deep talent, and a few things will have to happen for the Bruins to be competitive...

FACTS AND FACTORS

-- UCLA travels to Austin, Texas, to take on the Texas Longhorns Saturday at 12:30 PST.

-- The game will be televised by ABC, while a portion of the country will get it on ESPN. Sean McDonough, Matt Millen will be in the booth, with Heather Cox on the sideline.

-- The Longhorns are ranked #7 in the country by AP and #4 by USA Today.

-- Texas is 3-0, having beaten Rice (34-17), Wyoming (34-7) and Texas Tech (24-14).

-- UCLA, of course, is 1-2, with losses against Kansas State and Stanford, and with the win last week against then-ranked #23 Houston.

-- This will be the rubber game of the all-time series between UCLA and Texas, with each school having two wins apiece.

-- The last time the two programs met was in 1998, with the Bruins prevailing 49-31. Quarterback Cade McNown threw for 339 yards and receiver Freddie Mitchell accounted for 250 all-purpose yards.

-- The last time UCLA ventured to Austin was in 1997, for the famous "Route 66" game, in which the Bruins beat the 10th-ranked Longhorns 66-3. McNown threw five touchdown passes in the first half. UCLA's defense caused 8 Longhorn turnovers.

-- Texas won the first two meetings between the schools in 1970 and in 1971.

-- UT's top-25 ranking in the AP poll sets Longhorn record of 161 consecutive weeks in that poll, which is the current longest-running streak in the country and the sixth longest of all time.

-- UT's top-25 ranking in the USA Today poll for 189 weeks is also a school record and currently leads the nation.

-- Texas has won 33 of its last 36 games in either August or September.

-- The Texas program has the third all-time winning percentage in college football, winning at a clip of .721, which trails only Notre Dame (.733) and Michigan (.737).

-- Texas is second in terms of all-time victories, with 848, trailing just Michigan with 880.

-- Texas is currently in the midst of the second-longest streak of 10-win seasons in NCAA history, which spans 9 seasons, going back to 2001. Only Florida State's streak of 14 (1987-2000) is longer.

-- Mack Brown is in his 13th season with the Longhorns, and he's had a record-setting run in Austin, which has created one of the golden eras of Longhorn football. He's the first coach in UT history to post over 200 wins. Since 1998, when Brown took over the Texas program, the Longhorns are the winningest program in the nation at 131-27. He is responsible for six 11-win seasons, one 12-win season and two 13-win seasons. Under Brown, the Longhorns have posted top ten finishes seven times in the last nine years, while, prior to his arrival, Texas hadn't finished in the top 10 once in 15 years. He's taken his Texas teams to 11 straight major bowls and then last year to the BCS National Championship Game. He won the national championship in 2005, beating USC in the Rose Bowl, to give Texas it's first national championship in 35 years. Last year he lost in the BCS Championship Game to Alabama.

-- Texas is the only school in the nation that has started and ended each of the last 10 seasons ranked among the top 15 teams in the nation.

-- Texas plays its home games at Darrell K. Royal Texas Memorial Stadium, which seats 100,199. They've had a sellout crowd in their last 60 home games.

-- The Longhorns are 67-6 in the last 12 years playing at home.

-- Texas is currently on a 16-game winning streak on their home field.

-- Texas currently has the most players currently active in the NFL among any college program, with 44. Miami and USC each have 42. In the last 12 years Texas is tied with USC for the most top 10 NFL draft picks (8), and is #1 for the most top five picks (6).

-- In the last 12 seasons under Brown and Offensive Coordinator Greg Davis, UT's offense has produced 10 of the top 11 passing seasons, 11 of the top 13 total yardage campaigns and the top nine scoring years in school history.

-- The weather forecast calls for a high of 88 degrees and a 30% of isolated thunderstorms on Saturday.


UCLA'S OFFENSE V. TEXAS'S DEFENSE

In many ways, you couldn't come up with a worse match-up for UCLA's offense.

After three games, the Longhorns are ranked the #2 defense in the country (206 yards per game), and #1 in rushing defense (44).

For the UCLA offense, which is now completely dependent on its rushing game, which is ranked 31st in the country by gaining 203 yards per game, that's not good news.

But there is some hope. Texas's rushing defense hasn't been tested yet this season, and the statistics and rankings are probably a bit skewed.

Texas allowed just 88 yards on the ground to Rice, but the Owls are the #106th ranked rushing team in the nation, having run for just 86 yards against Northwestern and 106 against North Texas. Again, Rice ran for just 18 yards more against North Texas than it did against Texas.

Texas allowed Wyoming, which is dead last (#120) in NCAA rushing, to run for 58 yards. Wyoming, however, only rushed for 34 yards against Southern Utah, and -21 yards against Boise State. In fact, Wyoming averaged 1.9 yards per carry against Texas, when it averaged 1.4 against Southern Utah.

Of course, these are just statistics. It's very evident that Texas has a very good rushing defense, but it's a matter of just how good.

Texas's defense is deep and experienced, returning seven starters and 10 players with starting experience from a defense that was ranked #1 in total defense after the 2009 season, and #1 against the run.

Other than against Alabama, which rushed for 205 yards against Texas in the BCS Championship Game behind Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram, and against Texas A&M, the #2-ranked rushing offense in the country last season, the Texas rushing defense allowed just one team over 100 yards rushing last season.

So, if UCLA's offense wants to be effective it's going to have to run the ball against Texas on the level of one of the best running offenses in the country.

The front four, though, returns only one true starter from last season, but he is one of the best defensive ends in the Big 12 and possibly the country in Sam Acho (6-3, 260), a Playboy Pre-Season All-American and projected first-round NFL draft pick (as a linebacker). The other end, senior Eddie Jones (6-3, 260), though, so far is having an All-American type season, with 18 tackles, 4 sacks and 6 tackles for loss.

Perhaps Texas's biggest question mark on defense in the off-season was who would step up at defensive tackle, needing to replace one of their key defensive leaders at the spot from last season, Lamarr Houston. Junior Kheeston Randall (6-5, 295) is a returning starter, and he's looked good so far, and junior Tyrell Higgins (6-3, 285) has stepped in to a starting spot and been solid. But if there's been a little bit of a weakness in UT's D, it's probably been the drop-off from the loss of Houston.

Junior weakside linebacker Keenan Robinson (6-3, 239) is the leader in the linebacking group, as UT's leading returning tackler and the co-leader so far this season with 19 tackles. Junior Emmanuel Acho (6-2, 240) is the anchor in the middle,

Safety Blake Gideon.
and is thought to be a star in the making. Sophomore strongside linebacker Dravannti Johnson (6-2, 250) is still getting acclimated as a starter but he's an exceptional athlete for his size.

All in all, these guys are on a completely different athletic level than UCLA has faced so far this season. The linebacking unit is big and very fast.

Texas's secondary has been hailed by some news outlets as the best in the country, and it very well might be. It has two guys that could be All-Americans, junior safety Blake Gideon (6-1, 205) who is like a heat-seeking missle to the ball, and senior corner Curtis Brown (6-0, 184), who was an All-American Honorable Mention last season and is projected as a first-round NFL draft choice. Some observers, though, think junior corner or nickel Aaron Williams (6-1, 195) is possibly more talented. The most unaccomplished guy in the secondary is junior safety Christian Scott (6-1, 215) and even though he's new, he's no slouch.

It's not often that a secondary has three guys (Gideon, Brown and Williams) on the 2010 Thorpe Award watch list.

And that's just the starters; Texas has talent in its two deep that would probably start for just about any Pac-10 team.

UCLA's offense, in other words, is up against it. It's easily the biggest challenge of the season for the Bruins' running game, which has looked exceptional, albeit against marginal rushing defenses. Among it's three opponents so far, Stanford looks like it has the best rushing defense, ranked 54th in the nation, and UCLA ran for 154 yards against the Cardinal.

But that is just such a long ways away from the type of rushing defense UCLA is going to face Saturday.

UCLA's senior-laden offensive line has been the strength of the offense, with left tackle Sean Sheller and left guard Darius Savage playing at an all-conference type of level so far. Texas's defense is predicated on stopping the run and putting pressure on the quarterback, so Sheller will have the challenge of his college career trying to keep UT's all-world athletic defensive ends from getting around the edge.

Tailback Johnathan Franklin, who was exceptional last week against Houston, is averaging 5.8 yards per carry and, if he continues on at this pace, could be UCLA's first
Johnathan Franklin.
1,000-yard rusher since Chris Markey in 2006 and the most productive tailback since Skip Hicks in 1997. His first real test against a nationally-elite rushing defense will measure just how good he is.

Derrick Coleman returns from a concussion, having sat out the Houston game, which many UCLA observers thought was essentially a blessing since it installed Franklin as the running back to get the bulk of the carries. It would unbelievable if Coleman, on his return, isn't used as a change of pace to the more effective Franklin.

It's not unusual for a game to hinge on the performance of the quarterback, and this game is no exception. Kevin Prince will probably have to play the best game of his UCLA career for UCLA to win. Well, perhaps, the <i>most efficient</i> game of his career, and that means being accurate on non-forced throws and making no mistakes, particularly avoiding interceptions.

It will be interesting to see if UCLA tries to inject more athleticism and energy into its receivers group by utilizing Josh Smith and Ricky Marvray more. Marvray had the catch of the season so far last week against Houston, where he showed more heart and desire on one catch than UCLA's receivers have shown in many seasons.

Advantage: Texas. Not a difficult call. Just even throwing out all of the superlatives about Texas's defense, going on the road against 100,000 hostile Texans wearing that blinding burnt Orange in humidity and possible thunderstorms would be enough to throw a young quarterback still trying to get his bearings off his game. Then, throw in the Texas's defense superatives, and it has the making of ugliness.

In watching Texas Tech try to find a way to gain yards against Texas's defense last week, the Red Raiders did find some vulnerability in Texas's pass defense. Texas Tech exploited some soft spots with medium-range throws, just quick-hitting passes and catches that often times found space underneath Texas's secondary. After sending some receivers deep to stretch the coverage, they utilized many underneath patterns, crossing patterns, slip screens and such, and it worked. Well, it worked to the point that Texas Tech actually threw for 158 yards.

The big question is whether UCLA's passing offense can even come close to the efficiency of Texas Tech's vaunted passing offense and its quarterback Taylor Potts, which is doubtful.

It's a quandary for the UCLA offense this week: It's strength so far has been running the ball, but it's likely to see a Texas defense that is dedicated to stopping UCLA's running game and forcing a hoped-for shaky Prince to throw. It's a considerable longshot to believe UCLA will be able to be effective offensively by running the ball two-thirds of the time, so it will have to be balanced, and that means UCLA would have to go to Prince and the passing game.

UCLA's offense and its play-calling, however, is very conservative and it's not in the realm of possibility that it won't be this week. You can bet UCLA's game plan will #1) try to do everything it can to establish a running game. The conservative theory is probably, even if the running game is going nowhere, repeatedly, at least running the ball takes time off the clock and keeps UCLA's defense off the field a bit, and 2) don't let Prince hurt you through interceptions, which means he needs to throw the ball a minimum amount of times.

It's easy to see UCLA trying to bull-headedly run the ball throughpout the game, even if there is seemingly no running room in sight.

For UCLA's offense to be successful, really, its running game will have to be unexpectedly better than you might anticipate, or its passing game will have to be better than you can imagine. Or both.

TEXAS'S OFFENSE V. UCLA'S DEFENSE

This unit match-up easily has the better chance of being competitive.

That doesn't mean it's going to be evenly matched, just that UCLA's defense has a better chance in this match-up than UCLA's offense.

It's mostly because Texas's offense isn't the juggernaut it's been in its most recent past. The Longhorns offensively, so far in the first three games, have looked pretty ordinary.

It did have to replace 8 starters from a year ago and you can sense that they are still feeling their way around, trying to get comfortable.

In the off-season, the news coming out of Austin was that the UT offense would return to its power-running roots and get away from its shot-gun, zone-read spread attack.

But it really hasn't, to a great extent. It will go to its Power I, but it did that before, too. It pretty much looks like the same offense it's been for the last several years.

A lot of the reason Texas wanted to go back to the power-running game was to take the pressure off green sophomore quarterback Garrett Gilbert (6-4, 215). Last season, Texas's offense was built around Colt McCoy being able to beat teams with his passing accuracy, and it's thought that Gilbert just isn't there yet. It's clear Gilbert is talented, throwing a nice ball with clean mechanics and moving fairly well in the pocket, but he's still making little mistakes and not finding receivers quickly enough. That inefficiency has made the Texas offense struggle a bit.

After Texas averaged 39.3 points per game in 2009, they are averaging 30.6 points per game, which is 50th in the country.
Tailback Fozzy Whitaker.
And that was against three teams without particularly stout defenses.

Texas Tech's defense is ranked 73rd in the country, Wyoming 112th and Rice 93rd.

The Longhorns are averaging 359 yards per game, which is 72nd in the country. To put that in perspective, North Texas is ahead of them at 70th (361).

And again, for Texas, that came against three below-average defenses, which Texas, in any other year, should be rolling over for 45 points and 600 yards.

Texas fans are learning that, even with the NFL talent they have in so many positions, you just can't plug in any quarterback and things won't miss a beat.

Against Wyoming, a team that Gilbert should have lit up, his numbers were modest: 22 of 35 for 237 yards, and one touchdown. Last week against Texas Tech, he was typical, showing some flashes of being very good while making some bad mistakes. He completed 21 of 36, but threw three interceptions, throws that easily he could have prevented.

So far, too, opposing defenses have put very little pressure on Gilbert, suffering just three sacks so far and feeling very little pressure. Many of the mistakes he's making have been completely unforced.

Overall, Texas's passing game is kind of like UCLA's – with a somewhat green quarterback and unaccomplished but talented skill players trying to find a rhythm.

Texas is trying to replace its best receiver from a year ago, Jordan Shipley, and true freshman Mike Davis (6-2, 183) is the primary candidate. He leads the team with 13 catches, and has shown some real flash, especially on a 45-yard touchdown reception against Wyoming. Senior James Kirkendoll (5-11, 185) has been solid over the years and waited his turn, and it's paying off for him. The deep-ball speedster to watch is sophomore Marquis Goodwin (5-9, 177).

Perhaps what's delayed Texas's offense from breaking out a bit has been having to replace three senior starters on the offensive line from a year ago. It helps, though, when you have two guys returning who are all-conference caliber in senior left guard Michael Huey (6-5, 310) and senior left tackle Kyle Hix (6-7.5, 325). The five offensive line starters live up to the stereotype of Texas's line being big road graters, averaging 6-5.5 and 308 pounds.

The Texas tailback spot has been kind of a revolving door so far, with three guys having started each of the first three games. Junior Fozzy Whittaker (5-10, 195) will start and could get the bulk of the carries, and he represents the best combination of size, speed and shiftiness. Cody Johnson (5-11, 250) earned the starting spot in fall, but lost it after spraining his ankle in the Wyoming game (and he didn't tell the coaches during the game that he sprained it). Sophomore Tre' Newton (6-0, 200) looked like he had won the starting spot in the season's second game, but Whitaker then emerged. Johnson is more of the battering ram type (even though one of the reasons he lost the starting job was because the coaching staff thought he didn't do a good enough job on short-yardage situations). Last week Whittaker and Johnson mostly split the duties and that could be how it has evolved.

Again, Texas is so talented that most of the guys listed on the offense's two-deep would be starters in the Pa-10. So, don't be surprised if someone we didn't even mention here makes an eye-opening play Saturday.

UCLA's defense has an opportunity here to make a statement. After last week's performance against Houston's offense (even though it has to be discounted a little since Houston lost its quarterback, Case Keenum), it's not that big of a stretch to possibly envision UCLA's defense having a good showing against Texas's offense.

UCLA's nickel package was particularly
Patrick Larimore.
effective against Houston, even against the run. It was probably due mostly to the personnel UCLA Defensive Coordinator Chuck Bullough tended to put on the field in the nickel – that is, using star defender Akeem Ayers as a defensive end, moving Nate Chandler inside to defensive tackle, using Keenan Graham at defensive end and then Andrew Abbott at the nickel spot.

In that game, commonly using just two linebackers, Patrick Larimore and Sean Westgate were flying around making plays. Larimore is bound to not just rocket ahead and become an instant star; he'll almost certainly have good games and bad (but mostly more good than bad) as he develops. While he was a considerable force against Houston, he'll undoubtedly be overwhelmed playing on the road in his truly first big-time college football arena as the starter.

UCLA's cornerbacks, Aaron Hester and Sheldon Price, haven't really been tested yet this year and, while Gilbert hasn't exactly lit it up in the Texas passing game, the UCLA corners haven't really gone up against the caliber of player that Texas will put on the field at receiver.

Advantage: Texas. Everything on paper points to an even match-up actually. While UCLA's rushing defense is currently 105th in the country because of what Kansas State and Stanford did to it, that was playing with some guys who aren't getting as many plays in UCLA's front seven now. So, UCLA's rushing defense might be a little better than it is, and Texas's rushing offense might be a little worse. On the other hand, UCLA's passing defense hasn't really been tested, so the secondary could be a little worse than the stats indicate, and Texas's passing offense could be a little better.

But Texas, man for man, has an advantage, in size, athleticism, experience and, well, talent.

What will be interesting to see is if UCLA, with the personnel it looks like it's settled on in its front seven getting a majority of the snaps, whether it can limit Texas's running game. If it can, UCLA's defense will have a chance to win this match-up, since Gilbert more than likely isn't going to win it through the air.

There is, though, the element that Texas's offense is getting close to having a break-through game. They've hinted at it here and there in the first three games. Gilbert shows the potential. They've found their tailback rotation. And it's easy to see how coming back home to Texas Stadium, in front of 100,000 burnt-orange supporters, four games into the season, it could be the time for the break-through.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Texas kicker Justin Tucker hadn't attempted a field goal in college until this season, and he's done fairly well, making 5 of 7 so far with a long of 51. He's been called on more than what was anticipated, since the Texas offense has tended to sputter on drives. John Gold is a solid punter, but hasn't gotten good distance consistently this season. Texas' kick-off and punt returners are dangerous athletes, but have yet to bust one, even though they've gotten close on a couple of punt returns. Tucker, who handles kick-off duties, hasn't had many touchbacks, so there is potential for a return from UCLA's Josh Smith.

UCLA's kicking teams have been very good. It's hard not to be when you have Lou Groza winner Kai Forbath, and Punter Jeff Locke averaging 45 yards per punt. Its kicking and punt coverage have been good.

Advantage: UCLA

Prediction

It's not difficult to make the call for Texas. Even if you examine it closely, Texas still clearly has an edge.

But you'd be remiss if you didn't point out that this isn't the same kind of Texas team of recent years. They don't have that cockiness, or project the image that they're going to roll right over you, especially on offense.

There is also the element that Texas very well could be looking past UCLA, to traditionally one of its biggest games of the year the next weekend against Oklahoma. It's a little pitiful that a potential advantage for UCLA is that Texas might be looking past them, but heck, this Bruin team needs to get advantages wherever it can get them.

The thing that Texas fans – and most onlookers – can't really understand is just how valuable Colt McCoy was to Texas. A four-year starter, Gilbert is probably the best quarterback in Texas history who ended up being the all-time winningest quarterback in NCAA history (45 victories). He finished his career as the NCAA's second all-time accurate passer (70.3%). That's a tough act to follow for Gilbert. It's like trying to follow-up Troy Aikman at UCLA (that's not to say Gilbert is in the same category with Brett Johnson, but you get the gist).

Everything calls for a low-scoring game. UCLA's offense going against Texas's defense isn't going to garner many points, and Texas's offense, which is averaging 30, is going up against a better defense in UCLA's than its last three opponents.

Texas has been prone to mistakes and turnovers, and those could account for a big portion of the game's scoring, on both sides.

There's also the weather element – 88 degrees and a decent chance of thunder storms.

So, while Texas could really put it together and blow out the Bruins, there are too many elements that indicate it won't be a blow-out.

Texas 27
UCLA 17


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