-- The Texas Longhorns come to the Rose Bowl to play UCLA Saturday at 12:30, with the game televised by ABC. Bob Wischusen, Bob Davie and Samantha Steele will be the commentators.
-- Texas is 2-0 and ranked 24/21 in the nation, while UCLA is 1-1.
-- This is the first road game of the year for the Longhorns.
-- UCLA and Texas have met five times in their history, with UCLA holding a 3-2 edge. The Longhorns won the first two meetings, in 1970 and in 1971. UCLA has since won the last three contests, the 66-3 win in Austin in 1997, the 49-31 win in Los Angeles in 1998, and last year's 34-12 victory in Austin.
-- UCLA has earned a rep with Texas as being a bit of a program spoiler. In 1997, Texas was ranked #11 in the country when UCLA shellacked them, and the loss sent Texas on a season-long spiral, finishing 4-7. Last season, Texas was 3-0 and ranked #7 in the nation, but after UCLA ran over them, the Longhorns spiraled again, finishing the season 5-7. The 1997 season for Texas led directly to the firing of Longhorn coach John Mackovic.
-- In other words, Texas has a huge amount of motivation in playing against UCLA.
-- Texas, of course, is one of college football's most successful programs, having won four national championships, the latest being in 2005, while being #4 in all-time winning percentage and #2 in all-time victories (trailing Michigan in both categories).
-- Last season, when Texas registered its losing season, it was in the midst of the second longest streak of 10-win seasons in NCAA history. It had gone 9 seasons, from 2001 to 2009, winning 10 games each season, second only to Florida State's 14 seasons (1987-2000).
-- Mack Brown is in his 14th season as Texas's head coach. During his tenure (1998-present) the Longhorns are tied for second among the NCAA's most winningest teams, with 135 wins, second only to Boise State's 141 and tied with Oklahoma. Under Brown, the Longhorns have posted Top 10 finishes seven times in the lat 10 years. Prior to his arrival, UT hadn't finished in the top 10 in five years. He is currently 13th on list of the NCAA's all-time victory leaders among coaches, with 221 career wins over the span of 28 seasons.
-- Texas has won 36 of its last 40 games in September under Mack Brown.
-- The Longhorns' faithful, however, aren't sold on the direction of the program at this time, and have been doubtful ever since UCLA beat them in Austin last season.
-- Last week against BYU, at home in Austin, the Longhorns were down at halftime 13-3, just as they were against UCLA a year ago, and you could hear a smattering of boos among the fans. This time, however, Texas came back in the second half to pull out the game.
-- Brown made major changes to his coaching staff after last season, with six new assistant coaches, including Co-Offensive Coordinator Bryan Harsin from Boise State and Defensive Coordinator Manny Diaz, who was considered a rising star coming from Mississippi State. His out-going DC, Will Muschamp, was considered the head-coach-in-waiting but got tired of waiting and took the head coaching job at Florida.
-- Texas played 14 true freshmen in its first game of the season against Rice, in an effort to give youngsters a chance to prove themselves.
-- Texas has sold its allotted 7,000 tickets, but you'd have to suspect that many more Longhorns fans will be buying tickets off UCLA fans.
-- The weather looks to be perfect on Saturday, with a forecast of 76 degrees.
TEXAS'S OFFENSE V. UCLA'S DEFENSE
UCLA and Texas actually have quite a bit in common, especially their offenses.
Texas brought in a new co-offensive coordinator this season, Bryan Harsin from Boise State, and he's teaming with co-OC Major Applewhite. It's a bit similar to UCLA, with the combination of OC Mike Johnson and run-game coordinator Jim Mastro.
The Longhorns are platooning at quarterback, similar to UCLA (at least when Kevin Prince is healthy).
The offense is good on the ground and a bit sketchy in the air.
Last week against BYU, the Longhorn offense <i>really</i> started to look like UCLA when it went to the zone read predominantly, and that's what kick-started it.
Texas has said it will platoon two quarterbacks this week against UCLA, and there's no reason not to believe them since they did it last week in the second half against BYU. The Texas offense started the BYU game with five of its first six possessions going three-and-out. It then yanked quarterback starter Garrett Gilbert ((JR, 6-4, 219) and went with the two youngster quarterbacks Case McCoy (SO, 6-2, 200) and David Ash (FR, 6-3, 222), both of whom are much better athletes than Gilbert and are running threats. The Texas offensive coaches went to the zone read and the Longhorns started picking up yardage. McCoy and Ash didn't throw much (9 of 11 for 92 yards), but executed the zone read well. McCoy is the better passer and Ash the better runner, and Texas will literally sub them in play by play. So, it's a pretty good bet most of the time that Texas will run the ball when Ash is in (he threw the ball only 3 times against BYU, and one of them was an interception).
They'll not only zone read with either of McCoy or Ash, but they'll option, too, mostly with Ash. And with so many running back possibilities in the game at one time, you never really know which Longhorn is going to be carrying the ball. Once Texas got this rolling a bit last week they ran for a decent 166 yards against a good BYU defense. They rushed for 229 yards against Rice the week before.
|Tailback Malcolm Brown.|
While there isn't a proven star among the Texas running backs, it's a group of dangerous guys. The veteran tailback is Fozzy Whittaker (SR, 5-10, 202), who has been solid for the Longhorns, if perhaps a bit disappointing. They do like to throw the ball to Whittaker in the flat, though, and they'll direct snap it to him in the Wildcat. Stepping into the void is true freshman Malcolm Brown (FR, 6-0, 217), who was one of the highest-ranked tailbacks in the national class of 2011. Brown is still clearly getting his sea legs, but he's shown flashes, especially in his ability to gain yards after initial contact, which isn't a good match-up for the poor-tackling Bruins. Another threat is D.J. Monroe (Jr, 5-9, 175) a scatback type they like to get the ball to out in space. The short-yardage specialist is fullback Cody Johnson (SR, 5-11, 252), who they will line up in a single back look. He's a bruiser and the thought of him running through UCLA's DL isn't a pretty one.
Texas has talent in its receiving group, but they just have problems getting them the ball. Mike Davis (SO, 6-2, 188) is a long-ball threat. The youngster who has emerged is Jaxon Shipley (FR, 6-1, 190), and he has the most catches (5) among all Texas receivers. With the policy of giving true freshman chances, they gave Shipley a chance and he's responded, already being a good possession receiver.
Marquise Goodwin (JR, 5-9, 177) is an interesting story; a world-class long jumper, he was redshirting while away from the team, trying to qualify for the Olympics. He competed in the 2011 World Championships (where he finished 13th) just days before deciding to take off the redshirt, return to the team for the 2011 season and play against BYU last week. They'll try to get the ball into the speedy Goodwin's hands, especially on fly sweeps.
The offensive line returned two starters from last season, and the three new starters are young and inexperienced. Sophomore right guard Mason Walker (SO, 6-6, 315) is considered an older veteran even though he's only had 14 starts. Last week against BYU the unit was prone to a pass rush.
UCLA's defense will have its first real physical test of the season going up against the bigger, stronger athletes of Texas, as opposed to Houston and San Jose State.
That's kind of a scary proposition, since Houston and San Jose State pushed around UCLA's defensive line. Defensive end Datone Jones was a force in spring and fall practice, and he hasn't been close to that in the first two games. He showed signs of life last week against San Jose State, however. Sophomore defensive tackle Cassius Marsh has done decently in holding down the fort in the middle, but UCLA's other DTs have been pushed around.
UCLA's linebackers, too, have under-achieved so far. The guy that was expected to be a particular force was middle linebacker Patrick Larimore, who was having a stellar sophomore season in 2010 before it was cut short by injury. So far, in his first two games of 2011, he looks like he's still not completely back in form. Last week, youngsters Jordan Zumwalt and Eric Kendricks got more plays, and it seemed to definitely help with UCLA's pursuit and tackling to get the better talent on the field. Strongside ‘backer Glenn Love will also return to the field after missing most of Houston and San Jose State.
UCLA's back four have been good against the pass, led by cornerback Sheldon Price, allowing just 212 yards per game in the air, which gets them ranked 2nd among Pac-12 teams. But they've been susceptible to the run, unable to fill gaps or taking bad angles. Containment has been a particularly issue.
At this point, neither Texas's offense nor UCLA's defense is very good. UCLA's defense is 78th in the country, allowing a total of 393 yards per game. Texas's offense is 60th in the country, gaining 397 yards per game. Both have faced one fairly good opponent (for UCLA, Houston's offense; for Texas, BYU's defense), and both struggled against them.
Texas has an advantage here, though, because its strength is its running game, and it's going to match up against the weakest aspect of UCLA's team, its rushing defense. Texas is averaging about 200 yards per game on the ground and UCLA is giving up about that (180 yards per game, which gets it ranked 11th among Pac-12 teams), so it's not hard to figure that Texas is going to probably gain about that much again on the ground this Saturday. If it does, its offense will have a good shot at controlling possession and wearing down UCLA's defense. Much has been made of Texas's young quarterbacks, and the fact that they've only throw for a combined 15 passes, but they probably won't have to throw to move the ball against UCLA.
Here's perhaps the biggest key to the game: If UCLA's defense can stop – or relatively slow down – Texas's running attack, the Bruins will have a good chance to win. It will be interesting to see how UCLA Defensive Coordinator Joe Tresey chooses to do that, whether he'll load up the box, run blitz, or both. The one tactical aspect UCLA has going for it is that the defense is pretty familiar with the zone read, going up against it every day at practice. We've also heard that the UCLA defense was going to unveil some new defensive looks and tactics against Texas, but we've heard these kind of things many times in covering UCLA.
UCLA'S OFFENSE V. TEXAS'S DEFENSE
It's strength vs. strength – UCLA's rushing attack against Texas's rushing defense.
The Longhorns are allowing only 86.5 yards per game on the ground, which gets them ranked a very respectable 31st in the country. UCLA's rushing attack is gaining 252 yards per game, ranking it 16th in the nation.
Something's gotta give.
Texas is led up front by defensive tackle Kheeston Randall (SR, 6-5, 305), who is projected to be a high NFL draft pick. Next to him is a talented youngster, Ashton Dorsey (SO, 6-2, 295), who is a bit green, going into just the second start of his career. The two starting defensive ends are also talented but still trying to establish themselves. Alex Okafor (JR, 6-4, 260) is a returning starter, and Jackson Jeffcoat (SO, 6-5, 250) started a handful of games last season, and was named the Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year. Both are good athletes, but prone to making mental mistakes, like being out of position.
|D-Tackle Kheeston Randle.|
The linebackers are good, with two accomplished senior linebackers in Emmanuel Acho (SR, 6-2, 245) and Keenan Robinson (SR, 6-3, 240); they are the two returning tackle leaders from a year ago and are all over the field. Acho is a bit of a head hunter. The new starter, Jordan Hicks (SO, 6-2, 235), has some experience, and registered 11 tackles last week against BYU.
The secondary has talent and experience in the middle, but inexperience at the corners. Strong safety Blake Gideon (SR, 6-1, 205) has 41 career starts, starting every game since arriving at Texas in 2008. Free safety Kenny Vaccaro (JR, 6-1, 215) is a solid, experienced player who has a knack for creating turnovers. The Longhorns are not nearly as strong at corner, where two true sophomores, Carrington Byndom (SO, 6-0, 180) and Adrian Phillips (SO, 5-11, 199), and true freshman, Quandre Diggs (FR, 5-10, 200), are trying to not give up anything big. They've been good against the run but susceptible to the pass.
Easily the offensive highlight of the San Jose State game for UCLA was Derrick Coleman gaining 135 yards in the second half and running over the Spartan's defense. His downhill running secured the game for the Bruins, which was in doubt there for a while in the second half. Coleman has had a hot and cold career at UCLA – literally from week to week. Against Houston he looked slow-footed, and then a week later against San Jose State he slammed through SJSU's defense. Hard to figure which Coleman you're going to get. Perhaps a key is to allow Coleman to take off for the first half of the game, so he remains fresh, and then he can hammer on a fatigued defense in the second half.
No matter how the running backs are utilized, UCLA is going to need Coleman and Johnathan Franklin to win the running game war against Texas. Also look for redshirt freshman Jordon James to get some touches at tailback, as well as the F-back spot.
UCLA could very well do the quarterback platoon thing like Texas. The smart money is that Kevin Prince will get the start, since he's a better runner and better at the zone read than Richard Brehaut, and UCLA needs all of its bullets in the running game Saturday. But the UCLA throwing game is going to be an essential piece to the Bruin offensive game plan, and whoever, among Prince and Brehaut, gets the hot hand throwing the ball could get the majority of the time.
UCLA's receiving talent matches up well against Texas's secondary. The 6-5 Nelson Rosario has a history of exploiting young cornerbacks, with his ability to use his body to shield and make catches. Perhaps the guy with the biggest physical advantage on the field Saturday will be 6-8 tight end Joseph Fauria. Also creating a match-up problem is 6-5 F-back Anthony Barr. When you have these three in the pattern at once, Texas's defense will more than likely struggle to find the bodies to match up with them.
UCLA, for the first time in recent memory, has depth at OL, with the return of Jeff Baca, its most talented offensive lineman, to the starting lineup. It's so deep that Greg Capella, who had two very good games to start the season, one at guard and one at center, might not even start against Texas. That must mean that Albert Cid, after getting his first start last week, is that good.
If you think sometimes UCLA's defense looks a bit confused, you'll recognize the same thing in Texas's defense. With a new Defensive Coordinator, Manny Diaz, and a fairly complicated new defensive scheme, the Longhorns have struggled to get the right personnel in the game and be ready when the ball is snapped.
That little degree of confusion has shown in Texas's passing defense in particular.
Texas's forte is rush defense. The slight vulnerability they've shown is on the edge, with ball carriers able to bounce outside, and that could very well be the players still getting used to the scheme and their assignments. UCLA's Pistol and zone read are designed to create that edge – and confusion – so that could work to UCLA's advantage.
Texas is, of course, going to employ the same, familiar strategy – stuff up UCLA's run game and make Prince/Brehaut beat them through the air. That might actually behoove UCLA because, as we said, UCLA has some tough receiver match-ups and the Longhorns' pass defense looked susceptible to short, well-timed passes against BYU last week. BYU's passing game found a lot of soft spots where there was plenty of room, throwing underneath quite a bit. The key will be whether, in UCLA's passing game, it can get good pass protection; so far this season the Bruins miraculously haven't given up a sack, but you have to concede that was against Houston and San Jose State, and the Bruins have yet to pass protect against a defense like Texas's. If it can get some good pass protection, and stretch the field some, UCLA's quarterbacks should be able to find those same soft spots in Texas's pass defense underneath.
But make no mistake: UCLA's offense, which has started off the season looking quite a bit better than in 2010, has been playing against the equivalent of Pop Warner defenses so far this season compared to Texas's defense. The Longhorns have big, fast athletes who can play on Sundays.
We've heard rumblings that UCLA kept its offense basically under wraps for the first two games, arrogantly thinking it could beat both Houston and San Jose State by going just a few pages into its playbook. The plan, reportedly, was to then unleash the offense against Texas. But, again, we've heard this kind of thing before and we're skeptical.
Wow, UCLA's Special Teams is in a pretty substantial mess. Starting with placekicking, Kip Smith has a hip flexor and has sat out practice this week. Rick Neuheisel has said he'll be ready to go Saturday, but for a guy who's struggled all of fall, to then plug back in after missing practice all week, that's a tall order. Even UCLA's back-up, walk-on kicker, Joe Roberts, is out with a quad injury. Then, UCLA's punter, Jeff Locke, is a possibility at placekicker, but he hasn't looked good doing it in practice. UCLA was so desperate at least for some placekicking insurance it recruited the manager from the UCLA' men's soccer team, Tyler Gonzalez, who is in his fourth year at UCLA and hasn't kicked field goals since he was a senior in high school.
And that's just the placekicking.
Locke, who was going into this season considered one of the best punters in the country, has struggled. UCLA is 100th in the country in punting, averaging just 32 yards per punt. Some of those admittedly were attempts at pooches, but others were just plainly not hit well.
Then, UCLA hasn't been good on either kick-off return or coverage. The kick-off coverage hasn't been helped by Locke not being able to consistently drive the kick-off deep, unless he has a wind at his back. And the Bruins can't mount a decent kick-off return, often times getting dropped behind the 20-yard line.
Texas's special teams, though, aren't much better. Justin Tucker, a rugby-style punter, is averaging just 38.7 yards per punt, but he is good at pooching it down within the 20. Tucker is also the field goal kicker, and better at that, having made both attempt this year. Goodwin, the track guy, is the kick-off returner, and he's dangerous. The punt returner is Shipley, who has looked solid fielding balls, but it could behoove UCLA to pressure the true freshman.
If you look at the game from a very simple perspective, you'd say it's going to come down to whichever running game is more effective. UCLA's running game is better than Texas's, but Texas's rushing defense is far superior to UCLA's. The key to determining which might prevail is determining the weakest link in all of this – and that's UCLA's rushing defense.
Unless the Bruins come out and show a completely different personality, you'd have to expect that Texas is going to be able to run the ball against the Bruins. Heck, UCLA couldn't stop Houston, and gave up big running plays against San Jose State. For UCLA's rushing defense, there are two areas of concern so far this season: 1) the interior defensive line, which has been getting pushed back, and 2) containment of opposing quarterbacks. That's not good when you apply that to Texas's offense, when perhaps its strength is pounding the ball with big backs who can break tackles up the middle, and having quarterbacks who can run and scramble. Texas's offense isn't going to throw much, but they've created a pretty deceptive running game to counter defenses stacking the box, with the zone read and options. UCLA has given up 180 yards per game – against Houston and San Jose State – so it'd be against all prevailing wisdom to believe UCLA will be able to stop Texas from running the ball.
UCLA's advantage is that is has a more diversified offense than Texas. UCLA isn't probably going to be able to out-gain Texas on the ground, so it will need to get some points through a balanced offense. Maybe Texas will win the ground battle, but if UCLA can put up points through the air it will have a chance. What ideally you'd like is for UCLA to be able to put up points and Texas, then, having to keep pace without a passing game and only through running the ball.
So, in other words, UCLA needs to depart from what you might think – and that would be to emphasize its running game. Instead, it needs to come out firing, challenge Texas's semi-suspect pass defense in their new scheme. The fact that Texas has just one sack in two games might give the UCLA coaches an idea they can actually do it.
But I suspect that's a bit too much of a gamble for UCLA. The Bruins will more than likely play it conservatively, try to win the run game and possession competition and think that will win them the game. But UCLA's rushing defense will be the weak link.
You'd have to also think that the Longhorns are looking for payback after last season. This year's team looks to have a different personality, too; Last week it got behind 13-3 at halftime against BYU, just like it did against UCLA last season. But last season, against the Bruins, Texas rolled over in the second half. Last week against BYU it rallied and got the comeback win.