It's the deep offseason right now, so we thought we'd put together some advance primers on the 2015 opponents on UCLA's schedule. We've already previewed Virginia and UNLV. Next up: UCLA's third opponent of the season, BYU.
Sept. 19, The Rose Bowl
2014 Record: 8-5
2014 Recap: BYU started off last season looking very good, going 4-0 to begin the season. The Cougars were seemingly poised for an excellent 2014 season, riding on a powerful offense led by dual-threat quarterback Taysom Hill. Against Utah State in the fifth game of the season, Hill suffered a leg fracture that sidelined him for the rest of the year and essentially crippled BYU's offense. The Cougars limped to four straight losses before righting the ship and 4-1 over the last five games to finish the season on somewhat of a high note.
Returning Starters: 14 (6 defense, 8 offense)
Notable Recruits: OT Kieffer Longson , CB Dayan Lake ,
MLB Jeremiah Ieremia , RB Charles West
2015 Projection: The biggest positive news for BYU in the offseason is that Hill has healed well from the leg fracture and should be back in action by the start of summer workouts. He was unable to participate in full contact drills in the spring, though, so there may be a little bit of rust. Interestingly, there is so little depth behind Hill that BYU had to go the unorthodox route of using a graduating senior quarterback in the spring just to get reps.
With Hill, the BYU offense should be explosive, possibly among the more dangerous offenses in the country. He is a true dual threat who has averaged over five yards per carry in every year at BYU, and in his second year starting, he rushed for 1344 yards on 246 carries. He's not a supremely polished passer, but he's effective enough to keep defenses honest. The big question for BYU this year is, if he is indeed healthy by the start of the year, will he look to run as much as he has in the past?
Defensively, BYU has some question marks. The defensive line returns mostly intact, but the linebacker corps took some hits with both offseason departures and players sitting out spring (Harvey Langi, who's expected to compete for playing time at linebacker, sat out spring due to academic issues). The secondary will also have to replace three starters. The Cougars had a pretty good defense last year, but we wouldn't be shocked to see it take a small step back in 2015.
The Cougars are, across the board, a stout, pretty talented team. With Hill healthy, BYU should be a dangerous opponent for virtually every team on their schedule. They'll certainly be tested, with a schedule that sends them on the road to Nebraska, UCLA, and Michigan within the first four weeks of the season, along with tough home games against Boise State and Missouri. It wouldn't be stunning for BYU to be significantly better next year from a qualitative standpoint, but end up with a similar record to 2014.
Outlook for UCLA: As we wrote in the Virginia and UNLV primers, BYU figures to be UCLA's first significant test of the season, and the first game from which we might be able to draw real conclusions. The Cougars should be better on both sides of the ball than either of the two opponents to start the year, and their offense presents a unique challenge that UCLA will not have dealt with to that point.
This game will be the first real challenge for UCLA's defense under Tom Bradley. The Bruins have actually dealt pretty well with running quarterbacks in Jim Mora's time at UCLA, but it'll be interesting to see if there's an adjustment period for Bradley calling plays against this sort of offense (again, assuming Hill is healthy to start the year). What's more, teams have historically had difficulty dealing with the mature linemen that BYU historically has on both sides of the ball, and this will be a good gauge of how NFL ready Eddie Vanderdoes and Kenneth Clark are if they can hold up against the grown men on the Cougars' offensive line.
Offensively, Josh Rosen will (likely) be going against probably the best defensive line he'll face in the first three games, and, if we had to guess, this is the first time he's going to deal with really significant pressure. How he handles it could determine the outcome of this game, and give us a good indication of how the rest of the year could go.
With tough matchups against Arizona, ASU, and Stanford coming up in the following three weeks, performing well against BYU will be key in generating momentum entering Pac-12 play.
Next up: Arizona...
2015 Opponent Primer: BYU
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