Facts and Factors
- UCLA travels to College Station, Tex., to take on the Texas A&M Aggies, Saturday. The kick-off is slated for 2:30 CT (12:30 PST), and will be televised by CBS. Verne Lundquist and Gary Danielson will call the game.
- UCLA is ranked 16th in the AP poll, and 24th in the Coaches Poll, while Texas A&M starts the season unranked.
- Both the Bruins and Aggies are coming off disappointing seasons in 2015. UCLA went 8-5, ending the season with a loss against USC and one against a 5-7 Nebraska team in the Foster Farms Bowl. Texas A&M, similarly, went 8-5 and lost in the Music City Bowl to Louisville.
- UCLA and Texas A&M are 2-2 all-time playing against each other. The last meeting between the two programs was in the 1998 Cotton Bowl (UCLA winning, 29-23). The first meeting was in 1940, with UCLA losing, 7-0. UCLA's great head coach, Red Sanders, played A&M twice in the early '50s, splitting with the Aggies.
- It's the first time Texas A&M will host a ranked non-conference opponent in a season opener since 1989.
- Texas A&M has won 21 consecutive home games against non-conference foes.
- First-year Texas A&M offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone spent the last four seasons as UCLA's offensive coordinator.
- The Aggies' projected starter at right cornerback is UCLA transfer Priest Willis.
- Texas A&M is coached by Kevin Sumlin, 52, who is in his fifth year as the head man in College Station. Sumlin is 36-15 in his five years, having started out 11-2 and 9-4 in his first two seasons and then 8-5 in both of the last two seasons. His first two years he ended the season ranked, with his first season punctuated by a win over then-#1-ranked Alabama and helping to make Johnny Manziel into a household name. But the last two seasons under Sumlin the Aggies finished unranked. Sumlin, known as an architect of a high-octane, pass-oriented offense, got the A&M job after a great run as the head coach at Houston, and then after his first two seasons at A&M there was buzz that Sumlin would make the jump to the NFL. But the last two seasons have been sobering. On the field, the Aggies have under-achieved, and off the field they've lost over 30 players to transfer, legal issues, etc. In December, it looked like the program was hitting rock bottom when two former five-star quarterback recruits, Kyler Murray and Kyle Allen, both left the program. Add it all up, and Sumlin has gone from being a potential NFL hire to being on the hot seat at Texas A&M, all in a short span of two years. Starting off at A&M with such a great year like the one he had in 2014 probably has done worse for Sumlin in the long run by how it raised expectations.
- Jim Mora is in his fifth year at UCLA, like Sumlin, and has a very similar overall record, 37-16. Mora's 37 wins in four years are the most a coach has ever posted in his first four years at UCLA, but also the most over any four-year period in UCLA's history.
- Texas A&M is making a concerted financial effort to become one of the elite programs in the SEC. In the last four years, it's poured $530 million into the program (facility upgrades, coaches' salaries, etc.).
- Texas A&M's home stadium is Kyle Field, with a listed capacity of 102,577, but in 2015 average attendance was 103,622. So their average attendance surpasses the venue's capacity. It's the largest stadium in the SEC (and in the state of Texas), and the 103,622 led the SEC in attendance for the second straight year. In 2014, when the team was better, A&M averaged 105,122. That year, they set a one-game attendance record in the game against Ole Miss, packing in 110,633.
- The main calling card of home games at Kyle Field is the "12th Man," a fan tradition that goes back to 1922. The 12th Man is basically what A&M calls its fan support, and it's massive, with what seems like the entire 103,000 at Kyle Field participating in various well-choreographed cheers. The name "12th Man," in fact, is such an A&M trademark they actually trademarked it, and any other organization that uses the term "12th Man" has to deal with Texas A&M. The Seattle Seahawks reached a licensing deal with Texas A&M over its use.
- Under UCLA coach Jim Mora, the Bruins haven't lost a regular-season, non-conference road game.
- UCLA has 10 players who are from Texas, among them RB Soso Jamabo (Plano), DE Deon Hollins (Houston), and WR Eldridge Massington (Mesquite).
- UCLA is 17-14-4 all-time against teams in the current Southeastern Conference.
- Texas A&M opened as a 1-point favorite and it has since moved to a 3-point margin.
- The weather forecast calls for 90 degrees, 67% humidity, and a 50% chance of rain.
UCLA Offense vs. Texas A&M Defense
You might have heard quite a bit this offseason about Texas A&M's vaunted pass rush, and for good reason, which we'll get to in a bit.
But that hype tends to cover up that, by and large, the Aggie defense last year was mediocre at best, and in some aspects actively bad.
The issue for Texas A&M all year was stopping the run. The Aggies were very bad, even worse than UCLA, if you can believe it. A&M allowed a full five yards per rush on the ground (99th in the country), and if anything, that was a positive step from previous years. In 2014, the Aggies allowed 5.2 yards per rush, and in 2013, 5.4. At this pace, A&M might have a solid run defense again by 2020.
New defensive coordinator John Chavis did have a positive impact, but it wasn't quite as significant as it needed to be, so the Aggies go into 2016 with questions still left to answer on the defensive side of the ball.
Chavis, for his part, runs a 4-3 base defense, but he really made a name for himself with his effective use of sub-packages at LSU, including a killer nickel package that helped make LSU one of the most fearsome defenses in the country a few seasons ago. Chavis, while not particularly blitz-happy, really focuses on penetration with his defensive line which can, if the defense isn't disciplined enough and linebacker play isn't steady enough, lead to bigger gains in the running game. On the flip side, that penetrate-first philosophy also leads to a good amount of tackles for loss and sacks.
The defensive line is where it all starts for Chavis and his defense, and any conversation about Texas A&M's defensive personnel has to start with the tandem of defensive ends, senior Daeshon Hall (6'6, 270) and junior Myles Garrett (6'5, 270). The two combined for 34 tackles for loss last year, including 19.5 sacks. Hall is a very good player, but Garrett is the freak of the two, with the size of a three-technique and the speed and quickness of a guy 30 pounds lighter. He's one of the premier pass rushers in college football for very good reason. The two are especially long, as well, which makes them much tougher to deal with for offensive tackles.
Neither Hall or Garrett is any great shakes as a run defender, or at least that was the case last year. Reportedly, Garrett especially has put on strength to become a better run defender, but we'll wait and see if he's made real progress. Teams made a bit of a living last year running right at Garrett.
At the defensive tackle spots, the Aggies have another pair of big bodies in junior Zaycoven Henderson (6'2, 300) and senior Hardreck Walker (6'2, 290). Henderson played considerably last year, but Walker was used more sparingly after a pretty big sophomore campaign. The two are expected to help shore up an interior that was porous at times last year. Daylon Mack (6'1, 320), the big-time sophomore defensive tackle, should rotate in liberally, and Kingsley Keke (6'3, 310) will also work into the interior rotation. On the ends, junior Qualen Cunningham (6'3, 240), junior Jarrett Johnson (6'3, 260), and sophomore James Lockhart (6'3, 260) will factor into the rotation as well, but none of them are the physical marvels that Hall and Garrett are.
The Aggies have had a bit of a tumultuous offseason at linebacker, with junior linebacker Josh Walker being suspended after an arrest for domestic assault. Walker was in the mix to start this year, and his loss does throw off the depth chart a bit. At middle linebacker, Texas A&M will start Otaro Alaka (6'3, 240), the sophomore linebacker who had to take a medical redshirt last year after dislocating an elbow and tearing his labrum in the opener. He starred as a freshman, though, starting several games and looking like a potential star to close out the year in the Liberty Bowl, so A&M has high hopes for him. He'll be backed up by senior Claude George (6'2, 240)
At outside linebacker, the Aggies have some experience with senior Shaan Washington (6'3, 240), who started every game last season. He was the second leading tackler on the team and plays with good physicality. Sophomore Richard Moore (6'1, 218) will start on the other side, and he's a potential disruptor after a promising freshman campaign. Behind Washington and Moore, sophomores Cullen Gillaspia (6'2, 230) and Dwaine Thomas (6'2, 225) figure to get most of the time.
The linebacker corps has good size, but struggled a bit in pursuit last year. The hope is that a healthy Alaka and the continued growth of Moore could help the defense get a little better sideline to sideline in the running game.
The secondary is led by stud junior safety Armani Watts (5'11, 200). Watts led the team in tackles last year by an absurd margin, recording 126 with the next closest (Washington) at 81. He's a good cover safety, and he also had to play a big role in run support last year as well. The hope for Texas A&M is that he tackles far fewer guys this year, as it generally doesn't mean good things for your run defense when your safety is your leading tackler. He'll be joined at safety by senior Justin Evans (6'1, 200), who's a big hitter that transferred in from junior college before last year. Those two provide a real stabilizing force at safety.
Old friend and not at all a safety but, in fact, a picture-perfect beautiful corner Priest Willis (6'2, 200) will start for the Aggies at cornerback. Willis, now a redshirt junior, is finally getting his opportunity to shine, and it should be interesting to see how he fares. He's drawn decent reviews this offseason, but we saw enough of him at corner at UCLA to have some trepidation about how he'll do. Opposite him, junior Nick Harvey (5'10, 185) looks like he'll get the nod, and he also doesn't have starting experience. He was the first corner off the bench last year, though.
Like we said above, the Aggies will often go with a nickel package under Chavis, and when they do, junior Donovan Wilson (6'1, 206) will be the guy. He started seven games at nickel last year, and was effective in that role. He brings a little more size than is typical at nickel, and can certainly be used in the box to help with the run as well.
There are some talented bodies in the depth chart for the secondary, but most of them are unproven, with freshmen Roney Elam (6'2, 180) and Larry Pryor (6'0, 205) factoring prominently into the depth, to go along with sophomore Deshawn Capers-Smith (6'0, 190).
UCLA, for its part, is breaking in a new offensive scheme behind offensive coordinator Kennedy Polamalu, and it remains to be seen how it'll fare come game time. He certainly has some pieces to work with, though.
First among those pieces is sophomore quarterback Josh Rosen. Rosen is fresh off one of the best seasons ever for a true freshman quarterback and expectations are very high for him. He'll need to find some receiving targets he's comfortable with, though, as three of his four top targets from a year ago are busy trying to make NFL teams at the moment. UCLA has plenty of options in the receiving corps, but none emerged significantly during fall camp. Expect a few familiar names like Eldridge Massington, Kenny Walker, and Darren Andrews to get some early playing time, but don't be surprised if a player like freshman Theo Howard ends up seizing the top job. Howard was very impressive in fall camp, and presents a dangerous combination of speed, quickness, and playmaking ability. Converted DB Ishmael Adams has looked like a real weapon in practice and will have a big impact on UCLA's offense, with Polamalu trying to get the ball in his hands.
Of course, Rosen will also need to be protected, and he has, arguably, two of the best tackles in the Pac-12 to protect him from the edge rush in senior left tackle Conor McDermott and redshirt sophomore right tackle Kolton Miller. The two 6'8+ behemoths form an excellent tandem and should provide Rosen with plenty of protection from edge rush this year. The issue is more on the interior. UCLA lost three starting linemen from last year, all of whom started at one point or another on the interior last year. UCLA gets Scott Quessenberry back at center after he sat out a year, and he should provide some stability, but there are question marks at the guard spots with Kenny Lacy and Poasi Moala the starters with little depth behind them.
If the offensive line can reliably open up holes, UCLA, even without Paul Perkins, has the running backs to take advantage. Sotonye Jamabo, the sophomore star, figures to be the starter, but UCLA really didn't have a bad choice to make, with junior Nate Starks and sophomore Bolu Olorunfunmi both looking like starter-level talents this offseason. That three-headed monster should cause fits for many defenses this year.
The Bruins are also debuting some pro-style elements, which means more tight end and fullback usage. Nate Iese will start at tight end, and he looked like he might have the inside track at being one of Rosen's favorite passing targets this year. At fullback, with Cameron Griffin most likely out after suffering a concussion, Ainuu Taua will likely get the start, and it should be very interesting to see what kind of tenacity the former defensive tackle brings to the table on offense. He was a lot of fun to watch in the offseason.
We were tempted to opt for a UCLA advantage here, but there are a few key things that prevent us from doing so. First, A&M's strength on the defensive line could pose some issues for UCLA's offensive line. You have to figure that Garrett and Hall will provide a very tough test for even UCLA's excellent tackles, and the Aggies have a lot of bulk up front to cause issues for UCLA on the interior.
Second, we really just don't know what we're going to get from Polamalu and his offense. That's not necessarily a bad thing, it's just an unknown. If UCLA were running the same scheme from last year, we'd probably give the advantage to UCLA even without great depth on the offensive line, but it's hard to do that here. This will be Polamalu's first real game as the designer of an offense and play caller, and that could come with some growing pains.
As far as the match-ups go, this is an obvious game where UCLA should look to run the ball first. Until Texas A&M can prove it's a much better run defense than it has shown the last few years, UCLA should pound the ball. It'll be a real test of the interior of the line, and the philosophy of the new pro-style scheme, to see if they're able to run the ball without spreading out the defense, which is how Noel Mazzone ran the ball at UCLA. If they can, it'll be a great sign for the rest of the season, particularly on those dreaded third-and-shorts that have caused the Bruins so many issues.
McDermott and Miller are going to have to play well -- there's just no other way to say it. The Bruins are going to have to pass at some point, and the two long-armed tackles are going to have to hold off their long-armed and athletic counterparts on the defensive side of the ball. We're reasonably confident they will have some success, but we're also pretty confident that Garrett or Hall is going to break through a time or two.
A&M has some weaknesses at corner that can be exploited. Willis, who is not a safety but in fact a corner, never looked comfortable at UCLA, and really struggled covering in space. Finding a way to isolate him in coverage and match him up against speed would be ideal, and probably something the UCLA coaches, intimately familiar with his limitations, have considered.
The big key will be running the ball, though, and that's going to depend on the interior of the offensive line, in large part. If the Bruins can run it, they should dominate this side of the matchup, and a good rushing performance against this team would be a very good sign for the rest of the season.
UCLA Defense vs. Texas A&M Offense
Though Texas A&M's defense might have been a bit disappointing, especially in terms of the rushing defense, the Aggies were truly let down by their offense a year ago. Kevin Sumlin and Jake Spavital could just never find the right combination, and their issues really started at the quarterback position. Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray split time at quarterback and, while each brought different assets to the table, neither really ever clicked as the main signal caller for the team.
In terms of yards per play last year, Texas A&M was very mediocre, averaging just 5.3 yards per play, good for 70th in the nation. That was a far cry from 2014, when the Aggies averaged 6 yards per play, and represented a stunning drop off from the peak under Sumlin, when A&M averaged 7.1 yards per play in the 2013. The rushing offense was especially bad, averaging just 4.2 yards per carry, but it was really just a mediocre effort across the board.
Enter Noel Mazzone. The former UCLA offensive coordinator went over to the Aggies in January of this year, and we have to figure that Mazzone is going to improve the unit. He took a moribund UCLA offense to instant credibility in 2012, and while he was never able to quite get over the hump to turn it into an elite unit, the offense was still comfortably good every year he was in Westwood. He won't have the same sort of toys to play with in College Station that he had when he arrived in Westwood, but there's still plenty of talent to see an uptick in performance this year.
The other major newcomer is one of those pieces. Oklahoma transfer and senior Trevor Knight (6'1, 215) won the starting quarterback job this offseason. Knight's story is very interesting -- he started at Oklahoma in five games as a true freshman and then in 10 games as a sophomore, but lost his job in 2015 as a junior to Baker Mayfield, which prompted his transfer. Knight, at his best, was very good, as he captained the Sooners to a bowl win over Alabama in 2014. He was wildly inconsistent, though, which was part of what ultimately led Bob Stoops to opt for Mayfield.
From a skills perspective, he has a good enough arm, but accuracy can be an issue, or at least was in the past. He is a dual threat, though, as he rushed for 445 yards in 2013 and 339 in 2014, averaging over 5 yards per carry in that span. He's not a burner by any means, but he's plenty fast enough to cause a team issues, and we could see Mazzone breaking out the zone read a few times with Knight.
His protection leaves a bit to be desired. The offensive line has basically four new full-time starters, with the only returning full-time starter being senior left tackle Avery Gennesy (6'5, 315). Gennesy is a talented player, and he should help keep Knight from suffering too many blind-side hits, but the rest of the line is a big unknown. Another familiar name, senior Jermaine Eluemunor (6'4, 325) will man the right tackle job, and he hasn't quite panned out the way some thought he would out of junior college. He backed up his entire first year in the program in 2014, ending up redshirting, and then was second string for almost all of last year at guard. He'll get the nod at right tackle, more from a lack of other great options than anything, and the hope is that he can shine when the lights are on him.
The interior spots actually look a little like UCLA's from an uncertainty perspective, but, if anything, they're even more uncertain with Texas A&M. True freshman Colton Prater (6'4, 295) will start at left guard, and that should probably tell you quite a bit right there. When UCLA has started true freshmen on the offensive line, it has virtually always been out of absolute necessity, so we're figuring the same here. Prater is talented, from what we hear, but it's a tough jump going from high school to college on the offensive line. At center, A&M has redshirt freshman Erik McCoy (6'4, 305), and, again, we don't have much to go on. Coaches have been high on him in the offseason, but coaches are always high on their players in the offseason. At right guard, finally, Texas A&M has some more experience in sophomore Connor Lanfear (6'6, 315), who at least played some last year. He's playing a little out of position at guard, though, and we wouldn't be stunned to see A&M flip Eluemunor and Lanfear at some point. The depth chart is full of true freshmen and true sophomores, and, as with UCLA, if the Aggies have to dip too deep into their bench, it could get ugly.
The strength of the offense remains the receiving corps. Sophomore wide receiver Christian Kirk (5'11, 200) is already an absolute star, and is a stone-cold lock to go pro after next season. He has that kind of elite speed that makes everyone else look like they're running on a beach while he's running on a moving walkway. He is just an incredibly explosive player, and we have to imagine Mazzone, who coveted Kirk out of high school at UCLA, is salivating at all the different ways he can have Kirk catch swing passes out of the backfield. Junior Ricky Seals-Jones (6'5, 240) is another very good talent, with great size and strength, along with deceptive speed. Senior Josh Reynolds (6'4, 193) is another playmaker who averaged over 17 yards per catch last year, and the list goes on. To get to a mediocre player in Texas A&M's receiver depth chart, you'd probably have to go to the three-deep.
At running back, Texas A&M is still trying to find the answer to last year's woes. Junior James White (6'0, 217) is the leading returning rusher, but he was no great back last year, averaging just 3.6 yards per carry on 55 attempts. The other two contenders, junior Keith Ford (5'11, 215) and freshman Trayveon Williams (5'9, 200) didn't play last year, so there's little to go on. Ford transferred in from Oklahoma, where he rushed for 369 yards on 63 carries as a sophomore. Williams was certainly explosive in high school, and he appears to have put on some good weight in his first offseason in College Station, so perhaps he'll be ready to shine. Even still, it is not a proven depth chart by any means.
UCLA's defense had a somewhat rough year last year, especially in terms of stopping the run. Three different teams rushed for over 300 yards on the Bruins during the year, and it seemed like UCLA struggled with a wide variety of rushing attacks. The Bruins also struggled to rush the passer, recording their worst sack percentage of the Mora era.
To combat both of those issues, UCLA unveiled a new 4-3 scheme this offseason, and it looks like that should help both areas of weakness from last year. Replacing Deon Hollins with Matt Dickerson on the line of scrimmage should help clamp down on interior runs, and then adding a little bit of length to the line of scrimmage should help talented pass rushers like Takkarist McKinley find more favorable opportunities on the edge.
The Bruins should be fairly strong on the defensive line, even with the loss of star nose tackle Kenny Clark. UCLA returns Eddie Vanderdoes, who's one of the premier run defending defensive tackles in the Pac-12, and he should help to shore up the interior in a big way. McKinley, for his part, could be a star this year. He was incredibly disruptive this offseason in practice, and the last time we saw a player doing things like McKinley was doing in practice, it was Anthony Barr. If he can bring to games what he brought to practice, he could have a massive year. Steady Eli Ankou will take over at the other defensive tackle spot, and Dickerson, like we said, will take over for Hollins on the other end. It's a big defensive line that should do a better job against interior runs.
At linebacker, UCLA will start Jayon Brown and Cameron Judge at the two outside spots, and it's neat to remember how far they've come. As freshmen and sophomores, they were basically the stars of the special teams unit, and then as juniors, both had coming out parties, with Brown emerging as a star, and Judge opening some eyes in a big way when he entered a game in relief when about a dozen other linebackers got hurt. Those two are tenacious tacklers who, while a bit undersized, make up for it with speed and instincts.
The question for UCLA is really at middle linebacker. We're guessing that Kenny Young is going to end up starting, but it's still a guess at this point -- nothing has been announced, and as of the last days of open practice, he and Isaako Savaiinaea were both splitting time. Savaiinaea had a better year last year, but Young was arguably better in practice this offseason, and the hope is that the light is coming on for him.
In the secondary, the Bruins will start much the same group as last year, with the twist of replacing Marcus Rios with Nathan Meadors, who emerged last year as one of UCLA's most instinctual cornerbacks. Rios will provide very good depth at both corner spots. Fabian Moreau returns to action at the other cornerback position after suffering a season-ending Lisfranc fracture a year ago. He had an excellent offseason, and the hope is that he's finally ready to perform at an elite level. At the safety spots, Randall Goforth and Jaleel Wadood will once again earn the starting jobs, and we have some trepidation there. Both have been solid performers for UCLA in the past, but each is relatively undersized, and that proved to be an issue in run support last year. Tahaan Goodman and Adarius Pickett, both more physical players, wait in the wings.
We feel pretty good about UCLA's defense coming out of fall camp, and, unlike last year, it's not due to any illusions we might have about how aggressive the new scheme might be. We're under the assumption it won't be particularly aggressive, but even still, the personnel and fit of the 4-3 seems to make more sense for what UCLA wants to do. The big defensive line should help against those clock-killing, demoralizing 5 and 6 yard runs up the middle that seemed to dominate UCLA last year, and McKinley's emergence at the 4-3 end spot could significantly boost the pass rush.
We also think there's an element here that UCLA is going to have Mazzone's offense pretty well-scouted, since Mazzone's offense consists of three plays scrawled on the back of his hand. The one wrinkle is that Mazzone probably has better receiver talent at A&M than he ever had to work with at UCLA, so it'll be harder to jam them to prevent the short stuff that Mazzone likes to use. On the flip side, Knight is a step down from either Brett Hundley or Josh Rosen as an efficient quarterback, and he might struggle to hit the shorter passes with the same consistency that either UCLA quarterback displayed.
The big key for UCLA will be stopping the run, because, stepping into Mazzone's brain, we're pretty sure he's aware of UCLA's issues stopping the run last year, and we have to imagine that he'll do what he can to exploit the issues he saw last season. And given what we know of him as a play caller, if running the ball doesn't work at first, he'll probably continue to try for an entire half before scrapping the idea.
UCLA has the personnel on the defensive line, particularly in Vanderdoes, to cause real issues for the interior of the Texas A&M offensive line, and so much of Mazzone's run game is built on the interior of the OL. If Vanderdoes can have a big game blowing back one of the guards, it could really disrupt the timing of the offense and cause a pretty bad day for Knight. Covering Kirk and company will be an issue, but if UCLA can win up front, that should take this side of the matchup.
Texas A&M is starting a new kicker in sophomore Daniel LaCamera (6'4, 223), and it's anyone's guess what he'll bring to the table. He kicked sparingly last year, and has an apparently big leg. He's been both a punter and a field goal kicker in the past. Junior Shane Tripucka (6'3, 210) takes over as the starting punter from Drew Kaser, and he's only punted two times in his college career, so that's an unknown as well.
The only truly known part of Texas A&M's special teams is that Kirk is almost certainly going to run a punt or two back for a touchdown this year. He's going to be one of the best punt returners in the country this year. Justin Evans will return kickoffs, and he's a pretty explosive guy as well, though he's no Kirk.
For UCLA's purposes, there's even more uncertainty, with the Bruins starting a new kicker in freshman J.J. Molson, a new punter in Austin Kent (another freshman), and a new long snapper in freshman Johnny Den Bleyker. Molson looked good this offseason, and Kent looks like he has a big leg, and Den Bleyker looked flawless during camp, but it's anyone's guess what any of them will do once they're in front of 100,000 people on Saturday.
Again, returner is the one spot where there's some certainty for the Bruins. Ishmael Adams will almost certainly return punts and kickoffs, and the hope is that he will have regained his form from his sophomore year, when he emerged as one of the more dangerous return men in the country.
In the end, we'll give this matchup to the Aggies, since they at least have a little more experience at their kicker spots, and Kirk is a better returner than Adams, even though Adams is quite good.
ADVANTAGE: Texas A&M
For, really, just about the first time since 2012, we're really not sure exactly what we're going to see out of UCLA on Saturday. The changes on offense have been significant, and there's been enough change on defense that we're intrigued about the possibilities. We know the personnel very well, but getting a feel for new schemes in a practice setting is never easy, so this game should be enlightening in that respect.
We're going to base this prediction on what we know and some of the assumptions we have about the new schemes. First, defensively, we're assuming UCLA is going to be a better defensive squad than it was a year ago. The Bruins shouldn't be hit by so many critical injuries and, like we said up top, we think UCLA made a smart scheme change that should help shore up some weaknesses. Against an Aggie offense that is so young on the interior of the offensive line, and which has some question marks still at quarterback and running back, the defense could have a very nice first day as a 4-3.
The other side of the matchup is trickier. The Bruins, on paper, can match up fairly well against the strength of the A&M defense, since one of UCLA's best assets is its tandem of offensive tackles, and having two excellent tackles is as close as you can come to mitigating the presence of A&M's excellent edge rush. Texas A&M's rush defense was also not good last year, and UCLA's run offense was quite good last year, so, in theory, that's another area where UCLA matches up well against the Aggies.
Of course, the issue is that UCLA isn't running the same offense as a year ago, and the offensive line is in a much more uncertain state. Whether the interior of UCLA's offensive line is capable of dictating its will to opposing defenses is an open question, and whether Kennedy Polamalu's offense is capable of scheming around a potentially weak interior OL is even more of a question.
Still, we think UCLA has enough firepower at running back, enough talent at offensive tackle, and enough elite ability in Josh Rosen to generate enough drives and points against the Aggies. The Bruins may have to spend some time ironing out some kinks in the scheme in the early season, but there's enough talent in this UCLA offense to put up some points against Texas A&M.
Jim Mora is 12-0 in non-conference regular season games at UCLA, and we have every reason to think that streak should continue on Saturday.
Texas A&M 24