Las Vegas Bowl Preview

In just about every aspect of this game, UCLA should dominate out-manned Wyoming, who probably shouldn't even be in Las Vegas. So much, though, will be determined by whether UCLA -- particularly its young defense -- is up for this game...

NOTEWORTHY FACTORS:

-- UCLA takes on Wyoming in the Pioneer Pure Vision Las Vegas Bowl today at 6:45. The game is being televised by ESPN, from Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas.  Ron Franklin and Mike Gottfried will be calling the action.

-- Wyoming is 6-5, finishing 4th in the Mountain West Conference, going 3-4 in conference.

-- It's the first ever meeting between UCLA and Wyoming.

-- Wyoming didn't beat a 1-A team this season with a winning record. The only team they beat with a winning record this season was 1-AA Appalachian State.  Normally 1-A teams can't count victories over 1-AA teams, but there is an NCAA rule that allows a 1-A team to count a victory over a 1-AA team once every two years, which Wyoming used to get to its 6-5 record.

-- The Cowboys and the Bruins had one common opponent this year. UCLA beat San Diego State, 31-10 in the Rose Bowl, while Wyoming beat the Aztecs 20-10 in Laramie.

-- Wyoming's head coach is Joe Glenn, who is in his second season with the Cowboys, with a record of 10-13. He is being credited with turning around the Wyoming program this year, posting the school's first winning record since 1999.

-- It's the first bowl appearance for Wyoming since 1993. They last won a bowl game in 1966, when they beat Florida State in the Sun Bowl.

-- Wyoming is a very young team, with only four senior starters having started every game this season. Only two other seniors have started a game this season, also. The Cowboys will start 13 freshmen or sophomores.

-- Wyoming was 1-4 on the road this season, with its only victory coming in triple overtime against a 2-9 UNLV team.  They were outscored by their other opponents while playing on the road, 101-29.  That included a 31-0 loss to Texas A&M, a 24-13 loss to BYU and a 30-7 loss to Colorado State.

-- Wyoming lost its last two games of the season, falling to Utah, 45-28 at home, and New Mexico on the road, 16-9.

Wyoming linebacker John Wendling.

UCLA'S OFFENSE V. WYOMING'S DEFENSE

If you wanted to find a good matchup for UCLA - on both offense and defense - Wyoming would be it.

UCLA is, of course, a very good running team, averaging 190 yards per game. They would ideally like to go up against a defense that gives up a lot of yards on the ground, which is exactly what Wyoming is.  The Cowboys allowed 184 yards on the ground per game this season, playing against Mountain West teams. In seven games, they gave up over 200 yards per game, including their last six games straight. In their last game against New Mexico, they gave up 304 rushing yards. UNLV ran for 209 yards against them.

The Cowboy 3-4 alignment has been a sieve, with its front three unable to hold the line.  They actually start a noseguard, Dusty Hoffschneider, who is 5-8 and 250 pounds, who might be their best down defensive lineman. 

Probably one of their best two defensive players is senior linebacker Guy Tuell (6-1, 221), who has decent quickness.  Perhaps their best player on defense is sophomore strong safety John Wendling (6-1, 207), who leads the team is tackles (83) and has a good nose for the ball.

But Wyoming truly doesn't have a very good defense.  They're allowing almost 400 yards per game, can't stop the run, can't mount a pass rush (they have only 13 sacks on the season), and can't defend very well against the pass.

UCLA's Maurice Drew.

UCLA, with its running game, should dominate this side of the ball.  With its big offensive line, it should walk right through Wyoming's rush defense.  Wyoming hasn' seen anything this year like UCLA's Manuel White, Chris Markey and Maurice Drew, even if he isn't 100% healthy.

Then, through the air, with Wyoming fielding young cornerbacks, senior wide receiver Craig Bragg could have a field day, unless UCLA is so successful on the ground they don' t even have to throw the ball. Even with Tab Perry probably out for the game, UCLA still has too much firepower for Wyoming, with receiver Junior Taylor coming off his best two games as a Bruin and 6-6 tight end Marcedes Lewis almost unable to be defending.

UCLA quarterback Drew Olson should have a very good day, with the offense able to run and with Wyoming having a very poor pass rush.  Olson just needs to not make mistakes and UCLA should roll.

Advantage: UCLA, overwhelmingly.  It's almost a no-win situation for UCLA. Given this matchup, if they don't put 40+ points on the board it would be a disappointment.  Wyoming will have to come out with some different defensive looks to try to slow down UCLA. They've tried to stack the box this year, and while it didn't do any good, you can probably expect it again.  The only possibility of Wyoming's defense even having a chance of even slightly slowing down UCLA's offense is if there is a big UCLA let down - if the offensive line doesn't play inspired. Given everything the UCLA offensive line has been through over the course of their careers at UCLA, including some disappointing late-season games, it would be very surprising if that were the case today.

WYOMING'S OFFENSE V. UCLA'S DEFENSE

This is a matchup that's a little more even, but one that still leans heavily toward UCLA. UCLA's weakness defensively has been in its rush defense, but Wyoming isn't a great running team, averaging just 134 yards per game and, again, that's against not great opponents. 

Wyoming wide receiver Jovon Bouknight.

Wyoming's offensive line is young, with just one senior, and three sophomores, starting. They have a couple of large book-end sophomore tackles in Chase Johnson (6-8, 315) and Hunter Richards (6-7, 283), who have some promise but are still pretty inexperienced.

The Cowboy's running game could be hampered the most by an injury to junior running back, Joseph Harris (5-7, 207). He will reportedly play, but isn't 100%.  Their leading rusher is sophomore Ivan Harrison (5-7, 190), who has run for 571 yards for the season, averaging just 3.7 yards per carry. Both are Lilliputian, but have fairly good quickness.

Really the best aspect of the entire Wyoming team is its wide receiver, junior Jovon Bouknight (6-1, 192). Bouknight is probably the team's best player, currently 14th in the nation with 968 receiving yards, and 58 catches. He's talented, has decent speed, but good athleticism and pass-catching ability. Its entire receiving group is pretty good, with Tyler Holdon (5-11, 180) and Dustin Pleasant (6-1, 177) taking up most of the remaining receiver reps.

UCLA defensive tackle Kevin Brown.

Wyoming's quarterback, junior Corey Bramlet (6-4, 218) has had a decent year, given the fact he's constantly been under pressure and doesn't have a lot of talent around him. Because of that he's been careless with his passes, throwing 12 interceptions on the season against just 10 touchdowns. He's a big, somewhat lanky kid with a decent arm, but being pretty mobile he's been able to run the ball well.  Wyoming's spread offense tries to take advantage of the talent it has at wide receiver, and Bramlet spreads the ball around pretty well.

Containing a spread offense is always a challenge for every defense, but UCLA's defensive strength matches up well against the Cowboys.  UCLA is strong in its defensive backfield, with all Pac-10 cornerback Matt Clark and elite junior safety Jarrad Page. Redshirt freshman cornerback Trey Brown has played well since assuming the starting position halfway through the year.  Watch for Wyoming to go right at Brown and test him with Bouknight.

UCLA's linebacking unit will also be challenged, with the loss of All-American Spencer Havner for the game due to knee surgery. It didn't help when his back-up, Benjamin Lorier, was sent home from Las Vegas for showing up intoxicated at a team meeting (along with senior defensive tackle Eyoseph Efseaff).  Redshirt freshman Aaron Whittington will pick up most of the reps, and have his hands full trying to contain Bramlet.

Advantage: UCLA. It's a good matchup for UCLA's defense, going against a team that doesn't emphasize the run and is susceptible to a pass rush. UCLA, while you can't say it had a great pass rush for most of the season, did look quite a bit better in pressuring the quarterback in its last several games. Some of that can be due to the young defensive line getting better as the season went on, including defensive end Nikola Dragovic.  Defensive tackle Kevin Brown had one of the best performances by a defensive lineman in recent memory against USC. Many considered it his coming-out party, so it will be interesting to see if he can follow that up with another dominating performance against a far less talented offensive line.  Watch for Wyoming to throw more often than it runs, trying to get the ball into the hands of Bouknight matched up against Trey Brown.  But also watch for UCLA's defensive line to step up further and pressure Bramlet.

Prediction: UCLA overwhelmingly should dominate Wyoming. We don't usually like to talk condenscendingly about another program, but Wyoming shouldn't even be in this bowl game. The NCAA has too many bowl game slots to fill, plainly.  The only way Wyoming is even in this game is if UCLA comes out uninspired and flat, which is a possibility. We saw it against Washington State, which was, up to that time in the season, the most important game of the year.  It's hard to see that some of the senior players on UCLA - like Steven Vieira, Craig Bragg and Manuel White - having gone through what they have in their careers at UCLA, not doing everything they can to be prepared for their last game as a Bruin. The question will be whether UCLA's young defense will have the mental focus it needs.  If not, it could be a high-scoring shootout.  If UCLA's defense does played focused, it should be a blow-out.

UCLA 44
Wyoming 27


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