San Diego State Preview

The Bruins should be fired up against San Diego State, wanting to prove that last week's Colorado game was an aberration. San Diego State's high-power offense will stretch UCLA's defense...

NOTEWORTHY FACTORS:

-- UCLA has never lost to San Diego State, 16-0-1.

-- Since 1999, San Diego State is 4-13 at home. They've lost 16 of their last 20 games in September. 11 of those losses have come against teams in the Pac-10 or Big Ten.

-- San Diego State has lost 12 games in a row to Pac-10 teams.

-- San Diego State has ten turnovers in 4 games, including 8 fumbles lost. UCLA has three turnovers in three games, all being interceptions. UCLA has fumbled five times so far this season, but hasn't lost one of those fumbles.

-- The Aztecs defense has given up an average of 40 points in its last three games.

-- Aztec wide receiver J.R. Tolver is the national leader in catches per game (11) and yards per game (179). He has 44 receptions on the season while UCLA, as a team, has 49. Tolver has 717 receiving yards, UCLA 665. Both Tolver and UCLA have five touchdown receptions.

-- San Diego State's other receiver, Kassim Osgood, is third in the nation in both catches (9.75) and yards (143).

-- UCLA is ranked 21st in pass efficiency defense in the country, while UCLA's opponents have completed less than 50% of their passes.

-- San Diego State jumped out to a 22-0 lead over Arizona State two weeks ago, to eventually lose 39-28. The Aztecs' defense allowed 24 straight points. Last week, San Diego State went up 24-10 on Idaho, but then allowed Idaho to score on six straight possessions, eventually losing 48-38.

-- San Diego State's head coach Tom Craft is in his first year at the helm, replacing Ted Tollner. He came to San Diego State directly from being the head coach at Palomar College, a JC. He was, though, the Aztec offensive coordinator in 1994-1996. This week UCLA has studied film of Palomar College from last year.

-- Aztec quarterback Adam Hall leads the nation with 405.2 passing yards per game. He's second in the country with 388.5 yards of total offense per game. He has the two best performances in the nation this year in his last two outings, throwing for 516 yards against ASU and 506 against Idaho.

-- The Aztecs have yet to be outgained by an opponent this season.

-- The Bruins and Aztecs have a common opponent so far this year in Colorado. UCLA lost to Colorado 31-17, while San Diego State fell to the Buffaloes, 34-14.

-- UCLA's defense is giving up 397 yards a game, while San Diego State's has allowed 400 a game.

-- Both UCLA and San Diego State were beaten by underdogs last week. The Aztecs lost to nine-point dog Idaho, 48-38. Idaho quarterback Brian Lindren threw for 382 yards and six touchdowns.

-- If San Diego State loses to UCLA, and goes 0-5 to start the season, it will be the worst start in San Diego State history.

UCLA'S OFFENSE V. SAN DIEGO STATE'S DEFENSE

San Diego State, in the last three years, had an ineffective offense, one that couldn't pass very well, and its defense kept them in games. Now, finally, with an offense that gains yards and puts up points, its defense is a sieve.

The UCLA running game looks to get back on track pretty easily against San Diego State. The Aztecs are giving up about 150 yards a game in its first four games, but it's only really faced one good running team, Colorado, and it conceded 255 yards on the ground to the Buffaloes. UCLA, after gaining only 62 yards on the ground a week ago, is stubbornly dedicated to its running game, and it will more than likely go to the run early and often to prove it can run. As a strategy, too, it makes sense against San Diego State, since if you can eat up the clock with a running game it keeps the ball out of the hand's of San Diego State's high-scoring offense.

Even if San Diego State designed a defensive game plan to stop UCLA's running game, they really don't have the personnel to pull it off. The Aztecs's defensive line is very undersized. They already employ a scheme that's considered a gap-control defense, based on trying to plug holes instead of matching up physically man-to-man. Their best down defensive lineman is probably defensive end Akbar Gbaja Biamila, who leads the defensive line with 13 tackles. He's pretty good at penetrating and getting that tackle for a loss. But their tackles are first-year starters and struggling a bit.

Perhaps one of the best players on San Diego State's defense is sophomore middle linebacker Kirk Morrison. It's his first year starting, but he's asserting himself, leading the team in tackles with 28, with four of them being behind the line of scrimmage. Weakside linebacker Beau Trickey has been solid.

The strength of the defense going into the season was supposed to be their veteran cornerback tandem of Jeff Shoate and Ricky Sharpe (pictured above), but they've underperformed so far this season. Sharpe is a third-year starter and Shoate is in his second year of starting. Perhaps it's getting used to the new defensive scheme. Perhaps it's the fact that the Aztecs can't mount a decent pass rush and the cornerbacks are vulnerable to quarterbacks with the time to pick them apart. JC transfer corner, LaVance Ray, will get more playing time this week, trying to shore up the vulnerability at corner. The problem is also probably due to some softness, inexperience and youth at the two safety positions. San Diego State will start two sophomores against UCLA who are two new starters. True freshman Keith Ellison from Redondo Beach Redondo Union has played some and, with San Diego State trying to find the right personnel, he actually started against Idaho.

San Diego State's defense has also been a bit penalty prone, which has hurt them by sustaining opponents' drives. UCLA's offense has been one of the least penalized in the Pac-10.

Idaho, which is 1-3 and picked to finish toward the bottom of the Sun Belt conference, put up 531 yards and 48 points on San Diego State's defense.

UCLA's offense hasn't shown that it's one of the best in the nation so far, but there is absolutely no reason why it shouldn't be able to move right through San Diego State's defense. UCLA's offensive line was maligned after last week getting beaten by Colorado, and they'll want to prove that the praise after the first two games of the season was justified. UCLA will run and, after last week, probably do it with the most aggressivness yet this year. You might see Manuel White more often at tailback as Pat Norton sees more time at fullback.

But UCLA will want to try to use San Diego State, which is allowing 244 yards a game through the air, and 320 yards on average in its last two games, to get its passing game on track. With SDSU's pass rush being pretty mild, Cory Paus should have plenty of time to throw the ball. Paus has been playing well; and he should continue to improve as he continues to get more comfortable. UCLA should be able to exploit San Diego State's defensive backs. Craig Bragg (pictured above) has been UCLA's best offensive weapon and best receiver, and you can probably expect UCLA to go to him often and let him make plays. With plenty of time to throw, Paus will probably be looking for Mike Seidman. It would be good to see Tab Perry step up and have a game.

Advantage: UCLA. It's one of those situations where you say: If UCLA can't roll up yards and points against this defense, it's in trouble. The UCLA offense will be out to prove itself, against a defense that's back on its heels and reeling. UCLA's offensive line outweighs San Diego State's defensive line by 33 pounds per man. San Diego State really has no one to match up against White, Bragg or Seidman. Again, this is almost a no-win situation for UCLA's offense. If it doesn't get 400+ yards and 30+ points it is a disappointment.

SAN DIEGO STATE'S OFFENSE V. UCLA'S DEFENSE

The Aztecs' offense took a game to get going, but now they're rolling. They gained 278 yards in their first game against Fresno State; 401 yards against Colorado in their second game; 574 yards against Arizona State in game three, and then 585 yards last week against Idaho. At this rate, they should gain about 630 yards against UCLA on Saturday.

What's the most astounding about this is that they've only gained an average of 54 yards on the ground a game. I think it's safe to say that they're not a well-balanced offensive team.

San Diego State's running game is struggling. Starting running back James Truvillion has been slowed by an injury, and is only averaging 3.4 yards a carry. The backup running backs are a bit banged up, too, and San Diego State is saying you might see an appearance from highly-recruited true freshman tailback, Fred Collins, who UCLA was involved with for some time.

The Aztec offensive line hasn't done well at run blocking. Probably its best player, senior guard Raul Gomez, missed last week because of a staph infection and was continued to be slowed this week in practice, but he's expected to play.

But Craft's one-running back, no-huddle offense is not really meant to run the ball too well. It's designed for the pass, to spread the field, to utilize three-step drops and quick throws and allow its talented receivers to do the rest.

Probably not enough has been said already about Tolver (pictured above) and Osgood. They are, right now, the best receiving tandem in the country. But San Diego State employs three receivers, the third being Ronnie Davenport. San Diego State's third receiver has 20 catches, six more than UCLA's best, Craig Bragg.

San Diego State has attempted 206 passes in four games, averaging over 50 a game. This offense isn't trying to deceive you in anyway: They know, and their opponent's know, they're going to pass the ball all game long.

One of the primary reasons Matt Ware (pictured at left) was moved to cornerback this week was because of the Aztecs' wide receivers. Tolver is 6-2, Osgood 6-5 and Davenport 6-1. All of Ware's 6-3 will be needed to defend against these guys. Ricky Manning, who had a trying day against Oklahoma State's talented receivers, will have another big challenge Saturday. It feels better for UCLA, though, to have Ware (6-3), Ben Emanuel (6-3), Jarrad Page (6-1) and Jibril Raymo (6-3) getting most of the playing time in the defensive backfield. Watch for UCLA to use a few multiple defensive back sets in trying to stop San Diego State's passing game.

Also, with San Diego State not having much of a running game, UCLA will probably blitzing more often, especially with its safeties. San Diego State has been sacked 15 times so far this year, which actually isn't that much considering that they're throwing 50 times a game.

Advantage: Even. The theory here is that San Diego State will get its yards and get some points, that's there is no way for UCLA to completely shut down San Diego State's defense. That might be true. But after getting drubbed last week at home against Colorado, expect a fired-up UCLA defense to relatively contain San Diego State's offense. It might not shut it down, but the emotion on the UCLA side of the ball alone will be good enough to keep the Aztecs' point total lower than its last two games. UCLA's ability to run the ball on offense will keep the ball out of San Diego State's hands to a degree.

PREDICTION:

On paper, it won't look much like UCLA made strides of improvement in this game. It could very well give up the 397 yards that it has averaged giving up so far this year. But watch for UCLA's defense to disrupt San Diego State's offense well enough to the point that the Aztecs don't really ever get in a complete groove. Yes, Tolver will catch 10 balls and get 150 yards, but UCLA's defense will be out to prove that it is closer to last year's defense than the UCLA defenses from 1999 and 2000. On the other side of the ball, there is nothing that indicates UCLA shouldn't be able to roll over San Diego State's defense.

UCLA 41
San Diego State 28


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