BYU Preview

UCLA's inexperienced team goes on the road for the first time in the 2008 season to take on #15-ranked BYU this Saturday. While the Cougars have some clear advantages, you have to figure in that UCLA's clever coaching staff will be a big factor in the game, and in possibly pulling off another upset...

-- UCLA travels to Provo, Utah, to take on BYU Saturday at 12:30 PST.

-- The game will be televised nationally by Versus (Channel 603 on Direct TV).

-- BYU is ranked 15th in the USA Today/ESPN Coaches' Poll, and 18th in the AP Poll.

-- UCLA was ranked 23rd in the AP Poll the week after its win over Tennessee, but fell out of the top 25 after its bye week.

-- BYU has played two games so far this season, beating Northern Iowa in Provo, 41-27, and sneaking by Washington, 28-27, in Seattle last week.

-- UCLA, of course, uspet Tennessee in an overtime victory, 27-24, at the Rose Bowl two weeks ago. The Bruins had a bye last week.

-- UCLA enjoys a 7-2 margin in its all-time series with BYU, which dates back to 1983. UCLA, actually, lost for the first time to the Cougars in 24 years in the Las Vegas Bowl last season, 17-16.

-- The teams met twice last season. In addition to the bowl game, UCLA's second game of the season was against BYU last September, when it beat the Cougars 27-17 at the Rose Bowl.

-- After UCLA beat BYU, the Cougars lost the next week to Tulsa, but then have rattled off 12 straight wins since.

-- It's unique that this will be the third time in a calendar year that two teams from different conferences will play each other.

-- UCLA lost to BYU in the bowl game when it was playing without its first- and second-string quarterbacks, and even that handicapped, the Bruins were still in a position to win the game. Kai Forbath, however, had his game-winning field goal attempt from 28 yards blocked on the final play of the game, with UCLA losing 17-16.

-- Coincidentally, BYU beat Washington last Saturday in similar circumstances. The Huskies scored in the last few seconds of the game, to come within one point, 28-27, only to be accessed an excessive celebration penalty when quarterback Jake Locker threw the ball in the air after scoring the touchdown. Washington's extra-point attempt from 35 yards was blocked by BYU.

-- UCLA has never lost against BYU (3-0) in Provo.

-- BYU is coached by Bronco Mendenhall, who, in just his fourth season, has resurrected the once premier Mountain West program. In 2006, in his first season, he went 6-6, which was a big turnaround considering the Cougars hadn't had a winning season since 2001. Then, in his next two seasons Mendenhall coached the Cougars to back-to-back 11-win seasons while claiming two MWC titles and two top 20 national rankings. In that time he has gone 16-0 against his league opponents. Before Mendenhall took over the position he was the program's defensive coordinator, after making a name for himself in the position at New Mexico. Bruin fans might remember that he was New Mexico's DC when UCLA played the Lobos in the 2002 Las Vegas Bowl. Even though UCLA won, 27-13, UCLA was held to a season-low 167 yards in that game. So, suffice it to say, that Mendenhall is known as a defensive coach, and has a defensive scheme that professes to be able to plug in new faces and not skip a beat.

-- UCLA, of course, is coached by Rick Neuheisel, who, in his first game coaching his alma mater, pulled off an upset of then-#18 ranked Tennessee two weeks ago. Neuheisel has gotten a great deal of press for the victory, and for utilizing a helicopter Friday night to go to the games of different high school prospects in Southern California.

-- The last time Neuheisel coached in Provo was in 1999 when he made his head coaching debut for Washington.

-- The Cougars have the longest active winning streak in the nation, having won 12 consecutive games.

-- BYU hasn't lost a game at home since November 2005, having won 13 straight home games.

-- BYU, for the first time since 1997, started a season ranked in the top 25, and their ranking of #16 in this year's pre-season AP Poll was the highest pre-season ranking for BYU since 1990.

-- Edwards Stadium, named after former BYU coach Lavell Edwards, seats 64,045, and the Cougars have sold out seven consecutive home games.

-- UCLA Offensive Coordinator Norm Chow, of course, has some deep ties to the BYU program. He spent 27 years on the BYU coaching staff, in various capacities. While Chow was at BYU, the Cougars won 72% of their games and appeared in 22 bowl games. In 12 of his 18 years as BYU's offensive coordinator, Chow's offense finished in the top 10 nationally in total offense. Chow served every year but two at BYU under Edwards, and there was some sentiment that he was passed over by BYU for its head coaching position at various times after Edwards had left.

-- UCLA Defensive Coordinator DeWayne Walker also worked on the BYU coaching staff, when Chow was on the staff.

-- BYU offensive line coach Mark Weber served at UCLA in the same capacity under Bob Toledo.

-- BYU's current roster features 20 players from the state of California, including some former high school teammates of UCLA players. BYU receiver Austin Collie and UCLA tight end Ryan Moya were teammates at El Dorado Hills (Calif.) Oak Ridge.

-- Of the 105 players on BYU's fall camp roster, 75 of them have already served their Mormon mission. There are actually 45 members of the BYU football program currently serving missions.

-- There are 27 players on BYU's roster that are married. In fact, star tight end Dennis Pitta is the brother-in-law of quarterback Max Hall, Pitta having recently married the sister of Hall's wife.

-- Provo's elevation is approximately 4,500 feet, and playing at that altitude has been discussed as an issue, even though Neuheisel has insisted UCLA won't take precautions for it.

-- The weather forecast for Saturday is a high of 77 degrees with sunny skies and light winds.

-- UCLA's quarterback Kevin Craft actually has started a game against BYU in Provo -- when he was playing for San Diego State in 2006 as a redshirt freshman. It was his first career start, and he went 20 of 32 for 216 yards while throwing one interception in a loss to BYU.

UCLA OFFENSE V. BYU DEFENSE

BYU's offense has gotten a great deal of publicity, but the defense over the 2007 season is what really made BYU a good, well-balanced team. Last season, the Cougars had some pretty lofty national rankings, including being ranked ninth against the run (97.5 yards per game) in the nation.

So far, however, in BYU's first two games of the season, the Cougar defense has been merely adequate. It gave up a total of 362 yards against Northern Iowa, even though much of that yardage was yielded in garbage time, and allowed 337 yards against Washington, including a solid 133 yards on the ground.

BYU D-end Jan Jorgensen.
In the off-season, Mendenhall named secondary coach Jaime Hill the defensive coordinator, even though it really is in name only since the defense is really Mendenhall's baby.

The defensive coaches have had quite a bit of work to do since last season, though, having to replace eight starters, and deal with some injuries and off-the-field issues.

The strength of the defense is the front three (BYU runs a 3-4), with All-Mountain West defensive end Jan Jorgensen (JR, 6-3, 274) returning. Jorgensen is known for putting pressure on the quarterback and, by the time he's done at BYU, should be the program's all-time leading sack man. He's the guy that blocked Washington's extra point to preserve the win in Seattle last week.

Jorgensen, though, has been getting a lot of double teams, which has put the spotlight on the other side of the line to supply some pressure. Ian Dulan (JR, 6-1, 255) is a returning starter but he shares first-string duties with Brett Denney (JR, 6-4, 260). In the middle the Cougars are really bolstered by the return of Russell Tialavea (JR, 6-3, 300) from ACL surgery. In two games, the front three have been responsible for some decent pressure and 2 sacks.

The BYU defense, though, loses a great deal of experience – and talent and depth – in the back eight. There are those that think the linebackers and secondary have appeared like deer-in-the-headlights in the first two games of the season.

The Cougars had to deal with some injuries at linebacker. In the spring, they lost Terrance Hooks to a knee injury. Grant Nelson will miss the entire season due to an illness. BYU's best guy, middle linebacker Matt Bauman (JR, 6-1, 232), was thought to be slowed by a bruised foot but he leads the team with tackles (20).

Besides Bauman, the other standout is David Nixon (SR, 6-3, 233) at the strongside position. The other inside guy, Shawn Doman (JR, 6-2, 232), and weakside linebacker Coleby Clawson (JR, 6-3, 220) have made a good amount of tackles but BYU watchers believe they've been out of position often.

The back four are all new, with BYU having lost all four starters. Perhaps the toughest issue was finding someone to replace boundary corner Ben Criddle from last season. Scott Johnson (JR, 5-11, 185) has stepped up and has 17 tackles in two games. But BYU's secondary is considered inexperienced and vulnerable, especially this early in the season.

UCLA tight end Ryan Moya.
UCLA's offense is, well, a mystery heading into its second game under Norm Chow. It was definitely a tale of two halves against Tennessee, and if anyone can definitively say how UCLA's offense is going to fare this week against BYU don't believe them.

The one thing that was constant between the two halves in the Tennessee game for the offense was that the running game was anemic in both. Now, you have to say that UCLA was working in some new guys in its OL, with a new OL coach, with its first-string running back going down early in the game, facing a big, physical Tennessee defense. UCLA, this week in practice, subbed Darius Savage in as the starting left guard ahead of Scott Glicksberg, trying to find the right combination. It also could be that they want Savage's size (6-4, 350) to go up against BYU's good-sized DL.

A UCLA running back will have to experience a break-out game for the Bruins to have good results on the ground since Kahlil Bell is more than likely out and there really isn't anyone on the roster with the combination of talent and experience in his place. Chane Moline, the designated short-yardage guy, will start, but he's been struggling even in short yardage. Raymond Carter, the redshirt freshman, started to gain some momentum as the Tennessee game went on, and he's expected to pick up where he left off. We're probably going to see talented true freshman Aundre Dean get at least a series in this game to see if he can show some game-day flash.

Quarterback Kevin Craft is an enigma going into Provo. It probably would be surprising if he played more like he did in the second half of the Tennessee game than the first half. But watch for Chow to have some tricks up his sleeve to try to get Craft some space to operate.

With two of its best receivers – wideout Marcus Everett and tight end Logan Paulsen – out for this game, UCLA will again look to others to step up. Against Tennessee, tight end Ryan Moya had a career game, doing what we pretty much thought he would this season in Chow's offense. Taylor Embree, the true freshman receiver, is another who had a very good first game two weeks ago, and you can expect BYU's secondary to give him more attention than Tennessee's did. UCLA gets back veteran receiver Gavin Ketchum from mononucleosis.

Advantage: Even. In its first two games, BYU's defense wasn't very formidable. In terms of their rush defense, Northern Iowa could run on the Cougars, and Washington, who is thought to be one of the worst teams in the Pac-10, opened up some decent-sized holes. In the Washington game, if Husky quarterback Jake Locker could throw an accurate pass down the field BYU would have been in deep trouble since Washington receivers were open for most of the day.

UCLA, last season, with a moderate running game, averaged 136 yards on the ground in its two games against BYU. While UCLA won't run over anyone – including BYU – with its offensive line, it probably will get more room to run than it got against Tennessee. BYU was busy chasing Locker all over the field last week, and Craft by no means is as good a runner as Locker, but you can expect UCLA to try to get Craft, who is pretty swift, out of the pocket and able to scramble. BYU will try to counter by bringing pressure and getting to Craft, and forcing him into mistakes. You would think the BYU coaches looked at the Tennessee game and had to wonder why the Tennessee defensive coaches didn't blitz Craft more in the second half.

The over/under on interceptions is 2.

BYU's defense looked pretty unathletic against Washington, who looked very unathletic against Oregon the week before. The Cougars are known to be big, strong and smart, but not necessarily agile or quick. While UCLA doesn't have the swiftest offense around, it will probably have an advantage it terms of overall speed.

BYU's defense got fat against the MWC last season, but it generally doesn't have the horses to play at a high level against more athletic conferences. With UCLA's uncertainty on offense, it seems like it's an overall push.

BYU OFFENSE V. UCLA DEFENSE

This is definitely strength versus strength. BYU's offense, so far in its first two games, has easily carried the team, and UCLA's defense against Tennessee kept it in the game while the offense was faltering.

The Cougar offense is averaging 519 yards per game in those two games, and 412 yards through the air.

The offense is a spread that shifts back into an I occassionally, and is based on a short and precise passing game.

The concept works so well because BYU has quarterback Max Hall (JR, 6-1, 205), who isn't an imposing physical or athletic specimen, by any means. But he is an incredibly accurate passer, and is highly efficient at the position. He's a master at finding the open man and throwing a pinpoint pass where only the receiver can catch it. Hall set a record in the Mountain West last season for throwing for the most yards by a sophomore – ever – in the conference's history. He led the nation in passing yards for a sophomore, 3,848 for the season, besting Heisman Trophy winner, Tim Tebow.

Hall very well might be the best quarterback UCLA faces all season.

BYU tight end Dennis Pitta.
It really helps Hall when he has some very good receivers. Austin Collie (JR, 6-2, 206) had 56 catches for almost 1,000 yards last season, and he's picked up this season in stride, with 12 catches for 154 yards in two games. Collie is good-sized, strong, runs great routes and has excellent hands, and will make a living in the NFL someday.

To go along with the Collie, it really helps you when you have the nation's leading receiver in tight end Dennis Pitta (JR, 6-5, 250). Yes, a tight end leads the nation in receiving yards – with Pitta averaging 180.5 yards per game. He's second in the nation in receptions, averaging 10.5 per game (21 in two games). Pitta is big, obviously, and he uses his body well against smaller defenders, and has a great deal of very accurate balls thrown at him by his brother-in-law, Hall.

If you were thinking the receiver excellence stops there, well, reconsider. Michael Reed (SR, 6-1, 202) has 11 catches in two games himself, and tailback Harvey Unga (SO, 6-2, 245) has 11, sometimes being more effective catching the ball out of the backfield than running it.

The passing game can get you short, which is its forte, but certainly can go over the top and burn you. Collie and Reed both are long-ball threats. BYU, also, loves to try to throw under coverage to Pitta and let him blow through would-be tacklers for YAC.

Unga is a load running the ball – not fast, but quick enough to get into the defensive secondary where he bowls over DBs like bowling pins. Last year he set the MWC record for most yards gained as a freshman, 1227. He had a good game against Washington a week ago, where he ran for 136 yards on 23 carries.

What makes him even more difficult is that there is another 250-pounder leading him through holes in fullback Fui Vakapuna (SR, 6-1, 253). That's a whole lotta beef -- just about 500 pounds worth -- slamming through your defensive line.

All of this lofty offensive production is made possible by a very good, experienced – and massive – offensive line. It's led by Dallas Reynolds (SR, 6-5, 320) at center, who switched over from tackle after Tom Sorenson injured his shoulder in early August. Ray Feinga (SR, 6-5, 348) is also an all-MWC selection from a year ago. The line averages almost 6-6 and 326 pounds.

UCLA's defense is definitely the smaller – but faster – unit. Up front, it's going to be an overwhelming task for defensive tackles Brigham Harwell and Brian Price, but they do have quickness on their side. Korey Bosworth, the defensive end who is 6-1 and 235 pounds, when he lines up against BYU's one tackle, David Oswald (SR, 6-8, 330), will give up 7 inches and 100 pounds. But it should be fun to watch Bosworth run right around Oswald when rushing the passer.

Reggie Carter, UCLA's stellar middle linebacker, might be someone to watch in this game since he's been in a red, no-hit jersey in practice since tweaking his knee against Tennessee.

Bret Lockett and Alterraun Verner.
The guys with perhaps the biggest responsibility on defense for UCLA this week are cornerback Alterraun Verner and safety Bret Lockett. These are the two veterans of the secondary, and they'll have to keep the passing defense focused and sharp against Hall and his Flying Cougars. It's a particularly meaningful game for Lockett, since he's returning from his one-game suspension against Tennessee.

You would think that Hall will pick on the other corner, Michael Norris. It will also be interesting to watch to see how UCLA decides to defend Pitta – probably by bracketing him with a linebacker and a safety. Expect UCLA to utilize the nickel quite often.

Advantage: BYU. The Cougars just have too many weapons, and UCLA has too many either under-sized or inexperienced players that could break down facing BYU's efficient and precise offense.

It'd be a surprise, however, if BYU is able to run the ball effectively. In the first match-up between the two teams last season BYU ran for a total of 44 yards, and just 34 yards in the second. UCLA's Defensive Coordinator DeWayne Walker really utilized UCLA's defensive quickness to overcome the size difference in those two games, but he also had a veteran defense, who were better tacklers than what this defense showed against Tennessee.

What was scary when remembering the two games from last season is how BYU's passing game lit up UCLA's experienced secondary. Collie torched the Bruins in basically both games, and Hall pretty much was able to find pretty big seams in UCLA's pass defense. And again, that was a secondary with three seniors starting, that UCLA has replaced this season with far more inexperience.

Walker will have to throw some different looks at Hall just to keep him slightly off-balance, and then you'd expect him to zone blitz quite a bit to get pressure on Hall from the edge to utilize UCLA's superior speed.

BYU's special teams should be good, even though we haven't seen the field goal kicking team yet in two games. Place kicker Mitch Payne (SO, 6-2, 208) was very dependable last season, and then BYU also added one of the most highly-regarded high school kickers in the country in Justin Sorensen (FR, 6-1, 222), who does the kick offs. Punter C.J. Santiago (SR, 6-2, 211) isn't a big boomer, but is reliable. BYU is generally good on kick-off and punt coverage and they've proven they can be a threat to block a field goal.

Prediction

Turnovers are huge. And BYU has had a tendency so far this season to turn over the ball a bit. UCLA's defense needs some gifts to keep BYU's offense off the field.

A key element of the game will be just how long UCLA's offense can stay on the field. If it can, and eat up some clock, and keep the score lower, you can't count out the Bruins from being in this game in the fourth quarter and in a position to win it. With the magic Norm Chow showed in the Tennessee game, you have to give him a shot with this unknown UCLA offense to exploit what looks to be a somewhat vulnerable BYU defense. Look for UCLA to try to open up the running game with its short passing game. But expect BYU's defensive coaches to be far smarter than Tennessee's and at least attempt to put more pressure on Craft and press UCLA's young receivers. Chow will try to counter by getting Craft outside of the pocket to give him the opportunity to run, like Locker did effectively last week against the Cougars.

The advantage goes to BYU on two fronts – first its passing game you have to believe will be able to take advantage of UCLA's inexperienced secondary. BYU's passing game is just too good and Hall is too accurate and smart. And then, secondly, the element of UCLA's young team going on the road for the first time under a new coaching staff has to be a big factor. UCLA, traditionally, has been a good team in the Rose Bowl and dismal on the road, and we have to believe that will continue until proven otherwise.

But BYU might be slightly over-rated, living off a very good offense but an average defense that did well off less than formidable MWC opponents.

The great enjoyment of this game is going to be watching Chow, intent on picking apart his old program, the one that you could say spurned him as a head coaching candidate. That alone is probably worth at least 7 points in the spread for UCLA.

This season, there are a couple of games where UCLA will be overwhelming underdogs, but the rest of the games could go either way, primarily because UCLA's coaching staff is clearly going to keep it in just about all of those games, and use some of its cleverness to possible steal a few more. So, it wouldn't surprise us at all if UCLA won this game.

BYU 24
UCLA 20


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