It's been a long time since UCLA has beaten anybody with a pulse.
Sure, the Bruins pounded Texas in Austin in 2010, but that Texas team ended up not being very good after all. The other wins of note in the Neuheisel era were against Tennessee teams that finished 5-7 and 7-6 respectively. No, you have to go back to 2006 to see the last time that the Bruins beat a real live team. But the real issue is not how those teams turned out, it's how they were beaten.
UCLA left Austin with a win, but still had no sign of a competent quarterback and any sign of a forward pass. The offense couldn't move a lick in the two wins over Tennessee but for a couple drives, literally. Even the 2006 USC game, the last win over a big time team for the Bruins, was filled with smoke screens and was more about the USC offensive line not showing up; the only thing that really worked on offense that day was Patrick Cowan scrambling. For those that don't believe me, take a look at the 2007 Rose Bowl tape against a Michigan team whose defense featured three future pro bowlers among others who would play in the NFL.
Nebraska isn't winning the national championship, but it should contend for the Big Ten title and looks to be a solid squad. As always, the strength of the Huskers looks to be a strong running game headed by senior quarterback Taylor Martinez and backs Rex Burkhead and Ameer Abdullah. Nebraska will have one thing the Bruins did not see last week however: a defense. Bo Pelini is known as one of the better deffensive minds in the game, and his "black shirt" defense looks to be solid once again. This isn't great news for a UCLA team breaking out several second game starters. This game however could set the tone for the season. A win could mean a 5-0 start and a top 25 ranking going into Berkeley, something the program hasn't seen since 2005.
Why to be Excited?
For the first time in a while, UCLA looks like they might play some offense.
Brett Hundley finally gives a semblance of a threat from the quarterback position. He showed big play ability last week with his feet, while doing enough with his arm to warrant a threat of a passing attack. Hundley will likely have to make more plays down the field with his arm against a Nebraska defense that will look to take away his legs. Johnathan Franklin meanwhile might be out to prove that the best running back in this game isn't wearing red. He had 214 yards rushing in game one, and will have to comfortably eclipse the 100 yard mark if the Bruins are to have a chance in this one.
The other big story last week was the play of the defensive line. The Bruins already matched half their season total in sacks from last year. While Taylor Martinez and co. had a field day last week running and passing, Martinez has put together performances like that before. Consistency in the passing game has been the issue for Martinez, and if the Bruins can take control of the line of scrimmage on defense and control the run, they'll find themselves with a punchers chance to pull this one out. Helping matters for the Bruins might be the absence of the dynamic Rex Burkhead, who is listed as questionable for Saturday.
Why to be Grouchy?
Before jumping on the UCLA bandwagon, lets remember it was Rice. Even with it being Rice, in the first half, outside of a few big plays, the UCLA attack didn't find much rhythm or consistency. Hundley looked hesitant to throw the ball down the field, while simple things such as penalties and fielding punts were still lacking. Field goal kicking meanwhile certainly seems to be an issue that doesn't seem to be going anywhere anytime soon.
Option defense was very porous for the Bruins last week, and Nebraska will take what the Bruins saw from Rice and take it to another level. Speed, read, and triple options are staples of the Nebraska offense. The Huskers however will also run downhill inbetween the tackles with great efficiency as well. If the Bruins can't stop the run, as they couldn't for the better part of last year, it could be a long day. Defensively, this is a great match up for Nebraska. The defensive line led by Cameron Meredith looks to be among the best in the Big Ten, and should cause several problems up front for a very young Bruin offensive line. Will Compton and the linebackers meanwhile will be in charge of keeping Brett Hundley in the pocket. Another huge weapon for the Huskers? Brett Maher might be the best kicker in the country, and any trip inside the opponents 40 yard line will mean 3 points.
What to Watch For?
What's for real here? Is Taylor Martinez really that much improved as a passer? Is the Nebraska D really going to be improved this year or is it going to regress as they did last year? Has Hundley really already arrived, and if not, is he for real? And has the Bruin d-line really turned the corner? Does UCLA really actually have an offense?
Of course, to pass judgement on all of these questions based on one game isn't fair, but its the first time both teams get a chance to show where they are. For Nebraska, this is a good opportunity to show the country how good the team is on national TV in its first road test of the year. For UCLA, it'll be a great chance to spark the Jim Mora Jr. era and finally gain a good win over what should be one of the three or four best teams in the Big Ten.
Maybe one day. But Saturday is not that day.
Martinez and the Husker attack will start fast, pounding the Bruin D in the mouth on route to a double digit lead. Hundley will be forced to go to the air, resulting in a couple drives that display his potential and what might be coming for the Bruins, and a some others that will show that he's just a second game starter. Franklin will gut out a tough 100 yards, but the Huskers will bottle up Hundley in the ground game. 70 yards of penalties later, UCLA will show that while its on the right track, its not quite there yet. Martinez will have yet another efficient day throwing the ball, while Kenny Bell will have 100 yards receiving.
Nebraska 31, UCLA 21