Thursday, September 13, 2012

Week 3: UCLA vs Houston Preview

Talk about role reversal. Two years ago, UCLA started an abysmal 0-2 coming into their game against then #23 Houston. The teams are the same, the setting is the same, the ranking is just one off, but the tides are reversed. Nobody could have predicted this one.

Sure, people might have predicted a Bruin win last Saturday, but if you told somebody before the season that after two games Brett Hundley would be in the running for quarterback of the week, Franklin would be a dark horse Heisman candidate, the UCLA offense would eclipse the 640 yard mark twice, the defense would register nine sacks, and that the Bruins would be ranked 22nd with very little negative talk surrounding them if any, people would look at you like you had ten heads. 

Yes, it has happened, and now the expectations are higher than they have been for UCLA football in quite some time. College football however is a tough crowd to please, and you're only as good as your last result. Lately, the Bruins have trounced Rice and beat a good Nebraska team fair and square. However, if UCLA turns in a stinker against Houston, all the questions will be back, and the Heisman hype for Johnathan Franklin will be all but gone. 

Why to be excited?

For Houston, all the pieces that sparked the programs big run over the past few seasons are just about gone. Art Briles, the architect of the offense, has moved on to Baylor and now has had a Heisman trophy quarterback. Kevin Sumlin, the head coach, has moved on to Texas A&M. Case Keenum meanwhile is on the Houston Texans practice squad. While Briles took over Baylor sometime ago, Keenum and Sumlin led the program to a near BCS bowl game last season finishing 13-1. In the first game without Briles, Keenum, and Sumlin, the Cougars lost to a Texas State team that is in its first season in the FBS. The loss was so embarassing that it caused then OC Mike Nesbit to "resign" (seriously). Of course, that seemed to have sparked something, as the Cougars scored 49 points last week against Louisiana Tech. With Houston's 119th ranked defense however, it wasn't enough as the Cougars still lost 56-49. Things don't get much better this week. The Cougars are going to be without three offensive line starters this Saturday against a UCLA defense that is second in the country in sacks. Throw in the fact that UCLA has an offense, a dynamic playmaker at running back, and well, a better overall football team in every aspect, and there are several reasons to be excited. 

Why to be grouchy?

Remember the last time UCLA beat someone nationally acclaimed? 

After UCLA blew the doors of Texas in Austin, it followed it up with a 42-28 win over Washington State that was in doubt all the way until the final few minutes. The consensus after that game was that the Bruins were frauds, and the win was a mirage. The consensus ended up being right. The Bruins finished the season 4-8. After UCLA beat Tennessee in 2009 on way to a 3-0 start, it went 4-6 to close the season. And in 2008 after UCLA beat Tennessee, became ranked, and then lost 59-0 to BYU and finished the season 4-8. This is still UCLA, and some more consistency will need to be shown until full respect and attention are received. 

The UCLA defense has had a knack for not showing up until the second half. Houston meanwhile, seems to have found an offense last week, and while it was against Louisiana Tech, 49 points and 693 yards of offense is 49 points and 693 yards of offense. Houston quarterback David Piland had a field day last week, and if the Cougars can get off to a fast start offensively, it'll put the pressure on the Bruin attack to keep up the pace. Football is a funny game, and Houston really has nothing to lose this Saturday night at the Rose Bowl. 

What to watch for:

-Will the Heisman campaign continue? Johnathan Franklin will have every opportunity to run all over a Houston run defense that ranks 114th in the country. A third straight 200 yard game and a dominant Bruin win would really get the ball rolling for the new "Jet Ski" Heisman push. 

-Good job Brett Hundley. Now do it again. Houston is awful, and a big time quarterback and leader makes sure that no upset bid is put on by consistently moving the chains and putting points on the board. 

-After slow starts by the defense in weeks one and two, this will be a good test for the Bruins. Houston really should have a big time offense, and this will be a good test to see if the Bruins can be ready out of the gate. It should be a particularly interesting night for the Bruin corners, who will be forced to make several tackles in space against this Houston air raid offense. 

-Field goal kicking anyone? Kai'mi Fairbairns showed improvement from week one to week two through the ability to make his PAT's (that wasn't a joke, that really was huge). Now it's time to show that he can kick 30 yard and in field goals consistently. Baby steps everybody. 

The Prediction

This has letdown game written all over it. But Jim Mora Jr. has brought the no-nonsense approach the Bruins have needed for a long time. UCLA hasn't had many chances to do the playground bully act this past decade. Here's their chance. 

The Bruin offense will come out and march up and down the field, doing whatever it pleases by land or air. Franklin will have another spectacular evening, while Hundley will continue his march towards the Freshman All-American team. The Bruin defensive line meanwhile will put up 5 sacks. The UCLA secondary however will struggle in the first half, as Houston attack will have its fair share of success in the first two quarters. After that, it'll be all Bruins. Richard Brehaut will see some action in the fourth quarter.

UCLA 45, Houston 21

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