Five things to watch: Nebraska at UCLA

September, 7, 2012
9/07/12
9:53
AM PT
UCLA faces No. 16 Nebraska on Saturday at 4:50 p.m. at the Rose Bowl. The game will be televised by Fox. Here are five things to watch:

[+] EnlargeJim Mora
Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesSaturday's home opener against the Cornhuskers also marks the home debut for UCLA coach Jim Mora. He inherits a successful tradition at the Rose Bowl; the Bruins won 21 of 26 nonconference home games since 1998.
1. Home cooking

It's the 2012 home opener for UCLA and that can mean only good news for a team that went 5-1 at the Rose Bowl last season, has a five-game home win streak and has won six of its last seven home openers. UCLA has had success in nonconference home games, having won 21 of 26 such contests since 1998. This also will be the home debut for coach Jim Mora and quarterback Brett Hundley, who are coming off impressive college debuts at Rice. They will play in a Rose Bowl that looks a little different thanks to an ongoing renovation project. (Note: Fans are reminded all restrooms on the west side of the stadium are closed. Portable facilities will be available.)

2. Coming back to Cali

Eight Nebraska players went to high school in Southern California and several will be making their returns to the Golden State. Five of those players started for the Cornhuskers last week, most notably quarterback Taylor Martinez, who passed for a career-high 354 yards and five touchdowns against Southern Miss. Martinez is better known for his running ability. He may have extra motivation to play UCLA because he was a fan of the Bruins growing up and at Centennial High in Corona but did not receive a scholarship offer from them. Leading receiver Quincy Enunwa is another Californian (Rancho Verde High in Moreno Valley) who did not draw interest from the local schools. Defensive end Cameron Meredith (Mater Dei High in Santa Ana) and safety Daimion Stafford (Norco High) were defensive standouts for Nebraska last week.

3. Spreading it around

It’s called the spread offense because it stretches across the width of the playing field. But the Bruins and Cornhuskers, both of whom run versions of the spread, might take it to mean spreading the ball to numerous receivers. Nebraska had 10 players catch a pass last week and UCLA had nine. The running games will draw ample attention, with the Bruins’ Johnathan Franklin (Pac-12 offensive player of the week after rushing for 214 yards and three touchdowns) and Hundley having put up big numbers against the Owls and Nebraska's running attack able to gain 278 yards against the Golden Eagles despite an early injury to leading rusher Rex Burkhead. But the ability to work so many different weapons into the passing attack will put a lot of pressure on each defense.

4. Getting defensive

UCLA defensive coordinator Lou Spanos and his Nebraska counterpart, John Papuchis, are probably putting in some overtime after looking at what this week’s opponents did in their respective debuts. The teams are Nos. 3 and 4 in the nation in total offense after putting up a combined 1,278 yards last week. Neither defense was particularly impressive against Conference USA competition, as UCLA gave up 24 points at Rice and Nebraska allowed nearly 200 yards rushing to Southern Miss; so the defensive schemes will require some tinkering against offenses that proved they can rack up some fairly impressive numbers.

5. Size matters

A lot has been made about Nebraska's perceived size advantage over UCLA on the offensive and defensive lines, but a closer inspection of the depth charts reveals they match up pretty evenly. Nebraska averages 6-foot-4 and 304 pounds on the offensive line and 6-4 and 279 on the defensive line. UCLA averages 6-4 and 299 on the offensive line and 6-3 and 295 on the defensive line. Nebraska has a big advantage in experience, however, with 16 juniors and seniors among the top two on the depth chart on the lines. UCLA has eight upperclassmen in the two-deep on the lines and will start three freshmen on the offensive line.

Peter Yoon

ESPNLosAngeles.com

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