Tuesday, September 4, 2012
First look: Nebraska at UCLA
By Peter Yoon
UCLA gets a stiff test for its home opener Saturday, when No. 17 Nebraska visits the Rose Bowl for a 4:50 p.m. PT game that will be televised by Fox.
The Cornhuskers (1-0) will come in with a national ranking and high expectations for their second season in the Big Ten, having just rolled up 632 yards in total offense during a 49-20 victory over Southern Miss.
Those are pretty impressive numbers for a team that sputtered down the stretch offensively last season, with only 18.4 points per game over the last five. And they are numbers that certainly have the attention of a UCLA defense that looked a bit shaky for the first half of its season-opening victory at Rice.
"I thought they were explosive and they’re physical and well-coached and disciplined and they play hard," UCLA coach Jim Mora said. "You don’t see many holes in that team, that’s for sure."
On paper, the game has all the makings of an offensive shootout. As impressive as Nebraska's numbers were on offense, UCLA can match them stat for stat. Nebraska is No. 4 in the nation in total offense at 632 yards and UCLA is No. 3 with 646. Both teams scored 49 points against a Conference USA opponent and showed balance in their offensive attacks.
Duplicating those numbers against a BCS-caliber opponent will be difficult for either team, and if UCLA is going to prevent the Cornhuskers from doing so, stopping quarterback Taylor Martinez will be paramount.
Martinez, know more as a running quarterback last season in Nebraska's spread option offense, passed for 354 yards and five touchdowns in the season opener against the Golden Eagles as he showed great improvement in the throwing game. Still, he remains a threat with his legs after running for 874 yards and nine touchdowns a year ago.
"Their quarterback was dynamite," Mora said. "Going into the game I know there were questions about his ability to stand in the pocket and throw, and I think he put all those doubts to rest with that showing he had Saturday."
Nebraska might be short-handed in the running game after tailback Rex Burkhead left Saturday's game with a sprained MCL. Burkhead is questionable for the UCLA game and would be missed by the Cornhuskers if he doesn't play. He ran for 1,357 yards and 15 touchdowns last season and was No. 18 in the nation in rushing.
Whether or not Burkhead plays, Nebraska showed tremendous depth on offense Saturday, with nine players getting a carry and 10 players finishing with a reception. Burkhead had 68 yards and a touchdown in three carries before his injury; he was one of three ball carriers to top 60 yards rushing.
Receiver Quincy Enunwa, a 6-2, 215-pound junior, is the top returning receiver and he lived up to that billing with six receptions for 70 yards in Nebraska's opener. Six Cornhuskers had two catches or more in the game.
On defense, the Cornhuskers run a 4-3 base defense with a front four that averages a stout 277.5 pounds. Tackle Baker Steinkuhler (6-6, 290) heads that unit while middle linebacker Will Compton (6-2, 230) is the leading returning tackler from last season.
Nebraska showed some vulnerability against the run by giving up 185 yards rushing against Southern Miss, but new defensive coordinator John Papuchis' aggressive blitz-heavy scheme also produced eight tackles for a loss, including three sacks.
Nebraska gave up only three points in the second half last week and only 13 points for the game as Southern Miss scored one of its touchdowns on a kickoff return.