Friday, September 16, 2011
Five things to watch: Texas at UCLA
By Peter Yoon
1. QUARTERBACK SHUFFLES
Both teams enter the game with question marks at quarterback. Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut have been in a six-week competition for the starting job, yet neither has been able to claim it outright. Prince, who appears to be the choice to start against Texas, can't stay on the field because of injuries. Brehaut has shown flashes of excellence, but sprinkles in too much inconsistency. They may split time or alternate or one may play the whole game. Oh, and don't forget true freshman Brett Hundley. He's supposed to have a package of plays ready to run, but we haven't yet seen it in a game. Across the field, last year's starter Garrett Gilbert was replaced after a game and a half by the tandem of Case McCoy and David Ash. McCoy,the brother of former Texas quarterback Colt, is the more seasoned of the two, but Ash may be the more talented and is definitely the more athletic. He's only a true freshman, however, so don't expect him to have everything down just yet. They are slated to split time.
2. CHESS MATCH
This game will be far different from last year's 34-12 UCLA victory because of coaching staff overhauls on both teams. The head coaches, Rick Neuheisel and Mack Brown are the same, but both teams have new offensive and defensive coordinators. That means you can throw last year's film out the window because both teams are running different schemes. UCLA's offensive coordinator Mike Johnson is adding a pro-style section to the Pistol playbook and seeking more balance. Texas co-offensive coordinators Bryan Harsin and Major Applewhite are trying to add a power running attack. UCLA defensive coordinator Joe Tresey is looking for a fast, aggressive tempo while Texas defensive coordinator Manny Diaz is looking to confuse and dictate the opposing offense. But with so much newness on both teams, they are both still trying to find their identities. That means the normal cat and mouse game between the coaches will be at a heightened level for this game as they try to read one another.
3. PISTOL WHIPPED
When these teams met last year, UCLA rushed for 264 yards--the most rushing yards by any team against Texas last season. UCLA's Pistol attack, a zone read-based offense, was so effective that the Bruins needed to pass only nine times for 27 yards and still won, 34-12. The Bruins still use the Pistol, though it is only a component of the offense this year, and will almost assuredly try to see if it can be effective again. The Bruins will want to control the clock with running backs Johnathan Franklin and Derrick Coleman doing the bulk of the work. Quarterback Kevin Prince had 50 yards against Texas last year and is also an effective runner. Expect to see more of Malcolm Jones and Jordon James, too, especially if UCLA runs 56 times like they did last year. Texas is certainly studying what went wrong against UCLA's run game and it's defense, currently giving up only 86.5 yards rushing per game, will be out to shut down the UCLA backs.
4. KICKING GAME
UCLA's kicking game is a bit of a question mark as we head toward game day. Field goal kicker Kip Smith made two field goals last week against San Jose State, but sometime between Saturday and Tuesday he began feeling tightness in his kicking leg. He sat out almost all week of practice and with backup Joe Roberts also injured, coach Rick Neuheisel brought in soccer team manager Tyler Gonzalez to try out. All this after Smith had seemingly turned a corner after struggling through training camp. The oddsmakers have Texas as a 3.5-point favorite, so a field goal could very well play a major role in the game. Punter Jeff Locke would be the field goal kicker if Smith can't go and Gonzalez would probably be available as an emergency replacement. But Locke has been off a bit in his top skill. The Pac-10 leader with a punting average of 45.84 last season, his average is only 37.4 so far this season. Locke also handles kickoffs, but none of his six kickoffs went for touchbacks last week.
5. GETTING DEFENSIVE
UCLA's defense has been a major disappointment thus far, giving up 469 total yards against Houston and 202 yards rushing against San Jose State, one of the worst rushing teams in the nation last season. They've had problems with missed tackles and letting quarterbacks scramble for big yards--especially on third downs. That combination could spell trouble against a Texas running attack that is averaging 197 yards a game this season. Both Texas quarterbacks are athletic enough to do damage with their legs and David Ash in particular is a legitimate running threat. Leading rusher Malcolm Brown is the right combination of size and speed to cause problems for a struggling run defense. The Bruins have vowed to play with more energy and passion this week and must keep containment in the pocket and also shore up some holes in the middle of the defensive line in order to prevent Texas from gaining control of the clock and the game.