- Peter Yoon, ESPNLosAngeles.com
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Two teams headed in opposite directions meet up when the Houston Cougars visit the Rose Bowl for at 7:30 p.m. game Saturday game against the No. 22 UCLA Bruins. The game will be televised by The Pac-12 Network. Here are five things that could make a difference in the contest:
1. Attitude adjustments
These teams are coming in swinging 180 degrees on the emotional spectrum. Houston has been a fixture in the top-25 the past several years but is reeling after opening the season with losses to Texas State and Louisiana Tech and will come in hungry to get back on track. UCLA got back in the national polls this week for the first time since 2008 and must avoid a letdown. UCLA coach Jim Mora said this week that "complacency is a killer" and he will prove prophetic if the Bruins ease up at all against a desperate team from a proud program.
2. Track meet
Both teams run explosive offensive schemes that rely on high tempo. Houston ran an NCAA-record 115 plays last week and UCLA rattled off 94. Those big numbers are because these teams maximize the clock by snapping the ball as quickly as possible. Houston ranks No. 4 in the nation in passing offense and No. 24 in total offense (average yards per game). UCLA is No. 2 in the nation in rushing offense and No. 3 in total offense. The defensive coordinators from each side will have to come up with schemes to slow down the opposition.
3. Get physical
Last year, Houston used its finesse offense to pick apart a UCLA defense that played soft and the Cougars won, 38-34. UCLA's defense must toughen up, including bumping receivers at the line and tackling with tenacity. Missed tackles were a major problem a year ago. On offense, UCLA should exploit its size advantage up front. Houston's 4-3 defense features a front line that averages 267.5 pounds. UCLA's offensive line averages 299 pounds.
4. The Heisman race
UCLA running back Johnathan Franklin has burst into the Heisman Trophy conversation after starting the season with back-to-back games of more than 200 yards rushing. He had 214 against the Cougars' neighbors Rice in the season opener and last week shredded Nebraska for 217 to take the national rushing lead. All signs point to another big game for UCLA's senior back, as he will be facing a Houston defense that has given up 246.5 yards rushing per game this season and ranks No. 111 out of 120 FBS teams against the run.
5. The gunslinger
Houston is without record-setting quarterback Case Keenum, the NCAA all-time leader in passing yards. But David Piland has picked up right where Keenum left off. Piland has 791 yards and five touchdowns passing in two games and has had just one of his 121 pass attempts intercepted. Last week, he set a single-game NCAA record for most pass attempts (77) without an interception. (Incidentally, the 77 passes were the sixth-most attempts in a game, one ahead of former Houston slingers Keenum in 2009 and David Klinger in 1990, according to the Football Bowl Subdivision record book.) Piland targets quick, shifty receivers who know how to find space in Daniel Spencer and Dewayne Peace, both of whom had more than 140 yards receiving last week.