UCLA: David Piland

UCLA defense won't be spread thin

September, 19, 2012
Ameer Abdullah and Datone JonesKirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireDatone Jones, making a tackle against Nebraska, figures to be key if Oregon State plays a physical game up front.

LOS ANGELES -- The spread is dead, at least for this week.

When the No. 19 UCLA Bruins face Oregon State in a Pac-12 Conference opener for both schools Saturday at the Rose Bowl, it will be the first time this season UCLA will not be facing a team that runs the spread offense. That could be considered a bad thing for a team that is 3-0 against spread offenses and is coming off of its best defensive performance of the season, but coach Jim Mora says he is excited for the challenge.

"We need this right now," Mora said. "We need to get back to some hard-nosed gritty football on defense."

Oregon State isn't exactly a juggernaut when it comes to running the ball. The Beavers had only 78 yards rushing in their only game this season against Wisconsin and were No. 118 in the nation in rushing offense last season with 86.92 yards per game on the ground.

But after facing a Houston Cougars team that passed 60 times and rushed only 19, Oregon State's traditional pro set offense with running backs Malcolm Agnew ans Storm Woods will look and feel like a smash-mouth team from the leather helmet days.

"They run powers and they run lead draws and split bellies and isos and stretches and inside and outside zone," Mora said. "Real live run plays so we have to be on it. Against these backs, arm tackles are not going to do it. It’s definitely a point of emphasis for us this week."

So far this season, the run games UCLA has faced have mostly come in the form of one-back spread formations. The Bruins are No. 95 in the nation against the run, having allowed an average of 191 yards rushing per game, but a closer look at those statistics reveals that they haven't been too bad against traditional run plays.

Quarterbacks Taylor McHargue of Rice, Taylor Martinez of Nebraska and David Piland of Houston combined for 278 yards rushing against UCLA. In comparison, the running backs from those teams have rushed for a combined 295 yards. Additionally, 218 of those quarterback rushing yards have come on three plays -- a 92-yard touchdown by Martinez, an 86-yard touchdown by Piland and a 40-yard run by McHargue.

Take away those three plays and UCLA is giving up 118.3 yards per game on the ground and in the top 40 in the nation in run defense.

"Our run defense has been outstanding except for quarterbacks, which I don’t consider real runs," Mora said. "When teams have tried to run real runs against us, we’ve been pretty good."

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Grades: UCLA 37, Houston 6

September, 15, 2012
PASADENA, Calif. -- The No. 22 UCLA Bruins weren't at their peak form, but were good enough to hold off the struggling Houston Cougars, 37-6, Saturday night at the Rose Bowl. Here's how we have them grading out:

The passing game had its moments but seemed a bit out of sync most of the game. Brett Hundley completed 27 of 42 passes for 320 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions but didn't see open receivers several times. Pass protection had some breakdowns and rceivers Devin Lucien and Joseph Fauria each fumbled after catches.

It certainly wasn't up to the standards of the first two games, which is a surprise coming against a defense that came in to the game ranked No. 111 in the nation against the run. Still, Heisman contender Johnathan Franklin had 110 yards in 25 carries and the Bruins rushed for 247 yards.

The Bruins absolutely baffled one of the nation's leading passing offenses, holding quarterback David Piland to 260 yards and also pulling down five interceptions. Sheldon Price had three of those interceptions, including one in the end zone. Piland was averaging 395.5 yards passing before this game and had only one pass intercepted in 121 attempts.

Granted, Houston doesn't really run the ball that much, but the Bruins had their best game of the season up front. They held Houston to 139 yards rushing and that total was in the negative numbers until early in the fourth quarter. Not bad for a UCLA defense that was ranked No. 100 in the nation against the run before the game.

Kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn overcame a shaky early season and made field goals of 35, 23 and 33 yards. Jeff Locke was up to his usual standards with four of five punts inside the 20, including two inside the 10. Damien Thigpen had a 55-yard kickoff return to open the second half and set up a UCLA touchdown.

Excellent game plan on defense for the most complete game of the season on that side of the ball. Noel Mazzone's offensive play calling certainly did enough to get the job done. Still, the team appeared to be having somewhat of a letdown game, especially after a quick score made it seem as if it would be an easy victory.

Five things to watch: Houston at UCLA

September, 14, 2012
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:

[+] EnlargeJohnathan Franklin
Gary A. Vasquez/US PRESSWIREWith the Cougars ranked 111th in rushing yards allowed per game, Johnathan Franklin and the Bruins could be in for a big day on the ground.
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.

First Look: Houston at UCLA

September, 11, 2012
In a game that has all the makings of a classic trap, the No. 22 UCLA Bruins will try to avoid a letdown when they face the winless Houston Cougars on Saturday night at the Rose Bowl. The game starts at 7:30 p.m. and will be televised by the Pac-12 Network.

The Bruins (2-0) are coming off of an upset victory over Nebraska that put them in the Associated Press Poll for the first time since 2008, when they were ranked No. 23 during a bye week and then dropped out before even playing a game.

They face a pass-happy Houston (0-2) that is hungry after losing its first two in the post-Case Keenum era. Keenum, the NCAA all-time leader in passing yards and touchdowns, used up his eligibility last season, but not before directing a 38-34 victory over UCLA in the season opener last year.

Coach Kevin Sumlin is also gone, having left for Texas A&M, but Houston is still taking to the skies for most of its offense under new coach Tony Levine. Keenum's replacement, David Piland, passed 44 times in a 30-13 loss to Texas State and passed 77 times last week in a 56-49 loss to Louisiana Tech.

"They are pretty explosive on offense," UCLA coach Jim Mora said. "They are a pretty dynamic offense. We’re going to have to do a good job on defense."

Presumably, that will include the first half. UCLA's defense has started slow in each of the last two weeks, allowing 24 points in the first half against both Rice and Nebraska only to adjust and shut out Rice in the second half and limit Nebraska to two field goals in the second half.

"I’d like to see us come out and start a little faster on defense, especially against the quarterback runs than we have in the first two weeks," Mora said.

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P. Perkins25115756.39
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J. Payton6795414.27
D. Fuller594477.61