UCLA: Vance McDonald

Five things to watch: UCLA at Rice

August, 30, 2012
8/30/12
9:45
AM PT
UCLA plays at Rice Thursday at 4:30 p.m. PT. The game will be televised by CBS Sports Network. Here are five things to watch:

1. MEET THE NEW BOSS
Jim Mora takes over as coach for the Bruins and promises a tougher and more disciplined style of football. The Bruins were prone to careless penalties and turnovers over the last two seasons and Mora's style may help cut down some of those things. Keep an eye on Mora's game management as well because things are a little different in college than they are in the NFL and Mora has never coached a college game before.

2. FRESH FACE AT QB
Redshirt freshman Brett Hundley will take the field for the first time as a college player. Hundley, a 6-2, 223-pound dual-threat, has been highly anticipated since his arrival at UCLA but didn't win the job last season and sat out honing his craft. He'll almost certainly have to deal with first-game jitters and he'll have to figure out how to handle those nerves. It's been almost two years since he took a live hit and he's never been tackled by a college player, so some Rice player is surely looking to give him a welcome blow. Hundley brings more athleticism to the position than Bruins quarterbacks of the past, so it will be worth noting what he can do with his legs.

3. SPREAD IT OUT
The UCLA offense has a new look this season, switching from the run-based Pistol to the uptempo spread. It is designed to get the ball into the hands of UCLA's playmakers so players such as Jordon James, Damien Thigpen and Steven Manfro who didn't really have a place in the Pistol will now have a chance to shine. The receiving corps is also filled with relatively unknown players, but Shaquelle Evans, Jerry Johnson, Devin Lucien and Kenneth Walker are all capable of breaking a big play. Add in the running abilities of Johnathan Franklin and Hundley as well as the sure hands and mismatch provided by Joseph Fauria and there are plenty of ways this offense can attack. Gong against a defense that was No. 111 in the country last season should help get the wheels rolling.

4. DON'T GET SURPRISED
Rice isn't exactly a juggernaut of a football program, but the Owls do have some playmakers of concern for the Bruins' defense. Speedster wideout Sam McGuffie is a Michigan transfer who led the team in rushing yards and catches two years ago, though he struggled with injuries last season. He'll line up as a receiver, but will probably also get carries. The tight end trio of Luke Willson, Vance McDonald and Taylor Cook are all about 6-5 and 255 pounds, which will create matchup problems for UCLA's defense. Willson was the team's leading receiver last season and he and McDonald are legitimate NFL prospects. If quarterback Taylor McHargue is over his turnover-itis, the Owls could be much better than their No. 91-ranked offense from last season.

5. BACK OF THE LINE
UCLA switched to a 3-4 defense under new defensive coordinator Lou Spanos, but it's been a challenge finding four linebackers. Eric Kendricks and Jordan Zumwalt bring proven experience, but combine the number of plays everyone else in the two-deep has played at linebacker at the division I level and you get zero. Damien Holmes and Anthony Barr -- tops on the depth chart, are moving from new positions. As with most defenses, the linebackers are counted on to make most of the tackles, but this is an unproven group, especially considering UCLA hardly did any live tackling during camp.

First Look: UCLA at Rice

August, 26, 2012
8/26/12
4:37
PM PT
UCLA is hoping to usher in the Jim Mora era in grand fashion when the Bruins visit Rice for the season opener Thursday in Houston.

The game, which starts at 4:30 p.m. PT and will be nationally televised by CBS Sports Network, marks Mora's first as a college head coach and he couldn't ask for a better opponent in which to kick off his collegiate career.

The Owls are coming off of a 4-8 season in which they finished No. 111 in the nation in total defense by giving up 462.08 yards per game. They gave up 278.67 yards through the air to rank No. 112 in that category. On paper, it appears to bode well for UCLA's new spread offense, but Mora isn't conceding anything because he sees the Owls as a well-coached team that plays smart football.

"The thing that stands out most to me is the way they play disciplined and they play hard and they’re fundamentally sound," Mora said.

Rice promoted secondary coach Chris Thurmond to defensive coordinator after last season in an effort to remedy the porous defense, but with three starters gone from the defensive line it could take time. That's not to say the Owls, who run a 4-2-5 base defense, don't have good players on defense.

Cornerback Bryce Callahan was a freshman All-American last season after leading Conference USA with six interceptions. They also have linebacker Cameron Nwosu returning after he led the team with 108 tackles and returned two fumbles for touchdowns.

On offense, Rice runs a high-tempo spread that is similar to UCLA's. Quarterback Taylor McHargue returns after a season in which he lost the starting job because of persistent turnovers. He passed for 1,072 yards and eight touchdowns, but had five passes intercepted and fumbled seven times.

If McHargue can hold on to the ball, he has some weapons to help him. Receiver Sam McGuffie is the most electric player on the offense. He's a 5-10, 200-pound speedster that Mora said reminds him of Bruins' running back Steven Manfro.

McGuffie, a transfer from Michigan two years ago, sat out much of last season with an injury, but was the team's leader in rushing and receptions in 2010.

"He's powerfully built, an excellent open field runner, he’s got great quickness, they can hand him the ball, they can throw him the ball," Mora said. "He’s tough to defend one on one and he’s a lot of fun to watch. He’s a good football player."

The Owls also boast a trio of similarly-built tight ends in Luke Willson(CQ), Vance McDonald and Taylor Cook. All are about 6-5, 255 and Willson and McDonald are legitimate NFL prospects. Willson led the team in receiving last season.

The biggest concern for Rice early on is the offensive line. Only guard Drew Carroll (6-4, 280) returns from last year's starters and the Owls may be starting two freshmen up front. Seeing as how UCLA's defensive line is among its deepest and most experienced units, this battle in the trenches could be a significant advantage for the Bruins.

Rice also boasts one of the nation's top kickers in Chris Boswell, a Lou Groza Award candidate who made 17 of 21 field goal attempts last season and tied for the national lead with three makes from 50 yards or more.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

2013 TEAM LEADERS

PASSINGATTCOMPYDSTD
B. Hundley369248307124
RUSHINGCARYDSAVGTD
B. Hundley1607484.711
P. Perkins1345734.36
RECEIVINGRECYDSAVGTD
S. Evans4770915.19
D. Fuller4347111.04
TEAMRUSHPASSTOTAL
Offense196.6251.6448.2
TEAMPFPAMARGIN
Scoring36.524.112.4