Scouts Inc. Las Vegas Bowl Preview

UCLA at Brigham Young Matchups
QB RB WR OL DL LB DB ST Coach Overall


UCLA Offense vs. BYU Defense

It should come as little surprise that UCLA’s passing attack has been one of the weakest in the country, considering its issues at quarterback. QB Pat Cowan returned from a concussion, as well as a collapsed lung, to start last week and then had to leave the game with a knee injury. Replacement Ben Olson struggled in relief and he missed four games with a knee injury before returning to the lineup in late November. The hope is both are available for the BYU game, but it’s unclear who will start, and it may not matter because neither has been all that effective. It doesn’t help that CBs Kayle Buchanan and Ben Criddle are big and athletic enough to hold their own working against WRs Joe Cowan and Brandon Breazell.


 

When: Dec. 22, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Where: Las Vegas
Preview: BYU’s winning streak on the line against UCLA

With more questions than answers at quarterback, staying committed to the ground game makes sense and the Bruins had some success running the ball when these two teams met earlier this year. However, Kahlil Bell was UCLA’s leading rusher in that game, and he’s since sustained a season-ending knee injury, leaving Chris Markey to carry the bulk of the load. Arguably more important, the Cougars and Bruins met in just the second week of the season and Olson had thrown five touchdowns in the season opener. This time around, a tough BYU run defense that hasn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher all year and is anchored by ILB Kelly Poppinga won’t have to respect the pass as much. Keeping that in mind, safeties Corby Hodgkiss and Kellen Fowler should play big roles in run support.

BYU Offense vs. UCLA Defense
2007 Mountain West Conference Freshman of the Year RB Harvey Unga isn’t going to make many defenders miss or out-run many defenses when he gets a seam, but he is consistent and efficient. He is a big back who gets behind his blockers and has the lower body strength to consistently push the pile. Don’t expect him to put up monster numbers working against a UCLA defense that gives up an average of 3.1 yards per carry. DTs Brian Price and Kevin Brown, as well as ILB Christian Taylor, do an adequate job of clogging up the middle where Unga is at his best. On the other hand, Unga should average 3-to-4 yards per carry. That’s good enough to keep the Cougars out of a lot of situations with pass-heavy tendencies and effectively take pressure off sophomore QB Max Hall.

Hall has made great strides and shown he can pick defenses apart this year. In fact, he threw for 391 yards when these to teams met in early September. However, Hall shows his age at times, as he is inconsistent and loses the strike zone too much. That’s reason for BYU fans to be concerned because the Bruins secondary is loaded with playmakers. FS Dennis Keyes and CBs Alterraun Verner and Trey Brown have combined to record a total of 12 interceptions and can turn errant throws into momentum-shifting turnovers. Remember, Brown returned a pick 56 yards for a touchdown in UCLA’s 10-point win over BYU earlier this year. So even though WRs Michael Reed, Bryce Mahuika and Matt Allen should be able to get open, Hall must stay patient and take what the defense gives him. That could prove difficult. While the Cougar pass protection has generally been sound, they had a difficult time keeping RDE Bruce Davis off Hall earlier this year and the UCLA pass rush has been one of the most productive in the nation.

Special Teams

Key individual matchup

UCLA’s kicking game has been impressive. PK Kai Forbath has connected on 22 of his 26 field goal attempts and has three field goals from beyond 50 yards. P Aaron Perez is averaging 42.9 yards per punt and placed 32 of his 83 punts inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. While KOS Jimmy Rotstein doesn’t get great distance on his kickoffs, the Bruins have covered kickoffs as well as punts fairly well. They should be able to contain Cougar return men Bryce Mahuika and Austin Collie consequently.

BYU PK Mitch Payne has connected on nine of his 13 field goal attempts, but he’s also had two of his field goal attempts blocked. P CJ Santiago is averaging 40.8 yards per attempt and placed 16 of his 54 punts inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. Payne and Brian Smith handle the kickoff duties and neither has excelled. Though the Cougars have done an excellent job of covering kickoffs, it is important Payne and/or Smith turn in strong performances. UCLA’s Matt Slater, who has returned three kickoffs for touchdowns this year, is one of the most dangerous kickoff return men in the country.

Scouts’ Edge
A lot has changed since these two teams met earlier this year and those differences will have a substantial impact on the outcome of this game. For starters, injuries have ravaged UCLA’s backfield. Quarterbacks Olson and backup Cowan have missed significant time while RB Hill is out for the year. As a result, the offense has been anemic and that shouldn’t change in this game. Secondly, Karl Dorrell is no longer the head coach at UCLA and he will not be with the Bruins when they take the field. Interim head coach DeWayne Walker is also the defensive coordinator, so he will have to juggle both duties. Walker is an excellent coach with an impressive résumé but he has no head coaching experience, so he faces a tough challenge. At the end of the day, the Bruins’ injuries and the absence of Dorrell will be too much to overcome.

Prediction: Cougars 34, Bruins 24

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