No. 16 UCLA (1-0) at No. 23 Nebraska (2-0)
Location: Memorial Stadium, Sept. 14, 11 a.m. CST
TV: ABC (Sean McDonough, Chris Spielman, Shannon Spake)
Radio: 570 AM (Chris Roberts, Matt Stevens, Wayne Cook)
Last meeting: UCLA beat Nebraska 36-30 at the Rose Bowl, with the Bruins totaling 653 yards of offense.
2012 records: Bruins (9-5, 6-3 Pac-12); Cornhuskers (11-3, 7-1 Big Ten)
Key storylines: UCLA will play its first game since losing receiver Nick Pasquale last Sunday. The preferred walk-on was killed early morning when a car hit him in residential San Clemente.
Dealing with the grief obviously takes precedence over football, and Jim Mora said he’s made himself available for players 24/7. Adding to the psychological test is Nebraska’s home crowd. The Cornhuskers have been empathetic to the Bruins so far, and will wear Pasquale’s No. 36 on their helmets as well as holding a moment of silence before kickoff. That said, Nebraska fans are still rabid, and a sold-out crowd of over 80,000 could be the toughest road environment UCLA sees all season.
A win in Lincoln, which would be UCLA’s first there since 1948, would do much to legitimize the Bruins’ hopes for a Rose Bowl berth.
The Cornhuskers are eager to avenge last year’s loss at the Rose Bowl, especially the team’s California contingent. Eight players on Nebraska’s roster hail from Southern California, including senior quarterback Taylor Martinez, who won a CIF state championship at Corona’s Centennial High.
“I don’t think I’ve ever felt so bad after a loss before,” Martinez told the Omaha World-Herald. “Especially since it was against UCLA and just because they didn’t offer me out of high school. And that as a kid I watched them and I wanted to go there. They beat me. So this last go-round, hopefully I can beat them.”
Players to watch: Martinez is the big name to watch here. UCLA struggled to contain Nevada’s Cody Fajardo early on, but adjusted well in the second half. Nebraska’s star quarterback should present an even greater challenge. Last year, Martinez broke loose for 112 rushing yards — most of which came on a 92-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. He’s only topped 200 yards passing in two of his last nine games, but has a capable receiving corps led by All-Big-Ten first teamer Kenny Bell.
Both Mora and defensive backs coach Demetrice Martin both said the UCLA secondary wasn’t tested much in its first game. Continue to keep an eye on the four starters on the back end to see how they fare against Martinez. He isn’t known for having a cannon, but is 13 of 15 on third downs this season. Of those completions, six have gone for 15 yards or more.
True freshman Priest Willis is also expected to play after sitting out the opener. He has the 6-foot-2 frame the staff likes in its corners, and could still play himself into the starting lineup before the end of the season.
Alex Redmond beat out Caleb Benenoch for the Bruins’ starting right guard spot in the season opener, and could completely lock that spot down with a second strong performance. Mora said Benenoch could see time at right tackle.
Nebraska’s young defense has
1,229 886 yards of offense in its first two games. Wyoming gashed them on the ground, while No. 5 Georgia Southern Miss did more through the air. Look for UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley to do damage both ways, even if he doesn’t find 12 different receivers again.
Notes: Nebraska leads the all-time series 6-5, and won the last meeting in Lincoln, 49-21, in 1994. … The Cornhuskers will wear black alternate jerseys for Saturday’s game. … This is the first time two ranked teams will play at Memorial Stadium since No. 14 Nebraska beat No. 11 Michigan State, 24-3, in 2011.
Did you know?: Nebraska claims a streak of 327 straight sellouts, a national record that dates back to 1962. Saturday is expected to be No. 328. Memorial Stadium seats over 87,000.