Let’s get this out of the way first: UCLA is not going to lose this game. New Mexico State is a football program that will likely find itself in the FCS within the next few years, or could even not exist at all.
Even if the Bruins start unexpectedly slow, the gaps in talent and coaching are so overwhelming that fans’ only worry should be whether or not they cover the massive 42.5-point spread.
UCLA offense vs. New Mexico State defense
UCLA proved last week that it has one of the most explosive offenses in the country, one that can pour in points as soon as it finds its rhythm. Doing so took a bit of time against both Nevada and Nebraska, but the Bruins rolled over both as soon as they found their groove.
Brett Hundley started the game 2-for-7 and finished it 8-for-8. He’ll likely top 70 percent passing against the Aggies, who have allowed 245.3 yards per game. Shaq Evans is likely a bit underrated at this point since the offense has so many receiving options, but he has two touchdowns this season and could eclipse his 2012 total (three) by the end of the day. However, New Mexico State has managed to snag four interceptions this year while allowing just five passing touchdowns, often using nickel and dime formations to try and balance their weakness on the defensive line.
It’s on the ground that NMSU has been truly porous. Opposing teams have racked up 994 rushing yards against the Aggies this season, making them the nation’s worst statistical run defense. New Mexico State is dead last with 12 touchdowns allowed, and third-to-last with 7.05 yards per carry. Jordon James should easily get his third straight triple-digit effort, and it won’t be much of a surprise if Paul Perkins joins him too.
New Mexico State offense vs. UCLA defense
Head coach Doug Martin is making numerous changes to the starting lineup after a 42-21 loss to UTEP last week. True freshman quarterback King Davis III will make his first career start despite having thrown just 23 passes in college. Averaging 6.0 yards per carry, he’s a better runner than senior Andrew McDonald and has also not yet thrown an interception. McDonald has two.
Look for Anthony Barr to take advantage of the matchup. The All-American linebacker shined in Lincoln with 11 tackles and three forced fumbles (one of which likely should’ve been credited to Jordan Zumwalt), but is still without a sack after logging 13.5 in 2012. Even if he gets double-teamed, he should be able to fight through New Mexico State’s protection. Freshman Myles Jack should continue his impressive run as too.
Next to Davis in the backfield, Brandon Betancourt will start at running back over senior Germi Morrison. Morrison has been largely ineffective this season, with 105 yards on 39 carries through three games. He has found the end zone twice, but also fumbled against UTEP last week. As a chance-of-pace back so far, the 5-foot-10 Betancourt has 37 yards on 19 carries.
New Mexico State has done well against the five punt returns it’s seen this season, but punt returns have posed a problem. Opponents have averaged 16.83 yards per punt, the 14th-highest total in the country. The Aggies’ Cayle Chapman-Brown averages 6.3 punts per game and will likely get more action than that at the Rose Bowl; he averages a 43.32 yards per punt, 44th in the country.
UCLA’s Ka’imi Fairbairn has missed a few field goal attempts outside of 40 yards this season, but look for Jim Mora to continue giving him chances to prove himself.
UCLA finishes with multiple 100-yard rushers for the first time this season, and the Bruins lead by enough in the third quarter that quarterback Brett Hundley gets some early rest. UCLA 59, New Mexico State 14.
*New Mexico State has lost its last 14 games, and its university president openly suggested dropping down to FCS.
*Senior defensive end Keenan Graham surprises early as national sacks leader