What to watch: UCLA vs. Nebraska in Foster Farms Bowl

This hasn’t been the season that UCLA fans expected.

Heading into September, almost everyone had their eyes trained on the newcomer behind center. Would five-star recruit Josh Rosen live up to the hype? Can a veteran cast win big even with a true freshman quarterback? Turns out, Rosen was the least of the Bruins’ problems.

As the teenager threw for 3,350 yards, UCLA’s once-vaunted defense fell apart, losing three starters to season-ending injuries in the first three weeks. That the Bruins still ranked fourth in the Pac-12 in allowing 25.1 points per game was a feat in and of itself — keeping themselves in the conference race until the final week of the season.

However, facing Nebraska in Saturday’s Foster Farms Bowl might be the least enticing postseason matchup of the Jim Mora era. Can UCLA find enough motivation to clinch a fourth straight nine-win season?

When UCLA has the ball

For all Rosen’s talent, the one knock on him as a recruit was the thought that he might be difficult to coach.

“He had a reputation for being somewhat aloof or arrogant, or kind of a know-it-all,” said Mora, who first met Rosen in early 2012. “I have not seen that person in a couple years.

“What I’ve seen is a very mature, selfless kid that wants to be involved with his team, his teammates. I think he has a lot of confidence, but he’s measured that with a level of humbleness that people respect. He’s always anxious to learn and absorb information. He never acts like he knows it all. Even when he has an idea, the way he presents it is very respectful to everybody.” Continue reading “What to watch: UCLA vs. Nebraska in Foster Farms Bowl” »

What to watch: No. 22 UCLA at USC

Some people just can’t let go of the past.

On UCLA’s side, there was linebacker Aaron Wallace, who was redshirting when the Bruins fell apart in a historic 50-0 loss to USC in 2012. Since then, Wallace has been a part of three straight victories, with each one coming by double digits. In his mind, however, that still hasn’t balanced the scales.
“I don’t think anything ever will,” the senior said this week.

On the Trojans’ side, there was quarterback Matt Barkley, whose college career ended when he was sacked by UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr in 2012. Now a backup for the Arizona Cardinals, he responded to a Pac-12 Networks’ video of that play by pointing out the “50-0 embarrassment the year before.” (Barr himself responded with, “what have you done for me lately.”)

So it goes in one of the unique rivalries of college football, one separated by 14 miles. The latest edition pits together two teams who have seven combined losses, but are still vying for the Pac-12 South title. History is at stake too: When the No. 22 Bruins visit the Coliseum on Saturday (12:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN2), Jim Mora will try and become the first UCLA coach to win four straight since Terry Donahue.

When UCLA has the ball

While Barkley was successful in his own right as a true freshman in 2009, Josh Rosen has put his numbers to shame.

UCLA’s true freshman quarterback has thrown 218 passes without an interception dating back to Oct. 15, a school record as well as the longest active streak in the FBS. Barkley had a pick in all but two of his 12 appearances as a hot-shot five-star recruit. The former Trojan star had 15 touchdowns to 14 interceptions that season; the current Bruin’s ratio stands at 19 to seven.

Can Rosen keep his run going in his first rivalry game? Continue reading “What to watch: No. 22 UCLA at USC” »

What to watch: UCLA at No. 18 Utah

No one on UCLA’s side has underplayed the importance of its next game, a Saturday trip to Salt Lake City with effects that will ripple past state borders.

“This is it right here,” said Kenny Clark, the Bruins’ star nose tackle. “This is it for us. This is it for them.”

This is the game that could end Pac-12 South hopes for UCLA (7-3, 4-3) or Utah (8-2, 5-2), the game that could have one group of fans jumping into the air and the other shielding its eyes. Both are in position to potentially finish at the top of the division by winning out — though the No. 18 Utes also need USC to lose. Both could still fall to a forgettable bowl game.

Here’s what to watch when the Bruins kick off at 12:30 p.m. at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

When UCLA has the ball

Josh Rosen has played like a top-level quarterback for the past several weeks. Can he keep it up against one of the best defenses he’s seen?

The true freshman has thrown 188 passes without an interception, and needs only 12 more to break UCLA’s record for consecutive attempts without a pick. However, Utah’s defense leads the Pac-12 with 16 picks. No team from a Power Five conference has more.

The Utes have a solid lineup across their entire defense, but the most impressive part is the line. Starting defensive end Hunter Dimick has been limited by injuries this season, but Kylie Fitts — who played sparingly at UCLA in 2013 before transferring out the following August — has filled in nicely, notching 4.5 sacks and six pass breakups in eight starts. On the other side of the line is senior Jason Fanaika, who is second on the team with 7.5 tackles for loss. Continue reading “What to watch: UCLA at No. 18 Utah” »

What to watch: No. 18 UCLA vs. Washington State

With just one more home game at the Rose Bowl, UCLA remains on track for the Pac-12 South title.

However, Washington State looks like a different squad than the one that dropped a season opener to FCS opponent Portland State, and still sits in second place in its division after a two-point loss to No. 7 Stanford.

After three consecutive wins, the No. 18 Bruins (7-2, 4-2) can clinch a spot in the Pac-12 Championship by winning three more. Keeping that path clear will require navigating past a resurgent Cougars squad eager to pull an upset at 7:45 p.m. tonight.

When UCLA has the ball

It might be time for Paul Perkins to grab everyone’s attention again.

The redshirt junior has run for only two touchdowns since injuring his knee more than three weeks ago, but was healthy enough to carry the ball 23 times last Saturday — the tailback’s heaviest workload since September. WSU has allowed 18 rushing scores and 5.1 yards per carry, both of which stand as bottom-three marks in the Pac-12.

But the Cougars (6-3, 4-2) could open the game by stacking the box, as many other teams have done in an effort to neutralize Perkins. If that happens, UCLA will need some creative playcalling early and use Josh Rosen to stretch open the field. Continue reading “What to watch: No. 18 UCLA vs. Washington State” »

What to watch: No. 22 UCLA at Oregon State

Jim Mora has never beaten Oregon State. This is not because the Beavers have been at the top of the Pac-12, or that they have held some special insight in how to exploit UCLA’s game plans. The two teams simply haven’t played each other since 2012.

OSU was the team that handed Mora his first loss with the Bruins, delivering a 27-20 upset at the Rose Bowl in his fourth game as a college football coach.

That was before anyone realized that UCLA was on the ascent, en route to a 29 wins in three seasons — including three straight over rival USC. Before anyone realized that Mike Riley, thought by many to be a Corvallis lifer, would win just 19 more games with the Beavers before leaving to Nebraska.

Oregon State hosts UCLA (6-2, 3-2) at 1:30 p.m. today in the midst of a difficult first season under Gary Andersen. Despite the 51-year-old’s success at Wisconsin and Utah State, he has yet to guide the Beavers (2-6, 0-5) to a win over a Pac-12 opponent.

When UCLA has the ball

In his six years as Utah’s defensive coordinator, Kalani Sitake orchestrated what was perennially one of the most aggressive and effective schemes west of the Rocky Mountains. Through his tenure, the Utes averaged more than 35 sacks per season, peaking last year with an FBS-leading 55 sacks.

Getting Oregon State to that level will take some time. Continue reading “What to watch: No. 22 UCLA at Oregon State” »