Now that the presents have been opened, the roast beast has been eaten, the egg nog has been drunk, and Sea World and the San Diego Zoo have been visited, UCLA’s football squad has an important job to do, one that is most essential to Bruin Nation:
To play, and do their utmost best to defeat, the Baylor Bears in the Holiday Bowl on Thursday evening.
This will be the Bruins’ 32nd bowl game, their first since 2009, and they will be going for their 15th post season win.
As this Big-12 team from Waco, TX has an offense that is ranked first in yardage, third in passing and fifth in points, while UCLA’s offense has likewise done well in scoring 35 points per game, pretty much everyone is saying that this affair will be an old-fashioned shootout, one on the level of Madden 2K12 X-Box in which the team that has the ball last will win.
I won’t waste any more time – Here’s how I feel the game will unfold, how the Bruins will fare, and what I think the final score will be:
As outstanding as Baylor’s offense is, using the spread to gain oodles and oodles of yards and score oodles and oodles of points, the Bears’ defense is as pathetically bad as their offense is good.
The national ranking of the Baylor defensive unit: 119th out of 120 FBS teams.
In other words, this Bear team can score like crazy, but like another opponent that UCLA faced earlier this year, Arizona, Baylor has showed that they cannot stop anyone – which is the main reason why their overall record is 7-5.
Meanwhile, while the Bruins’ secondary hasn’t been great, giving up long completions and committing many pass interference penalties all year – and their most consistent guy, Tevin McDonald, has been suspended from the game for breaking team rules, which will challenge that unit even more – UCLA’s overall defense is better than Baylor’s as their front seven, led by linebacker Eric Kendricks and his Pac-12 leading 137 tackles, his linebacking mate Anthony Barr’s 13.5 sacks and 20 tackles for loss, and defensive end Datone Jones’ 17 TFLs, has done a very good job at stepping up and making stops when needed.
Indeed, one key to the Bruins’ success on Thursday night will be to do what they did so well against Arizona and USC; pressure the Baylor quarterback, Nick Florence, and not give him time to throw and cause damage while not allowing the Bears’ hot running back, Lache Seastrunk, to run wild like he did against Kansas State and Oklahoma State.
The other key for UCLA will be to – once and for all - cut down on the penalties as the 123 yellow flags thrown at them for an ungodly 1,214 yards for a 93.4 yards per game average leads the NCAA.
Which, obviously speaking, is not good. At all.
I think that while Baylor will get their yards and points – they are too talented not to – UCLA’s defense will do a better job of at least slowing down Baylor’s offense than the Bears’ defense will be at slowing down UCLA’s offense, which is led by a senior running back, Johnathan Franklin, who has had the season of his life in breaking both the school’s single season and career rushing records, and by a quarterback, Brett Hundley, who as a redshirt freshman has emerged as one of the country’s best dual threats as he is responsible for 35 touchdowns this season; 26 due to his arm and nine due to his legs.
In short, the Bruins’ front seven is good enough to slow the Bears down a little, and the Bruin offense is more than good enough to do the same kind of damage that so many other teams have done against Baylor.
Indeed, some may forget that UCLA’s defense was as outstanding against Arizona as their offense was, giving up but ten points to the Wildcats, who as was said Baylor reminds me so much of, in the Bruins’ 66-10 rout at the Rose Bowl on November 3rd.
Not that I think that Baylor will only score ten points against UCLA, but the Bruin defense is more capable of making plays and stops than the Bear defense evidently is.
On offense, look for the Bruins to establish their running game and use Franklin often, at least in the beginning, to chew up the clock and keep Baylor’s offense off the field as much as possible. With the Bears’ lack of success on defense, I’m confident that that game plan will work.
Motivational factors play a good sized part in this Holiday Bowl, which Jim Mora’s team has a bit more of because they dearly want to get that tenth win and not end the season with three straight losses, especially in front of what promises to be a Qualcomm Stadium that will largely be blue as many Bruin fans are expected to not only make the two-hour trip down I-5 for the game, but to play a home crowd factor as they have done so well at the Rose Bowl.
That is why my official prediction of the final score is thus:
UCLA BRUINS – 52
BAYLOR BEARS – 42
Most pundits project a UCLA victory on Thursday night, and if these Bruins perform the way they can, I think the game will end up the way that the pundits – and I – expect it to go; a UCLA win that will be a great way to end 2012.
Besides, 10-4 looks a heck of a lot better than 9-5.