UCLA’S FIRST OPPONENT:
RECORD IN 2012: 7-6, lost to Arizona in New Mexico Bowl, 49-48
SITE: Rose Bowl
DATE & TIME: Saturday, August 31, 7:00 p.m.
TV: Pac-12 Networks
LINE: UCLA by 20 1/2
Year Two of the Jim Mora Era in Westwood is more or less here, as the Bruins (9-5 last year) kick things off against a Nevada team that will be very motivated to give UCLA all kinds of trouble.
That will particularly be the case when this Wolfpack bunch from Reno has the ball as new coach Brian Polian, who took over from longtime mainstay Chris Ault, has a quarterback in Cody Fajardo that will be counted on to be the man as the junior from Orange County is Nevada’s leading passer and rusher who is returning.
The Wolfpack has perfected the run-oriented pistol offense – which the Bruins tried and miserably failed to incorporate in 2010 – and Fajardo, who rushed for 1,270 yards in 2012, is the perfect guy for it as his arm was as good as his legs last season, passing for 2,786 yards and 20 touchdowns.
He has some good targets returning as well in Brandon Wimberly, who led Nevada with 70 catches, and Richy Turner, who was right behind Wimberly with 60 catches.
No one disputes that this Wolfpack team will put points on the board, especially when they get into conference play in the Mountain West.
The problem is with their defense, as Nevada gave up an ungodly 211.8 rushing yards and 33.8 points per game last season. Brock Hekking is the only player on that side of the ball with stats worth mentioning as he had eight sacks last year, but outside of that Polian has some major rebuilding to do.
Indeed, it will seem like the Wolfpack’s games this season will be of the “Whoever gets the ball last will win” kind, which will benefit UCLA at home.
Brett Hundley is ready and raring to go at quarterback, eager to add to his record-breaking numbers (3,740 yards passing and 4,095 yards in total offense) of a year ago, but two concerns must be addressed on Saturday before Bruin Nation can relax and enjoy the offensive show:
1. Replacing Johnathan Franklin at running back; Mora has announced that Jordon James will start against Nevada, and Steven Manfro will likewise get a lot of snaps. Whether or not they will be anything like the Bruins’ all-time single season and career rushing leader will soon be seen.
2. How improved will the offensive line, which gave up over 3 1/2 sacks per game in 2012, be? Xavier Sua-Filo, Torian White, Simon Goines, and center Jake Brendel are expected to be markedly better; just how much better will go a long way to be determined on Saturday.
The main worry that the UCLA faithful has pertains to their defensive secondary, which is chock full of young guys with talent but little experience.
That can well play into Nevada’s receiving corps; it’s a sure bet that Fajardo and his two receiver mates, Wimberly and Turner, will try and exploit that lack of experience by throwing the ball down field.
That’s why the fate of the Bruins will depend on their front seven, led by All-American linebacker Anthony Barr. He, his linebacking mates Eric Kendricks and Jordan Zumwalt, and defensive ends Cassius Marsh and Seail’l Epenesa absolutely must get into the backfield and harass Fajardo like crazy, give him no time to throw.
Putting it another way, it will be a very bad sign if Fajardo is sitting back in the pocket with all day to throw, because that will likely mean long gains through the air.
It will also be a very bad sign if the Nevada quarterback gets long runs on scrambles and option plays; which is another reason why the fate of this game will rest on UCLA’s front seven.
ALL RIGHT, HERE’S THE BOTTOM LINE ON HOW I SEE THIS GAME:
Nevada will come out hard, and it won’t be surprising if they put a few points on the board.
However, I think the Wolfpack will see that UCLA’s defense will be at least a little tougher than what they are used to in their Mountain West Conference; the Bruins should win going away.
Personally, what I see in this UCLA squad against Nevada will tell me quite a bit as far as how they will do against their next opponent, Nebraska.
By approximately 11:00 on Saturday night, I will have an idea of where the Bruins are.
ALL RIGHT L.A. SPORTS HUBBERS – HOW DO YOU SEE UCLA FARING IN THEIR FIRST GAME?