THIS WEEK’S OPPONENT:
#23 Nebraska Cornhuskers (2-0)
PLACE: Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, NE
DATE & TIME: Saturday, September 14, 9:00 a.m. PT
TV: Channel 7
TICKETS: You can find Bruins vs. Husker tickets here.
LINE: Nebraska by 4 1/2
Several questions need to be answered regarding the 16th-ranked UCLA Bruins’ first road game, including:
1. Can Jim Mora’s team persevere against a Nebraska Cornhusker squad that desperately wants revenge for losing to the Bruins 36-30 at the Rose Bowl last season?
2. Can the 14 true freshmen that played in UCLA’s first game stay focused and produce in the face of what’s sure to be a hostile crowd? After all, it will be the first time that these freshmen will experience roughly 90,000 red-clad (in this case) fans rooting against them.
3. Most importantly, how will these Bruins respond in light of the recent tragic death of teammate Nick Pasquale? Will it motivate them to perform and win for the fallen wide receiver, or will they be too distracted?
To Nebraska’s credit, as they have had a reputation of being among the classiest programs and fan bases in college football for a long time – the Cornhusker fans in the end zone always give the opposing teams a standing ovation after games, win or lose – they will be wearing a #36 decal, which was Pasquale’s number, on their helmets on Saturday and will observe a pre-game moment of silence for the fallen Bruin.
UCLA will be wearing a #36 patch on their jerseys.
As for the game, considering the issues that Bo Pelini’s program has had with their famous “Blackshirt” defense for the past few years and the inexperience that the Bruins have with their secondary, it looks like this contest may well be a high-scoring one.
Coming off an easy victory over Southern Mississippi, Taylor Martinez is the undisputed leader of Nebraska’s offense as the senior quarterback has completed 71% of his passes for six touchdowns already. Against Southern Miss Martinez, who is also a running threat as he had a 93-yard touchdown run against the Bruins last year, threw for 170 yards and three scores in a little over a half before taking the rest of the game off.
Running back Ameer Abdullah, who likewise had good numbers against UCLA the last time those two teams met, had 114 yards on 17 carries with two touchdowns last week. He is averaging 6.3 yards a carry and will, along with Martinez, be a challenge for the Bruins’ front seven.
Kenny Bell and Quincy Enunwa are the Cornhuskers’ leading receivers, Bell leading the team with ten catches while Enunwa has caught three passes for touchdowns. Look for them to severely test the young Bruin secondary.
As for Nebraska’s defense, they have been maligned but did well against Southern Miss in giving up only 13 points. And they do have six interceptions, with Ciante Evans having three of them.
Meanwhile, while Nebraska is averaging 46.5 points a game, UCLA’s offense is not exactly chopped liver as the Bruins scored 58 points in their opener against Nevada, 41 of those points coming in the second half.
Brett Hundley had a very good start to his second year as the Bruins’ starting quarterback with his 339 total yards and four touchdowns, two in the air and two on the ground, against Nevada, his arm accounting for 274 of those yards.
Hundley, along with running backs Jordon James and Malcolm Jones and receivers like Shaq Evans and Devin Fuller, will pose a much bigger challenge to the Nebraska defense than Southern Miss, who went 0-12 last season, did.
The Bruin defense is led, as always, by Anthony Barr and his linebacking mates Jordan Zumwalt and Eric Kendricks as well as a strong defensive line. As was said, the Cornhuskers will test this unit.
HOW DO I SEE THIS GAME UNFOLDING?
I had pegged this game as a loss in the season preview that I did in August due to the fact that this game is in Lincoln and Nebraska wants revenge, but you know what?
I think that the Bruins have a shot at winning, particularly if their defense – namely their young secondary – steps up and the team uses Pasquale’s untimely death as a motivation to win for him.
There has been a precedent for teams using a player’s death as a motivation for success, notably Loyola Marymount’s basketball team in 1990 when Hank Gathers collapsed on the court during a game and died; that Lions team from Westchester (a suburb of Los Angeles) went on to the Elite Eight in the NCAA Tournament that year.
The bottom line here is, I’m not going to necessarily write this game off for UCLA; they could win if they focus and things go right.
We’ll certainly find out if these Bruins do so on Saturday.