UCLA Football Game Preview: Nebraska Cornhuskers



Nebraska Cornhuskers, Rose Bowl – Saturday, September 8, 4:30 p.m., Fox Channel 11

For the UCLA Bruins’ 2012 home opener at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena – which happens to be Jim Mora’s home debut as the Bruin coach – one can’t ask for a much tougher opponent than Nebraska’s Cornhuskers.

The 49-24 win on the road at Rice on August 30 was an impressive one, a good win which all of Bruin Nation should feel good about, but as my old high school band director said – with all due respect towards Rice – one must keep in mind about the level of the competition, that (in this case) Rice was a team that UCLA should have beaten rather easily, which they must now move on from as…

This longtime red-and-white football power from Lincoln, NE is currently ranked 16th in the AP poll and 14th in the coaches poll, which they more than earned in their opening game as quarterback Taylor Martinez – who’s a local Southern California product who wanted to go to UCLA and will be playing in front of his family and friends against the Bruins – used a rigorous off-season program to throw for 354 yards and five touchdowns in the Cornhuskers’ 49-20 rout of Southern Mississippi at home on September 1.

As Martinez is also a running threat, UCLA’s defense will certainly have its hands full as he will try to make a huge impression at the Rose Bowl; I’m sure he’s excited about playing in that iconic stadium.

Although coach Bo Pellini may well be without his top running back Rex Burkhead, who is questionable for Saturday’s game due to a sprained MCL in his left knee after a career-long 57 yard TD run against Southern Miss, Nebraska will be more than okay as a host of capable back-ups, led by likely starter Ameer Abdullah, who along with Braylon Heard and Imani Cross ran for 177 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries last Saturday.

Look for all three of those backs to have prominent roles against the Bruins.

As for the Cornhuskers’ defense, this “Big Red” program has long been known for having their first stringers wear black shirts during their practices, and their interior lines have long been known for their huge size and strength on both sides of the ball, which will be a big challenge for UCLA.

Brett Hundley will look to continue his impressive play at quarterback, but the red shirt freshman will face a difficult task in facing the “Black Shirts” as they are a far cry from Rice’s defenders. Johnathan Franklin, who was named the Pac-12’s Offensive Player of the Week with his 214 yards and three scores on 15 carries, will likewise be royally challenged by the very large defensive line and very strong linebackers that the Big Red is famous for.

The Bruin secondary will need to step up big time as well in light of Martinez’s 354-yard, 5 TD day; Sheldon Price, Aaron Hester and the rest of the defensive backs will need to be successful in jamming up  Nebraska’s receivers if UCLA is to have any chance of winning.

Heck, the whole squad, including the kicking team as they had three extra points blocked against Rice, must step up big time and take their level of play up a couple of notches if they are to have a shot at beating the Cornhuskers – who always travel very well and will have a huge crowd of up to 15,000 and perhaps 20,000 red-clad fans at the Rose Bowl on Saturday – for this important reason:

This game will go a long way to determine what kind of football team the UCLA Bruins have.

In other words, by roughly 8:00 p.m. Saturday night we will know if Jim Mora’s team is for real.

If they can pull off a win over Big Red – who is a five-point favorite – they could be 5-0 by the end of this month as they have very winnable games after Nebraska.

Which would obviously be an outstanding start in Mora’s first year at the helm in Westwood.

But first they, to paraphrase the great coach John Wooden, really need to be at their best when their best is needed this coming Saturday afternoon.