UCLA Football Game Preview: Houston Cougars



Houston Cougars, Rose Bowl – Saturday, September 15, 7:30 p.m.

Now that UCLA’s Bruins have achieved a thrilling and gutsy win over a ranked opponent – and have been rewarded with a national ranking in the AP and coaches’ polls themselves – here comes the difficult part of this initial success:


Sep 8, 2012; Pasadena, CA, USA; UCLA Bruins tailback Johnathan Franklin (23) celebrates with teammates after scoring on a 9-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter against the Nebraska Cornhuskers at the Rose Bowl. UCLA defeated Nebraska 36-30. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US PRESSWIRE

That test will come this Saturday night in the form of a Houston Cougar team that is different from the one that beat UCLA in the 2011 season opener.

For starters, standout quarterback Case Keenum is no longer a Cougar after shredding the Bruin defense in their 38-34 win over them in Houston, TX during Week 1. When a mid-major team like Houston loses a star like that, it often takes a while for them to recover.

The Cougars, in losing to Texas State and Louisiana Tech so far this season, have illustrated that notion.

Which is why it’s imperative for Jim Mora’s squad to not let down after their conquest of Nebraska and handle their business against Houston, which means that they need, in a boxing analogy, to go for the quick knockout; to score big in the first quarter and the first half and end any speculation early on.

The encouraging thing is that Mora has shown to be the type of coach that will not allow his charges to let down against an opponent that they are favored to beat, as UCLA is a 17 point favorite; I’m confident that the Bruins will remain focused and build on their triumph over the Cornhuskers.

With Keenum gone, David Piland has been trying to fill his shoes for Houston, with not much success if you measure success by wins and losses even though his numbers in the Louisiana Tech game were absolutely sick, as he completed 53 out of 77 passes for an incredible 580 yards and four touchdowns.

Which means that the UCLA defense will have a fairly monumental task in containing the Cougar offense, and not just the secondary either as the defensive line, led by Datone Jones, will need to put pressure on Piland and get in his face, so as to not give him time to do the damage that he did against Lousiana Tech.

If PIland is to be effective against UCLA, he’ll need to be effective early before adjustments are made and Houston’s offense gets shut down like Rice’s and Nebraska’s; the Bruins have allowed just two field goals in both of their second halves combined this year.

And speaking of the 22nd ranked Bruins (23rd in the coaches’ poll), as far as improvements that they need to make, their 11 penalties, several of them being of the 15-yard kind, were worse than their eight flags against Rice as they have made clear that their discipline and execution needs work, particularly on the offensive line and on special teams.

As they are the most penalized team in the NCAA’s Football Bowl Subdivision so far this season, they absolutely must cut down the yellow hankies as shooting themselves in the foot like that is completely unacceptable and will hurt them down the road.

If UCLA doesn’t experience a hangover from the Nebraska win and let down on  Saturday night, as well as clean up the penalties, they should win this game and the Bruin offense should be particularly successful as Houston did as bad a job on defense as they did on offense last week, giving up 56 points.

A good running game in which Johnathan Franklin and company does their thing will help too, to chew up the clock and keep the Cougars’ offense off the field.

I should confess something:

Last week I stated that people will find out how good the Bruins are after they played Nebraska.

I fibbed – this is the week where we will really find out what UCLA’s football team is made of.