UCLA Football: 5 Keys to Beating Rice
The UCLA Bruins open their 2012 campaign against the Rice Owls on Thursday, August 30 in Houston.
Getting a win would be huge for the morale of the team. A victory would not only set tempo for the remainder of the season, but it'd also get the Jim Mora era off to a good start.
Here are five keys for the Bruins to take down the Owls.
To be frank, UCLA was quite abysmal at getting pressure on the opposing quarterback last season.
For the entire 2011 season, the team had only 14 sacks. Defensive end Datone Jones led the team in sacks with three. That lack of production surely won't translate into many wins.
The new 3-4 alignment was brought to Westwood in part due to the lack of production up front. It also was incorporated because it's theoretically designed to offer versatility with personnel, flexibility and the enhanced ability to create turnovers.
Against Rice, UCLA should have a field day. The Rice offensive line returns only one starter from a year ago in sophomore Drew Carroll. After Carroll, the line is filled with inexperienced and below-average players.
It's paramount that the Bruins pressure starting quarterback Taylor McHargue. The Owls do have solid offensive options in Sam McGuffie, Vance McDonald and Luke Wilson. Constant pressure will hinder McHargue's ability to find his best options.
He's not known as a great decision maker—as he completed only 57.5 percent of his throws from a year ago. It'd behoove the Bruins to confuse McHargue with their coverages—forcing him into making rash decisions.
Having the ability to create turnovers will also take pressure off redshirt freshman quarterback Brett Hundley—making his first career start.
Get Brett Hundley off to a Good Start
Getting Brett Hundley off to a good start will be huge for the team.
This contest will be the first taste of action on the collegiate level for Hundley. Undoubtedly, the butterflies will be fluttering at a high rate. It's key for offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone to get him in a rhythm early with some quick throws.
Getting him some easy throws will help Hundley gain confidence and get his proverbial feet under him. Especially with this being a road game, quick throws to tailbacks and bubble screens to wide outs will help to calm Hundley's nerves a bit.
Rice employs a funky 4-2-5 defense. They're led by stud linebacker Cameron Nwosu and cornerback Bryce Callahan. Nwosu led the Owls in tackles with 108, and Callahan led the team with six interceptions as a true freshman.
The Owls do pride themselves on creating turnovers themselves. They forced 27 turnovers last year, but also allowed 462 yards a game last season.
The last thing UCLA wants is to have Hundley's first collegiate drive end with a turnover. Expect that initial drive to be somewhat conservative and cautious.
Establish the Run Game
One aspect that will help Hundley's prospects is having a strong ground game to fall back on. Establishing the run game in the form of veteran Johnathan Franklin—the most experienced member of the offense—will help to take pressure off the young quarterback.
Rice is really small up front. Their starting defensive ends each weigh 250 pounds. In addition, they have two brand new starters at the defensive tackle position. Truthfully, there's not much depth behind the starters.
UCLA has a definite advantage with Franklin in the backfield—despite the fluid situation with the offensive line. While the Bruins' offensive line isn't concrete (to say the least), they should have minimal difficulty opening up holes for the 'backs.
Not only will Franklin be utilized, but expect Malcolm Jones, Jordon James and Steven Manfro to all see time carrying the rock.
Establishing a strong run game opens up so many things for the offense. If the team is having good success on the ground, it makes things exponentially easier for Hundley. It offers the ability to employ play-action, and it will create plenty of opportunities down the field.
Stop Sam McGuffie
If there's one player the Bruins have to contain, it's Sam McGuffie.
The former Michigan Wolverine is explosive, plain and simple. McGuffie will start out as a slot receiver, but you'll see him lined up all over the place—including in the backfield and on the perimeter.
He's one of the most important playmakers on the Rice roster, and they'll make a concerted effort to get the ball in his hands as much as possible.
The key will be for the Bruins defense to slow him in space. The team as a whole needs to contain and not overrun the play, because by containing the super-quick athlete, more teammates can run to the ball and gang tackle.
Regardless, expect McGuffie to be pretty entertaining come Thursday.
Win the Intangibles Battle
Rice is an opponent that the Bruins should beat. There's a good disparity in talent between the two teams, and UCLA is far deeper. However, it being the first game of the season—and on the road—complicates matters a bit.
Weather might play an issue in this game. The projected temperatures at kickoff are slated to be in the 90s with scattered showers and heavy humidity. Those aren't exactly conditions that the Bruins play in often.
The obvious point to mention is that the team can't beat themselves with self-inflicted wounds.
That more specifically means not committing foolish personal fouls and penalties, actually getting the play in from the sideline with ample time to execute (which was a problem in the Rick Neuheisel era), not committing excessive false starts and playing with a sense of urgency from the start.
It's the first game of the season, so naturally a level of rust will have to be knocked off. You can expect to see some penalties and flubs, but it's key to keep those at a minimum—especially when you open the season on the road in a hot and humid climate.
Essentially, mental toughness will be key. That's been a point of contention for the fanbase, who've often ciritized the team for having a lack of mental fortitude. Head coach Jim Mora has been stressing the importance of discipline and having a mentally tough football team.
Tune in Thursday to see if that mentality is there or not.
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