UCLA Football: 4 Keys to Beating Nebraska
In a big non-conference tilt, the UCLA Bruins will take on the No. 16 Nebraska Cornhuskers Saturday at the Rose Bowl at 4:30 pm PT.
It's prudent to mention that the game will be played in Pasadena, because one can surely expect to see a red sea of the iconic Nebraska fanbase at the game. At times, it may even resemble a red plague infiltrating the Rose Bowl.
This is an important game for Jim Mora and his squad. After an impressive victory against Rice in Week 1, the team hopes to take the next step and defeat a worthy opponent in its home opener.
Let's take a look at four keys that will help the Bruins beat the Blackshirts.
Keep Containment on Taylor Martinez
It's quite simple: Stop Taylor Martinez.
The junior quarterback from Corona, Calif. played extremely well last week against So. Miss. Traditionally known as a running quarterback, Martinez went 26-of-34 for 354 yards and five touchdowns.
"T-Magic" looked extremely comfortable in the pocket and showed much more refinement as a passer compared to a year ago. He was also considerably more accurate, which is a positive sign for him since he's been criticized in the past for struggling to throw the ball to the right place.
Against Rice, the Bruins defense had trouble with the quarterback taking off and scrambling for chunks of yardage. Often times, the defensive line over-pursued and rushed too far up the field. As a result, they opened up big running lanes in the middle of the field that were exploited for big plays.
In this game, the Bruins have to be cognizant of keeping containment and playing assignment football. Saying that Martinez is fleet of foot would be an understatement. He'll absolutely gash UCLA with his legs if they continue to be caught out of position.
In the second half against Rice, the staff made an adjustment and went with a dime look—resulting in a second-half shutout.
Look for Martinez to mix it up and run more in this game than he did last week. His level of productivity will be key—especially with the availability of star tailback Rex Burkhead being a big question mark.
Win the Special Teams Battle
Special teams was a big point of emphasis this week in practice for the Bruins, and rightfully so.
Last week, UCLA had three extra points blocked. Freshman kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn had seemingly low trajectory on his kicks, while the extra point personnel were unable to hold their position on the line long enough for Fairbairn to execute the kick.
Also, Steven Manfro muffed a punt for a turnover when Dalton Hilliard seemingly ran into him. These bugaboos have to be cleaned up due to the caliber of their opponent this weekend.
Nebraska features great explosiveness in the return game with Kenny Bell and Ameer Abdullah. Punter/kicker Brett Maher is very solid, though he missed two field goals last week. The Cornhuskers also relinquished a 100-yard touchdown on a kickoff as well.
Neither team had a strong showing in special teams last week. From UCLA's perspective, they shouldn't give an already good team more opportunities and turnovers.
In addition, they definitely need to shore up the kicking game with their freshman kicker. Leaving virtually three free points on the board is inexcusable.
Support Brett Hundley
It's absolutely vital that the Bruins provide Brett Hundley with ample support.
The redshirt freshman got off to a smashing start in his first collegiate game—going 21-of-28 for 202 yards and two touchdowns. He also had an impressive 72-yard touchdown run.
Regardless, things will be much more difficult against the vaunted Nebraska defense. With that in mind, all of the skill-position players have to play up to their capabilities in order to make life easier for the young quarterback.
The run game with Johnathan Franklin needs to be established early and often. A positive is that Nebraska gave up 185 yards on the ground against So. Miss, so some success could be had.
The offensive line also has to provide good protection. In addition, the wideouts need to secure the ball. Manfro in particular had a bad drop which would have resulted in an easy touchdown. Against an opponent like Nebraska, the team has to convert and take advantage of every opportunity presented.
Expect to see some new offensive wrinkles that weren't used against Rice in the opener. Truth be told, the Bruins were somewhat vanilla offensively even though they registered 49 points and 646 yards of total offense.
Also expect the Cornhuskers to ratchet up the pressure on Hundley and provide abnormal looks in order to confuse the young Bruin signal-caller.
You can expect to see Nebraska head man Bo Pelini applying pressure on Hundley with an assortment of exotic blitz packages from all over the field.
With that in mind, it's imperative that the players on the young UCLA offensive line don't get overwhelmed. They played pretty well against Rice, but they'll get a more difficult test with the likes of Nebraska defensive linemen Chase Rome, Cameron Meredith, Baker Steinkuhler and Jason Ankrah.
The Bruins were penalized eight times for 107 yards against Rice. They also were 2-of-11 on third-down conversions. Both categories undoubtedly have to improve if they are to be competitive in this game.
These types of flubs are expected with a young roster. The Bruins have a redshirt freshman starting at quarterback, a redshirt freshman at left tackle, a redshirt freshman at center and a true freshman starting at right tackle. The Bruins also have multiple redshirt freshmen and true freshmen littered throughout the two-deep.
For the Bruins to put forth a winning effort, they have to limit penalties and mental mistakes.