Holiday Bowl 2012: UCLA vs. Baylor Complete Game Preview, Prediction
The 2012 Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl is shaping up to be one of the most exciting postseason matchups of the year, at least if you're a fan of offense.
The Baylor Bears (7-5, 4-5 Big 12) boast the top-ranked total offense in the country, averaging 44.1 points per game on 578.75 yards per game, but they have one of the worst defenses in the FBS.
The Bears, led by senior QB Nick Florence, scored 34 or more points in 10 games this season, and they eclipsed the half-century mark five times. However, the defense allows over 38 points per contest, which is poor enough to rank No. 115 in the country.
Baylor lost three games this season in which the offense put up 34, 50 and 63 points. Needless to say, that amounts to a horrid defensive effort that has limited the Bears' progress as a program.
But the good news for Baylor is that No. 17 UCLA (9-4, 6-3 Pac-12) and head coach Jim Mora are in a very similar position.
The Bruins possess a potent offense of their own, ranking No. 20 in the country with 474.54 yards per game. But the defense has been inconsistent, entering the bowl ranked No. 55 in scoring, allowing close to 26 points per game.
Senior RB Johnathan Franklin has had a stellar season in Westwood, leading the Bruins to a Pac-12 South title with 1,700 yards rushing and 13 TDs.
If the UCLA defense had been able to buckle down in crunch time, the Bruins could be playing on New Year's Day in Pasadena. Instead, they have to settle for a midtier matchup with Baylor.
Assuming the postseason is more of the same from these two teams, you can expect plenty of scoring and very little defense on Thursday.
Read on for a complete preview of the Holiday Bowl, including game information, injury news, scouting reports and a prediction.
When: Thursday, Dec. 27 at 9:45 p.m. ET
Where: Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, Calif.
Listen: ESPN Radio
Betting Line: UCLA -3.0 (via OddsShark.com)
The opening line for the Holiday Bowl was even, as both teams have shown a propensity for explosive offense and porous defense.
Since then, the oddsmakers in Vegas have given the slightest edge to UCLA, likely a result of the Bruins' de facto home-field advantage in San Diego.
Regardless, Baylor will enter the matchup as an underdog with a very real chance to pull the upset.
The Baylor Bears head to San Diego with a relatively healthy roster, while UCLA is faced with several injuries and one key suspension.
As a result, the Bears look to have the advantage on the injury report (via USA Today).
LB Rodney Chadwick, OUT (Knee)
DB Demetri Goodson, OUT (Arm)
DT Kaeron Johnson, OUT (Back)
S Dalton Hilliard, Probable (Shoulder)
WR Devin Lucien, Probable (Collarbone)
OL Simon Goines, QST (Knee)
DL Ellis McCarthy, Doubtful (Knee)
S Tevin McDonald, OUT (Suspension)
WR Damien Thigpen, OUT (Knee)
CB Ishmael Adams, OUT (Shoulder)
C Greg Capella, OUT (Concussion)
DE Sam Tai, OUT (Knee)
S Dietrich Riley, OUT (Neck)
The advantage for Baylor starts and ends with the offense.
As the cover slide indicated, senior QB Nick Florence has led an unrelenting Baylor attack that ranks No. 1 in the nation in yardage and No. 5 in scoring.
Florence has passed for 4,121 yards and 31 TDs with only 13 interceptions, numbers that rival Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III from his time in Waco.
But it's not just an aerial attack that has lifted Baylor to the top of the list, as RBs Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin have combined for 1,665 yards rushing and 18 TDs to boot.
Toss in consensus All-American WR Terrance Williams, and it's clear that the Bears have playmakers littered throughout the offensive depth chart.
So how does a team with such a prolific offense fall to 7-5 in a defensively-challenged conference like the Big 12?
Well, mostly because Baylor's defensive challenges are the worst of the bunch.
The Bears enter the Holiday Bowl matchup with a defense that ranks No. 119 in the country in total D, allowing close to 514 yards per game.
Baylor ranks No. 89 against the rush and No. 118 against the pass, figures that don't bode well for a showdown with UCLA freshman phenom Brett Hundley and RB Johnathan Franklin.
Despite running a 4-3 defense, the Bears haven't been able to penetrate the backfield this season, ranking No. 112 in sacks and No. 119 in tackles for loss.
If Hundley has time to make his reads, and Franklin is able to get to the second level untouched, it will be a very long night for Baylor.
The UCLA Bruins are in the same boat as their opponents, trying to handle an explosive offense with a subpar defense.
UCLA currently ranks No. 91 in the country in pass defense, having given up 3,320 yards through the air in 2012.
If that wasn't bad enough already, the suspension of starting safety Tevin McDonald should have the Bruins faithful extremely worried.
McDonald, the team's second-leading tackler, missed the trip to San Diego because of an unspecified violation of team rules.
As a result, freshman Randall Goforth and senior Dalton Hilliard will need to fill in the gaps of a much-maligned secondary that has already battled depth issues this season.
Goforth is very talented, yet he lacks the experience to be a sure bet. Hilliard has plenty of field time, but he won't be playing at 100 percent due to a shoulder injury.
Suffice it to say, UCLA could be in serious trouble against the Baylor passing attack and star receiver Terrance Williams.
Williams is the Bears' go-to guy, as the senior has racked up 1,764 yards passing and 12 TDs with a yards-per-catch average of 18.6. Unless defensive coordinator Lou Spanos can dial up some pressure and get to QB Nick Florence, Williams could be in for a spectacular final game against the Bruins.
But if there is a reason to buy into the Bruins in the Holiday Bowl, it's on offense where UCLA has undergone a massive facelift.
Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone, first-year QB Brett Hundley and senior workhorse Johnathan Franklin have meshed perfectly this season, combining to make the UCLA offense one of the best in the country.
Hundley has passed for 3,411 yards and 26 TDs to bolster Franklin's incredible rushing numbers, statistics that should only get better against the Baylor defense.
Another Bruin to keep an eye on is senior Joe Fauria, a 6'7", 255-pound wideout that has become Hundley's favorite target in the red zone.
Given the fact that the tallest defender in the Bears' defensive backfield is 6'2", Fauria should be able to dominate in the Holiday Bowl.
Look for the UCLA offense to continue its roll, while the defense attempts to slow the bleeding enough to eke out the win.
The Holiday Bowl will be a high-flying offensive affair, but the better offense will not come out on top.
Despite playing with a defense that has struggled mightily against the pass this year, UCLA will find a way to corral Nick Florence, Terrance Williams and Lache Seastrunk just enough.
Meanwhile, the Bruins offense will be able to move the ball at will against the Bears, both on the ground and through the air.
Baylor's defensive ineptitude will be too great to overcome, and UCLA will reach the 10-win mark for the first time since 2005.
Prediction: UCLA 45, Baylor 31