UCLA vs. Memphis Complete Game Preview
WHEN: Saturday, Sept. 6, 10 p.m. ET
WHERE: Rose Bowl Stadium; Pasadena, California
TV: Pac-12 Networks
No. 7 UCLA seeks to shake off the cobwebs from its lackluster Week 1 performance when it opens its 2014 home slate on Saturday against Memphis.
The Bruins survived a 28-20 scare on the road at Virginia on Saturday, scoring just one offensive touchdown in the win.
UCLA got what it wanted against the Cavaliers, which head coach Jim Mora explained, per Chris Foster of the Los Angeles Times (subscription required).
“The goal in a first game which is the goal of any game, but certainly the first one, is to win," Mora said. "We met that objective."
The Bruins can meet their objective to win once more in Week 2 to head into a highly anticipated Week 3 showdown with Texas. But don’t expect UCLA to overlook visiting Memphis—particularly after the close call to open the season.
UCLA Keys to Victory
Protect Brett Hundley
A UCLA offensive line that has struggled the past few seasons had an inauspicious start to 2014, allowing Virginia to get to quarterback Brett Hundley five times on Saturday. This week, the job of the Bruins front doesn’t get any easier.
Memphis was a respectable No. 44 nationally in points allowed last season and should be one of the best defensive teams in the American Athletic Conference this season. That starts with a talent-rich defensive line of Martin Ifedi, Terry Redden, Ricky Hunter and Terry Williams.
Ifedi is an NFL prospect and one of the nation’s top returning sack producers from a season ago.
“He's a smart, heady player and seems to get back [to the quarterback] a lot,” Memphis head coach Justin Fuente told Mike Huguenin of NFL.com last season.
Ensuring he’s not in the backfield this week is critical for the Bruins offense to thrive.
Harass the Quarterback
The UCLA defense didn’t miss a beat after its strong 2013 in its start to 2014. The Bruins created effective pressure on Virginia’s quarterbacks and generated turnovers that proved to be the difference in the game.
Against Memphis, UCLA sees a quarterback who, in 2013, threw more interceptions than touchdowns. Paxton Lynch was picked off 10 times and scored just nine times through the air. He threw one in the season opener against Austin Peay, too.
UCLA’s front seven must collapse Lynch’s pocket and force him into bad throws. The ball-hawking Bruins secondary will exploit any window the Tigers open.
Memphis Keys to Victory
Bring the Blitz
Much like Virginia, Memphis’ best shot at remaining within striking distance of UCLA is to exploit the Bruins’ greatest weakness.
While the Cavaliers started slow offensively, they were able to chip at the UCLA defense when it was not operating with a cushion.
Their 63-0 pasting of an overmatched Austin Peay team in Week 1 aside, the Tigers are not explosive offensively—far from it.
They averaged just 19.5 points per game a season ago. However, if Memphis can somehow keep the Bruins offense in check and avoid a shootout, it makes a daunting task much less so. That means applying as much pressure on Hundley as it can muster.
Bring Some Luck to California
Despite its Week 1 struggles, UCLA is the far more talented team. Memphis will need some luck to have any hope of pulling off the upset.
A lucky bounce on a fumble, an interception made with an open lane, a blown assignment on special teams—these are the kinds of breaks the Tigers need to go their way to score quick touchdowns.
Memphis won’t be able to score many points against the Bruins defense, so scoring in this fashion is its most realistic opportunity of keeping it competitive.
UCLA Players to Watch
RB Paul Perkins
Sophomore Paul Perkins appeared to be offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone’s choice as the No. 1 running back down the stretch at Virginia. Perkins averaged five yards per carry on his 16 attempts and also proved to be a capable enough blocker in pass protection.
Add his ability to operate as a receiver out of the backfield—he caught 24 passes for 296 yards in 2013—and Perkins may be the Bruins’ best option for establishing a more consistent run game to complement Hundley.
WR Jordan Payton
Jordan Payton established himself as Hundley’s top target in Week 1 with eight receptions, and the junior receiver was integral to preserving the Bruins’ lead late.
Payton has the look of a breakout star. His fulfilling that potential is vital for jump-starting UCLA’s offense in Week 2.
S Randall Goforth
In a strong all-around showing from the UCLA defense in Week 1, safety Randall Goforth was one of its stars. He returned a fumble for a touchdown in the second quarter, was in on a tackle for loss and broke up a pass.
Cornerbacks Ishmael Adams and Fabian Moreau may have commanded more attention in the offseason—and deservedly so. But Goforth’s versatility will be crucial to the UCLA defense throughout 2014 and establish his name as one to remember in the loaded secondary.
LB Deon Hollins
Deon Hollins gave the UCLA linebacker corps no shortage of energy in his repetitions Saturday. Mora commended the sophomore for the pressure he brought in the Virginia backfield, via Ryan Kartje of the Orange County Register.
Mora added that he hopes to see more consistency from the Bruins pass rush moving forward, and Hollins should have a role in that effort in Week 2.
Memphis Players to Watch
QB Paxton Lynch
Lynch is one-third of the way to matching his 2013 passing touchdown total after going for three strikes against Austin Peay. Lynch also rushed for a pair of scores in the Tigers’ opening-week blowout.
Lynch is the first of several mobile quarterbacks UCLA will see this season.
RB Jarvis Cooper
Fuente scored a major recruiting coup when he landed 3-star local product Jarvis Cooper. And Cooper did not disappoint in his first game as a Tiger, rattling off a remarkable 12.6 yards per carry with a touchdown in Week 1.
At 6’1”, 250 pounds, Cooper is perhaps the biggest running back UCLA will see this season. If it doesn’t seem like Cooper resembles his position, it may be because he was also recruited as a defensive end coming out of West Memphis High School in West Memphis, Arkansas.
DE Martin Ifedi
The anchor of the Memphis defense is perhaps one of college football’s best-kept secrets. However, with a big effort against a highly ranked and national championship-contending opponent, the secret on Ifedi will get out fast.
Ifedi has NFL size at 6'3" and 275 pounds. He matches it with speed and explosiveness rushing off the edge. All that got him in 2013 was 11.5 sacks.
CB Bobby McCain
Bobby McCain ranked near the top of the Football Bowl Subdivision for interceptions in 2013, nabbing six.
McCain is on a similar trajectory this season. He already has an interception through one contest.
What They're Saying
Mora assessing the overall play of UCLA in Week 1 and what it means going forward, via VirginiaSports.com:
"I think we have a lot to improve upon offensively, but it was beautiful defensively. Can someone tell me the last time a UCLA defense scored three touchdowns in one half? Maybe never. But, we have a lot to improve on and that's what's encouraging."
“You would have thought we lost,” Mora said after Saturday’s win, via Mark Giannotto of the Washington Post. “Everyone expects you to blow everyone out. It’s just not like that.”
Hundley on handling pressure, via VirginiaSports.com:
"It's not that we put outside pressure on ourselves, but understanding that we have high expectations in the first place. So we have to learn how to handle those, and how to really come on the field and play our brand of football. Today, we didn't exactly play our offensive style of football."
McCain on Memphis shutting out Austin Peay in Week 1 and building on it, via GoTigersGo.com.
"It looks good on the scoreboard and for the program. It gives us a lot of confidence. That's what we expect from ourselves and our team. Our coaching staff did a great job. Putting up the shutout was a big deal because we haven't done it in a long time."
Per GoTigersGo.com, it was the program’s first shutout since 2000.
UCLA went across the country in Week 1 and played like a team feeling some stage fright after an offseason of high expectations. The Bruins return home in Week 2, and the nerves are likely to be replaced with a sizable chip on their shoulders.
Memphis is not lacking for talent and could be a dark-horse contender in the American Athletic Conference this season.
Nevertheless, UCLA should be able to impose its will on the Tigers in most phases. The sole question mark is the most concerning for the Bruins, though: Can the offensive line hold up against a quality defensive line?
Hundley may feel some pressure from the Tigers' defensive front, but expect a much more fluid overall effort from UCLA’s offense in Week 2 than it delivered in Week 1. The Bruins erase some of the worries left over from their trip to Virginia and win in a rout.
Prediction: UCLA 51, Memphis 17