After a gritty win against BYU last week, No. 24 Texas is off to the Rose Bowl to face UCLA. The Bruins are all too familiar with the Longhorns, as last year, they handed Texas its first home loss in three years. The 34-12 beating was the start of an unprecedented descent for Mack Brown's program.
Back then, the Longhorns, who were resting on a 3-0 start to the season, were caught off guard by a team that had suffered two big losses by that time. However, this time around, Texas will be more cautious as they head to Pasadena to face a team that initiated their decline at a venue where their last game ended in disappointment.
The Bruins have always proven to be difficult opponents for the 'Horns. Texas has been beaten by an unranked UCLA team two out of three times. On the plus side, the only time Texas has overcome an unranked Bruins squad was when they played them in their own backyard way back in 1971.
While Texas fans will be hoping for history to repeat itself, they'll also be hoping for a team that appears to be on the rise to get past another unpredictable opponent.
Here's a preview of how these two teams match up.
Earlier in the week, Mack Brown made it official by announcing that Garrett Gilbert's demoted to No. 3 in the depth chart. He will be continuing with the two-quarterback system that helped Texas rally a huge comeback against BYU. Looks like Bryan Harsin and Major Applewhite will have to make the Case McCoy-Davis Ash combo work successfully week after week. Well, at least this week!
For now, this appears to be a much better option than having just Gilbert, McCoy or Ash up front. This remains an area of concern until the Longhorns decide upon a single play-caller.
Even UCLA has somewhat of a two-quarterback system. Kevin Price, who torched Texas' defense last year with both his running and passing game, is back this season after a knee surgery. He will be sharing the play-calling responsibilities with Richard Brehaut, who's also having a much better year than last.
Apart from the obvious similarity in both teams' situations, this would still be an interesting battle to watch.
While Cody Johnson was the one who put the points on the board against BYU, it was Malcolm Brown who was truly exceptional in that game. In a game where the passing game was virtually muted by exceptional defense, the true freshman managed to pile on 68 hard-fought yards in 14 carries.
Besides, given the quarterback/s situation, the Longhorns running game might just have to carry them home again.
UCLA also has a better ground attack than a passing game. Senior Derrick Coleman was the star against San Jose State last week as he rushed for 135 yards and a touchdown. The Bruins also have the option of Johnathan Franklin, who was one of the mainstays on offense when they overcame the 'Horns in 2010.
True freshman Jaxon Shipley is surely living up to his family name. Of course, he has a long way to go before he can be measured against his brother. For now, he's giving the grounded Longhorns an option to launch aerial strikes every once in a while.
Meanwhile, McCoy/Ash also has the option of Marquise Goodwin, now that he's back in a burnt orange jersey. But despite the depth at this position, the running game will likely dominate proceedings.
For UCLA, senior Nelson Rosario's been Brehaut's preferred long-range target, but he's yet to come through for the Bruins in short-yardage situations. However, Shaquelle Evans has been the key for UCLA in this area since he bagged the starting job after edging out Randall Carroll.
Over the first two weeks, the Longhorns have shown a marked improvement in this area. Amid last week's QB shuffle, David Snow and gang ensured everything worked fluidly in the front. In a shaky offense, this is one area where the 'Horns have less and less to worry about with every passing week.
On the other hand, UCLA offensive line coach Bob Palcic hasn't been able to put together a reliable unit so far, thanks to several injuries in the ranks. However, the only good news is that senior Jeff Baca was back in action against San Jose State after recovering from an ankle injury he sustained in the spring.
Ashton Dorsey and Kheeston Randall had a great game last week against the Cougars as they held their ground attack to a bare minimum. Their efforts were enough to make up for a lackluster effort by the defensive ends. However, it's high time Jackson Jeffcoat steps up to the plate and also avoids making the kind of mistakes he's made so far.
For the Bruins, defensive tackle holds the Cassius Marsh is the key. Many expect the much leaner sophomore to have a breakout season this year. Meanwhile, defensive end Datone Jones is another player to watch out for. The junior defensive end followed up a good performance against Houston with an exceptional showing last week against San Jose State.
Junior safety Kenny Vaccaro made a big statement with his exceptional coverage against BYU receivers. Even Quandre Diggs and Adrian Phillips did their bit to stop the Cougars wily offense, and they both managed to intercept a Jake Heaps pass. Texas is definitely headed in the right direction when it comes to its young secondary.
After Case Keenum took apart the Bruins secondary in Week 1, they bounced back against San Jose State affecting two key interceptions. Cornerbacks Aaron Hestor and Sheldon Price will again be the key in determining whether or not the 'Horns have a solid passing game.
"So far so good," is all that can be said about this unit. They were clearly up to the challenge against BYU, and as a group, looked much more proactive than they did against Rice.
It would be only fair to say that the Texas defense depends on Keenan Robinson, Emmanuel Acho and Jordan Hicks. If they have an off day, everything else will fall apart. But based on what we've seen so far, that seems highly unlikely.
Meanwhile, UCLA linebacker Patrick Larimore pointed out one of the main shortcomings in this area—a lack of communication. This led to Houston walking all over the Bruins two weeks ago. Hopefully, with the return of senior Glenn Love after suffering from a shoulder injury, communication will no longer be a problem for this unit.