With the 2015 Valero Alamo Bowl a mere two days away, Jim Mora and the UCLA football team have a few questions to answer with regards to the game.
Kansas State is a quality foe in every sense of the term. The Wildcats are buoyed by fundamentals, discipline and energy. Unquestionably, head coach Bill Snyder will have his team ready to compete. It will be up to UCLA to match the expected intensity and execution.
This piece will take a look at four burning questions for the Bruins. Three of those questions will directly correlate with the contest itself, while a fourth delves into the bigger-picture outlook.
Can UCLA contain Tyler Lockett in all phases?
There's no question as to which player Kansas State relies upon offensively.
The diminutive receiver epitomizes explosiveness and big-play ability. Lockett leads the Wildcats in receptions (93), receiving yards (1,351) and touchdowns (9).
Noted as the 2014 Big 12 Football Scholar-Athlete of the year, he was also named as the conference Special Teams Player of the Year. Lockett is deadly on both punt and kick returns. He's blessed with terrific vision to go along with superlative speed and quickness.
Simply put, how will UCLA defend him? Conventional wisdom would suggest having First-Team All Pac-12 selection Ishmael Adams start out on him. However, it wouldn't be a shock to see Fabian Moreau on him—or even Myles Jack in certain situations.
Lockett will be used in a myriad of ways—including on quick throws to the perimeter. UCLA has to limit the yards after catch and tackle well in space. If Lockett is evading defenders and picking up yards in chunks, it could be a long day.
From a return standpoint, the coverage team has to clamp down on both punt and kickoff returns. Lockett is a threat to take the ball to the house every time he touches it.
Will Jake Waters have a big game?
Waters is perhaps an amalgam of multiple quarterbacks UCLA has faced throughout the year. In all honesty, perhaps an apt comparison would be as a smaller, stouter version of Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan.
He truly is the prototypical Snyder signal-caller. Waters plays with a lot of moxie and poise and is a very efficient quarterback. He doesn't turn the ball over often—as evidenced to his ratio of 20 touchdowns to only six interceptions on the season.
Waters is also an effective runner—especially on quarterback-designed runs between the tackles. On the season, the KSU quarterback is second on the team with 471 yards rushing and eight rushing touchdowns.
UCLA has to play assignment-perfect football. This means exercising great gap integrity up front and not allowing Waters to pick up yardage with his legs. Potentially more than in any contest this year, UCLA has to be disciplined against this somewhat-unconventional offense.
Will UCLA open up the playbook?
In what is likely Brett Hundley's last game as UCLA's quarterback, it will be fascinating to see whether or not the Bruins will look to exploit their athletic advantage in this contest.
Noel Mazzone's offensive scheme is very much in the mold of running the football coupled with a dink-and-dunk style of throwing the football. Rarely has UCLA looked to attack the field vertically. Much of the passing attempts are of the horizontal variety.
Against a stingy Kansas State defense allowing only 21.8 points per game, UCLA needs to try and loosen up the opponent by attacking down the field. This means integrating Mossi Johnson to a great extent—and also utilizing speedster Kenny Walker.
Additionally, with more than a month to prepare for the game, it would behoove the Bruins to pull out some foreign formation and looks—not including the potential appearance of trick plays.
Can UCLA win 10 games?
We are currently in the midst of the most successful period of UCLA football ever. Mora has won more games in his first three years than any other UCLA coach has within the same time frame.
It's the first time UCLA has won at least nine games in three straight seasons. A victory in the bowl game would equal back-to-back seasons with 10 wins.
Additionally, a win versus a highly respectable opponent from a very good conference would only help to validate UCLA's rise as a program.