Predicting the Season - UCLA Bruins

UCLA had a rough go of it last year, compiling a 4-8 record under first year head coach Rick Neuheisel. Karl Dorrell left the cupboard bare when he was unceremoniously fired but the Bruins have put together very good back-to-back recruiting classes that should start to contribute more to the games starting this season. In 2008, Oregon had just come off a devastating 44-10 loss at USC in welcoming the UCLA Bruins into Autzen Stadium. Under the lights, the home crowd saw Jeremiah Masoli complete 5 passes out of 19 attempts for a whopping 42 yards. One of those passes was a diving score by Chris Harper in the second quarter. The rushing game ruled the day with the Ducks rumbling for 323 yards on the ground, including a 69-yard touchdown scamper by LeGarrette Blount to seal the win for Oregon.

This year, Oregon travels to Los Angeles to face off against the UCLA Bruins in the Rose Bowl. Oregon will be coming off a 4-game homestand while UCLA will have already had a bye and a trip to a tough Stanford team on the road. The Bruins will be better in 2009 but will they have any advantage against Oregon when the teams meet in October? Let's run the numbers.

Oregon Offense vs. UCLA Defense

The Bruin Defense is definitely the brightest spot for the entire team and you don't have to look farther than 6-2, 295-pound junior defensive tackle Brian Price. He was first team Pac-10 last year and will most likely go out early to the NFL. His 14 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks were huge for an interior lineman and will cause lots of problems for opposing teams in both the running and passing games.

Kyle Bosworth will be coming back after a sprained knee sidelined him for the 2008 season and should give UCLA depth at the linebacker position. With 4 guys having starter experience, the combination of a tough defensive line and a solid linebacking core give the Bruins the potential to have an extremely stingy front 7.

If there is one concern, it would be speed around the edge and this is where Oregon should be able to take advantage, especially if LaMichael James breaks out in the first couple of games. During the middle of the season last year, there was a 4 game stretch where UCLA gave up 200 yards on the ground on average to the teams they faced. If Oregon can work sideline to sideline and get those linebackers and defensive lineman working horizontally, the speed of the Duck attack should loosen the middle up for big gains.

In the secondary, CB Michael Norris and S Brett Lockett are both gone from a unit that was ranked 8th in the nation against the pass and got better as the season wore on. Alterraun Verner will be back and locking down everyone on his side of the field. On the other side though, redshirt freshman Aaron Hester will see a lot of passes his way as teams look to go away from Verner's side. The secondary, as a whole, is young. The two-deep coming out of spring has one senior, four sophmores and three freshman. This year will be filled with growing pains as those young guys adjust.

When UCLA faced Oregon last year, Jeremiah Masoli had barely gotten his feet wet after taking over for Justin Roper. The passing game hadn't developed but the running game did a great job of helping the team win. This year should be a different story as Masoli comes in as a major passing threat. Against some young corners and linebackers that don't have blazing speed, Oregon should find a lot of success in the wide receiver screens and getting the ball to the outside with one on one chances against the secondary. With Verner on Jemere Holland, that should leave Jeff Maehl and DJ Davis with plenty of opportunities.

Oregon Defense vs. UCLA Offense

The biggest news concerning the UCLA Offense is that Kevin "Interception Machine" Craft is out as quarterback having been replaced by 6-2, 226-pound redshirt freshman Kevin Prince. A highly touted recruit, Prince will get a trial by fire during the upcoming season and unless he is the second coming of Tim Tebow, look for a lot of freshman mistakes as he learns the ropes. You would think that Kevin Craft would be the backup right? Richard Brehaut had a great spring and clearly outplayed Craft but still has a redshirt year that I'm sure the Bruins would love to keep intact.

On the offensive line, UCLA just has problems plain and simple. After the injury bug hit them hard last year, the best thing you can say is that at least they have experience. With 8 different lineman earning at least 2 starts, they will excel at lineman by committee. After a tough year last year, spring didn't look any better as bad snaps, missed blocking assignments, and issues with fundamentals continued to plague the line. Oregon, even with rebuilding their defensive line in the off-season, will have a clear advantage in the trenches. With a leaky offensive line combined with a young and inexperienced quarterback, it might be a long day for whomever is back there for the Bruins.

Running backs in Christian Ramirez, Derrick Coleman, and Johnathan Franklin all come in with a combined 72 carries among them. UCLA will probably employ a "Thunder and Lightening" attack, with 6-2, 220-pound Ramirez as the thunder and Franklin as the lightening. With how athletic the Oregon front 7 appears in the spring, look for the Ducks to neutralize the running attack and force Prince to beat them through the air.

Prince will have some options to throw to as the three top receivers for the Bruins come back for another round. Taylor Embree, Terrence Austin and Ryan Mota all come back and should give Prince opportunities in space. With a young quarterback and the lack of a truly dynamic receiver, the Bruins might have some difficulties stretching the field. With the lack of a deep threat, look for the strong Oregon secondary and linebacking units to aggressively fly to the ball, hoping to disrupt the passing and running attacks.

Special Teams

Kai Forbath is dynamite in the place kicking game, including 6-for-6 from beyond 50 yards. He just might be the biggest offensive weapon the Bruins have next year. If the defense can keep it close, Forbath might be just the guy to pull out a couple of wins for the team. UCLA will be replacing their all Pac-10 first team punter Aaron Perez and Jeff Locke looks to be getting the nod. He was the nation's premiere punter coming out of high school in 2008. Given how the offense looks, Locke should get plenty of opportunities for playing time.

Oregon should have an advantage in kick returns as the coverage teams for the Bruins were miserable nationally last year in both kick (100th) and punt coverage(107th).

Conclusion

I like Oregon's chances in this game. UCLA may have improved from last year but Oregon will be greatly improved from when the Bruins and Ducks last met. In all skill positions, Oregon is better than it was last year for this matchup and with UCLA having some inexperience in the secondary, look for Oregon to exploit the holes in the defense in the running and passing games. UCLA's season offensively will all depend on how Kevin Prince adjusts to being the man with the plan. If he struggles out of the gate, Oregon will have a field day. If Prince can get his legs under him before the Oregon game, the passing attack will allow the Bruins to stay in it, especially if their defense can get some key turnovers.

The kicking and punting game should factor into this game as both teams have some challenges. We could see a 14 point swing from special teams alone. That being said, Oregon should be able to handle the Bruins at the Rose Bowl.

Oregon 30 – UCLA 13

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