What: UCLA @ BYU
Where: LaVell Edwards Stadium, Provo
When: September 13, 2008; 1:30 p.m.
TV: Versus, DirecTV
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Of interest: BYU and UCLA have met nine times since 1983, and the Bruins have won seven of those games. Interestingly, BYU has never beaten UCLA in Provo--only once in Pasadena (1983), and once in Las Vegas (2007). This will be the third time in 370 days that BYU and UCLA will face each other. Two of UCLA's coaches (Norm Chow and Dewayne Walker) coached at BYU. Kevin Craft, UCLA's starting QB, faced BYU while playing for the San Diego State Aztecs in 2006. The Aztecs lost that game 47-17.
About the Bruins: The UCLA Bruins are undergoing a transformation of sorts. Ever the football doormat in Los Angeles, UCLA hired former Bruin Rick Neuheisel as head coach to infuse excitement and a winning tradition into UCLA football. Neuheisel is a former coach at Washington and Colorado, but his coaching history has been marred by recruiting infractions and inappropriate behavior (he was dismissed from Washington for participating in an office March Madness gambling pool).
2007 was a year of great expectations for UCLA. They climbed as high as No. 10 in the polls, but then quickly imploded and ended the season 6-6 after being clipped by BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl.
This year the Bruins have faced some serious injuries. Both of the Bruins' starting quarterbacks have been injured for quite a while, and UCLA has been forced to start junior Kevin Craft. Injuries to their offensive line, starting tight end and running back have also hurt the Bruins.
UCLA had a bye last week after upsetting No. 18 Tennessee in Pasadena. The program as a whole seems to have been reborn, and spirits are as high as ever in the Bruin fan club.
Key Losses: Max Hall and BYU fans alike are rejoicing over the fact that Bruce Davis, UCLA's nasty defensive end, graduated last year. Davis harrassed the Cougars both times they played last year, but he is no longer at UCLA.
The Bruins have also lost starting running back Kahlil Bell and starting tight end Logan Paulsen to injury, and quarterbacks Pat Cowan and Ben Olson are out indefinitely.
Matching Up: This is a classic "strength versus strength" game, as a very good Cougar offense will be matched up with a fast, aggressive and talented UCLA defense. The battle on the line of scrimmage, particularly, will be a dog fight. UCLA's defensive tackles, Brigham Harwell and Brian Price, are two of the best in the country, and if the past is any indicator, UCLA will be bringing a lot of heat to slow down Max Hall.
The scary thing about UCLA's defense is that they have the speed and talent to play man coverage on BYU's receivers, giving the Bruins the ability to rush five, six, sometimes seven guys. If they fill the gaps and take away Harvey Unga and the BYU running game like they did in 2007, this could be a very interesting game.
Adam's Take: I was never nervous for this game. I thought the Bruins had too many holes to fill, too many question marks, no QBs, yadda yadda yadda.
Then when UCLA beat Tennessee I started to get nervous. The defense looked very good against the Volunteers, and flashes of a panicky, throw-happy one-dimensional BYU offense flashed through my mind and I got scared.
I'm hoping, though, that the home field will make a significant difference (and I think it will). Sure, there's the altitude thing, but beyond that I think 1. BYU plays better and more comfortable at home, and 2. This is a young Bruin offense that will face its first road test against a very good BYU team.
I also think BYU's offense is better than UCLA's defense, and if BYU's defense (which worried me after the Washington game) can get their heads on straight, then BYU should win the game comfortably.
My prediction: BYU 27, UCLA 17
Sources: BYU news release, UCLA depth chart