Tuesday, July 03, 2007

UCLA Preview

As previously noted we are on vacation in the Northwest this week, and we are having a great time. Note to Hair, we went right past your childhood home on the train. The train from Seattle to Portland is a great way to go, very relaxing.

Now let's get on to reviewing UCLA, and Nestor, if you are out there please chime in since you are the expert on the Bruins.

The middle of this conference is so balanced that you could put most of the teams three through eight in just about any order. Experts are giving a slight edge to UCLA because of a defense that held two of the nation's best offenses (USC and Notre Dame) in check last year. The Bruin's also bring back 20 returning starters from last years team. Experience means quite a bit in this conference, and UCLA will have some horses.

The complete transformation of UCLA's defense in one year was suprising, even though UW's Stanback ate up the Bruin's in 2006. What once was soft became very sound by the end of the year. The next-to-worst run defense in the country (233 yards per game, 5.4 yards per carry in 2005), became the nation's ninth-best unit in 2006 (91.1, 2.8). Where teams hung 34.2 points per game on the 2005 Bruins, they managed just 19.9 in 2006. Bruce Davis, and fellow end Justin Hickman split 25 sacks evenly between them, Davis returns for 2007 while Hickman exits to the NFL.

LB Christian Taylor had 83 tackles and 13 1/2 tackles for losses. Keep an eye on LB Shawn Oatis who had a good Spring. Nine of the Bruin's returning starters on defense are seniors by the way.

While UCLA is going to have one of the better defense in the conference the major questions are on the offensive side of the ball. The Bruin's didn't get it rolling this Spring, in fact they seemed to take a step back after another round of position coach changes.

At QB Ben Olson started the first five games of the 2006 season before spraining his knee. Patrick Cowan took over from there and played better as the season progressed. Their competition for the starting job could be the most intriguing position battles in the conference. My money is on Ben, but I think both will play in 2007.

Tailback Chris Markey led UCLA in rushing (1,107 yards) and receiving (35 receptions) in 2006, and he returns for 2007. Derrick Williams, slated as his backup, missed the majority of Spring workouts with a concussion. His injury left the door open for Kahlil Bell, Chane Moline and Ryan Carew to gain experience. 13 of 14 players listed on the offensive line depth chart from last season are also returning, so the Bruin's should expect improvement opening up holes.

WR Brandon Breazell suffered a partially torn ligament that left one of the Bruins' top receiving threats on the sidelines during most of the spring. WR Joe Cowan, who had 35 receptions a year ago, was slowed with a strained hamstring. 6'4 Dominique Johnson, and Terrence Austin will be counted on to pick up the slack. The Bruins will have a slightly different look with new offensive coordinator Jay Norvell looking to throw deep more often than UCLA did in the recent past which has been problem in the past. Most think Dorrell has been way too conservative.

The Bruins are trying to find a replacement for All-American PK Justin Medlock. Kai Forbath and Jimmy Rotstein didn't show a lot in scrimmages this Spring.

The Consensus on UCLA

The consensus on UCLA is they will be in the upper division of the conference and challenge USC, and California for the title. That is based on defense that has the ability to be dominating in 2007. On the offensive side of the ball the Bruin's may not be able to score enough points to win consistently in 2007. To win in the Pac Ten you need to score between 27-30 points per game. Teams will score on you not matter how tough your defense is in the Wild West. So for the Bruin's to go anywhere meaningful over the holidays they need to jell on offense. Reviews this spring were spotty, so they have a lot to prove this Fall.

Washington of course is very similar. With a RS QB coming in we have a lot to prove also. UCLA is going to be the favorite in this one, but I would expect a game that is pretty similar to the last two years. I have to give the edge to the Bruin's due to the returning experience they have coupled with the edge of playing at home in the Rose Bowl. Dorrell however has struggled getting his offense going, and Willingham's staff has outcoached the Bruin's two years in a row. The x's, and o's will once again be the deciding factor in this one.

This is a winnable game for the Huskies, but just as winnable for the Bruin's. At this point without seeing Locker play a game it is hard to figure out just how smooth we are going to be by the time the fourth game of the season roll's around. You would hope after warming up against Syracuse, Boise State, and Ohio State that Locker would be pretty seasoned at this point.

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