If Jim L. Mora wanted a team that he could try and impose his will on to start the 2012 regular season, he found a perfect target in the Rice Owls. Rice can play and compete, but they usually lose, and in the Conference USA no less (4-8 last season, 2-6 in-conference). They can occasionally upset (like they did Purdue a year ago) when the opponent stumbles and fumbles, but in general they are likely to play the part of the overwhelmed.
UCLA has proven they can play in the heat (they won in Texas and nearly knocked off Houston last year), so humidity shouldn't be a big concern. The talented Bruins defensive line has their issues getting up for games, but it'd be hard to see how they don't overwhelm a Rice side returning one (I repeat, ONE) starting offensive lineman. That should be your game, set, match right there.
Except there's still the UCLA offense to wonder about.
Although the Bruins should be way more talented in the coaching department with Noel Mazzone and the quarterback department with Brett Hundley, the words "new system" and "young QB on the road" can make a UCLA fan feel pretty antsy. The rest of the team must carry Hundley until he's ready to reciprocate the favor.
With Rice's strength lying in their secondary, it might be best for the Bruins to ground-and-pound. Johnathan Franklin should get his fair share of carries against a Rice defense that isn't very sturdy up front, Hundley provides whatever support is needed, and UCLA will cruise to a comfortable victory.
The bigger issue isn't if UCLA wins. If they figure to not be a laughingstock again this year, they will handle their business. This game is more about sending a message to the rest of the Pac-12 that Bruin football is back and ready to intimidate.
UCLA can't afford to look sloppy after years of self-inflicted wounds. They need a statement win that makes them look good, that makes the Bruin faithful feel confident that this team can finally compete for a conference championship. Winning a sloppy affair will give UCLA a feeling of same old, same old.
There aren't many excuses for another sloppy debut, particularly with Nebraska looming a week from now. UCLA needs to get this win in as tidy a manner as possible and get back on the plane.
SB Nation Snippets
AHMB of Bruins Nation previews the Rice offense: "Offensively, John Reagan enters his second season as offensive coordinator and third season at Rice after a fairly productive season on the ground but struggled through the air. His background is in coaching the offensive line and running game, and Rice runs a pistol veer scheme similar to what UCLA ran the past two seasons. In fact, their offensive numbers were quite similar to UCLA's. Rice was 67th in the nation last season in rushing, gaining about 150 yards per game. UCLA was 37th with 178 yards per game. They were nearly identical to UCLA in the passing game, ranking 82nd in the nation with 197 yards per game compared to UCLA's 198 yards per game, which ranked 81st. In total offense, Rice was 91st and UCLA checked in at 72."
AHMB also previews the Rice defense and special teams (this is actually in the coaching section in Part I, but the link to Part II will give you more in-depth position chart info)! "Defensively, Rice was a nightmare. They ranked 111th in total defense, 112th in passing defense, 88th in rushing defense, and 98th in scoring defense. Rice let go of defensive coordinator Chuck Driesbach and replaced him with Chris Thurmond. Thurmond has a history in coaching the secondary, and purports to bring a sense of aggressiveness to the defense. Scheme wise, the Owls run a 4-2-5 which Bailiff ran while serving as Gary Patterson's defensive coordinator at TCU."
Achilles also makes some pregame guesses for UCLA at Bruins Nation.
Again, I really don’t know what to expect, not exactly. Yes, we’re going to see those swing passes designed to get playmakers into space. But what wil be the run-pass ration? Dunno. Which of the receivers will Hundley look for when he needs a crucial first down, which guy will form that extra bit of chemistry with the quarterback like say Danny Farmer had with Cade McNown, that will make the catch we just have to have on fourth and long to keep a drive alive.
I’m actually more excited about the defense. Mora and Jim Spanos have committed to the 3-4 alignment, which I believe is more suited to stopping college spread offenses than the 4-3. They’ve done some very interesting things like moving all 205 pounds of Dalton Hilliard to linebacker (reminiscent of Carnell Lake – and, no, I’m not comparing Hilliard to Lake exactly). Our defensive line is a legitimate two deep at all three spots – again it’s 1998 all over again.
- Under Mazzone's guidance, Arizona State's offense improved from 102nd in Off. F/+ in 2009 to 44th in 2010 and 34th in 2011. The Sun Devils may have faded over the last half of 2011, but that can't really be considered Mazzone's fault.
- Mazzone wants to install a break-neck, no-huddle offense. To state the obvious, Oregon has proven that this style can work in the Pac-12.
- At Arizona State, Mazzone's offense passed the ball more than just about anybody in the West. This may not fit UCLA's personnel particularly well, however, so it will be interesting to see what changes he makes (or doesn't make) in this regard.