This weekend's UCLA-Texas match up has lost some of the luster that makes neutral site games so fun to watch. The Bruins are coming off two narrow victories over Virginia and Memphis, teams they should've handled after a half, and Texas heads down the road to Arlington after a 41-7 drubbing from BYU last week. Yes, it's two power five teams and a huge NFL stadium, and I will be definitely watching, but the national implications have dialed down with both teams start to 2014. UCLA still needs a convincing win this year, can they get it against a depleted Longhorns squad this Saturday?
What's wrong with UCLA? Anything?
Technically, not a lot has gone wrong twice. The offense played jetlagged against what is likely a pretty strong UVA defense, gaining just 358 total yards (4.9 per play) and scoring seven offensive points. In that game, UCLA failed up front, struggling to get a push in the run game (especially in the first half) and letting Cavalier defenders establish residence in the backfield; UVA had 11 tackles for loss, which is about twice what you should feel comfortable allowing.
Against a solid Memphis defense, however, UCLA gained 540 yards (6.4 per play), moved the chains 30 times, and scored 42 points.
Defensively, it has been the same story. Virginia averaged just 4.6 yards per play, and UCLA took advantage of an overwhelmed Greyson Lambert, picking him off twice and returning both interceptions for touchdowns (they also scooped up a fumble and took it back for six points). They allowed UVA running backs just 103 yards in 34 carries, as well. Virginia eventually tacked together 20 points, but the defense certainly got a passing grade.
Then, against a Memphis offense that ranked 107th in Off. F/+ last season, UCLA allowed 469 yards (5.8 per play) and 28 points (plus seven more on a pick six).
Can UCLA keep Malcom Brown and the 'Horns out of the backfield?
The offensive-line-as-sieve theme could be quite problematic against the Longhorns. Texas has plenty -- plenty -- of its own defensive issues, but the 'Horns have been able to invade the backfield. They've made 15 TFLs in two games, 18th in the country, and tackle Malcom Brown is one of only 19 FBS players with at least four TFLs through two games.
UCLA ranked 26th in Adj. Line Yards last year but 109th in Adj. Sack Rate, and that's not all on the line. Hundley's strengths are obvious, but if Texas' secondary holds up and allows the defensive line time to get a push, UCLA could spend a decent amount of time going backwards on Saturday.
What does Tyrone Swoopes have to offer?
In the first two starts of Swoopes' career, Texas has averaged 3.7 yards per play and scored a total of 14 points. He will make his third start on Saturday in support of David Ash, who is again suffering through perpetual, unfortunate concussion issues.
UCLA did swallow up Virginia's short passing game, and Memphis found a good portion of its success while operating from a no-huddle approach Texas is unlikely to employ. What will Watson and Wickline come up with in their offensive gameplan? Two starts in, I'm not actually sure what Swoopes does well yet. The staff might not, either.
What to Watch - UCLA: The offensive line goes up against another good defensive line spearheaded by Malcom Brown. Despite the end result on the scoreboard, Texas held BYU to just under five yards and play and sacked Taysom Hill six times last week. And who do we know that has had the pocket collapse on him too many times this year? Brett Hundley, of course. He's been sacked nine times this year, and if we don't see change out of the front group this Saturday, we'll see more of the same from the Texas defense.
The Bruins front seven will need to create more pressure on Swoopes this week against an offensive line that fielded a combined four starts against BYU. The rush defense has been good in limiting both UVA and Memphis in big plays this year, but Johnathan Gray will be a big test in how well it'll hold up against a back who can get to the outside very quickly. If UCLA limits Gray and pressures Swoopes early, they can set the tone for the night and get past the Longhorns at Jerry World.
What to Watch - Texas: The loss of David Ash hurt the Texas offense, and we haven't seen what Tyrone Swoopes is fully capable of yet after one game. After mustering just seven points against BYU, we don't have an idea of how good this offense is right now. Johnathan Gray is still the #1 number guy on the ground, but can he have success against the Bruins front seven will determine how Texas opens against UCLA.
Malcolm Brown and the UT rush has accumulated 10.0 sacks and 15.0 TFL through the first two games, and the Bruins offensive may be prime for beefing up those numbers this weekend. If Texas can get into the backfield early and push UCLA back further and further, we may see a similar offense outing that we saw from UCLA against Virginia.
Prediction: UCLA 40, Texas 31