UCLA football’s massively important home game against the Nebraska Cornhuskers has Bruins fans on edge.
And although this doesn’t sound like a good thing, it is very much a good thing. Because, not too long ago, UCLA fans thought this game would be considered a loss, and that losing to a top-20 team like the Cornhuskers won’t be a bad thing as long as UCLA’s competitive.
Of course, the tide has now shifted from the UCLA end. Now, with UCLA’s offense proving to be leaps and bounds better than their 2011 counterparts, and with the defensive talent UCLA possesses, all tied together with a coaching staff that appears to know what it’s doing, UCLA fans aren’t exactly chalking up this contest as an “L” anymore.
UCLA can pull this off, and it won’t be a massive upset. But what will the Bruins have to do to win the game?
There are a million, but here are the top five.
1. MAKE. THOSE. KICKS.
Back in Seattle, Jim Mora had a total meltdown in what he called his biggest mistake as a coach. Just watch:
Mora destroyed his kicker, Pro Bowler Olindo Mare, IN PUBLIC, entirely throwing one of his players under the bus and squarely putting the blame on one guy’s shoulders.
Of course, this was the wrong way to approach the issue and Mora did much better the next time around when true freshman Ka’imi Fairbairn was blocked multiple times on extra point attempts and narrowly banked in other, short field goals.
The point is not Mora’s attitude, though. Instead, the importance of the special teams unit getting its act together cannot be understated. Fairbairn was working with Bruin great Kai Forbath (OMGZ SAME INITIALS!!!!!!), and we’re hoping this issue gets resolved. Extra points will be incredibly crucial in a tight game against a squad like Nebraska, which doesn’t scoff at opportunities to score. Although it didn’t matter all that much against Rice, it sure as hell is going to matter against the Cornhuskers.
2. You can’t stop Taylor Martinez, you can only hope to contain him. I think.
Nebraska fans know that QB Taylor Martinez has all-world potential, and his performance would come together once everything was put in place and he figured things out.
For the most part, that hadn’t happened until last week, when Martinez broke out to have the best game of any other QB in the country, throwing for five touchdowns and over 350 yards to go along with a 76 percent completion rate.
Sure, it was Southern Miss, a strong C-USA program that was undergoing massive turnover and the loss of head coach Larry Fedora, but five touchdowns is nothing to scoff at for a QB whose mobility seemed to be his primary strength.
UCLA will have issues against Martinez if they allow him to get comfortable in the pocket. The UCLA secondary was flighty against Rice last season, and that was a weakness UCLA fans saw from a mile away. Martinez could torch the Bruins through the air, just as he torched Southern Miss.
But the key won’t be UCLA’s secondary getting better; that’ll have to happen, sure, but that’s not the main point of attack against Nebraska. Rather, UCLA is going to have to use that aggressive, fast front seven to put pressure on Martinez and make him entirely uncomfortable. Having Anthony Barr — who’s proven to be an explosive option at linebacker, and he could have his cast taken off his hand this week — control Martinez’s options to move will be a nice choice for Lou Spanos, all while having DE Datone Jones, who was incredible against Rice, and (if he starts or plays early) NT Big Ellis McCarthy penetrate Nebraska’s offensive line.
The goal will be for UCLA to make Martinez throw on the run and make mistakes instead of setting his feet and launching. The Bruins have the personnel, mind you, to make Martinez largely ineffective if they’re aggressive enough.
If they let him throw, though? This is going to be a long, long game for UCLA.
Click on to the next page to see what else UCLA needs to do to NeBEATraska (I’m so clever).