If you’ve forgotten, UCLA football is set to take on Baylor at the Holiday Bowl at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, CA. The goal is a ten-win season and a win over a Baylor program that has been awakened after decades upon decades of dormancy.
(Seriously, I didn’t even know Baylor played football until Robert Griffin III was drafted last year.)
The biggest test for these Bruins, by far, will be Baylor’s offense, one that leads the nation in total offense per game, is fifth in the nation in plays per game, and ranks third in the nation in passing yards per contest.
Of course, these Bears are running a well-executed spread offense, not unlike UCLA’s offense. Much of the passing yards Baylor accumulates per game are yards after the catch. Baylor’s offense runs much faster than UCLA’s offense does, and it’s more attached with bubble screens and getting the ball out of the pocket within two seconds.
Baylor also lines its receivers outside the numbers on the field, effectively stretching opposing defenses as thin as they can while getting their playmakers in open space. In essence, Baylor relies on its athletes on the outside to make the necessary jukester moves to get out of trouble and move chains.
UCLA fans have whined and moaned about UCLA’s secondary all season, and though Sheldon Price and Aaron Hester have screwed up massively in 2012, there’s a reason UCLA has only lost to pro-style, slow-down offenses all season (Oregon State, Cal, Stanford). There’s a reason Arizona managed to gather 10 points on November 3, and why UCLA was able to make key stops down the stretch against Arizona State (both teams run uptempo spread offenses).
Because while that UCLA secondary gets beat by superior athletes, while they frustrate us with needless pass interference calls, they still tackle well. If there’s something these corners do well, it’s prevent yards after the catch. Sure, they might get burned for your traditional deep ball, but it’s rare that UCLA allows a five-yard pass to turn into a 50-yard touchdown run.
While, on the surface, it seems imperative for UCLA to attack Baylor quarterback Nick Florence early and often, it will be the corners who will be tested in a manner that favors their strengths rather than their weaknesses. For Baylor to beat UCLA’s defense, they need to build their offense around getting behind the Bruins’ secondary, something Baylor doesn’t try to do often.
(They do try it, though, and Terrance Williams, an All-American Baylor wide-out, has been notorious for running nearly 50 yards in four seconds it seems, allowing Florence to get the ball out as quickly as planned.)
UCLA’s secondary can tackle those Baylor playmakers though, which renders that offense one-dimensional, seemingly reliant on the run game (which, actually, is reliant on those Baylor wide-outs beating UCLA’s defensive backs one-on-one).
Of course, that could change if Baylor decides to attack the Bruins downfield. If they can figure out how to do so without their offensive line being destroyed by UCLA’s aggressive front-seven, the Bruins may have to rely on scoring relentlessly, which isn’t an entirely sustainable strategy.