This Saturday, in ESPN College Gameday’s game of the week, twelfth ranked UCLA heads to Eugene for the most anticipated game of the Bruins’ season. With Oregon opening up as 23.5 point favorites, running an offense rivaled only by Baylor – a team that dominated the young UCLA squad of last year – as the best in the nation, there isn’t much to be said for the Bruins chances. That, however, doesn’t count them down and out.
Oregon has a play style that makes you play like them. If winning is the goal, it’ll be done their way or no way. Luckily for UCLA, though, they have the potential to play at an offensive caliber similar to the Ducks. Nonetheless, potential is not success – yet.
Searching for potential in a dictionary, one would see this:
adjective [ attrib. ]
having or showing the capacity to become or develop into something in the future
And that is exactly what the Bruins have in grasp. They regularly show the “capacity to become or develop into” a high powered offense, but by starting two freshman side by side on an already weak offensive line and allowing a FBS leading upwards of 60 sacks since the start of last season, fans can only hope for a coming out party. A party with established stars and unheard of role-players invited alike.
Let’s say, for sake of this article and the fact that it could actually happen, there is quite the party on the field. What will it have to look like for UCLA, and what will their established playmakers have to do to keep them in the game?
Anthony Barr, a clean slate defender with the most direct impact on Saturday – at least off the ball – is key. The way to beat Oregon is simple in theory but darn near impossible in reality. For a darn near impossibly good linebacker like Barr, though, it is only an arms-length away. Three letters: TFL (Tackles For Loss). Anthony Barr will have to help the Bruins push the Ducks into third and long scenarios, forcing punts and, ultimately, lessening the tiring time spent on field by the defense of UCLA and giving ample time for the Bruins to piece together drives – which leads into the second of three necessities.
No matter how many times Anthony Barr and his defense can give the Bruins offense a chance, it remains curious how well the offensive line will hold up. A player with the stature of Brett Hundley is great, but what good is a QB at the bottom of a pile? If the line can step up, open lanes, and protect Hundley, the Bruins are gonna have a shot at convulsing the BCS picture. Once the spikes of the cleat hit the turf or grass, it’s no excuses. The players need to no longer be freshman or veterans, rather be lineman or playmakers.
Last, but certainly not least, is probably tiring to hear at this point. The Bruins need more than anything to clean up their game. Penalties are the death of a team, and UCLA’s offense simply wont convert on third and long in Eugene. Aggressive penalties like late hits, targeting, face masks, and roughing the QB are less detrimental as it shows an intensity factor of the teams’ mindset. Unacceptable, by contrast, are holds, false starts, offsides, and unsportsmanlike conduct flags. The Bruins have experienced both types of penalties this season, and they are going to need rule out the latter if they want to compete.
Regardless of all that, it’ll be a great game that you can see on ESPN at 4:30. Be sure to tune in.