The Hyundai Sun Bowl is almost upon us! Virginia Tech will face the UCLA Bruins in El Paso, TX, 11 a.m. PT, New Year’s Eve. It is time. Only a bunch of Hokies stand in the Bruin’s way for a tenth win to cap off a tough, but successful season under second year head coach, Jim Mora.
Because it is what we do, here are five keys to victory for the Bruins:
The Running Game
All the running backs are healthy and ready to make a statement for the UCLA ground game. Malcolm Jones is 100% and ready to lead the Bruins to victory. With the help of Paul Perkins and Malcolm Jones, the running game has a lot of fire power. They even have a guy for short yardage situations, have you heard of Myles Jack? Of course you have.
Let us not forget the slap-dash offensive line that had two true freshmen handling starting duties. Caleb Benenoch and Alex Redmond have been able to solidify an injury-plagued line lead by center, Jake Brendel, and All-Pac-12 First Team lineman, Xavier Su’a-Filo. For as often as this line has been shuffled around, they have held it together for the Bruin’s offensive success. Oh yeah, there is also the team’s rushing leader, QB Brett Hundley. Apparently he is good.
Stop Logan Thomas
According to the LA Times, the UCLA defense is going to have to try to figure out, not just how to stop the 6’8”, 254lbs. Virginia Tech QB, but how to bring him down.
We don’t need one guy tackling him, we need many guys tackling him.” –UCLA Defensive Coordinator Lou Spanos
Thomas knows his team and is very balanced in selecting his targets, which he is going to need, especially since the Hokies will be without starting running back, Trey Edmunds. If the Bruins get into the backfield and disrupt his game, it is all over for Va Tech.
The Special Teams: Kickoff Returns
Steven Manfro is healthy. Ishmael Adams is healthy. These two deadly (and we mean DEADLY) kick returners for UCLA will be looking to pick-up where they left off. Manfro averages 24.8 yards per return and even had a season long 70-yard return against New Mexico State. Adams only did kickoff returns the last two games, and did they ever count. In 8 returns, he averaged 39.4 yards per return with a long of 69 yards. If Virgina Tech cannot control these two, then UCLA will get great starting field position all game long.
Breaking The Hokie D-Line
This can be linked to the first key of the game, The Running Game. Will UCLA be able to break through this tough Hokie D-Line? They have some great defensive players that can wreck havoc all over the UCLA. Thet have two guys in the middle that are All-ACC defensive tackles, Derrick Hopkins and Luther Maddy. Dangerous? Indeed, as a team, they get over 3 sacks per game.
If UCLA’s O-line can at least contain the Hokies and give Hundley enough time to operate, they should do fine. If not, Jack it up!
Every Individual Playing As A Team
We all know about the likes of Hundley, Jack and Anthony Barr. It is no doubt, head coach Jim Mora has athletes to go with his game, but the Bruins need to stick to their team plan. Against Arizona State, the Bruins went away for their game plan and overused Myles Jack at running back and not at all at linebacker. That ruined everything.
Against USC, UCLA showed how dominant they can be when they stick together and work as a team. Hundley needs his line, backs and receivers to play as a total unit. Barr and Jack are fantastic linebackers, but they do well when they are playing as a group with Jordan Zumwalt. Combined with the D-Line, UCLA can utilize the talented firepower from Cassius Marsh, Ellis McCarthy and Eddie Vanderdoes.
Let’s get ready to rumble in the Sun Bowl!