UCLA football does not have the hardest schedule (not like last season), but they do not have the easiest. Though I predicted UCLA to blank both the Virginia Cavaliers and the UNLV Rebels in their first two games of the season, things get a lot harder during Week 3 against the BYU Cougars.
Sep 6, 2014; Austin, TX, USA; Brigham Young Cougars head coach Bronco Mendenhall prior to kick off against the Texas Longhorns at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports
Head Coach: Bronco Mendenhall, 10th season
2014 Record: 8-5, Independent
The Cougars were poised for a big season in 2014. Starting their 4th year as an independent, they had good momentum through their first four games, but were stopped cold in Week 5. In that game, quarterback Taysom Hill broke his leg and was lost for the season. BYU also lost that game against Utah State …and the next three.
Though The Cougars bounced back towards the end of the season, the damage was done. They were able to make a bowl game but not make a big splash on the nation scene. It even got a bit worse. BYU lost in overtime, 55-48, to the Memphis Tigers in the Miami Beach Bowl that ended in a brawl.
Needless to say, BYU wants to move past this.
The BYU Offense
The good news for BYU is that they have Hill back. In the nearly four and a half games that he played, he threw for 975 yards, completed 66.7% of his passes, threw 7 touchdowns and had only 3 interceptions. On the ground he ran for 535 yards and added eight touchdowns. Hill was BYU’s go-to guy and if he did not break his leg midway through the season, who knows what kind of damage he could have done.
That is what UCLA has to be aware of when both teams meet on September 19 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. The Cougars are good, but under Mendenhall, they have displayed a level of discipline that had been successful for them through the years. In Mendenhall’s ten years, he has a 90-39 record. That is no accident. He is a good coach that develops players well and has them ready for each and every game.
The best part is how they have experience. Along with Hill, BYU’s running back, Jamaal Williams is a senior that is looking to improve off of his 517 yard and 4 touchdown performance from last season. They also have another solid returning starter, senior wide receiver Mitch Matthews, who led the team with 922 receiving yards last year. With this combination of players, pending health, they should do this season what the could not last season, but there is a catch.
Sep 20, 2014; Provo, UT, USA; Brigham Young Cougars running back Jamaal Williams (21) warms up before facing the Virginia Cavaliers at Lavell Edwards Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
The Cougars lose four offensive linemen, though many of the Cougar big men have a lot of playing time as they shuffled their line around due to several injuries, almost like the UCLA offensive line during the Rick Neuheisel years, except the Cougars have depth to help them out. Still, if the new crew can handle the the pressures of being up front, then that will be significant for the offense.
The BYU Defense
It is a good thing Hill is returning to lead the offense because the Cougar defense has some issues. Depth, injuries and inexperience plague the defensive side of the ball for BYU which is why it is unknown who exactly will be starting for the Cougars in the fall. Several members of the defense were out with injuries in the Spring, so right now it is hard to tell how good they will be, though they do have their upside.
Oct 3, 2014; Provo, UT, USA; Brigham Young Cougars linebacker Bronson Kaufusi (90) enters the field prior to the game against the Utah State Aggies at Lavell Edwards Stadium. Utah State won 35-20. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports
The defensive line, could be the strongest part of Cougar D as they return two out of three starters from last season. The player to look out for is 6’7″, 265 lbs. senior defensive end Bronson Kaufusi, who has moved over from linebacker and is as athletic as he is big.
Though it is yet to be seen how the starting lineups will work out, it looks as if the front seven (which will most likely be in a 3-4 scheme) are the strength of the defense. Still, considering they were 56th in the nation in total defense, there is a lot to improve on in all sectors.
That goes double for the defensive backs that will look to play a lot of sophomores and juniors in the secondary. Last year, BYU was not good at stopping the pass. They allowed 269.7 yards per game which made them the 112th best pass defense team. Here, it seems, is where improvements must be made.
The BYU at UCLA Outlook
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With BYU’s experienced offense and their questionable defense, one could jump to the conclusion that the Bruins could beat the Cougars… but not without a fight. It seems UCLA has trouble with teams from the state of Utah and BYU is no different. The last time BYU and UCLA played, the Cougars embarrassed the Bruins 59-0 in Provo during the 2008 season.
This year seems to be a little bit more in the Bruin’s favor. It is at the Rose Bowl, they return nearly all of their starters from last year and the attitude of the team is different, which all the credit can be given to UCLA head coach Jim Mora.
Though it will be hard to stop the BYU offense, UCLA’s offense looks like they have a better chance of being successful in that part of the game, especially against the Cougar’s depth and youth. BYU has a lot of players recovering from injury, which should be good to go by Week 3, but if it is still an unstable roster for the Cougars, the Bruins could run right through them.
The Way-Too-Early Prediction
This one will go down to the wire, but UCLA should pull this out in the final minutes, winning 35-33.