Here are the keys to victory for the Bruins when they take on the Virginia Cavaliers at the Rose Bowl on Saturday.
1. Run the Ball to Protect Rosen
UCLA needs to establish Paul Perkins and the other running backs early and often against the Virginia defense. UVa’s front seven, especially their linebackers, are very green, so hopefully Noel Mazzone and the Bruins will run straight at the Cavaliers until they prove they can stop the ground game.
Running the ball effectively will keep the Bruin’s in manageable 2nd and 3rd downs so Josh Rosen can make the easy plays in his first ever college football game. If the running game can’t get going, then every other facet of the game becomes more difficult and the more the Bruins will have to depend on their least known component: their true freshman quarterback.
2. Play Strong Defense to Protect Rosen
Last year, the Bruins defense won the game and then almost lost it again; they forced 3 defensive touchdowns in the first half, but then gave up 2 long scoring touchdowns once Matt Johns was inserted into the game at quarterback for the Cavs.
The Bruins need a more steady performance in new Defensive Coordinator Tom Bradley’s debut. Virginia comes into the Rose Bowl with an answer at quarterback but a shortage of play-makers; the defense’s main objective should be to keep it that way. The Bruins need to keep the Wahoos from making big plays, and keep Rosen and the offense from having to play from behind.
3. Play Solid Special Teams to Protect Rosen
In 2014, UCLA ranked #120 in the country in average starting field position, #46 in punt return average, #108 in kickoff return, #78 in opponent kick return, and #27 in opponent punt return. If the Bruins want to win big with the unpredictability of a true freshman quarterback, they need to move up the rankings of the Special Teams charts. Consistently creating a few extra yards buffer for the defense or a slightly shorter field for the offense makes the game so much easier. The importance of good field position is magnified as Rosen grows into being a college quarterback.
Ironically, although the field goal unit is the special team category that is most often complained about by Bruin fans, it is the only special teams category that the Bruins ranked in the top 20 (#19) in 2014.