Know Your Opponent: UCLA’s Defense vs Nebraska’s Offense


This is Part 3 of 3 of a Know Your Opponent Preview of the Foster Farms Bowl.

Part 1 was a history of the match-up, Part 2 was the UCLA Offense vs the Nebraska Defense and Part 3 is the UCLA Defense vs the Nebraska Offense and a prediction.

The UCLA defense seemed to be getting its mojo back to end 2015 after a season ravaged by injuries. That is until the 4th quarter against USC when they gave up 106 yards rushing en route to a 40-21 loss. The Bruin defenders need to bounce back in a big way in the Foster Farms Bowl Saturday, so they can wash the taste of the Crosstown Beatdown out of their mouths for the winter.

With that in mind, the Nebraska offense presents a number of challenges for UCLA. The Huskers average 32.5 points per game (same as the Bruins) and have been held under 28 points only three times this year. UCLA will need to have a big effort to stop a fairly balanced Nebraska offense that has put up numbers on par with UCLA this season (275 yards passing per game, 168 yards yards rushing per game, 6.08 yards per play, 44% on 3rd down).

Armstrong threw 1 pick against Northwestern, 2 against Michigan State, 3 against Rutgers and 4 against Iowa… that means the Bruins get 5 INTs on Saturday, right? Mandatory Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Tommy Armstrong Jr is a dual threat style quarterback that has had to adjust to a new offense under 1st year coach Mike Riley. He has thrown for at 290 yards or more in six games this year, and he has run for 38 yards in six games as well, but he has also had problems turning the ball over.

He has thrown 10 interceptions in the last four games he has played in. He is also looking to bounce back against a horrible game against Iowa in which he threw 4 interceptions.

Nebraska has spread the ball around to multiple receivers this year, but over the last couple of games the ball has found its way in to the hands of Jordan Westerkamp (23 catches and 3 TDs in the last four games) and tight end Cethan Carter (8 catches, 1 TD in the last two games). The Huskers have five receivers and 1 running back with at least 23 receptions this year. Armstrong will certainly challenge the Pac-12’s top pass defense, but given the Bruins weakness against run this year, expect Armstrong to take plenty of opportunities on the ground on Saturday.

In addition to Armstrong’s legs, Nebraska has had success on the ground with both Terrell Newby (743 yards, 5.2 yards per rush, 5 TDs) and Imani Cross (389 yards, 4.05 yards per rush, 5 TDs). Newby carried the load early in the season, but over the last three games Cross has had at least 18 carries. Newby has still been involved in the passing game with seven receptions over the last two games.

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… the Bruins have been the more consistent team throughout the season, and have been better at protecting the ball … expect the Bruins to finally bring home a win in the the Foster Farms Bowl…

Looking through the statistics, Nebraska and UCLA put up similar numbers in more categories than not. Motivation for the game is a question mark as well with both teams falling short of their season expectations. After seeing the Bruin defense give up big days on the ground multiple times this season (6 games of 190+ rushing yards allowed), it seems obvious that Nebraska will try to exploit the Bruins run defense.

On the flip side, Josh Rosen has likely been licking his chops to get on the field against the Husker pass defense since this patch-up was announced. With the similarities in stats and the opposing strengths and weaknesses, it follows that the team that protects the ball and avoids giving up big plays should have the advantage.

Next: Top 10 UCLA Quarterbacks

In the end, the Bruins have been the (slightly) more consistent team throughout the season, and they have been much better at protecting the ball (the 3rd quarter against Troy excluded) for most of the season. With that in mind, expect the Bruins to finally bring home a win in the the Foster Farms Bowl.

UCLA 34 Nebraska 23