This week the UCLA Bruins (2-0) travel to the state of Tennessee to take on the Memphis Tigers (1-0). The Bruins are coming off a 33 point victory against Hawaii and will try to bring their winning streak to three versus a Memphis team that hasn’t played a game since the month of August.
Against the Rainbow Warriors, the Bruins were able to run the ball with more success than in recent games. But this was also the second game in a row where the Bruins’ defense couldn’t stop the run.
Will this be a factor in the outcome of this Saturday’s game? I’ll answer that and a few other questions in this week’s edition of “3 Questions”.
1. Can the UCLA defense stop the running attack of Memphis?
In two games this season, UCLA has given up 331.5 yards a game on the ground. Needless to say, that’s a terrible number.
More from Go Joe Bruin
- UCLA Football: It’s time for the nation to meet Dante Moore
- UCLA Football: Where are they ranked heading into week 4
- UCLA Football: Position battle breakdown for Utah showdown
- UCLA vs. Utah: Location, time, prediction, and more
- UCLA Football: Highlights from Chip Kelly’s appearance on the Jim Rome Show
Memphis ran the ball more than 60% of the time in their 37-29 victory over Louisiana-Monroe. Not only did they run the ball often but they had success doing it gaining 319 yards.
To make matters worse for their rush defense, the Bruins may be missing key players such as Boss Tagaloa, Kenny Young, Jaleel Wadood, and Adarius Pickett due to injury. Josh Woods is also out for the first half due to a targeting call during the second half of the game against Hawaii.
These personnel losses combined with UCLA’s already shaky rushing defense could lead to a long day for the Bruins. Players not used to seeing a lot of time on the field will have to step in a play big on Saturday.
2. Will UCLA continue to improve their running game?
In the first game of the season, the Bruins ran for just 63 yards. Against Hawaii, they more than doubled that total rushing for 132 yards. But still, nobody has stepped up to grab the number one running back spot.
Last week six different backs ran the ball. That’s great if Coach Jedd Fisch is trying to show a few different looks but it seems more like he’s looking for someone he can trust running the ball.
Memphis was fairly good stopping the run, only giving up 149 yards in their first game. But it’s important to keep in mind that the Louisiana-Monroe team they played returned just one guy who rushed for more than 300 yards last year, quarterback Garrett Smith.
I believe that UCLA has more talent in the backfield than Memphis’ week one opponents and the Tigers will have a tough time stopping a combo of Bolu Olorunfunmi, Nate Starks, Brandon Stephens, and even Demetric Felton.
One other factor that may help UCLA run the ball this week is their offensive line. The Bruins’ starting O-Line averages about 311 lbs while the five most used defensive linemen on Memphis average 261 lbs. That difference in weight should help the Bruins move the line and give their backs some room to run.
We must remember when it comes to UCLA rushing, any improvement is a huge improvement.
3. How will the Bruins deal with their injuries on defense?
Last week the Bruins’ defense was decimated by injuries. As mentioned above players such as Tagaloa, Wadood, Pickett, and more are questionable for Saturday’s game. This will mean younger and less experienced players will need to step up. Redshirt freshman Breland Brandt and redshirt sophomore Chigozie Nnoruka could see more time on the field and play an important role. The more experienced Octavius Spencer could also see a bigger role in the secondary with the injury to Wadood.
The problem now is if anyone else gets hurt, Mora will have to throw true freshmen and others with little to no experience on the field. If that happens, we may see some blown coverages and easy touchdowns for the Tigers.