Baylor faces a very battle-tested UCLA team in the Holiday Bowl in San Diego. Of UCLA's opponents they played 8 bowl eligible teams and will be ready to play in what will likely be a very pro-Bruin environment in San Diego.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
UCLA is led by a new head coach in Jim Mora who brings assistants with NFL experience to a team with a lot of talented players on each side of the ball. UCLA has several legitimate NFL guys playing key roles for them and will certainly be a handful for Baylor.
Mora has changed the mentality of this team and has UCLA looking towards a pretty bright future and could easily usurp USC's spot in the PAC 12 pecking order in the coming years. His team won 9 games despite playing Nebraska and 10 games against Pac12 foes.
Offensive Coordinator Noel Mazzone is a well regarded OC who has been a coordinator at Ole Miss, NC State, Arizona State and now UCLA. He has also been a WR coach with the Jets when Brett Favre was there.
Much like Air Raid guru Tony Franklin, Mazzone has packaged his offense and is selling it online. You can see the site at http://www.nzonesystem.com/.
He is a longtime one-back guy who is more of a spread to run schemer but complements it well with a developed but simple passing game much like what Peyton Manning has had success with in the NFL. Like the 2000's Colts, Mazzone runs a system that is pretty well designed that uses a select few base concepts that complement each other well.
This scheme is a great-grandchild of the Wazzu one-back schemes of the 90's that Dennis Erickson won with at Miami. They want to use multiple wideouts and motioning tailbacks in order to horizontally spread out the defense to generate running lanes and easy completions. The heart of his running game is the inside zone play and with a mobile QB like he has now he will add QB read and option looks to it from time to time although it isn't his primary design. UCLA will also use motion to help stretch out the defense. Expect to see the RB's frequently motion towards a sideline or into a triple option path from the shotgun.
Most of his passing game utilizes a lot of shorter route combinations to get easy completions and keep the chains moving. The most common design is Snag which I have pictured above but he will use several other common concepts. In snag they will have a WR slant inside and settle into a void in a zone and run another player towards the sideline. Whichever player the flat defenders don't collapse on they will throw it too quickly. It's a horizontal stretching of the coverage that can be run with two guys (top of screen) or with three guys (bottom of the screen) with the third guy running a deeper route that can end up being one of a handful of routes to further stretch the coverage by building on the existing two man design.
UCLA also has had a lot of success with getting the ball to their tailbacks on delayed screens as well as swing screens where it's essentially a toss play and the WR's block for him. Like most spread teams they will also occasionally bubble screen a defense to make them widen out as well.
UCLA's QB is #17 Brett Hundley. He is 6'3 223 and has a very high upside with a big arm and mobility that is comparable to what we saw last year from Mizzou's James Franklin and Washington's Keith Price. He is still developing and can be erratic when pressured. That said he is a pretty good QB that is very difficult to stop unless he gets behind the chains. He has a tendency to take a lot of sacks because he tends to hold the ball a long time when UCLA isn't running the quick passes. His first snap of the season was a long read option touchdown so he can break long runs if you let him.
UCLA's most productive player is #23 Johnathan Franklin at running back. He is 5'11 195 and is UCLA's all time leading rusher. He has run for 1,700 yards this season and shows a very good amount of speed and agility. He will certainly play at the next level and is the #1 guy that Baylor must slow down if they are to win.
He is backed up by #6 Jordon James and #33 Stephen Manfro who are each under 5'10 and in the 190 range. Each has more receptions than carries as Franklin gets the vast majority of the handoffs and will frequently motion towards the sideline on flat routes. Manfro will also occasionally line up in the slot and both these guys are very elusive space players.
UCLA's primary receivers are for the most part big and very athletic. Their leading receiver is #1 Shaq Evans who is a very explosive 6'1 201. He got behind Oregon State's secondary for a long TD. Their other starter outside is #9 Jerry Johnson who is a big target at 6'3 211. They will send several guys out there but the notable ones are #88 Jerry Rice Jr., converted QB #2 Devin Fuller, and #3 Darius Bell. They have tons of tons of experienced weapons on this offense.
The biggest mismatch they have in the passing game for the Bruins is #8 Joesph Fauria. He is the son of former NFL tight end Christian Fauria and transferred from Notre Dame. Joseph is a very fast 6'7 255 and has 11 touchdowns and 578 yards this season. This senior is a sure-fire NFL player and will be a difficult matchup for Dixon, Lackey, Holl, and Hicks.
The one area other than QB where UCLA has inexperience is on the offensive line. #60 Jeff Baca at right guard is the only starter who isn't either a freshman or sophomore. They have talent but much like Kansas State they are much better at run blocking than they are protecting the QB. UCLA is 118th in sacks allowed and give up a higher sack percentage than their own defense who is #7 nationally in sacks accumulates.
This group will likely develop into a really strong unit over the next two years but has had their issues from time to time this year. Hundley and their OL should give UCLA a very capable nucleus to build on going forward.
UCLA's defense has made great improvements under first year coordinator Lou Spanos who worked for the Pittsburgh Steelers for 15 years. His 3-4 scheme will borrow a lot from his time with Dick Lebeau's zone blitzing schemes but has been tailored to defend the wide open offenses he sees in the Pac 12.
UCLA will usually line up in a base 3-4 defense and usually drop a safety down. When they feel they need to get more help in coverage they will move to their dime package with a four man front.
Their four man front usually has two rush linebackers playing like defensive ends in a 4-3 scheme and their 3-4 DE's slide down to tackle. They replace their nose tackle and one ILB with two safeties who essentially play the same role in their dime scheme that Lackey and Dixon do in our defense.
UCLA will use a combination of coverages and isn't afraid to use man to man when they want to bring pressure. They want to prevent you from running the ball first and foremost and will use single safety deep coverage to do it.
UCLA has a very upperclassmen laden defensive unit. Of their key contributors they really only have two key players that are not either a Junior or Senior. The strength of the unit is easily their front 7.
UCLA's defensive ends typically run in the 6'3 270-290 range and are quick for guys of that size. They will rotate several guys in there but #56 Datone Jones, #94 Owamagbe Odighizuwa, and #99 Cassius Marsh are three of their best. Each has shown solid ability both against the pass and run. Being able to rotate several quick and strong DT/DE tweeners is a huge boost to this defense.
UCLA's nose tackles are #98 Seali’i Epenesa and #92 Brandon Willis who are the typical run stoppers associated with the position. They tend to come off the field when UCLA goes with their dime package so we could possibly see very little of them depending on what Spanos dials up.
The biggest headliner on this defense is at Outside Linebacker. #11 Anthony Barr is a 6'4 235 converted running back who has been a pass rushing terror this year. He has 13 sacks on the year and is very quick. He is sure to play on Sundays.
Senior #43 Damien Holmes (6-2, 250) is the other starter at OLB and he is a pretty decent player. He's strong for his size and can move well enough to not be a liability in coverage.
#35 Jordan Zumwalt (6-3, 235) plays inside linebacker in their base D but slides down to rush end when they change to their Dime defense. He runs well and is a hard hitter. He doesn't get the publicity that Barr does but he is another very good pass rusher and really jumps out at you.
Their every down inside linebacker is #6 Eric Kendricks (6-0, 230) who is a very mobile inside linebacker. He is a pretty similar player to SMU's Taylor Reed and does well against the run.
UCLA's secondary isn't as highly regarded as their front 7. #21 Aaron Hester (6'1, 207) is their best cover guy at corner and is solid in all areas. The other corner is #22 Sheldon Price (6'2, 180) who isn't a bad player but has been beatable at times as Oregon State can attest to.
UCLA is going to be without Tevin McDonald at Safety but they rotate several in there so I don't think it will be a big loss for them. They list #26 Andrew Abbott (5-8, 180) as the other starter but 3 other guys have started for them at safety this season. They are solid safeties but none appear to be on the level of a Tony Jefferson (OU) or a Kenny Vaccaro (Texas) that just jumps out at you.
UCLA is one of the best kick blocking teams in the country and have blocked eight kicks this year. UCLA is fair but not great both in kickoff coverage and returning kicks or punts. UCLA's coverage team and punter Jeff Locke do a good job punting as they are #14 in net punting. Freshman Ka'imi Fairbairn is a mostly reliable kicker with limited range that has struggled outside of 40 yards but has been 13/15 inside of that range.
So how does Baylor's offense match up against the UCLA defense?
UCLA has a solid defense with a very good pass rush. That said their DB's are beatable and you can run on them if you can make them pay for loading the box. Cal, Nebraska, and USC were all able to generate effective running yards against UCLA. If BU is not rusty offensively I see Baylor matching up well against the Bruin D. I think our O-Line is good enough to run on them when they don't crowd the line and our passing game can beat their cover guys when they aren't backed off. When other teams have run the kind of constraint plays we run they have had success which would seem to indicate good things for the Baylor offense. The biggest concern I have is if we are rusty coming off a 3 week break.
Lache Seastrunk made comments about the Heisman, will he have a big day?
I don't know whether UCLA will use their Dime defense or their base 3-4 as they really have used each against both running teams and throwing teams. I do feel that BU can throw on the UCLA base 3-4 and run well against the Dime package. So they may be able to limit Williams & the other receivers or Seastrunk and the running game but I feel the one they aren't focusing on will have opportunities for a very big day. They can take one of the two out of the game if they wish but it will cost them.
UCLA's pass rush has gotten to the QB an awful lot. How do we match up against their pass rush?
These guys are probably a similar pass rushing team to what we saw from TCU and KSU. UCLA's defensive front is certainly talented but when half of your opponents are ranked worse than 85th in sacks allowed it does inflate the statistics a bit. They will be among the best we have faced but I do think Drango, Baker, and Nick will be up to the task.
What did they do against offenses like ours?
The games I felt most directly translated to our offense were Oregon State, ASU, Arizona, Wazzu, and to a lesser extent Rice and Houston. The results were honestly pretty mixed.
UCLA was simply able to whip Wazzu in the trenches but still struggled to prevent the Air Raid from making some big plays. Considering the fact that Wazzu looked like they were playing with a high school offensive line and gave up six sacks it can't be good that UCLA allowed 35 yards per offensive possession. The WSU line issues killed their chances in the red zone and you have to think a team like Baylor will translate those yards into points much more effectively which has to concern UCLA. This game has to be a huge alarm for Mora's team as they only won by 8 against an inferior team despite scoring 44 points, knocking out the starting QB, blocking 2 field goals, and scoring 16 non-offensive points.
Rice was not able to score as much as Wazzu but they were able to make a few big plays despite not performing well at all on the offensive line. Oregon State and ASU were able to absolutely scorch the Bruin secondary and balance things with a steady run game that helped move the chains despite not having a large average per carry.
Their best outings were against Houston and Arizona. Houston was a train wreck in September but the Arizona game was impressive. I feel our passing game and overall talent level is better than the Wildcats but that game has to encourage Bruin fans. Matt Scott and Ka'Deem Carey were unable to get anything going and UCLA ran roughshod over the Wildcat D.
How do we match up to that offense?
Our defense is not the equal of this UCLA offense but I do think we will do decently against their running game. We will likely tighten Dixon and Lackey's alignments to force UCLA outside and make Hundley execute. UCLA will likely get a lot of yards and some points but like most of our games a lot may not be enough.
I do worry about their tall wideouts and Fauria matching up against our back seven. I think they hold an advantage there. UCLA will still generate yards and was able to work over WSU and ASU outside when they keyed on the run but I feel it would be giving up yards and not points.
What might help us get stops?
UCLA has been penalized more than any other team this season and that may very well catch up to them against us. Their issues in pass protection and Hundley's tendency to hold the ball too long can possibly help out our much maligned pass rush that is used to facing some of the best protection units in the country. When you are in a shootout a sack or a poorly timed penalty can absolutely kill a drive.
It is absolutely critical that Baylor at least limits Franklin in a similar manner to how we limited Oklahoma State's Joseph Randle. We didn't shut him down but we kept him from beating us limiting his typical carries to short gains although he had a couple longer ones skew the average. If we can do that we put the game on Brett Hundley. The best case scenario for BU is to shut down Franklin and get an early lead that forces Hundley to throw much more than usual. This would get him out of that comfort zone and their pass protection would suffer as well as he can try to do too much sometimes.
So what happens?
I think Baylor breaks 40 and UCLA scores around 35. I think Baylor's offense clicks and gets routine big plays against a defense that has given up 26 plays of over 30 yards this season. Our defense doesn't shock anyone but does enough for BU to outpace a really good UCLA team that has been very tough this season with nailbiters against Stanford and Oregon State while beating Big Ten runner up Nebraska.