In what will no doubt be an emotional contest on Saturday, the UCLA Bruins will battle the Nebraska Cornhuskers in a clash of Top 25 teams at Memorial Stadium.
Though UCLA won its first game of the season, the team suffered a tragic loss earlier this week. Redshirt freshman wide receiver Nick Pasquale was killed in a car accident on Sunday morning.
Somehow the Bruins must now turn their attention to Lincoln where a big hurdle awaits. UCLA has been off since its season-opening win against Nevada on Aug. 31 in which the Bruins posted a 58-20 decision in the Rose Bowl. Though idle this past weekend the Bruins managed to inch up the most recent AP Top 25 and are now sitting at No. 16 in those rankings.
It was business as usual for the Cornhuskers in their second game of the season. Led by dynamic quarterback Taylor Martinez, Nebraska rolled up 479 yards of total offense en route to a 56-13 rout of Southern Miss. Nebraska is now 2-0 for the fifth time in Bo Pelini’s six seasons at the helm. Nebraska has also won 10 straight games at Memorial Stadium, where the Cornhuskers will be again in the next two contests.
A year ago UCLA defeated Nebraska, 36-30, to catapult the Bruins into the national rankings. The win tightened up the all-time series, which Nebraska leads by a slim, 6-5, margin.
Nebraska fans will remember how dangerous Brett Hundley was for the Bruins from a year ago. There did not seem to be a sophomore slump affecting the Bruins signal caller in the opener. Hundley completed 22-of-33 pass attempts for 274 yards and two scores and also rushed for 65 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
With Hundley playing at such a high level the Bruins continued their offensive success since Jim Mora took over as head coach, producing 58 points and a staggering 647 yards of total offense. Just like Hundley, the Bruins got it done through the air (302 yards) and on the ground (345).
It seems that Jordon James will be the replacement for Johnathan Franklin, who was the team’s leading rusher a season ago. Against Nevada, James carried the ball 21 times for 155 yards and a touchdown. Paul Perkins had 55 yards on five rushes. For now it looks like James will get the bulk of the rushing attempts for Mora, a coach who likes to run the ball.
“(James) is the number one back. He’s our starter right now,” Mora said, while adding there will still be work for the rest of the Bruins running backs. “You know how we’re going to play offense. We are going to roll those guys through. We will have to use multiple backs.”
Shaquelle Evans got off to a fast start as he looks to build on an impressive 2012 campaign when he caught 60 passes for 877 yards. Though he did not get over the century mark in the opener, Evans hauled in a team-high six passes for 81 yards and a touchdown. No other receiver on the team really made much of an impact, as Hundley connected with 12 different receivers in the win over Nevada.
While Hundley was the man everyone was watching on UCLA’s offense, it was Anthony Barr that got the attention on defense. Barr played well against Nevada, collecting five tackles, while showing his patented ability to wreak havoc in the backfield as he had two stops for loss. However, it was Keenan Graham who registered two sacks and Eric Kendricks (11 tackles) who was the most reliable tackler.
As a team, the Bruins held Nevada, which ranked eighth in the country last season in total offense, to just 353 yards and 4.1 yards per play. UCLA did hurt itself by committing 12 penalties in the contest.
Pelini has his own multi-faceted quarterback in Martinez to counter UCLA’s Hundley. Martinez is creeping up a number of all-time lists at Nebraska as he concludes his career. Martinez has thrown for a meager 325 yards this season but has been extremely efficient (32-of-45) and has made the most of his attempts with six touchdown passes. Where Martinez is truly at his best is making plays on the move, as he has rushed for 114 yards on the campaign and is a constant threat to tuck the ball and run.
Martinez’s running ability complements the overall scheme for the Cornhuskers, who currently have four different players who have already reached the century mark in rushing. Ameer Abdullah (36 carries, 228 yards, two TDs) is the primary option, but Terrell Newby (136 yards) and Imani Cross (119 yards, three TDs) are also integral parts of the gameplan. Cross is utilized primarily in short-yardage and red zone situations.
Kenny Bell (10 receptions, 102 yards, TD) and Quincy Enunwa (eight receptions, 85 yards, three TDs) might not have eye-popping statistics, but are reliable pass-catchers when called upon.
The Cornhuskers defense showed marked improvement from week one, when it let up 30 points to Wyoming, to week two against Southern Miss. Setting the tone early with two interceptions in the first quarter, the Cornhuskers limited the Golden Eagles to 284 yards of total offense and just 16 first downs. Nebraska forced four turnovers in the game as a whole and are tied with Michigan State for the second most turnovers gained in the Big Ten. While the turnovers are great, the Cornhuskers do need to improve on getting pressure, as they have just one sack in two games.
David Santos has been reliable as a tackler for the Cornhuskers with a team- high 16. However, Josh Mitchell (10 tackles, 3.0 TFL) and Stanley Jean Baptiste (seven tackles, two INTs) have been the real playmakers on defense.