Remember when UCLA took out a full-page ad in a local paper a few years back claiming USC was no longer the “football monopoly” in Los Angeles? Don’t look now but the time has clearly come.
Bright and early Saturday morning, the No. 16 UCLA Bruins take on the No. 23 Nebraska Cornhuskers in a nationally televised early-season clash.
Joe Bruin v. Herbie Husker has turned into a pretty good semi-regular inter-sectional rivalry through the years. This will be 10th time the schools have played since the 1972 season. Nebraska has won six of the nine most recent meetings, but UCLA scored a come-from-behind 36-30 victory at the Rose Bowl last September, frustrating NU quarterback Taylor Martinez in the second half.
This will be the sixth time the schools have played with each team in the top 25, on four occasions the Bruins and Huskers both entered the game ranked top 10. Memorable past games include Tom Harmon leading the Bruins to a win in 1972 and Tom Osborne winning his first game as Nebraska’s coach the following year in a 40-13 win.
Back in the day the game was a classic contrast between UCLA’s West Coast flair and Nebraska’s brute strength. These days, the programs are mirror images, at least offensively. Both teams feature the spread and Bruins redshirt sophomore quarterback Brett Hundley and Nebraska’s Martinez, are threats with their feet and arms.
The difference-makers in this game may be wearing blue and gold on the defensive side. Linebacker Anthony Barr stars in UCLA’s 3-4 scheme and may be the best college pass-rusher not named Jadeveon Clowney. arr recorded 13.5 sacks last year and is projected as a top five overall pick in the most recent 2014 mock draft per Great Blue Draft Report. Not bad for a player preceding coach Rick Neuheisel had listed as a fullback his first two years in Westwood.
The Huskers, as always, are strong on the offensive line and have yet to concede a sack on the young season. They will likely double-team Barr, but fellow outside backer Jordan Zumwalt must also be accounted for.
Two Bruins who factored in last years contest who have moved on to the NFL are defensive end Datone Jones and tight end Joseph Fauria, who scored in his Detroit Lions debut last week.
The ideal blueprint for a Nebraska win would involve taking an early lead and using the team’s deep rushing attack (Ameer Abdullah, Imani Cross, and Los Angeles area product Terrell Newby) to run clock in the second half.
This is the designated game where Nebraska will don black jerseys along with a modified helmet design. Local opinion has the threads being far more popular than the all-red outfits (with black helmet) worn last year against Wisconsin. Adidas will have UCLA outfitted in their own one night only attire for a home game later this year.
After a 58-20 rout against Nevada to open the season, tragedy struck the Bruins when freshman walk-on receiver Nick Pasquale was killed after being struck by a car. UCLA closed practices during the week and coach Jim Mora Jr. got angry towards a local TV production man who interrupted Mora’s press conference eulogy about Pasquale with an ill-timed phone conversation. Both teams will honor Pasquale with his 36 on the backs of their respective helmets.
This is a solid matchup of evenly matched teams, the question on campus with both programs is whether they are just top 25 good, or contenders to win their respective conferences and possibly see each other in Pasadena on New Year’s Day.
Perhaps I should leave the predictions to the talking heads on TV, but I’ll go with the Bruins 27-23, although it could go either way.