Mora’s first home game
UCLA welcomes Jim Mora Jr. for his first home game as coach of the Bruins. A former NFC coach of the year with the Atlanta Falcons, Mora replaces Rick Neuheisel, who was fired after going 21-28 over four seasons. Mora spent the 2010 and 2011 seasons as an analyst and contributor for the NFL Network and the NFL on Fox. He was head coach of the Falcons (2004-06) and the Seahawks (2009), and has 25 years of NFL coaching experience.
Whatever happened to Owamagbe Odighuzuwa? You know, the five-star defensive end who chose UCLA over Nebraska and Oregon in a highly-publicized recruiting battle? Now a junior, Odighuzuwa is listed No. 2 on the depth chart at defensive end. He tied his career high with four tackles, including one sack, against Rice. He has seven career starts.
UCLA will celebrate the 40-year anniversary of the Bruins’ 20-17 upset of two-time defending national champion Nebraska by welcoming back members of the Bruins’ 1972 football team. That victory, thanks to a field goal by Efren Herrera in the game’s closing minutes at the L.A. Coliseum, ended the Huskers’ 32-game unbeaten streak. James McAlister, a running back on the 1972 and ’73 UCLA teams, will be the team’s honorary captain Saturday, and other members of the team will be introduced during a quarter break.
BRUINS ON OFFENSE
How good is the UCLA offense?
That’s a question somewhat unanswered after the Bruins’ first game.
Yes, UCLA racked up 646 total yards — 343 rushing, 303 passing — in its season opener. But it came against Rice, which has historically been a bad defense.
How bad? The Owls, over the last seven seasons, have ranked Nos. 111, 107, 117, 111, 118, 112 and 110 among FBS teams in total defense.
The Bruins’ 49 points were their most in a game since the end of the 2005 season, when they scored 50 against Northwestern in the Sun Bowl. (By comparison, Nebraska, inconsistencies and all, has scored at least 49 points in 14 games in that same span).
All that said, it appears that redshirt freshman quarterback Brett Hundley has given the Bruins an offensive spark. Much has been made of his running ability, but the 6-foot-3, 223-pound Hundley was 21-of-28 passing for 202 yards and two touchdowns and one interception against Rice.
You’ve probably seen the highlight of Hundley roaming free for 72 yards and a touchdown on his first collegiate snap. But he finished the game with six carries for 68 yards.
“He can get out of trouble," NU secondary coach Terry Joseph said of Hundley. "Probably not as much of a downtown threat as a true option guy, but he has wiggle to where he can get out of trouble and make things happen and extend plays, which puts a lot of stress on the secondary.”
The biggest offensive weapon is veteran running back Johnathan Franklin, who has a blend of speed and power that could cause problems for Nebraska. He ran for 214 yards at Rice — on 14.3 yards per carry — and has 11 career 100-yard rushing games.
Also keep an eye on 6-7, 225-pound receiver Joseph Fauria, who caught 39 passes last season and had three receptions, including one for 36 yards, at Rice. Look for UCLA to test Nebraska’s secondary more frequently than Southern Miss did.
And for the first time in school history, UCLA started three freshmen along the offensive line in a season opener — tackles Torian White and Simon Goines, and center Jake Brendel.
BRUINS ON DEFENSE
Look for UCLA, with talented defensive end Datone Jones, to bring pressure at quarterback Taylor Martinez. The Bruins coaches saw what Martinez did with his arm against Southern Miss, too, and surely don’t want to let Martinez get comfortable in the pocket.
That could open up the running game, especially if UCLA blitzes and leaves open spots. Also, UCLA’s kryptonite in recent years has been defending zone- read and option plays. The Bruins have allowed an average of 177 rushing yards per game over the past four years, ranking anywhere from No. 59 to No. 108 nationally in the category. Rice ran for 174 yards.
Junior Anthony Barr played running back and fullback in his first two seasons with the Bruins, and has now switched to linebacker. His defensive debut was promising. He had six solo tackles and one sack against Rice. Listed as the No. 1 right outside linebacker, Barr hopes to play Saturday without the heavy wrap he’s been wearing on his left hand to protect a broken bone.
Sophomore linebacker Eric Kendricks had a career-best and team-high 11 tackles at Rice, and senior cornerback Sheldon Price intercepted a pass. The Bruins allowed 24 points in the first half, but shut out the Owls in the second half.
BRUINS ON SPECIAL TEAMS
Think Nebraska kicker Brett Maher had a bad day Saturday?
That’s nothing compared to UCLA kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn, who had three — yes, three — extra-point attempts blocked by Rice.
Fairbairn told the Los Angeles Times he accepted blame for the problems, saying, “I could have gotten the ball up higher.”
Fairbairn spent an hour after practice Monday working with former UCLA kicker Kai Forbath, the 2009 Lou Groza Award winner. Mora also made changes along the line, inserting defensive end Datone Jones up front on field goals.
On the positive side, UCLA boasts a strong, experienced senior punter. Jeff Locker has a career punting average of 44.5 yards that ranks first all-time at UCLA. Against Rice, he landed three of his six punts inside the 20-yard line and booted all nine of his kickoffs for touchbacks.