The UCLA Bruins look to end their first season under Jim Mora, already widely viewed as a success, with a big bowl win over the Big 12 as Baylor visits the West Coast and the two sides meet in this year’s version of the Holiday Bowl. Baylor pulled off a huge upset over then-#1 K-State to turn their season around and brings a top-flight passing offense against a UCLA squad that started the season 9-2 before dropping their final two games to Stanford. This should be a great matchup as we get into the meat of bowl season and it wraps up a full Thursday of bowl action on ESPN (preceded by the Belk Bowl and the Military Bowl)
When to Watch: 9:45 PM ET, December 27, 2012
Where to Watch: Live on ESPN from Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, California
What to watch for…
When UCLA has the ball: The Bruins offense ranked 20th in the FBS in total yards and 29th in points averaging a healthy 35.1 points per game. They scored 30 points or more in eight of their 12 games including a season-high in a 66-10 rout of then-#22 Arizona. UCLA’s offense is led Senior running back Johnathan Franklin who carried the ball 268 times for 1,700 yards already this season while scoring 13 touchdowns on the ground and adding two more receiving. His 1,700 yard total places him fifth in the nation in yards gained on the ground.
UCLA brings balance to their offense with Brett Hundley, a redshirt freshman who has stepped in at quarterback this year and thrown for 3,411 yards with a nice 68% completion rate, 26 scores, and 11 interceptions. One target to keep an eye on especially in the red zone is senior tight end Joseph Fauria who has 41 catches on the year for 11 touchdowns.
Fauria, Hundley, and Franklin all have a favorable matchup against the Baylor defense who has struggled all year. They rank in the bottom 10 schools in the nation in scoring defense (117th), passing defense (122nd), and total defense (123rd). The Bears defense did come up large in their biggest game of the season picking off Collin Klein three times in his only multi-interception game of the season. They’ll look to make plays against Hundley, but expect plenty of points on the board for the Bruins.
When Baylor has the ball: Baylor’s run game is decent, but nothing outstanding as Glasco Martin and Lache Seastruck split carries. The stellar part of the Bears’ offense is definitely its passing game which has shrugged off the loss of a pair of first round picks to be just as good again statistically this year. RG3 has been replaced under center by QB Nick Florence. Florence is third in the FBS with 4,121 passing yards while completing over 60% of his passes for 31 scored and 13 interceptions. He’s led the Bears to the most total yards per game in the country and the fifth-most points. When he’s able to avoid turnovers, the Bears offense has the power to beat any team just by simply out-running and out-scoring them. When the Bears lost, it was usually due to Florence throwing costly picks.
As you would imagine, Florence has a top-notch receiving corps headlined by Terrance Williams who leads the FBS with a 147.0 yards per game average and 1,764 yards. He’s hauled in 12 touchdowns on the year as part of his 95 receptions. Across from Florence Tevin Reece has 51 catches for 889 yards and eight touchdowns as well.
The UCLA defense tasked with slowing down the Baylor Juggernaut has some powerful weapons of its own, although it will be missing a key piece. UCLA’s defense ranks in the middle of the pack in most national categories. However, they did have individual standouts-Anthony Barr led the country with 13.5 sacks on the season and Eric Kendricks finished in the top five in tackles with 137. The team’s second-leading tackler, sophomore safety Tevin McDonald won’t be able to play in this one after a violation of team rules has earned him a one-game suspension.
Who to Watch for (NFL Prospects)
The top pick from this game most likely will be Baylor’s Terrance Williams who is among the top-tier of wide receivers in this year’s draft. He could be the top wide-out selected depending on what scouts decide on West Virginia’s Tavon Austin and whether Cal’s Keenan Allen declares early for the draft. Williams is most likely a mid to late first round pick possibly falling to the early second. The man who’s thrown Williams all his passes this year, Nick Florence will also probably find a home in the NFL next season either as a late-round pick or an undrafted free agent.
The UCLA sideline will also be packed with NFL prospects. Anthony Barr could be a late-first round but more likely second round pick as a pass-rusher from OLB. Datone Jones has moved all around the UCLA front line and could project as either a DE or DT in the later second round. In the middle rounds, Johnathan Franklin makes an intriguing pick as part of a backfield rotation and playmaker although he doesn’t have the bulk or pass-catching ability to project as an early round pick. He may be joined in the middle rounds by one of his blockers, offensive guard Jeff Baca. Towards the end of the draft, expect to hear tight end Joseph Fauria‘s name called as a pass-catching tight end for a team that needs a red zone target, and also keep an eye on puneter Jeff Locke who could be one of the few punters drafted or should at least get a tryout for NFL teams next season.
This will be a great game to watch. These two teams are expected to light up the night with plenty of offense on display. I think the loss of McDonald from their defensive secondary will hurt the Bruins as they try to contain the Bears and that the Baylor defense will make a play or two to stop the Bruins just enough for them to pull the mild upset.
The spread is minimal on most sights and the over/under is crazily high. I’d keep my money safe and stay away from betting on this one, but I’m definitely planning on watching since it will basically be a highlight reel of a game with the potential for any play to go the distance.