Saturday, December 22

Las Vegas Bowl: The Wannabe 2006 BCS Championship

The Las Vegas Bowl changed its name from the California Bowl in 1992, because enough people pointed out that Vegas is in fact not in California. Among other things, this bowl is famous for being the site of the first overtime game played in div I-A college football.

UCLA Bruins (by Coach Lawrence)

In recent years, UCLA is a team that has not finished the season well. In 2003 they followed a five game winning streak with a five game losing streak to finish 6-7. The following year they started 4-1 and finished 6-6. In 2005, UCLA looked like they'd have a shot at a BCS bowl with an 8-0 start, then dropped two of their final three regular season games including a loss to lowly Arizona.

Last season, UCLA started 4-1 again before losing four straight. However, their young talent gelled late and they won their final three regular season games, including a major upset of USC who otherwise might have played for the national title. In a hyped battle of future sleepers, UCLA was shockingly abused on defense to lose the Emerald Bowl to Florida State.

This season, UCLA got off to their familiar 4-1 and their equally familiar 5-5 records. In their last seven games, UCLA has lost to Notre Dame (before they became good - oh, you know they're back!), Washington State, and Arizona. They've only beaten a Cal team that nearly went from 5-0 to bowl ineligible and an Oregon team who have lost all three games without Dixon. In other words, not looking so hot.

Fortunately, UCLA has already played against BYU and won! Yes, this is a rematch bowl. In their first meeting, the Bruins were outgained by almost 200 yards but held a +3 turnover margin and returned an INT for a TD to win 27-17. One of the telling hidden statistics was that BYU was penalized 11 times for 84 yards while UCLA received just 4 for 30. The Bruins won by being the more disciplined team. During the regular season, in UCLA's six victories they had on average 2 fewer turnovers for 20 fewer yards per game while having a TO differential of +1.5 compared to -2 in their six losses.

Game Plan:
1. Maintain discipline advantage. Close to 0 penalties, max 1 turnover. They can't count on BYU being extremely generous again, but clearly they must come away from this with at least a small advantage.

2. Make third down manageable. UCLA won the first game despite converting just 2 of 12 third downs, which is a big reason why they needed the TOs and penalties to win.

3. Take away the run first. BYU is a team who averages 150 rushing ypg, but in their loss to UCLA they gained just 44. Max Hall isn't the QB whose shoulders I want to put the entire game on.

BYU (by Coach Pendley)

Finally, a good team from the Mountain West! For some reason when we split the bowls a few weeks ago I ended up with most of the Mountain West teams, and I didn't realize that until starting this preview. (We also treated the Big 10 teams like dead cats, but that's neither here nor there.) Anyway.

Like return games and the chance for a team to get revenge? Then you'll like this Stormin' Mormon (...Cougar - but that first nickname is so much better, isn't it?) team; they have an excellent opportunity to avenge one of their two losses of the season - this one to UCLA, a 27-17 road loss that didn't look nearly as questionable then as it does now. Short of that, there's not a whole lot to be ashamed of. Tulsa's a good team that was throwing up 50+ on a lot of teams, nobody in their conference beat them, and a 20-7 win over Arizona at least partially redeems their out-of-conference slate.

Sophomore QB Max Hall is ....kind of a stud, really. 3,617 yards on the season and a 24/12 ratio will do that. RB Harvey Uriga is also the third-leading rusher in the MWC, averaging 101 yards a game and another 13 TDs on the ground. Rushing defense? Best in the conference. Their pass defense isn't great, but allowing over 200 yards in the air is as much a function of their pass defense as it is averaging about 35 passes a game. PK Mitch Payne isn't great - only 9/13 on the year - but who can blame him? He never gets a shot.

Keys to Victory:
1: QB Pressure. Even if UCLA QB Ben Olsen starts, he's not exactly what you'd term "sturdy". Knock Olsen out of the game and Ossar Rasshan (who?) starts taking snaps. Even if you don't knock Olsen out of the game, a few sharp hits will make him jittery. On the flipside, Max Hall has only been sacked 17 times on the season; keep him upright.

2: Torch 'em. UCLA's pass defense is about average (234 yards allowed/game), but this isn't the same pass offense as UCLA saw earlier this season. Get the ball in the air early and often and put the game out of reach early.

3: Ball control. UCLA isn't a great team, but it won't hurt matters if the Cougars keep the ball a ton. BYU has averaged 33 minutes per game; UCLA is only at 28 1/2 minutes. There's no reason the Cougars can't at least hit their average TOP.