UCLA is coming off of a huge win in Knoxville, but that win will be meaningless if they drop Saturday's game to Kansas St. A win over the Wildcats will put the Bruins at 3-0, halfway to the bowl game that was the goal for the season. As you can see, this weekend presents the Bruins with a huge opportunity so UCLA will have to come to the Rose Bowl ready to play from the opening whistle.
1) Nickel Defense- With Courtney Viney out, the Bruins are thin at corner back. Kansas St. will look to win the game with their defense and by running the ball so there’s a chance the Bruins can put the Wildcats in a lot of third and long situations on Saturday. If they can get the Wildcats in third and long, they will go to nickel, which will stretch the Bruins’ thin defensive back even further. How they’re able to cover in nickel situations will be key.
Just as important as UCLA’s ability to cover in nickel situations will be the pass rush they put on the Kansas St. QB. With inexperienced corners in the defensive backfield, it will be crucial that the defensive front get pressure on the QB and keep the DB’s from covering for too long. Nickel situations can either hand the Wildcats a victory if they’re able to convert them with regularity or it can allow the Bruins to wrap up a victory early on should they force turnovers with a potent pass rush and ball hawking DB’s.
2) Penalties- UCLA is the better team. I don’t have any reservations in saying so. However, UCLA is not such a great team that they can’t lose this game and when you see an upset, which a Kansas St. win would be, penalties are usually a key factor. When you consider the issues the Bruins have had with penalties in their first two games, those yellow flags take on even greater importance.
While defensive penalties, as can be seen in the picture above, have been the Bruins' bugaboo thus far, it's the penalties on the offensive side of the ball that could be the killer. Regardless of whether Richard Brehaut or Kevin Craft is under center, UCLA is going to have trouble converting third downs and penalties will put the Bruins in far too many third down situations.
3) Kai Maiava- I wouldn't count on many audibles at the line and whoever our quarterback is will have enough to handle in the defensive backfield. It will be on Maiava to make sure the offensive line is in order and make the correct calls. Kansas St. moved their defensive linemen around a bit last week and their linebackers moved back and forth from on the line to off the line. All of these will be things that Maiava will have to pick up on and communicate to the rest of his offensive linemen.
Norm Chow is certain to lean on his running game and with the speed of Jonathan Franklin, as well as the lack of size K-State has along the defensive front, Maiava will have the opportunity to brush the linemen and get onto the second level. Maiava's ability to do so can be the difference in a four or five yard gain and taking one 40+ yards. If Maiava can keep the offensive line in order and get to the second level, they will control the line of scrimmage and you know what happens when you control the line of scrimmage.