Pregame Guesses: Nebraska Cornhuskers Edition

Black Flag - My War (Live 1985) (via NorrisGeez1986)

(For this week's video, I decided to go with a live performance of Black Flag performing "My War" live in 1985. It’s our first home game of the year and I briefly thought about trying to pick something that would be cool for the team to enter the Rose Bowl to, like "Crazy Train" or "Enter Sandman," but that seemed sort of trivial and lame. I considered some stuff that was evocative of L.A. – like "Welcome to the Jungle" or "Straight Outta Compton" but that felt a little clichéd. I decided to go with "My War" because it fires me up and I’m hoping that Henry Rollins sheer aggression somehow infects the players tomorrow. I also liked the fact that this version of Black Flag has two UCLA alums – bassist Kira Roessler and guitarist Greg Ginn, who was recently included in UCLA’s Optimist campaign.)

Tomorrow is the first home game for the Mora-era Bruins.

But in some weird way, what I’m feeling is somehow familiar, like seeing a face in the crowd that evokes a distant memory. The sensation slips on like your old biker jacket, the one you haven’t worn in years but just somehow found in the back of the closet, the creases in the black leather recalling memories of good times long gone.

For the first time in a long time, It feels to me like we have an actual football coach, trying first to build an actual football team and then an actual football program. We’re playing one of college football’s traditional powers – the Nebraska Cornhuskers – and there is no sense of dread poisoning my excitement, no waiting for the other shoe to drop, crushing the façade of pregame anticipation to reveal hidden, I-knew-it-all-along feelings of desperation and disappointment.

What I’m feeling has nothing to do with any sense that we’re going to win tomorrow. Don’t misunderstand, I’m feeling good about our chances, I think we’ve got a good shot. But it’s not that kind of confidence that’s ringing old bells for me. No, it’s more of a sense that we belong.

Many jobs ago, I worked commission sales. And our sales manager used to say to us, "Gentlemen, you’re either in the game or you’re out of the game." Cold calling strangers over the phone and trying to sell them shit they don’t need is a blood sport and he was just letting us know that you either go for it with real purpose and real aggression or you don’t go for it at all.

And with Jim Mora on the sidelines, I at least feel like we’re in the game again. We may not beat Nebraska tomorrow, but I’m positive we’re going to compete with Nebraska tomorrow. We’re still a young team trying to get better, we’re going to make mistakes. We could win by ten or lose by twenty. But either way, we’ll succeed on Coach Wooden’s terms at the very least and regardless of the final score the Huskers will know they were in a tough football game.

It’s actually tough to figure out exactly how things will go tomorrow if you use the Rice game as your guide. I mean, I’m relatively sure that we won’t have three touchdown runs of more than 70 yards like we did last week, which means we’ll have to execute more long drives, putting the pressure on Brett Hundley and his receivers to be more consistent, putting the pressure on Johnathan Franklin to get us ten 7s instead of one 70. I’d love to see it, but I’m doubtful we’ll get seven more sacks tomorrow – but the defense must continue to attack all game, even if Nebraska is picking up first downs.

If I had to guess, I think we’ll see more than a few plays on offense that we didn’t use against Rice. I don’t prescribe to the theory that we somehow held back or refused to go all out against the Owls because we didn’t want Nebraska to see our offense – that’s just silly, the excuse that some used to defend a former coach’s vanilla approach. Against Rice we used the plays we needed to win and those long touchdowns definitely reduced the number of plays we ran overall. So, I’m thinking we see even more of Joseph Fauria, even more of Devin Lucien and more variety of calls from Noel Mazzone.

The special teams need to improve. Obviously, missing four conversions in one game (three kicking, one try for two) is not going to get it done against better quality teams. It would be great if our punt return team got it going, after four years of fair catches, I’d love to see our returners start to give us improved field position after the defense forces Nebraska to kick the ball back to us.

There was a time when UCLA’s football program measured itself against teams like Nebraska from the old Big 8 Conference. Back then, we could always play with the West Coast teams and we could consistently beat the then-less-than-athletic Midwest teams from the Big 10. But we sometimes struggled against the physically-dominating teams. I remember sitting in a long gone Westwood sports bar – alone –watching Nebraska quarterback Steve Taylor throw five touchdown passes against the Bruins, knocking off Troy Aikman and Company 42-33. (Just so you know, they were ranked #2 going in to the game, we were ranked #3.) It served as a measuring stick – we were good, but not Nebraska-good. I also recall sitting in the Rose Bowl on a sweltering Pasadena evening the following year watching us beat Nebraska 41-28. When we jumped out to a 28-0 lead that night we finally felt it, we belonged. When safety Matt Darby nearly decapitated a Nebraska receiver over the middle, the hit was felt all over the Rose Bowl and the feeling was, "Damn, that’s how you play UCLA football."

Like I wrote above, I don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow. Nebraska is a well-coached ranked team. But I do feel, regardless of the final score, that we’re on the way to playing actual football -- call it, UCLA football -- and after all we’ve been through, that’s all I can ask.

And with that here are your Pregame Guesses, Nebraska Cornhuskers edition:

  1. What number will be higher: Brett Hundley's total touchdown passes or the defense's sack total?
  2. True or false (and tempting fate): UCLA will have at least one touchdown of over 50 yards tomorrow on offense tomorrow.
  3. Over/under on Joseph Fauria receptions is 4.5. Are you going over or under?
QUICK UPDATE:

Answers to the guesses go in the subject line.
Comments on the post and other discussion in the body of your replies.
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