My last, inspiring lectures are delivered, exams are graded, and I've had a few nights of actual sleep! Yes, that means it's time to get back to football! Bowl season is in full swing and the Bruins are up this Saturday at the Chicken Bowl (formally, the Foster Farms Bowl, previously the Nut Bowl) against a team we can all root for, Nebraska Cornhuskers.
Orlandobruin kicked off the bowl coverage with a preview of the Nebraska offense. Here's a small sample to get caught up on Nebraska's season:
Nebraska (5-7) is only allowed to play in this bowl with a losing record because there were not enough 6-6 teams to fill all of the forty (40!!!) bowls this season. The NCAA picked 5-7 teams based upon their academic progress rate, and Nebraska was at the top of the list. The Bruins should not take Nebraska lightly. They are a big time program and, although they had a down year under first year Head Coach Mike Riley, several of their losses were very close. For example, the 'Huskers dropped a game by three points in OT at Miami, lost at Illinios by one, and lost to both Wisconsin and Northwestern by 2 at home. They also gave CFB playoff team Michigan State its only loss, albeit on one of the worst non-calls of the the 2015 college football season.
Let's discuss the Nebraska defense.
The Cornhuskers total defense ranks #69 just 8 spots lower than the Bruins, allowing 401.3 yards per game. Though their passing defense is dreadful at #122 (out of 128 teams) allowing 288.2 yards per game through the air, their run defense is elite coming in at #8 in the nation allowing just over 113 yards per game.
The UCLA QB Josh Rosen and the deep stable of Wide Receivers should gain plenty of yards on Saturday as they earn 286 yards per game (good for #25). Expect senior WR Jordan Payton to have a nice send off with plenty of yards and hopefully so too will Thomas Duarte. This is where the Bruins have a clear advantage.
I wonder how RBs Paul Perkins and Nate Starks will do against a strong run defense. Last time the Bruins faced a top 10 run D was against #5 Utah and the Bruins barely cracked 100 yards (105 yards on 38 attempts) though they average just about 187 yards per game.
Inside are two experienced defensive tackles Maliek Collins, 6-2, 300, Jr., and Vincent Valentine, 6-3, 320, Jr., with over 20 career starts each. Collins is the most productive lineman on the team with 29 tackles, 6 tackles for a loss, and 2.5 sacks this season, while Valentine has 8 tackles, 3.5 tackles for a loss, and 3 sacks on the season.
The outside ends are Greg McMullen, 6-3, 280, Jr., and Jack Gangwish, 6-2, 265, Sr., or Freedom Akinmoladun, 6-4, 255, RFr., with McMullen having lots of experience with 23 career starts while that drops off significantly for Gangwish and Akinmoladun with 9 and 4 career starts, respectively. McMullen is a beast with 22 tackles for a loss, 26 tackles, and 4 sacks. Akinmoladun is a young but has 21 tackles, and the most tackles for a loss and sacks on the team with 6 and 4.5, respectively.
The defensive line is effective though unspectacular.
The linebackers have much less experience with only 30 combined starts. Marcus Newby, 6-1, 235, So., Josh Banderas, 6-2, 235, Jr., and Dedrick Young, 6-1, 220, Fr., are the starters. Young and Banderas lead the way in tackles with 58 and 57, and Newby has only 34 tackles. Combined the group has only 14.3 tackles for a loss and only Newby has a single sack on the season.
On paper, this doesn't seem like the strength of the Cornhusker defense.
With the exception of safety Nate Gerry who leads the team with 26 career starts, the backfield lacks experience averaging only a bit more than 10 starts. Starting cornerbacks Joshua Kalu, 6-1, 185, So., and Chris Jones, 6-0, 180, So., but expect to see Jonathan Rose, 6-1, 195, Sr. as well. The starting safeties are Nate Gerry, 6-2, 205, Jr., and Byerson Cockrell, 6-0, 185, Sr., who are leaders in tackles with 75 and 65, respectively. Gerry leads the team with 75 tackles (46 solo) and in interceptions with 4. Next is Kalu with 67 and Cockrell with 65 tackles. Never a good sign when the safeties have more tackles than the DL or LBs.
UCLA holds the advantage on paper in nearly every category except Nebraska's run defense. Yet, this should still be an interesting game from a motivation standpoint. It's unclear to me who "wants this game more." Stay tuned!