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Pregame Guesses: UCLA Bruins at Cincinnati Bearcats Edition

Can the Bruins stop the Bearcat ground attack? Who will lead the Bruin wide receivers? Will UCLA’s red zone offense be better than last year?

NCAA Football: Cincinnati at UCLA
Can UCLA stop junior running back Michael Warren II and the Cincinnati ground attack tomorrow?
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The 2019 college football season is here! I am sure that, as UCLA Bruins fans, we are hoping for improvement this season. First up is a road contest against the tough Cincinnati Bearcats who won 11 games last season, something UCLA has never done in its storied history. It should be a great challenge for head coach Chip Kelly, in his second season at the helm of the Bruins, as well as the 2019 Bruin squad.

This is the part where I remind you about how Pregame Guesses works. It’s pretty simple. I ask readers to predict the answers to certain, hopefully, incisive questions about the upcoming game. It can be as easy as “who will win the game”” or as complicated as “predict Dorian Thompson-Robinson’s passing attempts, completions, yardage, and touchdowns in the game tomorrow.” There are three questions each week (sometimes one or more question(s) will have multiple parts) and sometimes a bonus question (typically asking readers to predict the attendance at home games at the Rose Bowl).

And, to top it off, I pick and link to a musical selection that has some at least some relevance, in my opinion, to the upcoming game. The idea is to listen to the music while you post your answers in the comment section. As I am a member of Generation X, many selections are from the 70s, 80s, 90s, or ‘00s.

Readers usually see Pregame Guesses (or PGG for short) the day before the game. So, usually, this piece will run on Fridays. With a Thursday kickoff this week, here we are on Wednesday.

Get it? Got it? Good.

The first game of the season always presents challenges for the PGG music selection. There is no body of work for context and, invariably, fans are hopeful and excited, whereas later in the season some can be bitter or angry (i.e., Battered Bruin Syndrome). I, for one, am hopeful. I might have chosen this song in past years (or I might have chosen the Tom Petty song of the same name), but I am going with a song that I think suits a young team learning how to make its way in head coach Chip Kelly’s system.

This week’s selection is “Learning to Fly” by the Foo Fighters. I’m going with a live performance because, while the original 1999 music video was entertaining for its time, some aspects of it have not aged well and might be offensive to some.

In addition to the obvious parallel to this Bruins team trying to find its way, I find the following lyrics particularly relevant:

Hook me up a new revolution
’Cause this one is a lie
We sat around laughing
And watch the last one die

Although this appears to be a joke at the expense of the Foo Fighters’ frontman Dave Grohl’s former band, Nirvana, it sure can be applied to the last year or two of Jim L. Mora’s reign as UCLA head coach and Bruin fans’ thirst for better days under Chip Kelly.

As pointed out by Anteaters&Bruins in her excellent preview of the Cincinnati offense, the Bearcats rushed for 3,113 yards and 38 touchdowns last season. Junior Michael Warren II, Cincy’s top rusher last season with over 1,329 yards and 19 touchdowns, returns. So do a pair of sophomores, who were the second- and third-highest rushers for the Bearcats in ‘18, one of which had 500 yards on the ground, the other, 495. That’s a formidable attack.

Two factors in the Bruins’ favor are that: 1. the Cincinnati line might have taken a step back from last season; and, 2. UCLA might be better against the run this season as the D-line has another year under its belt and inside linebacker Josh Woods has returned from injury, where he was sorely missed throughout 2018.

PREGAME GUESS NUMBER 1: How many total rushing yards will Cincinnati gain against the Bruin defense tomorrow? (A friendly reminder: in college football—unlike the NFL—sacks count against total rushing yards).

Wide receivers. Let’s talk about UCLA’s wide receivers. But first, take a second and learn more about them in BN’s preview of this pass-catching unit. I’ll wait.

The Bruins have not lost too much from this group from 2018 and two guys, senior Theo Howard and junior Demetric Felton, should lead this team in 2019. But I am intrigued by what Chase Cota and Michael Ezeike will bring to the table this year. I also love freshman Charles Njoku’s size, although he may not be ready for the spotlight as a true freshman.

By all accounts, Dorian Thompson-Robinson has improved his command of the offense and established himself as the leader on offense. This should help the passing game. PGG #2 is a two-parter.

PREGAME GUESS NUMBER 2: Which UCLA wide receiver will lead the Bruins in receptions versus Cincinnati? Will this player also lead the team in receiving yardage?

UCLA’s red zone offense was #86 out of 130 teams last season. The Bruins made it into the red zone (i.e., inside the opponent’s 20 yard line) 37 times, and scored a touchdown or a kicked a field goal on 30 out of those 37 visits. That’s an underwhelming 81.08% conversion rate, not to mention a low number of red zone appearances. For comparison purposes, UCLA opponents, got into the red zone more (57 times) and scored more (51 times), for an 89.48% average. UCLA’s red zone offense must be better this year. PGG #3 has three parts.

PREGAME GUESS NUMBER 3: How many times will UCLA make it into the red zone versus Cincinnati? Of those red zone appearances, how many will result in touchdowns and how many will result in made field goals?

I hope that you enjoyed BN’s first PGG of the 2019 UCLA Bruin football season. Post your answers in the comment section below, or any other comment you wish to make about our beloved Bruins.

Go Bruins!