A BYU Win Against UCLA is Highly Unlikely but if the Cougars do pull it off – College Football will take note
Some are calling Saturday Night’s game between BYU and UCLA, the most important game for BYU since they went independent five years ago. BYU is riding high with back-back, heart stopping wins. They have moved into the top 25. UCLA is an excellent team, ranked #10 and a squad that many think is talented enough to win the Pac-12 and go to the College Football Playoff. A win for BYU at the Rose Bowl would completely validate the Cougars. It would transform them from a media darling that got lucky two weeks in a row to a legitimate top 15 team to be reckoned with this year.
Check out this article from Matt Hayes of Sporting News. He gives a nice break down of what this win would mean, especially in the context of BYU playing one of of their toughest schedules ever this year:
So Cougar fans – it’s okay, let you mind wander a bit, dream about the improbable! Why can’t you beat UCLA! You’ve already beaten Nebraska on the road and beaten a ranked Boise State team. Why not keep it rolling? We’d all love to see it.
Here’s why I don’t think it will happen:
- BYU does not have a go-to running back or any real running game for that matter. Their best runner was Taysom Hill. They did commit to the run game last week but it took them chopping away for 3 quarters until they finally found some success in the 4th. BYU had something like -14 yards rushing at the half last week! I believe UCLA will be even bigger and tougher than Boise on defense, and it may take far more whacks at the proverbial tree before they can wear UCLA down. They just may not have the time to do that.
- BYU may not have time to commit to the run because I think they might be playing from behind all night and be forced to throw more. Though he is a freshman (and therefore prone to mistakes) UCLA’s quarterback Josh Rosen has incredible ability. Also, many don’t realize UCLA is returning the #1 rusher from the Pac-12 last year in running back, Paul Perkins.
- Big plays – BYU’s defense played really well last week. However, they are not two and three deep like may Power 5 schools are. What happens if Kai Nacua does not have 3 interceptions again? What happens if one of BYU’s key defensive players – Harvey Langi, Fred Warner, Bronson Kaufusi – gets dinged up and is forced out of the game? Could BYU still contain UCLA and limit the explosive game breaking plays? Can they hold UCLA to just a field goal on a short field? If they give up a 65 yard touchdown pass and BYU’s offense goes 3 and out on the next series, can BYU’s D regroup quickly enough to bear down and avoid another quick score?
So that’s the does of reality. But what does BYU have in their favor?
- It’s quite possible there will be 7,000 – 10,000 BYU fans at the Rose Bowl. BYU has a large fan base in Southern California and the team is hot right now. I expect to see a lot of Cougar Blue in the crowd.
- BYU still has several really tall, sure handed receivers. If these guys can get separation and get open, they can help keep offensive drives alive.
- BYU has Tanner Mangum. I believe the heart stopping heroics may come to an end this week but I think Mangum could really be the next great passing quarterback at BYU. Could he throw for 350-400 yards Saturday night without 200 of those yards coming from desperation heaves? I think he is capable of that – just maybe not against a team as good as UCLA.
- I have no inside knowledge or anything but I just wonder if that brawl at the end of the bowl game last year somehow galvanized the team. Everyone talked about how embarrassing it was, how it resulted in suspensions, etc. I wonder though if the guys on the team finally got pissed off enough about being an under-performing 8-5 team every year and the brawl was simply the result of some pent up frustration. Have they now channeled that energy into being a more disciplined and competitive football team?
The odds makers seam to think UCLA is 2 and 1/2 touchdowns better than BYU. I think the game could be a lot closer. And if BYU can keep it within 10 points or less, I think they can still legitimize their season. I thought they were gonna be 8-4. With two surprising wins to start the season, even with a respectable loss to UCLA, could BYU go 10-2, be ranked in the top 20 and be in the conversation for a New Year’s 6 Bowl game? That would be quite a season.