UCLA and Texas have two of the most decorated programs in college sports. Texas’ brand is strong, even when the football team is not. Longhorns’ orange wasn’t the only thing burnt during a 41-7 loss to Brigham Young last week. Staff writer Chris Foster looks at the game’s story lines and matchups:
It’s about time
The Bruins always seem to catch the Longhorns at the right time.
They came across Texas as coach John Mackovic was headed out the door in 1997 and dismantled the Longhorns, 66-3. Mackovic’s replacement, Mack Brown, was just coming through the door in 1998 when the Bruins won, 49-31. Now, UCLA gets Charlie Strong in his first season as Texas coach.
Texas’ Strong hasn’t yet caught on. The loss to BYU was the worst for the Longhorns in Austin since UCLA’s blowout in ’97.
UCLA Coach Jim Mora, whom Texas officials approached before hiring Strong, isn’t taking the Longhorns lightly.
“I look at what problems they can pose and what can we attack,” Mora said.
The Texas offensive line is a good place to start. The Longhorns are without three starters — center Dominic Espinosa with a broken ankle and tackles Desmond Harrison and Kennedy Estelle because of suspensions.
As much as the Longhorns’ defense has struggled, it still is a problem for offensive lines.
Led by ends Shiro Davis and Cedric Reed and tackles Malcolm Brown and Desmond Jackson, the Texas defense is tied for fourth nationally with 10 sacks.
“We don’t need to settle for fourth, we need to take a shot at going for first,” Jackson said. “We go out there and do what we need to do to get to the QB, and all I’d like to say is we’re just going to keep coming at them.”
UCLA’s offensive line was shaky in an opening win over Virginia, with five false starts and five sacks. The return of center Jake Brendel from a sprained knee seemed to stabilize things against Memphis last week.
UCLA’s offense is at its best when quarterback Brett Hundley runs, whether by design or through improvisation. But the Bruins are still waiting for another back to be at least a secondary threat.
Paul Perkins slashed his way to 98 yards against Memphis and 80 against Virginia in the opener. But beyond Perkins are mostly questions.
Jordon James tweaked his knee against Memphis, but is expected to play. Freshman Nate Starks has impressed coaches but has only two carries. Linebacker Myles Jack will be used mostly in short-yardage and goal-line situations.
There is no doubt UCLA has the edge at quarterback. After struggling against Virginia, Hundley passed for 396 yards and three touchdowns against Memphis.
Texas has Tyrone Swoopes, who is starting because David Ash is sidelined indefinitely with concussion syndrome.
Swoopes passed for 176 yards and a touchdown against BYU and, according to Strong, “he managed the game well.”
Of course, the Longhorns are used to their quarterbacks being more than game managers. Remember Vince Young and Colt McCoy?
Sense of urgency
Texas is still Texas, and a win over the Longhorns in the Lone Star State still means something.
But UCLA comes to Texas in search of something more: consistency.
UCLA has sputtered against weaker opponents the first two weeks. The Bruins can probably sputter and win against Texas too, but tougher days are coming, so the kinks need to be ironed out this week.
Next up is UCLA’s Pac-12 Conference opener Sept. 25 at Arizona State, a matchup that has determined conference’s South Division winner the last two seasons.
Mora, in his postgame speech after the Memphis game, shown on the Pac-12 Networks’ show “The Drive,” said it’s time for the Bruins to step up their performance.
“Right now we’re teetering on it,” Mora told his team. “We’re not there. We’re showing glimpses of it. It’s not good enough, OK? It’s got to happen, like, now. We’ve got to develop an amazingly extreme, ludicrous … insane sense of urgency right now.”