Head Coach: Rick Neuheisel (79-46, 13-16 w/UCLA)
Record: 2-2 (0-1)
UCLA is "so hot right now" coming off a stunning beat down of Texas in Austin, and the less heralded smacking around of a good Houston team the week before. Coug fans who hoped this would be vulnerable Bruin team ripe for an upset may have to start looking elsewhere.
Football Outsiders ranks UCLA #7 in their S&P ratings. Essentially, S&P combines the efficiency and explosiveness of a team, then adjusts for schedule (I recommend playing around on the site, the stats are pretty awesome) UCLA has had a tough schedule so far, playing three BCS opponents and Houston.
OFFENSE 21.88 PPG, 4.8 YPP, #13 S&P
Right now UCLA is playing to their strengths, and their strength is the run game. They rank #3 in rush offense S&P and are #11 in performance on standard (non-passing) downs. The Bruins run the ball almost twice as much as they pass. That can only be done if you are dominant on the ground, and so far it has worked for them.
What's most impressive about UCLA's successful running game is that it has been done with a pass "attack" that is almost completely ineffective. As a team, they average less yards per pass play than yards per rush play. Sophomore Kevin Prince is only completing 46% of his passes, while throwing an interception just about once every 15 attempts. UCLA is ranked #111 in performance on passing downs. They are the very definition of a one-dimensional offensive attack.
DEFENSE 22.8 PPGA, 5.2 YPPA, #3 S&P
UCLA's defense is coming off two excellent performances against talented offenses. They have excelled in standard downs, ranking third in the nation in that category. On passing downs, they still are very good, ranking 15th. If you look at UCLA's raw statistics, you may not come away impressed. Remember, these ratings are adjusted for strength of opponent. The Bruins have played some very good offenses, and they have held their own.
As for the individuals, linebackers Akeem Ayers and Patrick Larimore have been spending a lot of time in the backfield, racking 5.5 and 5.0 tackles for loss respectively. Junior Sean Westgate (23 solo, 9 assisted) and sophomore Tony Dye (17 solo, 14 assisted) pace the team in tackles.
The Bruin defense has been generous once teams have made it inside the twenty, allowing them to score 14 out of 15 times. They've also had trouble getting off the field on third down, allowing a 49.21% conversion rate.
The Bruins are in trouble if...they get stuck in third and long. As I said above, they are among the worst in the country on obvious passing downs. If their running game is not picking up good chunks of yardage on first and second down, this offense will not be effective.