Texas was No. 7 in the country last season when the Bruins stormed into Austin and beat the Longhorns by 22 points, and now Mack Brown's club is looking for payback and a 3-0 start heading into next weekend's bye.
Texas whipped Rice in the opener, but had to come from behind last weekend in the fourth quarter with two young quarterbacks to beat BYU 17-16 after starter Garrett Gilbert was benched. Gilbert is now the third stringer going into the matchup with UCLA, with Brown deciding to rotate sophomore Case McCoy and freshman David Ash against the Bruins.
"We felt like Case and David are listed either or on the depth chart, or that's the way it should be," said Brown. "But we thought Case did a good job on the final drive for sure to lead to points. We thought David still brings that different dimension."
UCLA couldn't keep up with Case Keenum in a season-opening loss to Houston, but it grinded out a 27-17 win over San Jose State last weekend at home to get its first win of the year. UCLA did it in large part by committing to the run in the second half and causing two interceptions to pull away.
"We're excited about our first win of the 2011 season. It was tougher than maybe we had hoped, but you have to give a lot of credit to San Jose State," said UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel. "They played very well, especially in front."
The Texas matchup will be UCLA's final non-league matchup before heading into PAC-12 play next weekend with a trip to Corvallis to meet Oregon State.
UCLA leads the all-time series 3-2, including last season's 34-12 rout of the Longhorns in Austin.
Gilbert was disappointing in the opener against Rice, and Brown had seen enough after the junior started the BYU game 2-of-8 for eight yards with two interceptions. McCoy put together the game-winning drive, and finished 7-of-8 for 57 yards. He rotated snaps with Ash, who finished 2-of-3 for 35 yards. Texas had just 289 yards of total yards against the Cougars, and is averaging 397.5 through two games.
While the Longhorns are still searching for their identity offensively, the team has found a couple of young gems at running back and receiver. True freshman phenom Malcolm Brown has been strong in his first two collegiate games at running back, running for 154 yards on 30 carries, while true freshman Jaxon Shipley has five catches for 93 yards and a touchdown.
Brown called Shipley "the most valuable player on offense" in both wins against Rice and BYU.
The Texas defense was stellar against BYU's running attack, holding the Cougars to 43 yards on 22 carries (1.9 yard per carry average). The saving grace for the Longhorns was the unit's ability to keep BYU out of the end zone and force three field goals, all of which were 33 yards or shorter. Texas is only allowing 12.5 yards per game and has given up just 173 yards on the ground. Perhaps the most promising statistic has been the Longhorns' ability to shorten drives and get the ball back to its offense, with Rice and BYU going a combined 7-of-26 on third down and scoring just one touchdown between them (1-of-6 in the red zone.) Emmanuel Acho has lived up to the preseason hype and has been versatile from his linebacker post, registering 23 tackles (two for loss and two quarterback hits) with one pass defended and one broken up.
The Bruins started rolling offensively in the second half against San Jose State, racking up 221 of its 272 yards in the final two quarters to get a handle on a close game with the Spartans. Running back Derrick Coleman had 135 yards rushing and has solidified his spot in the backfield alongside Johnathan Franklin, who has scored touchdowns in each of his last three games for the Bruins, and in five of the last six games dating back to last season.
"Yes, they've got two great backs. You look at [Johnathan] Franklin and [Derrick] Coleman, and they're both older backs who played really well against us last year," said Brown. "Their running game will be a lot better than Brigham Young's running game."
UCLA is averaging 30.5 points per game and is averaging 485.5 yards of total offense through the first two games. Franklin leads the team in rushing with 209 yards and two scores, with an impressive 6.5 yard per carry average, while quarterback Richard Brehaut has completed 29-of-49 passes for 409 yards and three touchdowns since replacing the injured Kevin Prince in the opener. UCLA has not allowed a sack through two games.
With the score tied for much of the second half, the Bruin defense came up with interceptions in the third and fourth quarter, the first stalled a possible go-ahead score by the Spartans and the latter set up a field goal that broke a 17-17 tie.
"Defensively we saw some real improvement from week one. At the end of the game, we started to fly around and make plays," said Neuheisel.
UCLA was hurt in the passing game by Houston, while San Jose State was able to post 202 yards rushing; the Bruins are allowing six yards per carry. The turnovers were key against San Jose State. Linebacker Sean Westgate picked one of those passes off and has been one of the best performers for UCLA, posting 12 tackles and a pass deflection in addition to his pick.
Many would assume that both teams took steps back last weekend despite winning against inferior opponents. This is an intriguing matchup because the Texas quarterback experiment is now going on the road - to the Rose Bowl nonetheless. A week after struggling against the run, expect UCLA to load the box and force the young guns to beat them. The Bruins have a good one-two punch in runners Franklin and Coleman, but expect Texas to win the battle up front and continue to play well against the run. Texas will find a way with its young quarterbacks to get the job done and avenge last year's embarrassing meltdown against UCLA.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Texas 20, UCLA 14