By Ralph Lauro, Associate College Football Editor
The 'Horns began defense of their Big 12 title last weekend, tallying a 24-14 victory over Texas Tech in Lubbock.
"I'm very proud of my guys," stated head coach Mack Brown. "I told them this would be a tough game and that weird things happen in Lubbock."
The win was the 20th in a row during the regular-season for Texas, which is off to a 3-0 start for the fourth straight year. The 'Horns though, have yet to face the tough part of their schedule, as that will take place following this weekend's game. Texas has both Oklahoma and Nebraska in consecutive games, the two biggest challengers for the Big 12 title.
UCLA meanwhile, was in desperate need of a win last weekend and it came through with a 31-13 upset of No. 23 Houston.
"Certainly, we are excited with a victory," stated head coach Rick Neuheisel. "When you start the season as we have with some difficult losses and embarrassing features within those losses, there is only one way to dig your way out of it. It's important for everybody to understand how important it is to give everything you've got as a team."
It was certainly a nice bounce back effort from the Bruins, who were blanked 35-0 in their Pac-10 opener against Stanford the prior week. UCLA is now set to face its second Big 12 opponent of the season after opening its campaign with a 31-22 loss at Kansas State.
This is only the fifth all-time meeting between UCLA and Texas on the gridiron, with the series being locked at 2-2. The programs last met in 1998, a 49-31 victory by the Bruins at the Rose Bowl.
Johnathan Franklin went for 158 yards and three TDs on the ground, as UCLA ran over Houston for the victory this past weekend. It was clearly the best game of the season for Franklin, who leads the team with 291 yards. The team's inability to run the ball over the past few seasons has been well documented, but the Bruins seem to have found an answer with an average of 203.7 ypg on the ground in '10.
"We worked hard in the offseason to get to a place where we felt like we knew where we were going," said Neuheisel on the ground game. "It's obviously a big improvement from the last two years. But now we have to focus on passing with it so that we can continue to stay on the field."
The Bruins certainly could use a big improvement in the pass game, as they are averaging just 100.0 ypg through the air. QB Kevin Prince has yet to find his rhythm and has completed just 43.6 percent of his pass attempts, with one TD versus four INTs. Last weekend, Prince hit on 9-of-17 tosses for 99 yards, while rushing 10 times for 60 yards and a TD. It was a nice step in the right direction for Prince, who missed most of fall camp.
UCLA shut the door on one of the most explosive offenses in the nation last weekend, although they did it by knocking out Houston's star QB and backup. The Bruins limited Houston to 360 total yards, while forcing three turnovers.
"While we were going to mix pressures and coverages, the one thing you saw was that we played fast. Rahim [Moore] and Akeem [Ayers] made some big plays that changed things," said Neuheisel.
Ayers and Moore both had an INT and the duo combined for eight tackles and two TFLs. They also returned the INTs for a total of 119 yards. Patrick Larimore got into the mix with 11 stops and a forced fumble and he now has 23 stops and a team-high five TFLs on the campaign.
Texas had some issues on offense last weekend, as the team managed just 320 total yards, including only 93 rushing on 43 attempts, in a 24-14 win over Texas Tech. To make matters worse, the 'Horns turned the ball over four times after committing just one in their first two games.
"We had some turnovers in the red zone which cost us dearly," said Brown, whose club failed to post points in 3-of-7 trips to the red-zone.
QB Garrett Gilbert passed for a career-high 227 yards and a pair of TDs, but he was also picked three times, one of which was returned 87 yards for a score. The results were obviously mixed for Gilbert, who hadn't thrown an INT entering the game.
James Kirkendoll grabbed six balls for a career-high 122 yards in the win last weekend, while Foswhitt Whittaker ran for 55 yards and a TD on 15 carries. Behind the tandem of Whittaker (168 yards) and Cody Johnson (140 yards), the 'Horns are averaging 152.3 ypg on the ground and they will surely test a UCLA defense that is permitting over 200 rushing ypg.
Any of the struggles on offense were compensated by a dominant effort on defense, as Texas held Texas Tech to a mere 144 total yards, its lowest production in nearly 20 years. The defense completely shutdown any run game for Texas Tech, while recording three takeaways and four sacks. The unit made quick work, spending barely 22 minutes of the game on the field.
"Tonight they looked really good ... tonight we were pretty dominating," Brown said about the defense. "I thought the defensive staff did a tremendous job, played a lot of guys, keeping guys fresh."
Texas has been pretty stout on defense all season and is giving up just 206.7 total ypg. The 'Horns are allowing just 44.0 rushing ypg and opponents are averaging a mere 1.5 yard per carry. Eddie Jones has been solid versus the run, but even better in pass rush, leading the team with six TFLs and four sacks. That includes a five-tackle, two-sack performance versus Texas Tech.
The Longhorns are a much better team from top-to-bottom and their defense should have no problems dominating this game. That will allow the offense more time to click, as Texas goes on to extend its home winning streak to 16 games.