In a soft scheduled week, this game piques the most interest at the PAC 12 Blog. G.A.W.P. has this as a close contest, and it’s loaded with interesting storylines and features. There’s the cross-country road trip, the G5 upstart vs. P5 heavyweight, and loads of questions to be answered for both teams- UCLA’s defense and running game are both still largely unknowns, and Memphis’ early season was massively disrupted by hurricane Irma, meaning that they’ve only played one game and there’s still a lot to learn about the Tigers.
Early Bird- Conventional wisdom says the PAC 12 struggles to find wins in these early morning games, with long trips across the country creating jet lag and the early starts knocking the traveling team out of their rhythm. Whether or not that holds true for the Bruins this week, who knows. There’s some empirical evidence that suggests that teams play worse the further they are from home, but the early morning issue feels like all smoke and no fire. This game, like almost every other, will be about who prepares better.
Bruins Run Defense- Texas A&M ran all over UCLA, to the tune of 6.1 yards per carry. That’s two yards per carry better than the 4.1 they put up against their week two opponent… the Nicholls Colonels. Meanwhile, Hawaii, not known as a running threat, racked up an astounding 6.7 YPC. Bruins fans will be quick to tell you that a lot of those yards came with the 2s in on defense, and they aren’t wrong. However, if you’re trying to justify a performance against the Rainbow Warriors by saying they ‘only’ put up 150 yards of rushing offense you may still have a problem with your run defense.
Rosen For Days- Josh Rosen has been just spectacular, with 9 TDs, 0 picks, and a 67.9 completion percentage for nearly 10 yards an attempt. At this point, UCLA games are worth watching just for the entertainment value. It’s a long season, and there’s a lot of tough games left, but Rosen has done yeoman’s work in the early going pushing his way into the Heisman conversation. He’s on pace for nearly 5000 yards and over 50 touchdowns right now, so it’s easy to see why.
Holy Henderson- If the run defense is a real problem for the Bruins, they are going to have their hands full with Sophomore RB Darrell Henderson (#8). Henderson only carried the ball 12 times in Memphis’ opener, but did so for 169 yards and two touchdowns. It’s no fluke, either, as Henderson is coming off of a 2016 campaign where he averaged 5.5 yards per carry and nearly 12 yards a catch. It’s not just Henderson, either: Patrick Taylor Junior (#6) picked up a cool 131 yards on 15 carries. Even if UCLA’s run defense is decent, they are going to have their hands full with these two.
Will Molson be Tested?- To compete at the highest levels of the PAC 12, UCLA is going to need a place kicker who can put it on the money. JJ Molson wasn’t that guy last year, going 12-20 and struggling at range. The Canadian kicker has no doubt been working hard, but he hasn’t had the opportunity to perform yet, with only one short field goal under his belt this season. If this game is as close as experts predict, it could very well come down to a field goal, and that means Molson will need be on point.
We’re certainly projecting a good game here, but it doesn’t promise to be very informative- unless UCLA loses. If the Bruins win this one, we don’t know enough about Memphis to measure UCLA’s performance very accurately. However, if Mora drops this one to the Tigers, particularly if it is on the back of a successful rushing attack, it’s fair to start adjusting expectations downward. G.A.W.P. favors the Bruins narrowly in this game, giving UCLA a 58.7% chance to win.
There are two ways the model sees Memphis coming away with a W- either a high scoring barn burner with the Tigers running all over the Bruins and Rosen throwing it all over the field, or a low scoring match where Rosen struggles a bit more than expected and Memphis wins the game, again on the ground, but this time by virtue of ball control and solid play.
The Tiger’s score projection is deeply uncertain, as they’ve only played one game. We know more about the Bruins, but their scorecurve is still treating the run defense as a fluke that they will correct in the next few weeks. Memphis provides a great opportunity to test that theory, and to prove to the naysayers that the Bruins’ lone weakness isn’t a weakness so much as a blip on the radar. If they can do that, it will be time to start considering if they can challenge for the South.
We’re projecting a wild, back and forth and generally high scoring match. The team who scores last will win it, and Josh Rosen is likely to lead the Bruins down the field in the waning minutes and put up enough points to win.
UCLA 40, Memphis 37