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UCLA FOOTBALL

UCLA's matchup against No. 16 Nebraska presents questions

Bruins' young defensive backs likely to get a test from Cornhuskers quarterback Taylor Martinez.

September 07, 2012|By Chris Foster
  • UCLA's success in Saturday's game with Nebraska will weigh heavily on how effective it is at stopping quarterback Taylor Martinez.
UCLA's success in Saturday's game with Nebraska will weigh… (Eric Francis / Getty Images )

UCLA got a light workout in a 49-24 victory over Rice last week. The Bruins will have to do a lot more than just break a sweat against 16th-ranked Nebraska at the Rose Bowl on Saturday. Times staff writer Chris Foster looks at the game's matchups and story lines:

Taylor made

Some questions surrounding Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez's consistency seem to wash away after he completed 26 of 34 passes for 354 yards and five touchdowns in a 49-20 victory over Southern Mississippi last week.

But consistency is measured week in and week out. If Martinez comes west and falls back into his former habits, eyebrows will again be raised.

Does UCLA have the wherewithal to make Martinez uncomfortable? The Bruins will probably try to apply pressure by blitzing linebackers. That could leave their secondary exposed, and UCLA uses a lot of freshman defensive backs.

UCLA was carved up by Rice quarterback Taylor McHargue in the first half last week. McHargue had the Bruins on their heels until he was knocked woozy just before halftime — and the Taylor that UCLA faces this week is considerably better.

On the run

UCLA's Brett Hundley makes his second start at quarterback. Rice was the perfect opponent to get his feet wet. Now he has to keep his head above water against the Cornhuskers.

Bruins backs can help, as runners and receivers.

Johnathan Franklin had 214 yards rushing last week. Damien Thigpen was dangerous out of the backfield, with a 49-yard touchdown reception that was wiped out by a penalty.

Those two, along with Jordon James, can keep Hundley out of third-and-long situations, allowing him time to exhale.

Hundley's mobility could help. Southern Mississippi quarterback Anthony Alford rushed for 85 yards against the Cornhuskers.

Bait and tackles

UCLA bookends its offensive line with freshman tackles: Simon Goines, who was in high school this time last season, and Torian White, who sat out as a redshirt in 2011.

You can expect Nebraska to go to great lengths to teach them a lesson or two.

Next!

Nebraska running back Rex Burkhead remains questionable because of a knee injury.

So what?

Sure, Burkhead is a returning 1,000-yard runner with a lot of moxie. He had 68 yards rushing in three carries against Southern Mississippi. But the rest of the Cornhuskers managed 210 yards rushing.

Ameer Abdullah, Burkhead's backup, had 81 yards rushing and also caught an 11-yard touchdown pass last week.

History lesson

UCLA has won only four of its last 16 games against ranked teams. The Bruins' victories — Tennessee in 2008, Houston and Texas in 2010 and Arizona State in 2011 — came against teams that did not finish the season ranked.

Nebraska has won its last seven games against teams currently in the Pac-12, including three against Colorado when both schools were part of the Big 12 Conference.

But in the Cornhuskers' last trip to the Rose Bowl, they were routed, 37-14, by Miami in the national title game on Jan. 3, 2002.

chris.foster@latimes.com

twitter.com/cfosterlatimes

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