UCLA running back Johnathan Franklin sprints away from Nebraska's… (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles…)
UCLA has chased after ranked teams the past five years. Now it's the 22nd-ranked Bruins who are pursued, though it would take a colossal collapse for them to be caught by winless Houston on Saturday night at the Rose Bowl. Times staff writer Chris Foster looks at the game's matchups and story lines:
Johnathan Franklin must be a Heisman Trophy candidate. Heismanpundit.com came to a UCLA practice this week.
The Q&A with the Franklin, who leads the nation in rushing, started with, "one of the biggest surprises of the college football season so far has been the play of UCLA senior running back Johnathan Franklin ..."
Franklin had 976 yards rushing last season, 1,127 as sophomore and is within 631 yards of Gaston Green's UCLA career record.
Franklin is averaging 215.5 yards rushing per game. Houston ranks 111th against the run out of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams.
The only thing that should slow down Franklin this week is if the Bruins build a big lead early.
Thus far, quarterback Brett Hundley has validated all the gushing praise fans doled out when he signed with UCLA. He is 18th nationally in passing efficiency and has displayed skills as a runner.
Of concern is the ankle injury Hundley suffered against Nebraska last week.
Still, even on one leg, Hundley should have no problem with the Cougars, who gave up 56 points to a Louisiana team last week … Tech not Louisiana State.
If all else fails, the Bruins can just put the ball in the hands of their running back trio — Franklin, Damien Thigpen and Jordon James.
Houston fired its offensive coordinator after opening with a 30-13 loss to Texas State — and scored 49 points against Louisiana Tech last week.
The Bruins' defense struggled some against mobile quarterbacks the first two games, but was strong in the second half both times.
Houston quarterback David Piland is not mobile, but he has a quick release and speedy receivers.
Piland completed 53 of 77 passes for 580 yards and four touchdowns in the loss to Louisiana Tech. The Cougars could put up some points, though chances are many will come after the game is decided.
"We've got to get them off the field," UCLA Coach Jim Mora said. "They can't have 77 passes against us."
Then and now
Mora was quick with the coach-speak this week. That happens when your ranked team faces what is expected to be an inferior opponent.
"They were an outstanding team last season," Mora said.
True, the Cougars finished 13-1.
"Watching film, you see an explosive team," Mora said.
Explosive, OK. But …
The Cougars beat Penn State in the 2011 TicketCity Bowl. This season's 0-2 team probably couldn't beat this season's 0-2 Penn State team.
Complacency is Mora's concern, and the Bruins' have a recent history of flops after big victories.
"Regardless of who we're playing, you want to live up to your standard rather than play up and down to your competition," Mora said.
UCLA has started 3-0 25 times in its football history. In those 25 times, only once have the Bruins finished with a losing record. That was in 1964 when they finished 4-6.
The last time Houston started a season 0-3 was 2001. The Cougars finished 0-11 that season.