How UCLA Replaces Playmakers May Determine Game
Looking back at last year's game with UCLA in Pasadena is not something Nebraska fans do fondly. The Bruins rolled up 653 yards and put 36 points on the board. A fair amount of the damage was done by some departed players. Running back Johnathan Franklin accounted for 276 yards and a touchdown. Tight end Joseph Fauria added 42 yards and two scores. Defensive end Datone Jones even added a safety. That's over 300 yards and 23 points lost to graduation. How and whether UCLA can replace that production may ultimately determine the outcome of the game.
By himself, Brett Hundley could be worth more than 350 yards against the Huskers. He passed for 305 yards and four touchdowns a year ago and rushed for another 53. Running back Jordon James rushed 6 times for 27 yards in 2012 versus NU. If you gave him all of Franklin's carries, that would give him a 100-yard day. Add it up, and it's probably fair to expect 400-450 yards of offense from UCLA this time.
But 450 yards would probably not have won the game for the Bruins a year ago. The player they haven't appeared to replace is Fauria. They seem to make their throws to backs and receivers. They don't have that tight end that's 6'4" or taller to worry about. Fauria was 6'7" and his presence not only led directly to his receiving production but also created a lot of space for the rest of the team to operate. Nebraska had concerns about their own dropoff at tight end, but this is one opponent that might actually envy NU's depth and experience at the position.
There's little reason not to expect a productive day for the UCLA offense on Saturday. Still, there's a difference between efficient and explosive. The Bruins will make plays and score points, no doubt. It's something of a question whether they will be as deadly as they were a year ago in their own stadium. New players will have to step up to make that happen.