UCLA football (1-1) heads to Provo, Utah to face off against BYU (1-1) on Saturday night. Last year, the Bruins used a late fourth-quarter comeback to defeat the Cougars 24-23 in the Rose Bowl.
The current point spread for this game – according to Westgate, BOVADA.ld and BETONLINE.ag – is 3.5 points, in favor of UCLA.
In the space below, the Daily Bruin’s beat writers for UCLA football – Matt Cummings, Matthew Joye, TuAnh Dam and Derrek Li – provide their predictions of how the game will shake out.
Matt Cummings’ prediction
UCLA 24, BYU 20
Perhaps it’s optimistic to think that the expected returns of defensive linemen Takkarist McKinley and Eddie Vanderdoes will allow the Bruins to keep the productive BYU running game under wraps. But McKinley and Vanderdoes are true studs – the type who will both be playing Sundays in the future – and with those two studs up front, the UCLA secondary is plenty good enough to frustrate BYU quarterback Taysom Hill, who threw three interceptions a week ago against Utah.
Cougar back Jamaal Williams is a dangerous runner capable of gashing the Bruins, but if UCLA can build an early lead, BYU will struggle to get back in the game through the air. That puts a lot of pressure on the Cougar defense to survive the absence of safety Kai Nacua, who is suspended for the first half after a targeting call last week. With Nacua out of the game, sophomore quarterback Josh Rosen should be able to get the Bruins on the board early and force the Cougars to play from behind.
Matthew Joye’s prediction
BYU 31, UCLA 23
UCLA just hasn’t shown enough in the first two weeks of the season to make me a believer. Last week, the Bruins allowed 5.0 yards per carry and 21 points to a UNLV team composed mostly of two- and three-star recruits. The week before that, UCLA needed to stage a late, and somewhat lucky, comeback just to pull even with Texas A&M and force overtime.
I understand I am taking a glass-half-empty look here – the Bruins did still beat UNLV by 21, and they really could have defeated A&M if not for a few key dropped passes – but the reality is that this UCLA team has really underwhelmed this year. Players and coaches said before the year that they had resolved the problems with the run defense, but those year-old problems still seem to be very apparent. Granted, the injuries to senior defensive end McKinley and redshirt junior defensive lineman Vanderdoes have been devastating, but that’s still no excuse for allowing 21 points and 5.2 yards per play to lowly UNLV.
Considering that the Bruins are on the road against a much stronger offensive team this week, it’s hard to see them winning. There are just too many holes in this run defense right now, and BYU’s rushing offense – led by speedy quarterback Hill and former 1,000-yard rusher Williams – will be too much to handle.
Even if McKinley and Vanderdoes return to action this week, I doubt that they will be healthy enough to plug up the myriad holes that abound throughout this UCLA defense.
TuAnh Dam’s prediction
UCLA 27 , BYU 24
If you watch the UCLA football team, you never know what you’re getting.
Sometimes you get a team that puts together highlight plays – like four touchdowns in their first four drives against UNLV last week. And other times they just look lost – like right out of halftime against Texas A&M.
Sure the injury bug has hit them, particularly on the defensive end, but the Bruins are too talented and experienced to be this inconsistent.
Vanderdoes and McKinley will be a big confidence boost if they can take the field against BYU, especially with veteran quarterback Taysom Hill leading the offense.
The Cougars were on the brink of upsetting the Bruins last year at the Rose Bowl, if not for a fourth quarter comeback and a late interception by former Bruin Myles Jack.
BYU will put the same pressure on the them this year too, and probably have the lead late in the second half if UCLA has another sloppy third quarter. But the Bruins should eke out another win and, hopefully, create some momentum heading into their Pac-12 opener against Stanford.
Derrek Li’s prediction
UCLA 31, BYU 27
Here’s UCLA’s final test before it prepares for a Pac-12 conference season opening date with Stanford next week.
Keep an eye out on the chemistry between Rosen and his receivers. If the drops keep piling on and Rosen still can’t manage to find his touch deep, the passing offense might come to a grinding halt against a better defense than the one Bruins faced last week at home.
But it’s the third game of the season and there are no more excuses for not ironing out the kinks when you have a star quarterback behind center. As long as the defense can keep its players healthy on the field, UCLA will fly back to Westwood with the W.