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Scouting Report: UCLA football vs. Boise State

By Jack Nelson

Dec. 14, 2023 12:23 p.m.

For the finale of its 2023 season – and its last-ever game as a member of the Pac-12 conference – UCLA football (7-5, 4-5 Pac-12) will make a short trip over to SoFi Stadium on Saturday to face Boise State (8-5, 6-2 Mountain West) in the LA Bowl. The Bruins enter in search of their first bowl win since 2015, while the Broncos are seeking to cap a second consecutive season with a bowl trophy. Here is this week’s scouting report from Sports senior staff writer Jack Nelson – who is praying that snowfall awaits him upon his return to New England on Sunday.

Boise State’s offense
Offensive scheme: West Coast
Run-pass percentage: 59.8% run, 40.2% pass
Strength: Running the ball at will
Weakness: Consistency in the passing game
X-factor: RB Ashton Jeanty

The transfer portal hasn’t hit the Broncos like it’s battered the Bruins, but suffered they have.

Their offensive leader – quarterback Taylen Green – is already on his way to a new home for the 2024 season. For most teams, that casts aside any shot at a bowl win.

But Boise State’s game-changer still remains, and he isn’t going anywhere.

Ranking second nationally in all-purpose yards, running back Ashton Jeanty is arguably the finest player at his position in the Group of Five. His 1262 rushing yards are impressive as is, placing No. 12 in the nation, and his additional 552 yards as a pass catcher only solidify his outstanding profile.

The Mountain West Offensive Player of the Year has reached the 100-plus rushing-yard plateau six times in his sophomore campaign and twice totaled over 200. He can unleash serious speed in the open field but is also a tough man to tackle in short-yardage scenarios, averaging over six yards per carry.

With Eric McAlister – the Broncos’ top wide receiver – sitting out of the LA Bowl while in the portal, Jeanty is more than the brunt of the ground attack.

He’s now the team’s leading receiver.

Even when Green was under center, the offensive game plan revolved around Jeanty. Boise State ranks No. 16 in the country in run-play percentage.

But with Green transferring to Arkansas, the Broncos are forced to place the ball in the hands of someone who hasn’t attempted a collegiate pass. True freshman CJ Tiller will take up the mantle with the team’s backup out with a season-ending injury.

A wildly inexperienced quarterback now in the picture means the already run-heavy playcalling may soon become entirely one-dimensional.

And that’s a problem.

Despite Jeanty’s acclaimed elusiveness, he’ll be tested by the likes of the country’s No. 1 rushing defense. The Bruins will notably be without their star defender in senior defensive lineman Laiatu Latu – a projected top-10 NFL draft pick – but the rest of the defensive line will be at full strength.

The Broncos’ running game will be slowed at the very least. And if that doesn’t leave them with enough yardage to put points on the board, they’ll have nowhere else to go.

The matchup may not be high-octane in nature, but a titanic battle on the ground is worth watching.

Boise State’s defense
Defensive scheme: 4-2-5
Strength: Getting after the quarterback
Weakness: Stopping the pass
X-factor: DE Ahmed Hassanein

It won’t just be Jeanty headlining a one-man show Saturday.

On the other side of the ball, another figure cuts through a thicket of mediocrity.

Defensive lineman Ahmed Hassanein has been the sack machine of the Midwest. As one of Boise State’s four All-Mountain West First Team honorees, he’s racked up 12.5 of them in 2023 – just 0.5 short of Latu’s mark – to place fifth nationally.

For a defense that struggles mightily to limit chunk plays, the pass rush is the bread and butter of the Broncos, and much of it comes back to Hassanein. Despite sitting at a paltry No. 111 in the country when it comes to pass defense, Boise State is No. 17 in team sacks with 36.

And relentless pressure on the quarterback has been the very secret to the team’s success.

Capping a late-season tear with the fifth Mountain West championship in program history, Bronco country is riding a four-game win streak into SoFi Stadium, surrendering an average of 15.8 points per game in that span. They had allowed 28 per contest in the previous six outings.

Defensive improvements have made all the difference, providing needed support as Hassanein – who notched 9.5 of his sacks during conference play – came into his own down the stretch.

But the squad’s fortitude in the trenches has been evident all season long, ranking 29th in the country in rushing defense. The unit’s only absence Saturday will be Kivon Wright, who is one of four Broncos to enter his name into the portal thus far.

Beyond the defensive line, there’s not much for the Bruins to fear.

The Boise State defense as a whole ranks right around the middle of the FBS pack at No. 61, and its ability to prevent scores in the red zone is worse than that of UCLA.

There is one major discrepancy – with just 48 penalties committed this season, the Broncos are tied for the sixth-least penalized team in the country, and a whole 87 spots better than the Bruins in that regard.

The trouble for UCLA may very well come down to protecting whichever quarterback gets the starting nod. Its offensive line has been porous, allowing the ninth-most sacks per game nationally, and resulting quarterback injuries haven’t exactly eased the instability in the backfield.

Should Hassanein and the rest of the Broncos’ defensive line grant little breathing room to the Bruins’ signal-caller, the offense will likely take an all-too-familiar form.

It may lack the competency needed to contend for victory.

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Jack Nelson | Sports senior staff
Nelson is currently a Sports senior staff writer. He was previously an assistant Sports editor on the softball, men's tennis and women's tennis beats and a contributor on the men's tennis and women's tennis beats.
Nelson is currently a Sports senior staff writer. He was previously an assistant Sports editor on the softball, men's tennis and women's tennis beats and a contributor on the men's tennis and women's tennis beats.
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