Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl
Baylor (7-5) vs. #17 UCLA (9-4)
- Game Time: 8:45 (CST)
- TV: ESPN
- Sirius Channel: 84
- The Spread: Baylor +3
Before getting into the preview of this year’s Holiday Bowl, take yourself back to Saturday, November 17th. Baylor was coming off a loss to Oklahoma and stood with a 4-5 record on the season. For the Bears to qualify for their third straight bowl game, they would have to win two of three games against Kansas State, Texas Tech, and Oklahoma State.
Given the fact that Baylor had one win in their past five games – and that being against Big 12 cellar dweller Kansas – it looked like a solid bet the Bears would be staying home for the holidays.
But then a funny thing happened; Baylor started playing a little bit of defense. More specifically, Phil Bennett’s crew started creating turnovers. In Baylor’s final three games of the season, they came up with nine turnovers which offset the fact that they were still giving up points and yards (Texas Tech and Oklahoma State both finished with over 550 yards of offense).
Baylor’s newfound ability to come up with big plays on defense keyed their three game winning streak to end the season including their shocking upset of Kansas State who was well on their way to playing for the national title before the Bears held K-State to just 362 yards of offense forcing Collin Klein into three uncharacteristic interceptions.
That three game winning streak propelled the Bears to San Diego with the Holiday Bowl selecting Baylor over the likes of West Virginia, Texas Tech, and Oklahoma State which was unthinkable after Baylor's midseason four game losing streak.
UCLA meanwhile, comes into Thursday night’s Holiday Bowl on the heels of two straight losses to Stanford to end the season. Stanford took care of the Bruins 35-17 to end the regular season forcing a rematch the following week in the Pac-12 championship game.
In the second meeting, Stanford outscored UCLA 10-0 in the fourth quarter while overcoming a seven point deficit giving them back-to-back victories over UCLA and earning the Pac-12’s Rose Bowl berth.
Both teams were potent on offense in 2012 with Baylor averaging 578 yards per game while UCLA finished third in the Pac-12 averaging 474 yards over their 13 games.
Both teams feature strong ground games with quarterbacks who can make you pay in the passing game. UCLA’s freshman quarterback, Brett Hundley, completed in impressive 68.2% of his passes this season with 26 touchdowns against 11 interceptions.
On the other side, Nick Florence did just about as good a job as anyone could have expected in replacing the gigantic shoes left by Robert Griffin. Florence threw for 4,121 yards with 31 touchdown passes on the year while leading the nation in total offense averaging 388 yards per game.
Baylor’s defense was once again its Achilles heel throughout most of the season but give the Bears credit, they stuck with it and finished the season playing their defense when they needed it most. It was their defense that was the difference when the knocked off Kansas State in the season’s biggest upset.
Baylor, Keys to the Game:
1. Protect the quarterback: The Bruins finished third in the Pac-12 with 45 sacks on the season (Kansas State led the Big 12 in sacks with 31 for comparison’s sake) led by linebacker Anthony Barr who finished the year with 13.5 sacks by himself. If UCLA can get constant pressure on Florence, Baylor’s vertical passing game will suffer as a result.
2. Keep Johnathan Franklin in check. That, of course, is easier said than done. Baylor’s run defense hasn’t been great, but it’s gotten better late in the season. They’ll need to be at their best to slow down Franklin who has rushed for over 150 yards in a game six different times this season. He averages over six yards per carry and it doesn’t take a math genius to realize that’s a first down every other time he touches the ball.
3. Stay balanced on offense. The Bear’s offense is good – really good that is – and they’re at best when they can run the ball which they’ll undoubtedly try and do with Lache Seastrunk in the backfield. If they can get Seastrunk and the running game going early, stopping their explosive duo of Terrance Williams and Tevin Reese over the top becomes that much tougher to defend.
UCLA, Keys to the Game:
1. Avoid the big plays on defense. Baylor can score from anywhere on the field and if the Bruins can avoid giving up long scoring plays, Baylor will be forced to maintain drives which is something they haven’t always had to do this season (Baylor has 19 scoring drives off one minute or less this season).
2. Penalties. UCLA leads the country in penalties with an astounding 124 this season (16 more than any team in the country). It goes without saying, but in a game which figures to be close Thursday night, shooting yourself in the foot could come back to haunt the Bruins in the end with a couple ill-time yellow flags.
3. Keep the pace. UCLA should have plenty of success running the football against Baylor, but that will be hard to maintain as the game where’s on if Baylor is able to jump out to an early lead. If UCLA can stay within a score or two throughout the game, Franklin could be the difference in the game when the fourth quarter rolls around as UCLA will be able to control the clock keeping Baylor’s offense on the sideline.
Everybody remembers Baylor’s bowl game last year when they outscored Washington 67-56 in the Alamo Bowl. Given the offensive firepower the will be on display in San Diego, we could be in for more of the same Thursday night.
The over/under point total for the game currently sits at 81.5 and even with the high total, you would be hard pressed to take the under given these team’s penchant for scoring points if you like to place wagers on such things, of course.
UCLA figures to have the better defense, but few defenses have been able to slow down Baylor’s attack this season. Only two teams held Baylor under 30 points all season and in those two games, the Bears hurt themselves with 10 turnovers (six vs. TCU and four vs. Iowa State). If Baylor can hold onto the ball, it stands to reason they'll be eclipsing the 30 point mark – and then some – once again.
With the long layoff between the regular season and the bowl games, it’s always hard to predict which team comes out ready to play, but Baylor was playing their best football over the season’s final three weeks and I see no reason why that won’t continue against the Bruins.
Baylor’s offense will pick up right where it left off and UCLA will be forced into a couple costly turnovers trying to play catch up as the Bears pick up their second straight bowl victory. Baylor 48 UCLA 40.