Time & TV: Saturday, 7 p.m. CT, FOX
Line: Oklahoma -23.5 (as of Friday, 8 p.m. CT)
UCLA offensive line vs. the Oklahoma front six
Through two games against Cincinnati and San Diego State, the UCLA Bruins have totaled 124 yards on the ground on 68 total attempts, which averages out to 1.8 yards per carry. Even when taking Dorian Thompson-Robinson’s recorded attempts (five of which are sacks) out of the equation, it’s still averages out to a shade under 3.2 per rush.
This brings us back to the subject of DTR, who hasn’t really had the time in the pocket to run Chip Kelly’s offense. He’s actually a fairly talented kid, but the lack of protection has resulted in pedestrian numbers — 32-61 (52.5 percent) for 355 yards, three TD and a pair of INTs. The strange thing about all of this is the fact that the offensive line returned four starters — two of whom were former blue-chip recruits. Towards the end of 2018, the offense was actually finding success, so 2019’s inauspicious start is troubling if you’re a UCLA fan.
On the other end, the Oklahoma Sooners’ front six/seven — and the defensive line in particular — appears to have hit its stride. The one-gap scheme and the slimmed-down frames of its pieces have resulted in much more pressure and general disruption for opposing offenses. As bad as UCLA has been up front, OU could have a BIG day in the Bruin backfield.
Oklahoma’s offensive line vs. the UCLA front seven
Meanwhile, Oklahoma’s offensive line hasn’t exactly been crisp in the early going, which isn’t terribly surprising considering what was lost from a year ago. The key will be for the unit to gel by the time the big games roll around, and the personnel is very capable of being dominant if that happens. Until them, it’s going to be a work in progress.
One thing that has complicated matters has been the health of LG Marquis Hayes, who missed the South Dakota game with an injury. The ability of this group to develop chemistry is absolutely vital to Oklahoma’s success in 2019, and something like this obviously slows the process a bit. At this moment, he’s considered questionable for Saturday. In his absence, Virginia grad transfer R.J. Proctor has slid into the role.
The left side of the line — which also includes LT Erik Swenson — has been the weak link of the group thus far, so it’ll be interesting to see if that improves this weekend. The group will face by far its toughest test to date, as UCLA’s front seven has been solid in 2019. Despite the absence of Kiesean Lucier-South (who is out for the first four games of the season due to an academic issue), the group is plenty talented and has been pretty much the lone bright spot for the Bruins. The group has allowed 127.5 yards per game on the ground thus far.
What will this crowd look like?
Last weekend, UCLA lost to San Diego State in front of an announced crowd of 36,951. In reality, that number was FAR lower.
Now it’s worth noting that the UCLA fan base will obviously come out in greater number this weekend with No. 5 Oklahoma in the building. Having said that, UCLA is giving away four free tickets to season ticket holders for this one, which obviously speaks volumes. When speaking to Bruins Nation writer Dimitri Dorlis, he speculated that Oklahoma fans will outnumber UCLA fans in spite of the ticket giveaway.
Can Jalen Hurts keep it up?
It’s readily apparent that Jalen Hurts has complete command of the Lincoln Riley offense, and he’s also reminding everyone how prolific he is as a runner. It’s probably not reasonable to expect him to be quite as efficient as he was against Houston and South Dakota, but that’s an awfully high bar. At this point, Hurts has an FBS-leading passer rating of 252.3 while also leading all FBS QBs in rushing yards with 223.
What will be interesting to watch, however, is how he does without a clean pocket, which could be the case on more than a few occasions against UCLA on Saturday. As calm, cool and collected as he is, I’d expect him to handle it well from a mental standpoint. However, Hurts does have a slower release than predecessors Baker Mayfield and Lincoln Riley, so it remains to be seen how effective he’ll be with the arm with defenders breathing down his neck. As much as he’s improved as a passer in the past two years, I think he’ll do quite well, but those efficiency numbers will undoubtedly drop a bit as the level of defensive competition increases. Bold proclamation, right?
How much will we see of the true freshmen?
In Oklahoma’s win over South Dakota, fans were treated to a great look at some highly-touted freshmen on both sides of the ball. Offensively, five-star receivers Jadon Haselwood, Theo Wease and Trejan Bridges showed us why the billing was so high, with each catching a TD pass and doing some great things after the catch.
What a night for Oklahoma's true freshman trio of 5⃣⭐️ receivers.— Sooner Gridiron (@soonergridiron) September 8, 2019
Jadon Haselwood, Theo Wease and Trejan Bridges each caught their first collegiate touchdown passes against South Dakota.#OUDNA | #BoomerSooner pic.twitter.com/kH7ltaQlhp
Defensively, St. Thomas Aquinas product Jaden Davis once again looked like one of Oklahoma’s best defensive backs and made a serious case for meaningful playing time as the season goes on. His evening was highlighted by a spectacular interception, which he actually secured with his legs.
So how involved will these four guys be in Oklahoma’s game plan for this Saturday? Oklahoma is stacked at receiver and has plenty of experience at corner, so snaps are sometimes difficult to come by. However, Haselwood has already received plenty of first-half snaps, which will continue to be the case. With the performances from Bridges and Wease, it’s clear that OU has several guys who are more than capable of making big plays in meaningful situations once the Sooners begin to face stiffer competition. As for Davis, Lincoln Riley made a point to say that he’s earned more snaps, so keep an eye out for him this weekend.
In this week’s podcast, I predicted a 55-17 win for the Sooners, which would currently be a push at 72 points. For the sake of not predicting a push, I’ll take that down to 52-17, which would equal OU covering the spread and the two teams hitting the under.