Pasadena, CA (SportsNetwork.com) - After a rocky start to the campaign, the 11th-ranked UCLA Bruins will try to prove themselves when the Memphis Tigers invade the Rose Bowl for a non-conference clash on Saturday night.
All summer long, UCLA was pumped up as a potential dark horse candidate for the inaugural College Football Playoff thanks to a ton of returning talent and the recent rise of the program. However, the Bruins did not look particularly dominating in week one, despite earning a victory against Virginia (28-20). The small margin of victory was enough of a disappointment to drop the Bruins four spots in the most recent AP poll.
"We got a win, but we have a lot to improve upon and we will improve upon it," UCLA head coach Jim Mora said. "When I was standing by the door and our guys were walking in, you would have thought we lost that game by the expression on our young men's faces. That gives me a good feeling because I know what their expectations are and they are real about things."
The expectations for Memphis this season are much lower, as the Tigers would be happy with a winning record let alone a bowl appearance. They have not had more than four wins in five straight seasons, but started this year with a victory, although it came against Austin Peay (63-0).
Saturday's matchup will be the first ever between these two programs.
Brett Hundley shoulders a great deal of the pressure that is on UCLA to be an elite team this season, and it looked like that might have gotten to him against Virginia. Hundley completed 20-of-33 pass attempts, but for only 242 yards and he rushed for score. However, he failed to throw a touchdown pass. His less-than-stellar showing was not helped by uneven play from his offensive line, which allowed five sacks.
With Hundley playing far below the level many were expecting, the UCLA offense also fell to a mediocre level of production. The Bruins had just 358 yards and 16 total first downs. The offense was also responsible for only one of the team's touchdowns.
Paul Perkins rushed for 80 yards in the victory and Jordan Payton (eight receptions, 98 yards) was strong on the outside, but the rest of the offensive play-makers failed to make much of an impact.
Thankfully, UCLA's defense was able to make a ton of plays and was really the only reason the Bruins were able to escape Charlottesville with a victory. Ishmael Adams returned an interception 20 yards for a touchdown, Eric Kendricks also returned a pick for a score, and Randall Goforth brought back a fumble 75 yards for a touchdown. In fact, the UCLA defense outscored Virginia's offense, 21-20.
In terms of yards allowed, the Bruins let up 386 to the Virginia offense, while keeping them from scoring a single touchdown in three trips to the red zone. Kendricks had a game-high 16 tackles to go with his interception, and Myles Jack also had double-digit tackles (13). Kendricks was named the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week for his efforts.
The disparity between Memphis and Austin Peay was much greater than that of UCLA and Virginia. The Tigers had nearly 400 more yards than the Governors, while holding a 28-8 edge in first downs and a nearly 10-minute advantage in time of possession. They also punted twice, while forcing 11 from their overmatched opponent.
Paxton Lynch was a freshman last season and looked the part, but he showed improvement in his first game as a sophomore. Against Austin Peay he threw for 242 yards on 20-of-27 passing, while accounting for four total touchdowns (two passing, two rushing). However, he was intercepted once in the game and still needs to prove he can avoid mistakes and be productive against superior competition.
"I've been working on not letting that stuff get to me," Paxton said. "Last year, I threw more interceptions than touchdowns. This year, I have to cut down on my mistakes and shake them off."
With the game all but decided in the first half, the Tigers ran the ball quite a bit more than usual in week one. As a team they had 55 carries, resulting in 303 yards and a school-record seven touchdowns. Starter Brandon Hayes had a team-high of 11 carries for 59 yards and a score. Jarvis Cooper tallied 101 yards and a touchdown on eight totes.
While the offense was piling up the yards, the Tigers defense, which is the strength of the team, was extremely effective, limiting the Governors to just 146 yards and a 1-of-13 success rate on third down. Memphis never let its foe reach the red zone, and were only backed into its own territory twice.
Tank Jakes had six tackles, including two for loss, to lead the unit, while Martin Ifedi had a rather subdued game, with just a single tackle and no sacks.