Bowl Preview: Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl

Nothing like an exciting post-Christmas bowl game to everybody back into college football. After one of the biggest turnarounds in the country in terms of wins, an exciting UCLA team heads south to San Diego to take on Big 12 foe Baylor in what figures to be an exciting back-and-forth game.

Both teams will look to end the season on a high note and there's little doubt that this game might be tougher on the defensive coordinators than the offensive coordinators.

 

[Related: Twelve things we're grateful for at Pac-12 HQ]

 

The Rundown

Who: Baylor (7-5, 4-5 Big 12) vs. No. 17 UCLA (9-4, 6-3 Pac-12)
What: Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl
What Bridgepoint Education is: “Provides high quality, innovative education services to enrich the lives and communities the company serves.”
When: Thursday, Dec. 27. 6:45 p.m. PT
Where: San Diego, California
Where to watch: ESPN with Dave Pasch (play-by-play), Brian Griese (analyst) and Jenn Brown (sideline).
Where to listen: UCLA IMG Radio Network (AM570 in Los Angeles), ESPN Radio

 

The Series

UCLA and Baylor have never met in football.

 

Stat matchup

Rushing offense
UCLA: 202.92 ypg (27th in NCAA)              Baylor: 225.50 ypg (18th)

Passing offense
UCLA: 271.62 ypg (36th)                             Baylor: 353.25 ypg (3rd)

Scoring offense
UCLA: 35.08 ppg (29th)                               Baylor: 44.08 ppg (5th)

Rushing defense
UCLA: 154.54 ypg (53rd)                             Baylor: 190.83 ypg (89th)

Scoring defense
UCLA: 25.92 ppg (55th)                               Baylor: 38.17 ppg (115th)

 

How they got here

UCLA

In an impressive turnaround year, nothing more appropriately illustrates the journey the Bruins took than the fact that they began the season with training camp in the hot conditions of a training camp in San Bernardino and will end the year with a game in picturesque San Diego. The Jim Mora era in Westwood kicked off on the right note as redshirt freshman quarterback Brett Hundley took the opening snap of the first game and raced 72 yards for a touchdown as UCLA rolled over Rice in the opener.

Things kept looking up as the team returned home and upset then-16th ranked Nebraska at the Rose Bowl to put the team on the map nationally. A win against Houston closed out a 3-0 non-conference slate before a narrow, hard-fought game against Oregon State at home gave the Bruins their first loss of the season. The team rebounded by beating up Colorado, 42-14, before heading up to Berkeley in a puzzling game that resulted in a 43-17 win by their UC rivals to the North.

Things got back on track after that, however, as the Bruins rolled to five straight victories - including blowouts at home over Arizona and crosstown foe USC - to give the program its second straight South Division title. They couldn't overcome one of the hottest teams in the country, however, as they fell to Stanford twice in six days (the latter in the Pac-12 Championship Game) to wind up 9-4 on the year and destined for the Holiday Bowl.

Baylor

The post-Robert Griffin III era in Waco looked promising as the offense failed to miss a beat with senior Nick Florence under center. A 3-0 non-conference start was marked by high scoring efforts of 59, 48 and 47 points. That would continue in Baylor's first loss of the season, a thrilling game in which the Bears scored 63 points and set a host of school and NCAA records in a seven-point defeat at the hands West Virginia. That was the first game of a stretch where they lost five of six and looked like they wouldn't make a bowl game. The team rebounded nicely, however, upsetting then-No. 1 Kansas State to jump-start a three-game winning streak to end the season.

 

Coaching matchup

Jim Mora's first season as a college head coach turned out to be a great one for the Bruins, quieting skeptics and quickly bringing plenty of buzz to the program who hit the nine-win mark for the first time since 2005. While Mora has spent almost all his career in the NFL, the coach on the opposing sideline has taken a much different career path. A former high school coach, Art Briles has transformed Baylor from bottom-dweller to one of the most exciting programs in the country. While Briles is known as an offensive coach, Mora's hallmark is his defense, so it should make for a compelling chess match between the two in San Diego.

 

[Related link: SB Nation Holiday Bowl Preview]

 

Key players

UCLA

Running back Johnathan Franklin – The Doak Walker Award finalist as one of the top tailbacks in the country. Franklin's success has been a big reason why UCLA is where it is after notching the best season running the ball in UCLA history and becoming the school's all-time leading rusher this season.

Quarterback Brett Hundley – He burst onto the scene this season as a first-year player and managed to set a school record for total offense while running coordinator Noel Mazzone's system. In addition to setting a host of UCLA records, his ability to run or pass with the ball in his hands keeps defensive coordinators up at night.

Linebacker Anthony Barr – Another big surprise for the Bruins in 2012, Barr was moved over from offense and promptly became one of the top defensive players in the Pac-12 this season. A terror off the edge, he's the national leader in sacks with 13.5.

Baylor

Quarterback Nick Florence – Not a bad year at all after taking over the offense from a Heisman Trophy winner as Florence leads the country in total offense and is third in passing yardage in the wide open Bears attack.

Running back Lache Seastrunk – The Oregon transfer had a quiet start to the season but has come on as of late, averaging 138.6 yards per game with five touchdowns over his last five games to give Baylor a dynamic scoring threat out of the backfield.

Wide receiver Terrance Williams – One of the best wide receivers in the country, Williams leads the nation in receiving and was a Biletnikoff Award finalist.

 

Stat pack

- Baylor is 6-2 this season when outrushing its opponent.

- UCLA back Johnathan Franklin (4,887 yards) broke Maurice Jones-Drew’s school record of 4,688 career all-purpose yards during the Pac-12 Championship game.

- Baylor has totaled nine one-play touchdown drives this season, 16 TD drives of three plays or fewer and 20 TD drives of under a minute.

- The Bears have lost zero fumbles over the last six games.

- Baylor is appearing in its third straight bowl game for the first time in school history and are 10-1 in the months of November and December over the last two seasons. The team has never played in a bowl game in the state of California.

- UCLA is ranked seventh in the nation in sacks (3.3/game) after being ranked 112th last season (1.00).

- Brett Hundley is the first UCLA quarterback to ever throw for at least 300 yards in three straight games.

 

[Related links: UCLA Holiday Bowl Media Guide]

 

Keys to the game

Are you looking for an exciting game featuring plenty of offense? Most are in agreement that the Holiday Bowl will have two high-flying offenses with points on points on points given the makeup of these two squads. Yes, both will have to play some defense, but each has given up their fair share of big plays - Baylor is 119th in the nation in total defense (plus, how could we forget what happened in their last bowl game?).

With all the weapons on the field, this game comes down to something simple: playing passable defense. Guys like Franklin, Florence, Hundley, Williams and others will get some huge chunks of yardage and likely reach the end zone a few times. That means stopping opposing offenses on third down and forcing turnovers will be paramount if either program wants to head into the offseason with a victory. UCLA is an attacking 3-4 defense that gets into the backfield, so pressuring the quarterback and stopping Seastrunk in his tracks will be a big part of the game plan. Containing might be a better idea than stopping. On the flip side, the Bears defense is at an even bigger disadvantage than the Bruins unit, but they did slow down Heisman finalist Collin Klein while throttling Kansas State late in the season.

This has all the makings of a high-scoring, high-flying bowl game that will cause plenty of folks in a certain region of the country to yell out in disgust. If you can get past the fact that there will be a few blown assignments, however, some big plays on both sides of the ball for both Baylor and UCLA await in what should be one of the most exciting bowl games in December.

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