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September 17, 2010

Catch Me If You Can - UCLA to host Houston

They aren't going to line up across from you and play smash-mouth football with you. They won't over-power you at the line of scrimmage. They will not try to beat you by controlling the clock and wearing your defense down.

Well, you might wear down trying to catch up with them, but when you play the current version of the Houston Cougars, your defense is going to get plenty of time to sit on the bench and catch their breath. And they may very well need to do just that.

The 2010 version of the Cougars is certainly a candidate for being the most explosive team in the country. Of course it's one thing to operate that offense against the likes of UTEP and another to run it against a Pac 10 opponent. And that's the match-up that's going to unfold in Pasadena on Saturday if UCLA can get its act together and quit beating itself up and down the field..

The Cougars have some real stand-out talent over and above their crack receiving corps.

Houston's sophomore linebacker No. 59 Kelvin King, all 6-2 and 240 pounds of him, may have fans thinking that there are an Akeem Ayers playing on both defenses - King is quick, explosive, and is as likely to be rushing the passer as defending behind the defensive line.

Quarterback, wearing No. 7, senior Case Keenum - 6-2 and 210 pounds - is a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate. Keenum of course took a knee to the head in last Saturday's game - after he had already passed his team to an insurmountable lead. He was cleared to play and was named the starter.

If Keenum gets nicked up the Cougars will turn over the reins to the very capable, Cotton Turner. He wears No. 12 and stands 6-0 and weighs 190.

What the Cougars do is race around the football field as though they were involved in a track meet rather than a football game. Of course, the Cougars have shown they can be scored upon as well. What will be required for the Bruins to accomplish that is much improved focus and some speed and quickness of their own. In scrambling around on defense, the Cougars do leave openings in their wake.

The Bruins will enter the game with a size advantage but to exploit the Cougars, UCLA's play makers will have to show some quickness of their own to get into and through the openings that will be created in the Houston defense.

Houston D is smaller and younger than was Stanford's, but no doubt quicker. This is a game in which UCLA is capable of wearing their opponent down by the latter stages - wouldn't that be a nice change to see. But that will require that the Bruins execute from the start of the game, to move the chains and get a maximum number of plays on offense. If they do, using a short-passing attack to help them generate an effective running game and taking advantage of their size advantages at most positions, Bruins leaning on the smaller Cougars play after play after play, they could see a solid payoff late in the game.

Thing is, UCLA has to keep it close for that strategy to pay off. They have to score some on their own as well as blunting Houston's vaunted attack some as well. We know the Bruins have that potential, but they haven't gotten their act well enough together to this point to actually show that on the field.

For Houston, on offense, here are the key guys to look for:

#7 Case Keenum - start with Keenum of course, the much heralded quarterback. If Keenum can play his usual game, he's impressive for sure - he has a quarterback rating of 193, is hitting on better than 69% of his passes - quite good considering how often he's throwing well down the field (and you do not want to compare that to UCLA's QB's rating) - and has five touchdowns to three interceptions this year.

#12 is Cotton Turner, Keenum's backup. Playing later in games against poorer and already beaten-down opponents, his stats are still eye-opening; he has connected on 17 of 21 passing attempts with two touchdowns and 0 INTs.

The two primary running backs are:

#25 Bryce Beall - averages 10 yards per carry (ypc) and five touchdowns so far this season.

#29 Michael Hayes - averages 4.5 ypc and has four touchdowns. Hayes is also one of the Cougars' top receiving threats having caught six passes for an average of nearly 20 yards per reception.

Other top receivers include:

#83 Patrick Edwards - 10 catches, averaging about 20 yards per catch.

#13 James Cleveland - 10 catches also, with an average of about 11 yards per catch.

#84 Kierrie Johnson - five catches, averaging 21 yards per catch, and #35 Tyron Carrier - five catches, nearly 11 yards per catch.

The Houston running backs aren't all that big for the most part, nor are their receivers all that tall. As previously stated, they do it with speed and execution.

This is a Houston team that's easily capable of running up a very big score against anyone and that includes UCLA, especially if the Bruins' defense doesn't step it up on Saturday. On the other hand, this is a Houston defense that has also shown it can be vulnerable, especially as its offense is a big-play offense that doesn't run very much clock usually when Houston has the ball. Points yes, time not so much.

But the Bruins are bigger. They have shown some signs they can run the ball this year. UCLA's quarterback Kevin Prince is finally fully healthy and has had two games and some practice time to get back into a rhythm.

UCLA's offensive line has performed better than expected - if they can account for Houston's King and Prince can throw and UCLA's receivers catch, the Bruins' running backs corps could have its best outing of the year so far. That could - theoretically speaking of course - result in the Bruins holding onto the ball for an extended period of time and the Houston defense spending far too much time getting pounded on for far too many plays, and that could make it a contest.

If it's a game well into the second half, then it becomes a game UCLA should feel it actually does have a serious chance to win. If they can keep the score close to that point.


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