Friday, June 30, 2006

2006 Spring Opponent Preview - UCLA Bruins

Top player: Justin Medlock, Sr., K (yes, the kicker)
Make-or-break player: Chris Markey, RB
Biggest offensive strength: ?
Biggest offensive weakness: ?
Biggest defensive strength: ?
Biggest defensive weakness: ?
Spring Depth Chart

If you've followed college football, and I told you that Olson was the quarterback for the Bruins this year, you'd probably scratch your head, count up the last four years un which QB Drew Olson started for the Bruins, and start screaming about NCAA violations.

However, Olson is in fact starting at quarterback this year - BYU transfer Ben Olson. A sophomore, he is expected to step into the shadow of the QB that preceded him and even has to wear the same name on his jersey.

And he will have his work cut out for him this year. Last year, the Bruins had a very good season behind a pair of Drews - Drew Olson, the QB that threw for over 3,000 yards, and RB Maurice Drew, the stud RB that shined in 2004 with a 6.4 yard per rush average, but sputtered a little in 2005 - not breaking the 1,000 yard plateau.

Ben Olson is a little old for a sophomore at 23, and will bring some poise and maturity with him to the position. The stud of the 2002 BYU recruiting class, Olson will finally get to start - for UCLA. He was unable to beat out Drew Olson last year because of his accuracy, and he will have to improve to be an effective leader of an inexperienced offense.

Replacing Maurice Drew is Chris Markey, who was the second leading rusher last year, and had a coming-out party against Purdue last year in the Sun Bowl, rushing for 160 yards in the win. He is a versatile and competent back, who should provide Olson with the production necessary to keep the defense honest.

The biggest drop-off this year is that the Bruin offense won't be able to ride stud Tight End Marcedes Lewis again, arguably the biggest loss for the team. And it's not a great sign that their tight end is the biggest loss - that means that they were lacking any truly explosive receivers, and this should be their biggest offensive weakness this year.

The biggest question mark for this entire team is, well, this entire team. They lost their leading passer, leading rusher, leading receiver, leading tackler, and leader in interceptions. Their only major statistical leader returning is their sackmeister, DE Justin Hickman. Probably the running game and defensive line will be the strengths, respectively, on offense and defense, while the receivers and defensive backfield will be the respective weaknesses. However, so much turnover makes it hard to predict what they will do.

One prediction I am comfortable making is that this squad will take a step back from last year's 10-2 finish. The young, inexperienced players will make mistakes and take time to develop. By the end of the season, this has the potential to be a very good team, but by then they will be fighting just to go to a bowl game, not to get into the BCS.

Against the Irish, their defense will (like most teams not in the SEC or Big Ten) be ridiculously overmatched. Their offense may move the ball, but I expect this game to be one where the Irish defense can start to build some momentum going into the late season, capitalizing on Olson's inaccuracy and the receivers not-so-sure hands.

The game should be fun, though, simply because we haven't hosted the Bruins at Notre Dame Stadium before (if I recall correctly) and their fans are rumored to be good-natured and fun. Look for the Irish to give up some points late in the game, making the score more respectable looking than it really should.

9/23at WashingtonW
10/14at OregonL
10/21at Notre DameL
10/28Washington StateW
11/4at CalL
11/11Oregon StateW
11/18at Arizona StateL
12/2Southern CalL

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