UCLA has been dominant in its first two outings, blowing out Virginia and UNLV by a combined 52 points. BYU provides the Bruins with their first real test.
Conversely, the Cougars come in about as tested as any team could be through just two weeks. They ended Nebraska’s 30-year Week 1 win streak with a Hail Mary by freshman quarterback Tanner Mangum, thrust into the lineup when Taysom Hill suffered a season-ending leg injury.
Mangum Magic carried over into Week 2, when he launched a fourth-down prayer to the end zone, which receiver Mitchell Juergens made a spectacular leap to haul in for the game-winner over Boise State.
A third marquee win would force BYU into the very early conversation for a College Football Playoff berth, but UCLA is positioned to make its own postseason run in 2015. The veteran-laden Bruin roster is responsible for back-to-back 10-win seasons.
College Football Podcast: Week 3 Preview with Dari Nowkhah
BYU at UCLA
Kickoff: 10:30 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV: Fox Sports 1
Spread: UCLA -17
Three Things to Watch
1. Which Freshman Blinks?
These freshman quarterbacks aren’t exactly alike. UCLA’s Josh Rosen is less than a year removed from facing largely overmatched prep competition at Southern California high school St. John Bosco.
BYU’s Mangum, four years Rosen’s senior, faced the challenges of serving as a missionary in Chile.
Both are quite a bit different from playing high-profile, college football games for teams with Playoff aspirations. Thus far, the freshmen Rosen and Mangum have both flourished.
“It doesn’t surprise me that he’s playing with that level of confidence, given his age and given the success he had in those first two games,” UCLA head coach Jim Mora said of Mangum.
The defense that can force either to suffer a first-year setback early — a costly interception, take a big sack — should gain a quick advantage.
Both UCLA defensive coordinator Tom Bradley and BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall, responsible for defensive play-calls, like to bring steady pressure in pursuit of the big play. Neither Rosen nor Mangum has been rattled yet, but each is up against his stiffest competition yet on Saturday.
2. Paul Perkins vs. The BYU Rush Defense
With all eyes on Rosen last week, UCLA running back Paul Perkins reminded the nation why he was the Pac-12’s leading rusher in 2014. Perkins ripped off 151 yards with a pair of touchdowns against UNLV.
BYU’s allowing just 2.79 yards per carry; Perkins is averaging 6.6. Getting Perkins going is essential, but don't be surprised to see powerful freshman back Soso Jamabo or two-way threat Myles Jack get early carries to try and soften BYU's defensive front.
Every season since Mora’s arrival, UCLA ranked in the bottom 10 nationally for penalty yardage. Similarly, BYU finished the last two seasons incurring the fourth and 11th most penalty yards of any team in college football.
UCLA has 155 yards in laundry through two games, and though BYU is significantly better at 84, the Cougars have been on the giving end of some of the more cringe-worthy moments of the early season.
Discipline will be a key Saturday. Faced against aggressive defenses, neither offense can afford to begin drives behind the chains. Likewise, the explosive potential of both offenses means neither defense can give away free yardage without suffering consequences.
No team in college football has a more impressive two-game resume thus far than BYU. The Cougars were going to have to run a gauntlet to open the season, kicking 2015 off with Nebraska, Boise State, UCLA and Michigan all in a row.
The Cougars have certainly impressed, and had some good fortune on their side in the process. UCLA is the best team BYU has seen yet, and the Bruins might be the toughest test the Cougars face all year. This week is when BYU’s luck may run out.
For as much attention is being paid Rosen, the Bruin defense is one of the most versatile and talented in college football. Even without suspended cornerback Ishmael Adams, UCLA has been great against the pass, holding opponents to a completion percentage below 47.
UCLA has the horsepower to do what both Nebraska and Boise State failed to: put BYU away before Mangum can throw another Hail Mary.