Holiday fireworks expected from Baylor, UCLA
By BERNIE WILSON
SAN DIEGO — Now, this could be a Holiday Bowl.
The Baylor Bears (7-5), whose offense ranks first nationally after piling up an average of 578.8 yards, face the UCLA Bruins (9-4) today in the game that calls itself “America’s Most Exciting Bowl Game.”
This game should more than ooze offense.
“When people predict a shootout and the head coach is standing up here talking about a shootout, if you’re a defensive guy, you bow up a little bit,” UCLA coach Jim Mora said Wednesday. “It’ll be a great night to be at Qualcomm watching football, because you’re going to see some quality football and some exciting football.”
Suffice it to say that the defensive coordinators have been busy.
Baylor senior quarterback Nick Florence, who replaced Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III, leads the nation in total offense with 387.7 yards per game. Senior Terrance Williams is first in yards receiving at 147 per game.
The Bruins, who won the Pac-12 South, are hardly slouches.
Senior running back Johnathan Franklin is UCLA’s career leading rusher, with his 1,700 yards this season propelling him to a four-year total of 4,369 yards. He ran for 13 touchdowns and caught two scoring passes.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Brett Hundley is a dual threat, having thrown for 3,411 yards and 26 touchdowns, plus he was the team’s second-leading rusher with 365 yards and nine touchdowns.
The over-under for combined points is 81.
Baylor rebounded from a four-game losing streak in the middle of the season to win four of its last five, including its final three games. Among them was a 52-24 upset of then-No. 2 Kansas State, derailing the Wildcats’ hopes for a national championship.
The Bears rank fifth nationally in scoring, averaging 44.1 points per game.
Baylor proved last year that it can be potent in the postseason. It piled up 777 yards in a 67-56 victory against Washington in the Alamo Bowl, which got Huskies defensive coordinator Nick Holt fired two days later.
While Washington did a decent job on Griffin, the Huskies had no answers to stopping a Bears running game that finished with 482 yards rushing — including three backs topping 100 yards — and eight touchdowns rushing.
The Bruins are coming off consecutive losses to Stanford, a 35-17 defeat in the regular-season finale, and then a 27-24 defeat in the Pac-12 championship game.
Including victories against Washington State and USC, the Bruins allowed at least 27 points in each of their last four games.
“I don’t think I’m concerned about what happened in the last couple games, but I’m concerned about Baylor, certainly,” Mora said. “They put up points at a very fast pace. We’ll have our hands full on defense. Offensively, it will be exciting going up against this team to see if we can stay up with them a little bit.”
This will be the first meeting between the teams.
“The funny thing is that we really don’t cross paths with them video-wise or even TV, because I go to bed pretty early on Saturday nights and by the time we get the games out that way, it’s pretty late our time,” Baylor coach Art Briles. “But I’ve kept up with them. I know they had a real good run and beat some really good people, soundly. That always concerns you as a coach.”
Mora, a two-time NFL head coach and a former assistant with the Chargers, was asked about his possible interest in returning to pro football since San Diego is expected to fire Norv Turner at the end of the season.
“I have an interest right now in beating the Baylor Bears,” Mora said.
“I’m not going to talk about the Chargers,” he added. “The Chargers have a head coach who is a very good friend of mine. I’m not going to disrespect him by saying anything about that job.”
Mora called Chargers defensive coordinator John Pagano “one of my best friends and I’ve known Norv forever. I wish them the best.”
Baylor (7-5) vs. UCLA (9-4), 4:45 p.m. (ESPN)
At San Diego
Line: UCLA by 1
Series Record: First meeting
What’s at stake: The Holiday Bowl bills itself as “America’s Most Exciting Bowl Game,” and these two teams can deliver. Baylor’s offense, led by quarterback Nick Florence, is first nationally with 578.8 yards per game and the Bears are fifth in scoring at 44.1 points. UCLA is led by running back Johnathan Franklin and quarterback Brett Hundley.
Key matchup: Baylor senior quarterback Nick Florence, who replaced Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III, against UCLA’s defense. Florence leads the nation in total offense with 387.7 yards per game. UCLA’s defense has allowed at least 27 points in each of its last four, including consecutive losses to Stanford. The second loss to the Cardinal was in the Pac-12 championship game.
Players to watch: Baylor: Senior All-American Terrance Williams is first in the nation in yards receiving at 147 per game.
UCLA: Senior running back Johnathan Franklin is UCLA’s career leading rusher, with his 1,700 yards this season propelling him to a four-year total of 4,369 yards. He ran for 13 touchdowns and caught two scoring passes.
Facts & figures: UCLA’s Jim Mora began his coaching career with the San Diego Chargers as defensive quality control coach from 1985-88 and secondary coach from 1989-91. He also was head coach with the Atlanta Falcons and Seattle Seahawks. … This is the first meeting between the teams. … The over-under for combined points is 81. … Baylor rebounded from a four-game losing streak in the middle of the season to win four of its last five, including its final three games. Among them was a 52-24 upset of then-No. 2 Kansas State, derailing the Wildcats’ hopes for a national championship.
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