Pregame Guesses: UCLA Bruins Square Off Against #18 NC State in the Holiday Bowl
Can the Bruins contain NC State's QB? How will UCLA's offense fare against a balanced Wolfpack D? Can UCLA continue to defend the run? Plus three bonus guesses!
It’s bowl season, and, tonight, the UCLA Bruin football team (8-4) will try to earn its ninth win of the season against a tough North Carolina Wolfpack (9-3) squad in the 43rd San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl. NC State is currently ranked #18 in the College Football Playoff rankings well in the Associated Press and the USA Today Coaches polls.
The two teams have only played two times in their history, in 1959 and 1960. Both games were played in Los Angeles and the Bruins came out on top in both contests, 21-12 in ‘59 and 7-0 in ‘60.
Today will be only the second time that UCLA has played a bowl game in San Diego, with the first being a 45-26 loss to Baylor in the 2012 Holiday Bowl game. This will be the first time that the game will be held in Petco Park, the home of the San Diego Padres. The facility first known as Jack Murphy Stadium and, later, Qualcomm Stadium, where the game has been hosted previously, was demolished from December, 2020 to March, 2021.
UCLA comes into the game on a three-game win streak, with wins at the Rose Bowl over Colorado and U.C. Berkeley sandwiched around a historical drubbing of Southern Cal at the Coliseum. NC State has been dominant at home, sporting an unblemished 7-0 record. The Wolfpack have not been as good on the road, going 2-3 away from Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, N.C.
This game in San Diego is an excuse to play my favorite Pearl Jam song. The band’s front man, Eddie Vedder, although born in Chicago, and long associated with the “Seattle grunge scene,” spent much of his childhood and early adult years living in San Diego, where has surfed, worked odd jobs, and played in local bands before he made it big.
This tune is waaaaaay underappreciated, coming on Pearl Jam’s third album, Vitalogy, which did not have the commercial success of the band’s first two albums, Ten and Vs. Maybe it was the paper CD case?
Great tune. On to the guesses . . .
All but twelve passes thrown by NC State quarterbacks this season were thrown by sophomore Devin Leary. Leary had himself an excellent season, passing for 3,433 yards with a 65.7% completion rate, 35 touchdowns, and only five interceptions. And, due to the ACC’s unbalanced schedule, Leary did not face the three worst passing defenses in the ACC—Pittsburgh at #105 in the nation, Georgia Tech at #122, and Duke at #129. His numbers could have been every better if he faced those squads.
Against the worst defense he faced, versus the Miami Hurricanes on the road, Leary threw for 310 yards and two touchdowns in a 31-30 loss. Miami’s passing defense is very similar to UCLA’s, with the Hurricanes allowing 250.6 yards per game (#101 in the nation), and the Bruins allowing 260.2 yards per game (#110 in the nation). If there is any good news for Bruin fans, it is that Leary is not much of an option to run. PREGAME GUESS NUMBER ONE: Predict the number of Devin Leary’s passing yards, passing touchdowns, and interceptions.
Aside from the 24-10 loss at Mississippi State in early September, in which they trailed the entire game, NC State has been in every game this season. As mentioned in PGG#1, they only lost to Miami by a point. There were five lead changes in that game. NC State’s third loss was to #12 Wake Forest, 45-42. There were four lead changes in that one.
Part of the reason that NC State has had a successful season is the fact that the Wolfpack are good stopping both the run and the pass on defense. NC State is #22 in the nation in total defense, but is #24 in rushing defense (one spot above UCLA’s rushing defense), allowing 124 yards on average per game. Similarly, the Wolfpack are #33 in passing yards allowed, allowing an average of 207.6 yards per game. They face a Bruin team that averages 215.1 yards per game on the ground and 226.2 passing yards per game.
This balance on defense is helpful against a team like UCLA, which can beat you in the air or on the ground, but which is much, much better when they successfully do both. The Bruins have found success this season when they can exploit a defense’s weakness. NC State’s defense does not appear to have one. PREGAME GUESSES NUMBER TWO: Predict the number of rushing yards UCLA gains against the NC State defense. Predict the number of UCLA’s passing yards versus the Wolfpack.
If there is one matchup that favors the Bruins, it is when North Carolina State is rushing the football. The Wolfpack are #100 in the nation, averaging 126 yards on the ground per game. In all fairness, however, they do not rush the ball nearly as much as UCLA does. As a team, the Wolfpack only have 374 carries have while UCLA has 518. NC State has only eleven rushing touchdowns on the season, while the Bruins have 31 rushing touchdowns.
The Wolfpack have a true platoon system at running back, with sophomore Zonovan Knight and junior Ricky Person Jr. essentially splitting duties. Knight has 140 carries, 753 yards, and three touchdowns on the campaign while Knight has carried the rock 135 times, for 636 yards, and five touchdowns. PREGAME GUESS NUMBER THREE: How many rushing yards will North Carolina State rack up versus the Bruin rushing defense?
BONUS GUESS NUMBER ONE: Who wins this game? On paper, NC State looks to be more balanced and I have concerns about the Bruin passing defense against the Wolfpack quarterback. The oddsmakers appear to agree, with NC State listed as a one or two point favorite despite playing a long, long way from home.
BONUS GUESS NUMBER TWO: This is like a prop bet. Which player scores the first points of the game?
BONUS GUESS NUMBER THREE: Guess the attendance. Petco Park supposedly has 42,445 capacity for baseball, but will have close to 50,000 available seats for the SDCCU Holiday Bowl.
Add your predictions and thoughts in the comment section below.
It has been a fun season, but all good things must come to an end. Hopefully the Bruins will end this season on a high note.
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1) 240, 3, and 1
2) 250 Charbonnet and DTR go off and 180
Bruins continue their offensive smallmouth and win going away 45-31
Ima go with Charbonnet, I think he’d be the second favorite in Vegas after Knight
Who knows, maybe 35,750?
Good day from San Diego. Last time we came here we had a great tailgate and a terrible game. I think this will be different and we will continue our win streak vs the Wolfpack. Really hoping for DTR to have a happy finale.
250, 1, 2