The Nebraska Cornhuskers and the UCLA Bruins were both impressive offensively last week, as they both took advantage of weak competition. Nebraska amassed 632 total yards in a 49-20 home romp over Southern Miss with Taylor Martinez having the best passing game of his life, while UCLA accumulated 646 yards in a 49-24 dismantling of Rice in its road opener.
The Nebraska defense seems more adept at making stops though, at least against the pass, so the Cornhuskers are -5.5 road favorites in this game with the total set at 60½.
1. Why Nebraska will cover the spread: In a game where most expect offensive fireworks, Nebraska will cover the spread if its pass defense can keep UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley, a redshirt freshman that completed 21-of-28 passes for 202 yards and two touchdowns vs. Rice, in check. He should find the going more difficult here vs. a Huskers’ pass defense that allowed a miniscule 75 passing yards vs. Southern Miss and that ranked 19th in the nation in pass defense last season allowing only 192.2 yards per game through the air. Another key for a Nebraska cover is running the ball effectively, and that might be a slight problem with Rex Burkhead questionable for this game after injuring his knee last week. Martinez was incredible completing 26-off-34 passes for 354 yards to go along with an amazing five touchdowns, but that was with 278 rushing yards of support and vs. a suspect defense. As great as he looked, we still do not trust Martinez as a passer if called upon to carry the offense.
2. Why UCLA will cover the spread: UCLA will cover the spread if it can run the ball effectively on offense and stop the Nebraska run on defense. No one should expect Hundley to duplicate his performance last week going up against the stout Huskers’ pass defense, but Nebraska did allow 185 rushing yards in Week 1 and it ranked just 67th in rushing defense last year allowing 158.5 yards per game. That is an area that UCLA can exploit with Johnathan Franklin, who rushed for a whopping 214 yards and three touchdowns vs. the Owls. On defense, the Bruins need to contain Burkhead (if he plays) or whoever starts in the Nebraska backfield, and force Martinez into third-and-long situations.
3. Total Talk: We may be in the minority here but we actually see this game played in the 50s. We do not expect Martinez to duplicate what was the game of his life last week, but we also think that the Nebraska running game is too strong for the smaller UCLA defense to stop. Even if Burkhead is out, we expect the Cornhuskers’ offensive line to overpower the UCLA defensive line and open up holes regardless of who is running. On the other side of the ball, we also expect UCLA to have its best success on the ground vs. the pedestrian Nebraska run defense. Both teams having success running the ball should shorten this game by limiting each team’s possessions.
4. Betting Trends for the game: The ‘under’ is 22-8 the last 30 times that Nebraska held its opponent to less than 275 total yards in its previous game. The ‘under’ is also 21-8 in UCLA’s L/29 home games.
Nebraska 31 – UCLA 21