Rosen, UCLA should end season on high note against Nebraska
December 26th sees UCLA and Nebraska head to Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara for the Foster Farms Bowl. UCLA finished the regular season 8-4, coming up just short of winning the Pac-12 South and missing out on a high-profile conference championship game against Stanford. Nebraska come into the game as one of the few teams with losing records to make a bowl game, after a 5-7 regular season, but they did have one of the highest profile upsets of the year when they gave College Football Playoff-bound Michigan State their lone loss on the year.
Despite making a bowl game, it was a tough season for the Cornhuskers, finishing fourth in the Big 10 West — well out of the race to make the conference championship game. 3-5 in conference play, they struggled to make an impact outside of that Michigan State win, and even that came with plenty of controversy on the game-winning touchdown late in the fourth quarter. With all that said, this represents an opportunity for them to end the season on a high and build towards 2016.
UCLA should view 2015 as a success, with a young quarterback coming in and having some bright moments as a freshman. They started the year 4-0 before losses against Arizona State and Stanford stalled their season, but they were at least still in the hunt in the Pac-12 going into the final game of the regular season against USC.
Players to watch
UCLA’s offense will go as far as Josh Rosen (+13.1) can take them, with some big games in his first year as the team’s starter. He had four games where he had a grade of +5.0 or higher, but two where he graded at -4.1 or lower, including a -4.8 performance against USC to end the year. He can be very up and down, but in the very least he showed that he has a very bright future this season. Running back Paul Perkins (+25.9) quietly had an impressive season, forcing 70 missed carries as a runner, while wide receivers Jordan Payton (+27.2) and Thomas Duarte (+14.3) both gave Rosen reliable receiving options.
The defensive side of the ball is even better for the Bruins, and it starts up front. Kenny Clark (+35.3) has played 849 snaps this year and had several huge performances. His two lowest graded games came at the end of the regular season though, so hopefully the gap between the game against USC and this one has been enough to let him recover. At linebacker they lost Miles Jack earlier in the year, and haven’t seen an inside linebacker really step up since, but Aaron Wallace (+13.4) and Deon Hollins (+8.0) have looked good on the edge, combining for just 10 sacks, but also 14 hits and 44 hurries.
For Nebraska, Tommy Armstrong Jr. (+3.4) had an up and down season, grading negatively as a passer but positively as a runner. He does have three good wide receivers to work with though, in Jordan Westerkamp (+17.1), Brandon Reilly (+13.6) and Alonzo Moore (+9.8). Westerkamp in particular stood out, forcing nine missed tackles from 63 receptions.
The Cornhuskers’ defense is much more impressive than their offense, and like UCLA, it all starts up front. Defensive tackle Maliek Collins (+41.5) is arguably Nebraska’s best defensive tackle since Ndamukong Suh, registering 43 total pressures and being a force against the run too in 2015. Seven of the eight players who played 200 or more snaps on their defensive line finished the year with a positive grade. At linebacker, Marcus Newby (+17.1) was the standout and though he was at his best against the run, he was solid in coverage too, with a grade of +3.5.
It’s an interesting matchup that sees two teams who had very different 2015 seasons. While Cornhuskers have shown that they can step up in a big game, like they did against Michigan State, there’s a good chance that we see Josh Rosen end the year on a high and get fans excited for 2016.
UCLA 31, Nebraska 13