Tuesday, December 31: Sun Bowl in El Paso, TX at 2:00 pm EST
#17 UCLA Bruins (9-3) vs. Virginia Tech Hokies (8-4)
A solid Pac-12 vs. ACC showdown in El Paso.
Vegas line/spread: UCLA by 7 (over/under 50 1/2)
Yet another Pac-12 team is favored to win by a touchdown or more.
|Game-comparisons||win %||vs. Spread
UCLA is 14th in the Strength power rating and Virginia Tech is just #41; not surprisingly, the game comparisons favor the Bruins a large percentage of the time, even against the spread.
Strength power rating: UCLA 27, Va Tech 14 by Median rating: UCLA 28-12
UCLA scoring offense: #16 vs. Va Tech scoring defense: #6
UCLA scoring defense: #15 vs. Va Tech scoring offense: #110
Our power rating suggests a 13-point spread, and perhaps more interesting, a very low score. This is because the defenses both rank in the top 15. Virginia Tech's #6 defense should keep UCLA's #16 offense in check, while the Hokies' #110 offense will have trouble scoring on UCLA's #15 defense. Note that Virginia Tech's #110 offensive ranking is among all teams of all divisions; they rank #91 out of the 125 Division I-A (FBS) teams.
Yardage analysis: UCLA 18, Va Tech 14 per-play: UCLA 24, Va Tech 13
Yardage differential: UCLA #13 vs. Va Tech #28
UCLA total offense: #25 vs. Va Tech total defense: #2
UCLA total defense: #17 vs. Va Tech total offense: #92
Some teams don't convert their yardage into points very well, and Virginia Tech is one of those teams. Based on adjusted yardage differential they're the #28 team in the nation rather than #41. It's actually their defense that is better on a yardage basis, #2 in the nation. By this scenario UCLA outgains the Hokies by less than 50 yards, and wins by 4 or 5 points.
The per-play figures suggest Virginia Tech might average just 2.2 yards per carry, and the score margin is back up in double digits.
Adjustments to yardage estimate: UCLA 21, Va Tech 6
- Interceptions: Virginia Tech gets a small advantage here, about 1/2 point, as their defense is pretty good at getting interceptions.
- Forced fumbles: UCLA has an expected 1 point edge here as they are good at forcing fumbles, but neither team coughs it up a lot.
- Sacks: The Hokies have a great pass rush, #2 in the nation, and UCLA's protection is questionable. They might have around 4 sacks, but UCLA might have about 3 themselves. Virginia Tech's advantage is just over 2 points.
- Red zone%: UCLA has a solid advantage here; they're #9 in red zone offense while the Hokies are #84. The Bruins add an expected 1.7 points and the Hokies lose 0.7.
- 3rd-down%: Another big "win" for UCLA as they are #2 (adjusted) in 3rd down conversions while Virginia Tech is #111. Both teams are good on 3rd down defense, so UCLA won't convert much more than normal (we give them less than a point) but Virginia Tech loses almost 5 points.
- Special Teams: Shockingly, Virginia Tech's special teams are very poor this year, rankings #110 in the nation, while UCLA is stellar at #6. Special teams is what Virginia Tech often needs to win games, but this season they are especially bad at punt returns and placekicking. This is almost another 5 point swing for UCLA
Summary: Virginia takes a hit on red zone, third down, and surprisingly, special teams play, going from a 4-point underdog based on scrimmage play to a 15-point underdog with all things considered. This is fairly similar to the Strength power rating's 13-point estimate.
When UCLA has the ball
|UCLA rushing offense: #34
||Va Tech rushing defense: #8
The Bruins didn't have a mega-back like Jonathan Franklin this year but between QB Brett Hundley and RBs Paul Perkins and Jordan James they accounted for well over 1,500 yards (over 500 apiece). Virginia Tech's rushing defense is very good, however, and should hold the Bruins to less than 150.
|UCLA passing offense: #31||Va Tech passing defense: #1 per att: #7|
|UCLA interceptions thrown ranking: #46||Va Tech interceptions picked ranking: #4|
|UCLA quarterback protection rank: #100||Va Tech pass rush rank: #2|
Hundley didn't match his freshman year stats, with 2,845 yards and 22 TDs. Shaq Evans also fell short with 617 yards this year while 5 others had 200+. Still, UCLA faced tough pass defenses in general and nearly had a top 25 passing attack when adjusted for this.
Virginia Tech's pass defense finished the regular season #1 in the nation in pass defense. Based on the averages we think they'll hold UCLA to around 200 passing yards. What's more, they could come up with a lot of big plays to further reduce the passing game's effectiveness. The Hokies have 19 interceptions on the year; Kendall Fuller has 6, and Brandon Facyson 5. Hundley has thrown just 9 picks, but he's been sacked 33 times. Virginia Tech's defense is #2 in adjusted sacks and has 37 so far, with three players who have 5+. Nothing is going to be easy for Hundley against the Hokies, a big reason why the numbers all suggest a low score.
When Virginia Tech has the ball
|Va Tech rushing offense: #99
||UCLA rushing defense: #31
The days of juggling 1,000 yard rushers are over at Virginia Tech; this year Trey Edmunds led with 675 (10 TDs) and the team barely made the top 100 in the nation. UCLA's rushing defense is good enough to hold the Hokies under 100 yards.
Note that UCLA's rushing defense has a huge correction, from #72 in raw average to #31, due to their opponents. They played Nebraska, Stanford, Oregon, Arizona, and Washington, all top 25 in raw rushing yards, and held most of them well under their averages.
|Va Tech passing offense: #59||UCLA passing defense: #20 per att: #19|
|Va Tech interceptions thrown ranking: #77||UCLA interceptions picked ranking: #57|
|Va Tech quarterback protection rank: #84||UCLA pass rush rank: #32|
Once again Logan Thomas failed to consistently live up to his potential (hype?) as a great quarterback; he threw for almost 3,000 yards and 16 touchdowns but had 13 picks and completed just 57%. Three receivers, Willie Byrn, Demitri Knowles, and Joshua Stanford, had over 600 yards each but just 6 TDs between them. UCLA's passing defense (#45 raw, #20 after correction) should hold them to around 200 yards.
UCLA might be able to take advantage of Thomas' interception problem to some extend, but pressure might be a better route as the Bruins have 28 sacks on the year (senior linebacker Anthony Barr leads with 10) while Thomas has been sacked 29 times.
UCLA's season (9-3)
Wins vs. bowl-eligible teams (4)
Wins vs. BCS Top 25 teams (0)
Losses (4) to losing teams (0)
- Nevada W 58-20
- @ Nebraska W 41-21
- New Mexico St W 59-13
- @ Utah W 34-27
- California W 37-10
- @ #1 Stanford L 10-24
- @ #10 Oregon L 14-42
- Colorado W 45-23
- @ Arizona W 31-26
- Washington W 41-31
- #14 Arizona St L 33-38
- @ Southern Cal W 35-14
UCLA's early schedule was easy—they beat Nevada (58-20), New Mexico State (59-13), Utah (34-27), and Cal (37-10), with the 41-21 win at Nebraska the only game against a bowl team. So it's not too shocking that when they faced Stanford they were manhandled 24-10, and that Oregon did it worse, 42-14.
After a rebound over Colorado (45-23) the Bruins were able to nip Arizona, 31-26, and edge past Washington 41-31, but they lost a close one to ASU 38-33. UCLA finished strong with a solid 35-14 win at USC for a 9-3 record. Note that the three teams that beat them all finished in the top 15 of the BCS rankings.
Virginia Tech's season (8-4)
Wins vs. bowl-eligible teams (6)
Wins vs. BCS Top 25 teams (0)
Losses (4) to losing teams (0)
- = #3 Alabama L 10-35
- Western Carolina W 45- 3
- @ East Carolina W 15-10
- Marshall W 29-21 3OT
- @ Georgia Tech W 17-10
- North Carolina W 27-17
- Pittsburgh W 19- 9
- #24 Duke L 10-13
- @ Boston College L 27-34
- @ Miami FL W 42-24
- Maryland L 21-24 OT
- @ Virginia W 16- 6
Looking at the scores, and the charts to the lower left, it's pretty clear that once again it was defense that won games for the Hokies. The offense in many cases did the minimum it needed to in order to win. Only in the 42-24 win at Miami was it even close, as the offense played its best there. The 34-27 Boston College loss could be called the fault of the defense, but just barely.
The Hokies lost to Alabama right off the bat, 35-10, but that was almost encouraging, and six wins later they were 6-1, and five of their wins were over future bowl teams. All were close; they nipped East Carolina 15-10, beat Marshall in triple overtime, beat Georgia Tech 17-10, and topped UNC and Pitt by 10 points each. At the time it was shocking they lost to Duke 13-10 but the Blue Devils won the Coastal division. The losses to BC and Maryland (24-21 OT) further dampened the season but they finished 8-4 after beating Virginia 16-6.
UCLA's offensive line, already facing the daunting prospect of Virginia Tech's pass rush, will likely be missing starter Simon Goines. The Bruin defense will also be without top tackler LB Eric Kendricks. Virginia Tech has some questionable players but no big contributors.
Psychology/Motivation - Some (unscientific) factors that may come into play during the game:
- UCLA's season: +0 wins; Va Tech's season: +2 wins
- UCLA's momentum: -1 win; Va Tech's momentum: -2 wins
- UCLA won final game: YES; Va Tech won final game: YES
- UCLA glad to be there? maybe; Va Tech glad to be there: probably
- UCLA time zones from home: 1; Va Tech time zones from home: 2;
- UCLA coaching situation: stable; Va Tech coaching situation: stable
Who wants to go to El Paso? Last year USC sure didn't, and Georgia Tech whipped them. This year UCLA might be a little less than enthusiastic, but nothing compared to last year's Trojans. Virginia Tech gained a couple of wins over last year, but saw a much more promising season end in a 2nd tier bowl, similar to what the Bruins saw happen to their year.
Both teams righted the ship with a win in rivalry week; for UCLA it might have been their best win of the year.
We see a low score for this game because Virginia Tech isn't good on offense, and UCLA is up against a great Hokie defense.
Virginia Tech's defense is more than a match for UCLA's running game. And on the passing side they rank #1 against the pass and are in the top five in interceptions and sacks. Brett Hundley might have a long day.
The Hokies might not score enough themselves to win the game, though. They can't really run the ball, and don't pass well enough to make up the difference. And UCLA's defense is good at both. The Bruins have faced some of the best running and passing teams in the nation this year in the Pac-12; now they just have to defense a team that can't do either very well.
And this year Virginia Tech's special teams can't bail them out. Unlike most years, it isn't a great year for Beamer-ball (other than the defensive emphasis; that's still fully intact).
What clinches things for the Bruins is the fact that the teams that beat them are all in the top 15 in the BCS. Virginia Tech is nowhere near that level. That's not to say they can't keep it close, though, especially in a low scoring game, and we're going very, very low. (Update: we added a bit with UCLA's #1 tackler out, but kept UCLA the winner. Still going very low, just not quite as low).
Prediction: UCLA 13, Virginia Tech 10
More previews, odds, and predictions: View the complete 2013-2014 bowl game schedule.