Texas Longhorns: UCLA Bruins

Stats that matter: UCLA vs. Texas

September, 10, 2014
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Ready for some numbers? It's time for our weekly stat digs, in which we team with ESPN Stats & Information to find the numbers that matter most for the Longhorns and their next opponent. Here are the stats to remember going into Texas' faceoff with No. 12 UCLA on Saturday night at AT&T Stadium.

1. 97

If Texas does have one of the nation's best defensive lines, this is the week to prove it. UCLA's downfall as a College Football Playoff contender could be its inability to protect Brett Hundley.

Since 2012, when Jim Mora Jr.'s staff took over, UCLA quarterbacks have been sacked 97 times, tied second-most in FBS. Hundley has already been sacked a nation-leading nine times this season and gets hurried or knocked down on nearly 25 percent of his snaps. Even more damning, he's been sacked 51 times in his career on plays in which a defense sent four pass-rushers or fewer.

The Bruins' struggles extend beyond pass protection. This offense produces too many negative plays -- a total of 130 plays lost yards in the past two seasons, third-most in FBS -- and, in the run game, its yards before contact per-game average ranks second-worst in the Pac-12.

Charlie Strong and Vance Bedford say they take pride in their blitzing schemes. Cedric Reed, Malcom Brown and the rest of Texas' front seven should feast if they get into the backfield consistently.

2. 2.34

Texas' offense has its own problems to face up front, too. As Shawn Watson acknowledged Tuesday, it's not just that the Longhorns are down to eight or nine offensive linemen. The starting line has no experience playing together. The starting five haven't had time to gel or get comfortable with each other's tendencies.

That showed in the run game vs. BYU. Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray combined for 75 rushing yards and Texas averaged 2.34 yards per rush as a team. That was this team's worst yards-per-carry performance since Gray joined the program in 2012.

Add up Texas' efforts in three of its past four games -- against Baylor, Oregon and BYU -- and this unit is averaging a measly 3.52 yards per play and 8 points per game. That is some poor big-game offense. The pressure is on Watson and Joe Wickline this week to produce a plan that will get the Longhorns' offense moving and scoring early and often.

3. 19.5

Texas coaches talked up Hundley plenty this week, but one name that did not come up: Myles Jack. The UCLA sophomore burst onto the national scene last season as the Pac-12's Offensive and Defensive Freshman of the Year. He's a scary playmaker on both sides of the ball.

And while Jack is playing at as high a level as ever at linebacker (career-high 13 tackles vs. Memphis), his offensive snaps have been limited. After rushing for seven TDs last season, Jack has just three carries in 2014. He scored on one last week, and Mora says his offensive role could increase soon.

Perhaps Mora is just saving him for a big night against Texas. Jack has found the end zone on 19.5 percent of his 41 career carries, and the Longhorns will no doubt have to keep an eye on him. He's the kind of guy who can, in just a few plays, swing an otherwise close battle.

Three more to remember

36.7: UCLA's points-per-game average since the start of 2013, despite all those aforementioned sack/pressure stats.

546: Hundley's total rushing yards on scrambles in the past two seasons, second-most among Power 5 conference quarterbacks behind Johnny Manziel.

27-1: Strong's record as a head coach when his team wins the turnover battle.
It's Take Two Tuesday, when we give takes on a burning topic related to the Big 12.

Tuesday's topic: Which nonconference matchup featuring a Big 12 team will be the best nonconference game in 2014?

Take 1: Max Olson -- Texas vs. UCLA

I can’t pick Oklahoma State-Florida State or West Virginia-Alabama simply because I don’t think either underdog stands a chance in those games. But this third neutral-site game should be a doozy.

By the time it faces Texas on Sept. 13 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, UCLA will almost undoubtedly be a top-10 team with an elite quarterback in Brett Hundley, the nation’s top two-way playmaker in Myles Jack and legitimate playoff hopes.

That’s a real credit to Jim Mora, who in two years has done a fantastic job reviving this program and taking over the city of Los Angeles. Texas fans know this well by now -- after all, Mora was reportedly a front-runner for the Longhorns head coaching job this offseason.

What Texas doesn’t know is what to expect from Charlie Strong’s debut year, especially when meetings with likely top-10 teams UCLA, Baylor and Oklahoma all come in the first half of the season.

The Longhorns will have to survive a home game against BYU first, but regardless of the result of that game, a night game against UCLA on national TV will provide a huge platform for Strong to send a message about the defense he’s bringing to Texas. A win might do wonders for Texas’ momentum entering Big 12 play.

The opposite would be true, as well: If UCLA romps, it’s a convincing statement that the Bruins should be in the national title picture.

Take 2: Brandon Chatmon -- Auburn at Kansas State

The Big 12 has a bunch of terrific nonconference matchups -- Oklahoma State-Florida State, Alabama-West Virginia, Oklahoma-Tennessee, Iowa State-Iowa, Texas Tech-Arkansas -- the list goes on and on.

None of those matchups intrigue me as much as the Wildcats’ home battle with the national runner-up.

Gus Malzahn has made Auburn a fun team to watch and quarterback Nick Marshall should continue to build on an exceptional junior season, which saw him account for 3,044 total yards (passing and rushing).

I’m more interested, however, in seeing how K-State and Bill Snyder handle the speed and athletes that Auburn will bring to Manhattan, Kan. Receiver Tyler Lockett can make plays against anyone and Jake Waters finished the 2013 season playing as well as any quarterback in the Big 12. The Wildcats also feature an underrated defensive line that could develop into one of the Big 12’s best and deepest defensive fronts this fall.

Add a hostile Thursday night environment in a nonconference game that will be Auburn’s first road test of the season and things could get real, real interesting at Bill Snyder Stadium on Sept. 18.

Get to know Keisean Lucier-South 

April, 4, 2014
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video Throughout this recruiting cycle, RecruitingNation will profile a number of ESPN 300 prospects in the 2015 class, including an inside look at the prospect, his recruitment, a scouting report and what college program could benefit when he ultimately makes his decision.

Unlike a number of ESPN Junior 300 prospects, Keisean Lucier-South didn't grow up dreaming of becoming a football star. In fact, he had to be convinced that it was the best path for him.

Lucier-South began playing sports at an early age, but it was always basketball that grabbed the majority of his attention and passion. It became his primary sport when he was 5 years old, and even though he picked up football only a few years later, the gridiron couldn't captivate his imagination quite like the court.

But a conversation before his sophomore season between his head coach and defensive coordinator -- a conversation he wasn't initially involved in -- turned things around for Lucier-South.

Texas Relays recruiting notebook 

March, 30, 2014
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AUSTIN, Texas -- The state of Texas’ top track athletes descended on Austin this weekend to compete in the annual Clyde Littlefield Texas Relays on the campus of the University of Texas, and the field of competitors included several touted 2015 and 2016 recruits. Here’s an update on where a few of them stand in their recruitment.

RB Jones wants to travel

The battle for Ronald Jones II, one of the state’s top running back recruits out of McKinney North, rages on as he should be hitting the road in the next few months.


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REDONDO BEACH, Calif. -- Thirty athletes from the West region in the ESPN Junior 300 met at Redondo Union (Calif.) High School on Sunday morning for the first Nike Football Training Camp of the spring. With hundreds of recruits in attendance, it wasn't surprising that many of the top prospects coming into the event stood out.


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Top position classes: LB 

February, 17, 2014
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With national signing day in the books, RecruitingNation is looking at the top position classes. For the full series, click here.

Nationally (and SEC)
The Alabama Crimson Tide’s 2014 class fill just about every need on the board, and that includes linebacker. With designs on addressing pass rushing and the ability to play in space on the edge at outside 'backer in Nick Saban’s 3-4 scheme, Alabama signed the Nos. 1 and No. 2 outside linebackers in the country in No. 48 overall Christian Miller (Columbia, S.C./Spring Valley) and No. 52 overall Rashaan Evans (Auburn, Ala./Auburn), who is pound for pound of the best pure athletes in the 2014 cycle. The Crimson Tide added two more talented linebackers in ESPN 300’s No. 102 Shaun Dion Hamilton (Montgomery, Ala./Carver) and No. 281 Keith Holcombe (Tuscaloosa, Ala./Hillcrest). Hamilton is an MLB.

The Crimson Tide had the nation’s best linebacker class; here’s which schools had the best in each of the remaining power conferences:


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Early Offer: Trojans get their QB 

January, 27, 2014
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The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today’s offerings: Steve Sarkisian and USC landed a major building block for their future this past weekend when a blue-chip 2015 quarterback committed; a longtime Texas commit flipped to rival Texas A&M on Sunday; and a five-star cornerback said he will narrow his list to four schools early this week.


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Top 5 now a top 3 for ESPN 300 DE 

January, 20, 2014
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The father of ESPN 300 defensive end Solomon Thomas (Coppell, Texas/Coppell) said two schools have been eliminated from contention as national signing day rapidly approaches.


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Well-rounded Thomas taking his time

January, 16, 2014
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This is part of a series on the nation's top uncommitted recruits leading up to signing day. Click here for the full series.

Solomon Thomas (Coppell, Texas/Coppell) believes he’s found the formula for how to deal with college football recruiting.

Looking for the guy to stress about the process? Don’t look Thomas’ way. On Sunday, fresh off an official visit to Stanford, Thomas put priorities first.

He played a friendly game of 3-on-3 touch football with friends.

“I’m just doing my best not to let the process change me. I can’t let it define me,” said Thomas, a four-star defensive end with more than 30 offers. “I’m taking advantage of just being a kid right now.”

Thomas is the No. 25 player in the ESPN 300 and the nation’s fourth-ranked defensive end, but he’s also still an 18-year-old high school senior. He reminds himself of that as much as possible with games of touch football, a trip to the movies, a round or two of video games or an exciting game of "Fugitive," where he and friends literally make the entire city of Coppell the playing field with a lengthy game of tag.

For someone who is 6-foot-3 and 256 pounds, being labeled a “man-child” holds opposite-spectrum definitions. On the football field, he’s a man among boys. Away from the field, he’s a big kid -- and many times, the biggest kid.

“As a teen, he acts like he’s 18 going on 2,” said Chris Thomas, Solomon’s father. “And then there are some times where he’s 18 going on 65. He has an old soul about him.”

It’s that attitude that’s helped Thomas turn a potentially hectic recruiting process into one that hasn’t been completely bothersome. Rather than worrying about his future, Thomas lives for the now and enjoys life. Being a college athlete can wait, for the time being.

‘He’s doing it right’

[+] EnlargeSolomon Thomas
John Albright/Icon SMISolomon Thomas had three tackles for loss in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.
At the U.S. Army All-American Bowl on Jan. 4, there were times when Thomas was poetry in motion. In practices, he seemed to be in on every play. In the game -- which his team won 28-6 in front of 40,017 fans -- he showed his ability off the end, finishing with three tackles for losses.

Nine players announced their college plans during the game. Thomas wasn’t one of them, as he said he wanted to take all of his official visits before making a decision. Thomas’ January itinerary included the visit to Stanford and will conclude with Arkansas the weekend of Jan. 24 and Ohio State the weekend of Jan. 31. Thomas visited UCLA last month.

Those four schools and Texas make up his top five, and all five mean something special to Thomas. Many believe Stanford is the team to beat, as Thomas has made several trips to Palo Alto. His official visit was highlighted by news that he was accepted into the university, news he had been patiently waiting to hear.

“It was relieving to hear that,” Thomas said. “I felt like all my hard work in the classroom had paid off. Taking four AP classes and taking the SAT six or seven times, [academics] is a grind, just like football is. But it made me a better student and made me challenge myself.”

Thomas, however, is adamant about keeping the other four schools at the forefront of his decision. Thomas won’t declare a favorite and is expected to have all five hats on a table for his announcement on national signing day Feb. 5.

Coppell coach Joe McBride said Thomas has kept his opinions about the schools relatively quiet. Rarely does Thomas comment on the schools by way of social media, as he understands that every word said can be featured on a message board.

“He doesn’t talk about it a lot, but I think he’s doing it right,” McBride said. “He’s doing his own research and at times will come to talk to me about my opinion on a couple of things. He’s done a really good job in asking coaches how they want to use him. He’s just a smart kid who is taking his time and asking all the right questions.”

Four pieces of recruiting advice

McBride said he gave Thomas four tidbits of recruiting advice when schools first began to reach out. He wanted Thomas to look for a program’s stability in a head coach; build a solid relationship with a position coach; ask about a program’s depth chart; and find out how he’ll be used in that program’s package.

[+] EnlargeSolomon Thomas
Tom Hauck for Student SportsThomas is ranked No. 25 in the final ESPN 300.
“His coaches have been great with everything,” Chris Thomas said. “Solomon’s so grounded and focused on what his final goal is, and he’s been really organized in his decision-making. He’s listed key elements and other criteria for making a decision. He’s looking at location, the coaches, trainers, education . . . I’m not surprised he’s able to do it and be so levelheaded. That’s his personality.”

Thomas is a role model by nature, one who understands and appreciates hard work and its rewards. He’s a model student who also happens to play several sports recreationally -- basketball, tennis and sand volleyball -- because he doesn’t want to be pigeonholed as just another football player.

And when it comes to good manners, it's almost always “Yes, sir” or “Yes, ma’am." He’s a person who thinks about others first. One reason he chose to play in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl was to entertain the soldiers.

“It was a grind, but it was an honor and a blessing to be there,” Thomas said. “There’s so much tradition there, and I just wanted to go out and play as hard as I could for them. Overall, it made me better.”

In three weeks, Thomas will announce his verbal commitment, and one school will have a well-rounded individual who also happens to be a defensive juggernaut. It’s a decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly and one that should be treated with the utmost care. Thomas gets it, even when in the recruiting world, taking your time often can be considered a bad idea.

“I want to be in a different category and do things my own way sometimes,” he said. “I just want to enjoy being a kid now. This is a big decision for me, so I know I need to take my time.

“I don’t want to rush it. I want to do it the right way.”

Recruit breakdown: DE Solomon Thomas 

January, 16, 2014
Jan 16
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This is part of a series on the nation's top uncommitted recruits leading up to signing day. Click here for the full series.

Solomon Thomas, the No. 25 player in the ESPN 300, is one of the nation's top players still on the board. Thomas is looking at Stanford, Texas, UCLA and others. What will he bring to the school that lands him?


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Top 2015 QB Rosen taking two trips 

January, 10, 2014
Jan 10
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There are still better than three weeks left for the 2014 recruiting class, but that won't stop the 2015 class from making noise before signing day.

Josh Rosen (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco) -- the nation's No. 1 quarterback prospect and No. 16 overall recruit -- will be on the move over the next few weeks and it isn't out of the question that his recruitment could come to a close before spring hits.

Rosen attended last weekend's Elite 11 Regional in Southern California but did not participate, as he is still recovering from a shoulder injury he played through for much of his state-title-winning junior season. At the event, Rosen said he plans to take unofficial visit to UCLA and USC after the dead period ends.


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Four-star DT decommits from Texas 

January, 7, 2014
Jan 7
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Many felt it was only a matter of time for Trey Lealaimatafao (San Antonio/Warren).

No Mack Brown? Not the biggest blow, but a blow nonetheless. No position coach, however? Big problem -- the last straw, even.

With new head coach Charlie Strong set to bring in members of his own staff, defensive tackles coach Bo Davis opted to accept a position coaching defensive linemen at USC. No Davis at Texas next season was enough to force Lealaimatafao, a four-star defensive tackle and U.S. Army All-American, to officially decommit on Tuesday and explore his other options.


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Texas eyeballing Mora?

January, 3, 2014
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Texas wants to interview UCLA coach Jim Mora for its head coaching vacancy, according to multiple reports, including ESPN's NFL Insider Adam Schefter and Brett McMurphy.

Chip Brown of OrangeBloods Tweeted that Mora will interview "in the next few days." Texas has already reportedly interviewed Louisville's Charlie Strong and Vanderbilt's James Franklin. Baylor coach Art Briles also is thought to be in the mix.

Mora already turned down his alma mater Washington, thereby earning a raise for himself and his coaches along with certain guarantees about upgrades to UCLA's lagging facilities.

No question Mora would be a great hire for Texas. And he and his staff would move up a tax bracket in Austin. Or two.

Things could get interesting.

ESPN 300 TE Dixon preparing to decide 

December, 29, 2013
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SAN ANTONIO -- ESPN 300 tight end Bryce Dixon (Ventura, Calif./St. Bonaventure) has a decision to make.

Stay close to home? Or venture to a land far away?


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Four-star DT Lealaimatafao explains status 

December, 29, 2013
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SAN ANTONIO -- Aside from a social media message here or there, four-star defensive tackle Trey Lealaimatafao (San Antonio/Warren) has been relatively mum about his recruiting. Lealaimatafao is a Texas commit who has made three outside official visits and has one more remaining.


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