by Christopher G. Shepard - 12/06/2005
UCLA Bruins (9-2, 6-2 Pac-10) v. Northwestern Wildcats (7-4, 5-3 Big Ten)
If you like scoring this game should satisfy your craving as UCLA tries to get back to its winning ways as the No. 17 ranked Bruins battle the Northwestern Wildcats, playing in only their sixth bowl game, in the 2005 Vitalis Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas. The game is scheduled for Friday, Dec. 30 at Sun Bowl Stadium. Kickoff is set for 2:15 p.m. EST and the game will be televised nationally by CBS for the 38th straight year.
The Wildcats (7-4), the Big Ten Conference representative, will play UCLA (9-2), the Pac-10 Conference representative, in the 72nd annual event. The Vitalis Sun Bowl is the second-oldest bowl game in the country.
Northwestern gained its bowl berth by finishing with an overall record of 7-4 in the Big Ten and a four-way tie for third place (5-3) with Michigan, Iowa and Wisconsin. Traditionally, the Vitalis Sun Bowl invites the fifth selection from the Big Ten vs. the third place team from the Pac-10. UCLA finished in third place in the Pac-10 with a 6-2 record. For UCLA over the past two years it was debatable weather or not the Bruins actually deserved their bowl bids. Indeed it did not help matters when UCLA was upset by the Wyoming Cowboys in the Las Vegas Bowl.
Head Coach Karl Dorrell's Bruins come off a demoralizing 66-19 loss the hands of perennial super-power and BCS bound Southern California while head coach Randy Walker's Wildcats beat Illinois, 38-21.
The matchup between Northwestern and UCLA features two of the nation's top offensive teams and two of the worst defenses (indeed Northwestern finished dead last in total defense at 117th in the Nation allowing a whopping 489 yards per game. Both teams are led by outstanding quarterbacks: senior Brett Basanez for Northwestern and senior Drew Olson for UCLA. The Wildcats rank eighth nationally in total offense (492.7 ypg) while the Bruins rank 24th (429.0 ypg).
In his last outing for the 'Cats, All Big-Ten QB Basanez made his 39th consecutive start and became the third Big Ten quarterback to pass for more than 10,000 yards in his career. Basanez also rushed for 85 yards and two touchdowns as the Wildcats' explosive offense rolled up 36 first downs and gained 596 yards. Joining Basanez on offense is freshman of the year RB Tyrell Sutton who averaged 6 ypc from the line of scrimmage and rushed for 16 TDs. Quite simply, on offense the Wildcats are a well balanced team which gives Northwestern a competitive chance every game they play. This does not bode well for a Bruins defense that allowed Southern Cal tandem of Bush and White a combined 414 rushing yards 4 TDs, with another receiving TD by White.
UCLA brings their own offensive threats to the Vitalis Sun Bowl as the Bruins bring in the nation's leading QB in passer efficiency (32 TDs to ONLY 3 INTs this year) with Drew Olson. Expect him and his counterparts, big TE Marcedes Lewis and RB Maurice Drew to have much more success against Northwestern's porous defense than they did against Southern Cal. Drew is the No. 6 nationally ranked rusher this year with an average of 165.3 all purpose yards per game while Lewis has 10 TD grabs and averages 12.4 ypc. They should have their hands full against Northwestern's shut-down LB Tim McGarigle (139 tackles this year). Northwestern and UCLA shared one common opponent this year; Arizona State. The Wildcats lost their decision on the road by a substantial 21-52 margin while UCLA rallied and won at home 45-35.
The Vitalis Sun Bowl is the second-oldest bowl game in the country. UCLA has played in the Vitalis Sun Bowl twice before, defeating Illinois, 6-3 in 1991, and losing to Wisconsin, 21-20, in 2000. UCLA trails its series with Northwestern, 3-2, but the two schools have not played since a 12-7 Bruin victory in 1970 at the L.A. Coliseum. When these two teams played against each other for the first time in 1931 Northwestern started its reserve team and easily shut-out UCLA 19-0.
Gamblers should note that UCLA has not won a bowl game straight up or against the spread since their victory as a 10-point 'chalk' over New Mexico in the Las Vegas Bowl in 2002. Since then the Bruins are 0-2 straight-up and against the spread in post-season play. The 'Cats are making their sixth all-time postseason bowl appearance, and their fifth in the last 11 years. Northwestern last played in the Motor City Bowl in 2003 covering the spread against Bowling Green as a 7-point 'dog. The past four Sun Bowls have been high scoring affairs averaging a combined total of 59 points per game.
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