Defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker is UCLA's interim had coach for this rematch of a 2007 regular season game that was won 27-17 by UCLA at the Rose Bowl. Head Coach Karl Dorrell was fired after a 6-6 season concluded with a 24-7 loss to rival USC. The Bruins were picked to finish second in the conference in CollegeFootballPoll.com's Season Preview with predicted results based on the Congrove Computer Rankings. The PAC-10 media preseason poll had UCLA picked to finish 3rd, just a few points behind California which also finished 6-6 while vastly underachieving its expectations.
BYU has the momentum going into this game as the Cougars come into the Las Vegas Bowl on a 9-game winning streak. They lost a 55-47 shootout with Tulsa a week after the loss at UCLA, but have not lost a game since then and have not allow more than 27 points in any game since that defeat.
In fact, BYU went on to lead the Mountain West Conference in total defense and rose to 10th nationally in that category. The Cougars are 9th nationally in rushing defense, but just 41st in pass defense. On paper, the Bruins don't seem to offer much of an offensive challenge via the run or pass. UCLA ranks just 99th in passing offense, and 62nd in rushing.
What's more, the UCLA pass defense ranks 71st which doesn't bode well for a pass-happy BYU team that is led by QB Max Hall's 3,617 yards and 24 passing TD's. The Cougars can also run the ball, with Harvey Unga gaining 1,211 yards and scoring 13 TD's. Unga added 629 receiving yards and 4 more TD's for a total of 1,840 yards from scrimmage.
UCLA had to deal with a litany of injuries at QB, even starting a 3rd-string walk-on against Notre Dame. Ben Olson and Pat Cowan could both be available for the bowl game, but neither was efficient when they did play. Olson's completion percentage was just 48.3% and Cowan's 53.3%.
In addition to the injuries at quarterback, RB Khalil Bell was lost for the season with a torn ACL after just four carries against Washington State in game eight. Bell had already scored on a 50-yard TD run, and the Bruins trailed by just 10-7 when the injury occurred in the 1st quarter. But the Bruins went on to lose that game 27-7, and suffered three more defeats in their last four games.
While injuries provided some cover, the true knock on Dorrell was his team's consistent ability to play inconsistently. Following the home win over BYU, the Bruins were bombed 44-6 at Utah. UCLA also had wins over Oregon State, Cal and Oregon (minus Dennis Dixon), but took losses at the hands of Washington State, Notre Dame and Arizona.
Meanwhile, BYU regrouped from the losses to UCLA and Tulsa to capture its second consecutive outright Mountain West title. The Cougars will enter 2008 on a 16-game conference winning streak.
Brigham Young is making its second straight appearance in the Las Vegas Bowl. The Cougars crushed Oregon 38-8 last year to pocket their first postseason win since 1996 and end a 4-game bowl losing streak.