We're bringing you a new feature here on STL. Each week I will present three keys to Virginia's success in the upcoming game. Then early the following week, I'll explore how the game played out in the context of those keys. Full disclosure: I never played football, never spent any time around the game, and couldn't tell you the difference between a jet sweep and a mad dog blitz (except that one is executed by the offense, the other by the defense). Heck, I don't even play Madden. However, I have been a fan of the game for well over half my life, enough to have gained a pretty good feel for how these things usually shake out. So, think of this not as a view from a coach, player, or even color commentator, but rather just a guy from the upper deck.
1) Welcome Josh Rosen to college - UCLA will be starting true freshman Josh Rosen, so it will be up to Jon Tenuta's defense to make his debut a miserable one. Last year the Hoos got to UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley early and often and recorded five sacks on the day. And it wasn't until late in the game that Hundley was able to take advantage of the over pursuit (on occasion) and scramble for plays. Rosen isn't the athlete Hundley was, so the threat of him running is not as great. If Virginia can apply a similar amount of pressure, it could rattle the first year player and lead to some opportunities for the Virginia secondary to pick off a pass or two.
2) Make UCLA earn it - Speaking of picking off a pass or two, that is exactly what UCLA did in their victory over Virginia in Charlottesville last year. The Bruins returned two interceptions and one fumble recovery for touchdowns in the second quarter to jump to a 21-3 lead that proved all that was needed to defeat the Hoos. Otherwise, the Bruin offense had all it could handle against the Hoos. Granted, top to bottom, Virginia's defense this year may not be as good as the one last year, but if the Hoos offense doesn't spot the Bruins 21 early, it likely won't have to be.
3) Be a playmaker, Matt Johns - When comparing quarterbacks (following Virginia has provided ample opportunity to do so), I have always gravitated toward players who pass the eye test. Guys with good fundamentals as well as strong, accurate arms. For this reason I was Team Lambert. What I failed to see or recognize was the effect a playmaking quarterback can have on the college game. The NFL is the haven for guys with the tools, but the college game is dominated by guys who just make plays (think Tim Tebow or Johnny Manziel). That leads us to Matt Johns. Last year Johns would dazzle us with throws like the ones he made at the end of the first half against the Bruins last year that led to a momentum-building touchdown. Then he would befuddle us with a 15-yard (at least) overthrow of a completely wide-open receiver against Duke. Hopefully, Johns won't be looking over his shoulder this year, and will be free to just be a football player, and to just make plays.