EL PASO, Texas —
UCLA head coach Jim Mora is very familiar with his team’s opponent in Tuesday’s Sun Bowl.
Mora saw a lot of Virginia Tech and head coach Frank Beamer as he prepared for past drafts in his former role as an NFL coach with Atlanta and Seattle.
“I had a chance to coach a lot of Virginia Tech players (in the NFL), and they’re all the same: tough, disciplined, very smart football players.
“It goes back to Jim Druckenmiller, Mike Vick, DeAngelo Hall, Jimmy Williams. In scouting those guys, I’ve watched a lot of Virginia Tech football, and their teams always play hard, they always play physical and they always play with great passion.
“And I think that’s a reflection, in my opinion, of one of the greatest coaches of all time.”
Of course, a month of preparation for Tuesday’s game also helped the 17th-ranked Bruins (9-3) and the Hokies (8-4) familiarize themselves with one another.
“To have an opponent like UCLA is a real challenge,” Beamer said. “But that’s what you like at this time of year — to play a game that means something against a quality opponent. That’s what we’ve got, and in a great setting, a great bowl situation.”
“The reality is we’re fortunate to be here,” he said. “With the young people that we’ve played and the injuries that we’ve had, the competition of our league . I think the ACC gets bigger and stronger every year. I think we’re hanging in there pretty well so far in the bowls. I think it’s just a fact of life: the ACC is getting more competitive. It’s not a given that you can win eight games or nine games or 10 games.”
Five things to watch when UCLA takes on Virginia Tech:
TRENCH WARFARE: A key matchup will be UCLA’s young offensive line against the Virginia Tech defensive line. UCLA has three freshmen starting on the O-line, while Virginia Tech’s defensive front four includes three seniors and a junior. “You’ve got one of the top defenses in the country,” Mora said of the Hokies. “No. 1, we’ve got to block up that front, and with our young offensive line that’s no easy task. We’ve got to try to find ways to run the football. We’ve got to find ways to protect our quarterback and get open against an excellent secondary.” Beamer agreed that running the ball would be a key. “I wouldn’t want to try to line up and try to throw it against these guys every time. I think their pass rush is too good, and they get you locked up in close coverage,” Beamer said.
UNDERDOG ROLE: UCLA is favored by seven points. That suits the Hokies just fine. “We love being the underdog. I wish we were the underdog every game,” Virginia Tech safety Kyshoen Jarrett said. “It puts a chip on our shoulder. I feel great about it. We’re excited to be the underdog.”
YOUNG GUNS: Young players will play key roles for both teams. Virginia Tech freshman cornerback Kendall Fuller has six interceptions and freshman CB Brandon Facyson has five. UCLA has running back-linebacker Myles Jack, who was the Pac-12 Offensive and Defensive Freshman of the Year. Jack, a linebacker, didn’t get a carry on offense until the ninth game of the year, when he ran for 120 yards and a TD against Arizona. The entire country got to know him the following week, when he ran for 4 TDs against Washington. Defensively, he’s fifth on the team with 70 tackles.
BARR NONE: No UCLA player earned more accolades than senior linebacker Anthony Barr. The 6-foot-4, 248-pound All-American was named first team All-Pac 12, won the 2013 Lott IMPACT award and was a finalist for the Bednarik, Butkus and Lombardi awards. He also made numerous All-American lists. Some scouts have projected Barr as a first-round pick in the 2014 draft.
BOWL REGULARS: The Hokies are making their 21st consecutive bowl appearance and the Bruins are in a postseason game for the ninth time in 11 years, although they haven’t won a bowl game since 2009.