Holiday Bowl first look: UCLA vs. Baylor

Ask Jim Mora what he expects when the No. 17 UCLA Bruins face the Baylor Bears on Thursday night in the Holiday Bowl and it’s clear he’s not looking for an old-school, grinding, three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust-type of battle.

“It’ll be a barn burner,” Mora said.

A quick look at Baylor’s offensive numbers this season and it’s easy to see why Mora believes it will be an entertaining game for the fans at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego and for those watching on ESPN at 6:45 p.m. PT.

The Bears (7-5) lead the nation in total offense with 578.75 yards per game, eclipsing UCLA’s No. 20 offense by more than 100 yards per game. They also are No. 5 in the nation in scoring at 44.08 points per game, have the national leader in total offense in quarterback Nick Florence (387.67 yards per game) and the nation’s top receiver in All-American Terrance Williams (147 yards per game).

Add in a running attack led by running backs Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin that is averaging 225.5 yards per game on the ground, and it’s no wonder Baylor has won four of its past five games, including a victory over No. 5 Kansas State.

“Their offense is ridiculously good,” Mora said. “They go at a real fast tempo. They are comparable to Houston and Arizona and maybe even a little bit faster in their tempo. They’ve got guys that can run after the catch, and they stretch the field well.”

UCLA (9-4) has had some success against up-tempo spread attacks this season, posting victories over Houston, Arizona State, Arizona and Washington. And because the Bruins also use a similar offense, the UCLA defense sees it every day in practice.

That doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy to defend against a team that has scored 47 points or more in seven games this season and has topped 50 points five times.

“They make you defend every single blade of grass horizontally and vertically,” Mora said. “It’s a fun offense to watch and it’ll be fun to play against, but it will be a real challenge.”

Fortunately for UCLA, the Bruins have an offense that is fully capable of matching scores, especially considering the Baylor defense. For all the gaudy offensive numbers Baylor has put up, the Bears defense has one ugly number to counter them.

The Bears are giving up 513.92 yards per game to rank No. 119 out of 120 in total defense. They are No. 115 in scoring defense, giving up 38.17 points per game, and are particularly vulnerable against the pass. Baylor is No. 118 in the nation in pass defense (323.08 yards per game) and averages only 1.08 sacks per game (No. 112 in the nation).

Mora said those numbers are skewed a bit because the Bears are playing spread offenses against teams that are passing the ball more to try to keep pace with the Baylor offense.

“I see a bunch of fast athletes,” he said. “They play a lot of explosive teams and they are capable. Very capable.”

Baylor does have 18 interceptions this season, which ranks No. 10 in the country. But the Bears are last in the nation in third-down defense, allowing opponents to convert 56.12 percent of the time. And they have given up 327 first downs, the most of any team in the country.

So while UCLA will have its hands full trying to slow the Baylor offense, the Bruins should have little trouble moving the ball against the Bears. In other words, expect a barn burner.