UCLA football preview for 2016, including keys to success for the Bruins, best players and season prediction.
What You Need To Know About UCLA’s Offense
Coordinator Noel Mazzone took the same position at Texas A&M, and was replaced by Kennedy Polamalu. With Polamalu comes an edict to be a more assertive running team.
While quarterback Josh Rosen is the offensive fulcrum, the Bruins want to pound the ball behind the talented trio of Soso Jamabo, Nate Starks and Bolu Olorunfunmi, with help from a fullback and a tight end. While some refer to the new direction as a pro-style attack, Mora simply wants to dominate the line of scrimmage.
But wishing and achieving are two very different dynamics, especially for a UCLA offensive line that’s in good shape at the tackles, but still fishing for answers on the interior.
The team will soon add Texas transfer center Jake Raulerson in the hopes that he can solidify the area between tackles Conor McDermott and Kolton Miller. The other concern involves Rosen’s targets now that just one player, Darren Andrews, with at least a dozen catches last year is back.
Moving Ishmael Adams from cornerback already looks like a winning move. But Rosen is still searching for a Jordan Payton-esque No. 1 receiver out of a large contingency that includes senior Kenny Walker, junior Alex Van Dyke and even true freshman Theo Howard.
Key To The UCLA Offense Mentality shift. Don’t bother labeling the alterations being put in place by Jim Mora and his new coordinator, Kennedy Polamalu. Just know that the guy in charge is demanding that his offense is more physical and assertive, particularly at the point of attack, this season. The Bruins will employ a fullback and a tight end the majority of the time, good news for a line in transition. The philosophical shift is also promising for the backfield trio of Soso Jamabo, Nate Starks and Bolu Olorunfunmi, each of whom looked in the spring as if they’re capable of shouldering the load, if needed.
What You Need To Know About The UCLA Defense
With the return of coordinator Tom Bradley, the Bruins are enjoying rare staff stability on defense. Now, the unit is looking for improvement, especially against the run. The team had problems slowing north-south ground games in 2015, a reality further complicated by an average group of linebackers.
UCLA will place a lot of faith on a defensive line that’ll increasingly use four players, and is returning star defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes this summer. Vanderdoes will join an underrated group that includes nose tackle Eli Ankou and rising ends Takkarist McKinley and Matt Dickerson.
It’ll be up to the front four to keep opposing backs from getting to the second level, where Jayon Brown, Kenny Young, Isaako Savaiinaea, Cameron Judge and even can’t-miss rookie Mique Juarez are attempting to solidify the linebacker corps.
On the back end, the Bruins are a dichotomous brew of immense talent and durability concerns. If the secondary is healthy in the fall, and the pass rush does its job, UCLA will again sport one of the Pac-12’s stingiest pass defenses.
Key To The UCLA Defense Tak Mode. The Bruins don’t dole out awards for spring MVP, but defensive end Takkarist McKinley would have copped the honor if they did. The one-time Contra Costa (Calif.) College transfer is noticeably bigger and stronger, without losing his trademark burst. Plus, McKinley appears to be the biggest beneficiary of UCLA’s heavier reliance on 4-3 fronts. Coordinator Tom Bradley is giving his senior more one-on-one opportunities out on the edge with tackles, which is going to lead to a monster finale in Westwood.
UCLA Will Be Far Better If …
It stiffens against the run. Jim Mora’s mantra this offseason has focused squarely on toughening up the entire Bruin program, particularly as it pertains to stopping the run. UCLA will even employ a 4-3 base alignment to pack more pounds and muscle at the line of scrimmage. The two 2015 games that irritate Mora the most were the losses to Stanford and Nebraska, in which both opponents rushed four touchdowns and more than 300 yards. There’s hope that the return of Eddie Vanderdoes and the emergence of Eli Ankou will give the team a forceful presence in the middle of the defensive line.
Best Offensive Player
Sophomore quarterback Josh Rosen. As a rookie, Rosen fulfilled every expectation that comes with a five-star blue-chipper. Now that he has a solid season under his belt, this is going to be his offense. The physical gifts are obvious, namely a right arm that’ll be completing passes on Sundays in two years. But it’s Rosen’s intangibles, such as his instincts, intelligence and feel for the game, that have allowed the staff to feel more comfortable giving him greater control of the offense. Yeah, UCLA will be more physical this fall, but its precocious quarterback will be the centerpiece of the attack.
Best Defensive Player
Senior defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes. The Bruins missed Vanderdoes, a microcosm of the program’s injury woes in 2015. He’s a unique defensive lineman in that he can beat opposing linemen with his power or his athleticism, traits that helped get his career in Westwood off to a fast start. As UCLA slants more to a 4-3 reliance—and looks to replace all-star interior lineman Kenny Clark—it’s more important than ever for Vanderdoes to be at full strength this summer. If he is, he’ll have a shot to be special in his college finale.
Key Players to a Successful Season
The interior offensive linemen. While the Bruins plan to dominate the line of scrimmage, the center and guards were a fluid situation when spring came to an end. There are a lot of question marks and fresh faces in prominent roles. Junior guards Najee Toran and Poasi Moala have limited experience, yet they’re pushing an ineffective incumbent, Kenny Lacy. And the center for now is Scott Quessenberry, whose shoulder problems forced him to miss all of 2015. Fingers are crossed that Texas graduate transfer Jake Raulerson can win the opening at the pivot, allowing Quessenberry to move inside to bolster the guards.
The Season Will Be A Success If …
The Bruins appear in a New Year’s Six bowl game. The time has arrived for UCLA to take the next step under Jim Mora. The head guy is entering his fifth year, the hotshot quarterback is no longer a rookie and the pool of available talent is deep. Oh, and the schedule is favorable, too, including getting Stanford and USC in Pasadena. Naturally, winning a Pac-12 title for the first time this century is the goal, and an achievable one at that. But even runner-up, along with a marquee bowl game would be an important development for Mora and his staff.
Nov. 19 vs. USC. The Trojans and the Bruins are always going to be a big deal, regardless of the sport or the season. But the stakes continue to grow higher in football, as each program attempts to impress the region’s best recruits and make further inroads in the South Division. USC snapped UCLA’s three-game Victory Bell winning streak last November, handing Jim Mora his first defeat in the series. If the Bruins can turn the tables this fall by holding serve at home, it could be the springboard to a Pac-12 Championship Game appearance two weeks later.
Fun Stats From 2015
– Rushing Attempts: UCLA 460 – Opponents 588
– Sacks: UCLA 28 – Opponents 14
– Time of Possession: UCLA 25:56 – Opponents 34:04
Prediction For 2016
What’s going to happen to UCLA football this season? Check out what the final record is going to be …