Preview 2017: UCLA Bruins
Previewing and looking ahead at the UCLA Bruins season – and what you need to know.
What You Need To Know About The UCLA Offense
Another year, another UCLA offensive coordinator as Jedd Fisch spent the last few years at Michigan handling the passing game. Getting the Bruin air show going shouldn’t be a problem, but will there finally be a little more of a ground game?
Last season, the idea was for UCLA to come up with more power, more pop, and more balance for the offense. Instead, The Bruins had the second-worst ground game in college football and had to bomb away to try keeping up in games.
Of course, having a healthy Josh Rosen back should make things a lot easier. The passing attack worked fine without him, but if he’s 100%, the expectations become a whole lot different with several key targets back to make the O go.
The line might have had a rough year trying to power away, but it gets back four blockers who started most of last season. Can Soso Jamabo, Bolt Olorunfunmi, and the rest of the backs start to produce? Yeah, if …
Biggest Key To The UCLA Offense
The offensive line has to be great. The running game was terrific two years ago – averaging over five yards per carry – but it went nowhere last season, finishing with 1,011 yards and just 13 scores, averaging under three yards per pop and with no 100-yard games.
It’ll be a puzzle that needs to get put together for the opener, but there are plenty of options to play with around C Scott Quessenberry. No one’s expecting UCLA to be Wisconsin when it comes to blasting away with a big offensive front, but as long as it’s more consistent, and as long as the pass protection is fine to keep Mr. Rosen in one piece, it’ll be doing its job.
What You Need To Know About The UCLA Defense
It wasn’t all that bad, considering it didn’t get any help from the offense. The secondary was solid, the run defense was okay – when it wasn’t dealing with Utah’s Joe Williams – and it wasn’t the problem.
Losing star pass rusher Takkarist McKinley to the Atlanta Falcons hurts, not having DT Eddie Vanderdoes around isn’t a plus, and leading tackler Jayon Brown is gone, but there’s plenty of hope for another good season.
The line should be excellent if the young guys rise up and rock in the rotation right away. It’s not a massive group, but it’ll be active around Matt Dickerson on the inside and a good-looking group of potential pass rushers on the ends.
LB Kenny Young is the leading returning tackler, but it’s a young group around him in the middle and needing Josh Woods – among others – to become great.
The secondary should be among the best in the Pac-12 around the elite safety tandem of Jaleel Wadood and Adarius Pickett. Now the corner depth has to be there around Nate Meadors at one spot – he has all-star potential.
Biggest Key To The UCLA Defense
Be better on fourth downs. It might not seem like that big a deal – yeah, finding a steady pass rush without McKinley and developing the linebacking corps might be bigger keys – but giving up fourth down plays mattered throughout the course of last season.
Teams converted 14-of-20 fourth down chances against the Bruin D, and, again, while that might not seem like much, it was a big deal in the close loss to Washington State – the Cougars converted four tries – and Colorado converted both of its chances in the 20-10 Buff win.
Texas A&M got one in the overtime win, USC converted both of its chances, and Cal was 3-for-3. For a UCLA team that’ll probably have time of possession problems, coming up with every key stop is a must.
UCLA Will Be Far Better If …
Josh Rosen is Josh Rosen. Mike Fafaul threw 11 picks, but he also cranked out a ton of yards when getting thrown into the starting gig, but the Bruins didn’t have their superstar.
Rosen has No. 1-overall-draft-pick skills, but that doesn’t matter if he’s not on the field. If he played the whole year – he got knocked out halfway through with a shoulder injury – would UCLA have really been a player in the Pac-12 race? At least the Bruins wouldn’t have finished with a losing season.
This is a good UCLA team, but it’s not as good as USC, Washington or Stanford. However, if Rosen is back up to snuff, the Bruins can beat anyone.
Best UCLA Offensive Player
QB Josh Rosen, Jr. – The NFL types already have Sam Darnold and Josh Allen pencilled in as the top two quarterbacks for the 2018 Draft – if not top two overall – but Rosen might just shoehorn his way into the No. 1 overall spot if he comes up with a massive junior year.
He’s got the 6-4, 220-pound size, the deep arm, the brain, and the attitude to be an NFL franchise-maker, but he has to get past the shoulder injury that kept him out of the second half of last year, and he has to cut down on his picks.
Amazing last year before getting hurt, he hit Texas A&M for 343 yards – but with three picks, including a late killer – and threw for 307 yards against BYU, 350 in the win over Arizona and 400 yards against Arizona State. Expect that on a regular basis again.
2. C Scott Quessenberry, Sr.
3. WR Darren Andrews, Sr.
4. WR Jordan Lasley, Jr.
5. RB Bolu Olorunfunmi, Jr.
Best UCLA Defensive Player
LB Kenny Young, Sr. – The 6-1, 240-pounder finished second on the team in tackles in his all-star season. A pass rusher when he wants to be, and a sure-thing hitter against the run, the one-time superstar recruit came up with 90 stops with five sacks and a pick, highlighted by a 12-tackle day against Arizona. Built for the position, he’s the leader of the linebacking corps and the one everything will flow to – he should hover around the 100-tackle mark.
2. S Jaleel Wodood, Sr.
3. S Adarius Pickett, Jr.
4. DT Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, Sr.
5. CB Nate Meadors, Jr.
Key Player To A Successful Season
OT Kolton Miller, Jr. – Can he stay healthy and be a key tackle option for a full season? He only played half of his redshirt freshman campaign, and got hurt early on last year after starting on the right side. For a line that needs to be night-and-day better, and with a franchise quarterback to keep upright, the 6-8, 310-pounder has to be a steady rock.
The UCLA Season Will Be A Success If …
The Bruins win ten games. – It’s Year Six under Jim Mora Jr., and he needs something big. The four-win 2016 dud can be explained away a bit because of injuries – okay, injury, losing Josh Rosen – but that was coming off a disappointing 8-5 season.
The Bruins don’t have to win the Pac-12 title, but they need to be in the hunt. They need to take care of Texas A&M at home in the opener, they have to survive a dangerous road trip to Hawaii, and they have to start out hot in the Pac-12 lid-lifter against Stanford. It’s not an easy slate, but at this point, asking for a nine-win regular season and a bowl victory isn’t a lot.
Key Game To The UCLA Season
Nov. 18 at USC – The first three years under Mora were punctuated by wins over a USC program trying to find its way in the world again. And then came the last two seasons, losing both games by a combined score of 76-35. Forgetting the Pac-12 South, and blowing off the relevancy for a conference title. UCLA, beat USC. You need to.
2016 UCLA Fun Stats
– Rushing Yards: Opponents 2,058 – UCLA 1,011
– Time of Possession: Opponents 33:16 – UCLA 26:45
– 3rd Quarter Scoring: Opponents 117 – UCLA 65