An early look at UCLA, from a UCLA fan

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Message board poster “KP Texas,” who has been on TSL for a while, is a UCLA football season ticket holder, and he took the time to put together this good look at the UCLA football program.

I’m a season ticket holder and a fairly reasonable fan when it comes to honest assessments of the Bruins. UCLA fans, for the most part, tend to be more emotional about basketball and kind of roll with the punches when it comes to football. Exactly the opposite of our cross town rivals (USC), and pretty much the opposite of the fan base around here. UCLA has always been a basketball school, although that seems to be slowly changing. It’s probably 60/40 basketball to football now. It’s probably fair to say it’s 90/10 football to basketball around here (VT), right? Pretty much the same as USC …

UCLA football is on the verge of becoming a top tier program. Jim Mora, Jr. has turned around the attitude at UCLA. We had a top five recruiting class last year, including many of the top players from Southern CA who were typically USC bound. You can coach up mediocre talent and get into the top 25. You have to have the horses to stay in the top 10 year after year. Mora is doing that, some of which you’ll see on the 31st.

The offense lives and dies with QB Brett Hundley. He’s a pass first QB, with the ability to get out in the open field and make things happen. He has trouble when he locks in on his primary receivers and waits too long to run. Last week against USC, they game planned more quick passes and delayed QB draws, and he had his best game of the season. There aren’t many D lineman or linebackers who can chase him down in the open field, once he gets out of the pocket. He’s a big boy at 6-5, 235, but is deceptively elusive. Most NFL scouts have him as one of the top 5 QBs in the draft, should he come out. He really needs another year to improve on his decision making … seems that most people around the program think he will be back next year. He will play on Sunday eventually.

There are plenty of other weapons on the offense, at least in the receiving department. It’s not unusual to see Hundley complete passes to 10-12 different receivers in a game. Our RB’s have been banged up all year, although were mostly healthy for the USC game last week. I’m sure they’ll all be ready to go in a few weeks. They rotate in and out with Paul Perkins and Jordan James getting most of the snaps. Both are speed guys, so the run game isn’t a power running game. Well, at least until we bring in the defense to play offense in the red zone…

I’m sure you’ve all seen the use of our defensive players on offense. Myles Jack is a freak. You’ll get a taste of some crazy red zone sets with three backs … Jack behind two defensive ends. We’re even throwing the ball out of that power set … it’s been pretty hard to stop. It will be interesting to see how much of it Mora goes with and how Bud Foster plans for it with a few weeks to study.

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Also, we have some issues on the O line. Injuries have decimated what was supposed to be a strength. Most of those injuries were season-ending, so the few weeks off won’t matter with healing. We’ll likely be starting three true freshman on the Oline. Against USC, we used more quick passes, bubble screens and QB draws to off set USC’s quick, aggressive line. I’d look for more of that on the 31st as VT seems to thrive on aggressive D play.

I’ve read around here on occasion that people think there isn’t defense played in Pac12. I’d actually say that defenses have begun to take over in the Pac12. Hundley gets a lot of the pub around the UCLA program, but I would say our defense won us more games this year than the offense. We have three seniors (LB Anthony Barr, DE Cassius Marsh, LB Jordan Zumwalt) who will be playing on Sunday soon. Barr could end up being the number one pick in next years draft when all is said and done. He’s a sick athlete and extremely quick off the end. Most teams have doubled him, which you have to do. USC tried to play him man-up last week and he abused the left side of their line most of the night.

We are young on D and tend to get in some bad places. We’ve started a bunch of true freshman this year on D, which tends to lead to stupid mistakes, bad positioning, overly aggressive mistakes. You’ll see a lot of Myles Jack, Eddie Vanderdoes and others on D. They could be special over the next few years but, have been a little inconsistent this year.

Weaknesses? I’d say Hundley’s decision making can be an issue on offense, although he’s coming off arguably his best game as a Bruin. He’s more good than bad though and is only getting better. Defense against the run has had some issues, although mainly against spread type offenses, which I don’t think VT runs much of…could be totally wrong. ASU’s QB killed us in the first half two weeks ago when our defense got in bad positions (too aggressive) and he scrambled at will.

Our losses: (1) Stanford, we had three chances down 17-10 in the 4th to tie up the game and couldn’t get it done. The defense stepped up and got stops but, the offense killed three straight drives with stupid penalties. Stanford added a late TD to win 24-10. (2) Oregon game was tied at 14 at the half. It was still a good game into the third and Oregon got going and mud stomped us in the end. Really the only game we weren’t in all year in the 4th. (3) ASU, we had the worst half of the season at the wrong time and still should have won the game. We had it first and goal with under five left and couldn’t get it done, and lost 38-33. That was a rough one to lose at home.

Another key to the game should be the whopping we took from Baylor last year in the Holiday Bowl (49-26). I’m sure Mora will have these guys thinking about that for the next few weeks. You can expect a focused team on the 31st. I’ve heard some people mention that UCLA feels like they should win this game, or that it’s a no-win situation for them because everyone expects them to roll. You might get some loud mouth fans spouting that garbage, although I don’t think you’re going to see a UCLA team come in with that attitude. Mora is building something at UCLA, and we need a convincing win this year in our bowl game to keep the positive momentum moving into recruiting.

As long as Hundley comes back next year, you’re looking at possibly a pre-season top 10 team. This game is a great opportunity for both teams, for UCLA to keep momentum going into next year and for VT to get over that “can’t beat the big teams” label of late. Not that UCLA is Alabama, but it would still be a solid win for VT. You get a shot at redemption over the Pac12 after that Stanford beat down … believe me, we know it was like to get beat down by that Stanford team.

— KP Texas


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