Thursday, July 13, 2017
Bilo's 2017 College Football Previews: UCLA Bruins
As we sit here, it would be apparent that the Jim Mora era may very well be coming to its conclusion. This program never reached the exulted heights that were expected of this hire, and although it has been a far cry better than anything that Karl Dorrell or Rick Neuheisel ever accomplished, let's face it...this era has fallen well short of what it should have been. USC was down, and UCLA had the opportunity and an open window to take LA by storm. Did they do that? No. The window for that, by the way, slammed shut with the emergence of Sam Darnold and that magical run that the Trojans went on from October through January last fall. If there was any hope of taking over the city, that hope has died out. There were no conference titles under Mora, and UCLA still has not been to a Rose Bowl in 18 years. Since 1993, UCLA has won exactly one conference title, and there are several young Bruins fans who know nothing but the mediocrity to pure garbage that this program has been in their lifetime. The window has closed, and now the Bruins appear relegated to the non-relevant section of the PAC-12 standings once again.
What To Be Excited About: Offense
There was absolutely nothing to be excited about with this offense last season on any level. It was by far the worst offensive season in recent memory, and so changes were made to the coaching staff to rectify the issues. The problem is that several of the players who could not execute a tied up house fly last season still remain on the roster. I have far more questions than answers about this group, so let's just cut the crap and move on to the concerns.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
If you are still on the Josh Rosen train, wake up and step off before you go off the cliff with it. Does Rosen have talent? Certainly, he does. Has he made the most of it? Absolutely not. His production started to tail off in 2015 as a freshman when games started to mean something, and by the USC and bowl games, he was a shell of the kid that started the season off as the so called "Rosen one". Last season, it was obvious, right out of the gate, that he had regressed, as he struggled to get things done in a week one loss to Texas A&M. By a mid-season loss to Arizona State, he had completely derailed and was lost for the season because of the arrogance of himself and the coaching staff for allowing him back into the game after he had already injured his groin, and quite frankly, could not outrun a penguin with a bad wheel. He was crushed on a hit that a healthy player would have avoided, and he was lost for the year with both the groin injury and his shoulder. He has to remain healthy this season, for starters, become more accountable, stop being so entitled, and start taking this thing seriously if UCLA is to rebound from a morbidly bad season. I think that with his entitled, spoiled brat persona, that this will be asking a ton of him.
Now on to the run game. It was putrid. It made a person want to leave the room every time UCLA was on offense. It was a thing of frustration to watch what had been such a talented stable of backs look like they had never watched a football game before. They simply could not run. They could not identify holes, could not get to the edge, and could not make plays. Soso Jamabo has been a waste of talent. He was a huge get for the Bruins, and has never lived up to his billing. He is the poster child for why recruiting rankings are often a joke. The rest of the backs followed his lead, and never got off the bus. For the first time in 40 years, UCLA had the worst rushing offense in the conference, and one of the five worst in the nation, and was even worse than Washington State and Cal, where running the football was merely a suggestion.
The receivers are all pedestrian, at best. Not one receiver broke out and became a star last season, and that was when Rosen was still on the field. Great QBs can make great receivers out of ordinary talents, and Rosen has never developed that with his receivers. He yells at his receivers for mistakes that he makes throwing the football, and the trust is not there on the field, and it is absolutely evident.
The line, while not completely devoid of talented individuals, played like a complete mess as a group, had no communication, and simply folded on almost every play, especially when they had to...gasp...run block.
Here's something that makes one even more concerned. Spring practice showed no signs that any of this has been rectified. Not one bit of it. Rosen played some in the spring, and played terribly in the spring game. He, like Brett Hundley at this stage of his career, was still making the same mistakes he was making two seasons ago. The offense progressed, to the eye of the beholder, not one bit.
What To Be Excited About: Defense
As the offense regressed, as did the defense last season, including a game against Utah where they made Joe Williams look like Bo Jackson in his Auburn prime playing against Louisiana-Lafayette. There were players to be sure, who were trying their hardest on every down, but even they wore down in time.
Whereas I had to go fully negative on the offense, I find there to be some promise on this side of the football. Jacob Tuioti-Mariner is a star in the making at DT. He played largely in the shadows of others last season, and will now be released into the wild to fend for himself. He finished with five TFLs and was generally disruptive last season. Look for him to have a breakout season in 2017.
The secondary is fully loaded for the Bruins as well, despite some losses in personnel. Nate Meadors is a high motor play maker at CB, and has always played bigger than himself since his freshman season when he got thrown to the wolves. Look for him to produce big in coverage this season.
Adarius Pickett and Jaleel Wadood are both NFL caliber Safeties for the Bruins, and they should be able to protect the back end of the defense with ease.
Kenny Young will be the middle man on defense at ILB, and is an underrated player in the conference as a while. Young finished with 8.5 TFLs last season, and finished second on the team with 90 tackles. He is another pro prospect with a bright future, and is one of those rare players that could save the Bruins with his presence on the field.
What To Be Concerned About: Defense
Other than Tuioti-Mariner, the line is full of unknown quantities in former reserves and freshmen. Rick Wade is projected to start at one DE spot as a sophomore, but was unheard of last season,and that is if he can hold off freshman Osa Odighizuwa. Boss Tagiloa was a huge get in recruiting at DT, but never made any headway last season. He is slated to start, but Matt Dickerson, who played well when given the chance last fall, is in the mix as well. Prized freshman Jaelen Phillips is slated to start at DE, but he is a freshman, and freshmen are freshmen until proven otherwise.
Young is flanked by two completely unknown quantities at LB as well in Josh Woods and Krys Barnes. Woods finished with 26 tackles last season, but really did not make much of a mark otherwise, while Barnes, a sophomore, made all of three tackles. I'd be worried. DeChaun Holliday, Lokeni Toailoa, and Mique Juarez are all on the two deep, but can they be depended on? Can Juarez get his head right after he bailed on the program only to be brought back?
UCLA is starting yet another freshman at CB in Darnay Holmes. He is considered to be a major talent, but again, he is a freshman. What he did in high school means nothing at this point.
There are ten freshmen or sophomores on the second string as of this moment, so the reality is thatm while there may be talent, there is no discernible depth when it comes to absolute experience on this defense. That is the reality.
2017 Schedule: 9/3 Texas A&M, 9/9 Hawaii, 9/16 at Memphis, 9/23 at Stanford, 9/30 Colorado, 10/14 at Arizona, 10/21 Oregon, 10/28 at Washington, 11/3 at Utah, 11/11 Arizona State, 11/18 at USC, 11/25 California
This is my bare bones projection for UCLA football. Five wins. That's it. They will have to steal, scrap and claw for most of those wins as well. There are tap games that they could lose as well. In short order, the talent on defense is better than it was last season, but long term, not short. In my opinion, the talent on offense, where all of the issues are, has not evolved. Mora has recruited like maniac on defense, and that is to the credit of DB coach Demetrise Martin, who is the most promising assistant on this staff. Recruiting on offense has been a mess, especially in the line, where the Bruins have floundered during almost the entirety of the Mora era. Don't expect any more than what you got last year from this group, and you won't be disappointed.