So, reports that Tim Tebow is somehow connected to pop star Katy Perry are nothing more than gossip rag gibberish or the ultimate Googlebomb (and an excuse to post a photo of Perry on this particular blog). However, Tebow is confirmed to be working out in Los Angeles with new UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone.
UCLA football is inspiring confidence in unlikely places since regime change came. The most talked about quarterback in the NFL is seeking guidance from its OC-by-way-of-Arizona State, new head coach Jim Mora landed a top 15 nationally ranked recruiting class, and even the aforementioned Perry seems to have found inspiration for her latest hair color from the Bruins’ home uniforms.
OK, so that last part may not be true (then again, it may be), but the buzz emanating from Westwood is a much needed adrenaline injection into a long dormant program. But for the production to match the potential, the magic Mazzone is trying to work with Tebow must also be reflected in the Bruins’ own quarterback play.
The position is one that has caused UCLA problems for several seasons running. Drew Olson had a stellar 2005 campaign, completing 64 percent of his passes for 3200 yards, 34 touchdowns and just six interceptions. At the pinnacle of USC’s dominance, the Bruin quarterback got some modest, yet realistic Heisman buzz. That was the last season the Bruins were relevant on the Pac-10/12 landscape, finishing 10-2. And not coincidentally, it was the last time UCLA had consistent play from its quarterback.
Mediocrity marked the ensuing six seasons, as Karl Dorrell and Rick Neuheisel both played musical chairs with their playcallers. Ben Olson, Patrick Cowan, Osaar Rashan, McLeod Bethel-Thompson, Kevin Craft, Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut all started behind center. None were effective.
Neuheisel attempted to adjust the offense, introducing a Pistol formation that was seemingly at odds with then-OC Norm Chow’s vision. Chow was replaced by Mike Johnson last winter, but Johnson did not get the memo that the Pistol needed bullets. Prince battled through injuries and showed glimpses of being an effective dual threat quarterback, rushing for 455 yards and passing for 1627, but was turnover prone when healthy. Brehaut had his own moments, but lacked consistency before breaking his leg.
Brehaut returns to a large field of quarterbacks vying to be the first starter of the Mora era. Open competition has been a recurring theme at UCLA through these seasons of struggle, but the hope now is that the proven track record of Mazzone is the difference.
Mazzone fits the Mora staff with NFL experience on his resume. That seems to be a requisite for coaching at UCLA now, and Mazzone had one of the more difficult professional tasks of recent years in working with Brett Favre’s wide receivers at New York. More recently though, he proved his chops as Arizona State’s offensive coordinator.
Under Mazzone, the Sun Devils scored more than 33 points per game; good for No. 28 in the nation. He employed a vertical passing attack, often spreading out four wide receivers with his QB sharing the backfield with a sole back. The QB had the green light to run as needed, but ultimately it was a passing-predicated attack. That’s a tremendous deviation from the Pistol seen in the last few seasons.
Mazzone’s tutelage turned Brock Osweiler into one of the more explosive quarterbacks in the Pac-12, and a likely top-half of this year’s NFL Draft selection. Osweiler threw 26 touchdowns and completed more than 63 percent of his passes en route to surpassing 4000 yards. All are figures any UCLA quarterback would have killed to post. The red flag, though: he threw 13 interceptions, many at critical times.
Turnovers have been a weakness of the long string of QBs at UCLA. Last season was the first time Bruin passers threw more touchdowns than interceptions in a season since 2006, and even that margin was an unimpressive 16-to-8.
UCLA’s road to relevance requires a QB at the steering wheel. If Mazzone can have Tebow throwing at an NFL-quality level, and the Bruins showing more offensive punch all in the same season, the Bruin OC should be up for football sainthood.