UCLA Football: Why Bruins will struggle to live up to hype in 2015


UCLA is long overdue for a historic season. Under head coach Jim Mora, gone are the days of the pistol offense, forgotten talents, and disappointing records.

UCLA is exponentially better than they have been in so long, yet nothing ever seems to come together. Huge question marks have cleverly been disguised as strengths for a UCLA squad that has a lot of growing up to do.

Related: 50 Best College Football Rivalries

First and foremost, is freshman quarterback Josh Rosen. Half of you reading this probably think that he is the next Peyton Manning, and much less of you have even bothered to watch his film. In fact, none of us have seen him play at the collegiate level, and buying into the perpetual optimism that an 18-year-old kid is the next hall of fame quarterback is the leap of faith.

By no means do I expect Rosen to be a bust, but let’s be real about it. Lakers fans are enough of a misguided and oblivious fan base for one town — and I’m a Laker fan myself. Kobe isn’t winning the scoring title this year and Rosen isn’t winning the Heisman.

More from Pac-12

With that out of the way, we can look a little closer. Strengths to be considered this year, at least according to most, would be the returning experience of the offensive line, Pac-12 leading rusher Paul Perkins and a loaded defensive unit. While the defensive point is at least a reasonable one with flaws, the offensive line is actually a weakness.

UCLA retains all five offensive lineman in a unit that paved the way for Perkins. Featuring the most returning offensive starts in the country, and headlined by one of the nations best centers in Jake Brendel, one would expect an outstanding year from UCLA Football. Dig deeper, however, and you’ll see that all that glitters is not gold.

The phrase “most returning offensive starts in the nation” is simply a cover for “most experience struggling to protect the quarterback”. The Bruins have been one of the worst teams in the nation when it comes to protecting their signal-caller for the past few years, and all of that comes back with the same problems and struggles. In 2012, 2013, and 2014, with Brett Hundley behind them, the offensive line gave up 128 sacks — including an overwhelmingly atrocious 10 to Utah in 2014.

Related: 15 Dark Horse Heisman Candidates

In their season opener at Virginia last season, the Bruins couldn’t hold the pocket open long enough for their quarterback to move the ball downfield. It was a struggle that took three defensive touchdowns to win while their offensive line coach was suspended. If you haven’t heard, Adrian Klemm is once again suspended.

Anybody who believes that another offseason in the books is the remedy to this horrible and continuous problem is sorely mistaken. Does experience lead to improvement? Absolutely. But a unit that has been continually awful won’t wake up in one season and lead UCLA to new heights.

As mentioned, the defensive unit for UCLA is also riddled with problems. These problems manifest themselves primarily in the form of penalties, though many neglect to acknowledge that replacing Eric Kendricks is far from an easy task and that the secondary is overrated.

Also Read: Top 5 Candidates to Win Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year

An average defense last season looses its top tackler — in fact, the best open field tackler in college football — and people assume they will be a dominant defense in the national picture?

I’m on board with the idea of improvement due to experience on the defensive side of the ball in this case, and I think Tom Bradley will be a wonderful change for the UCLA coaching staff, but regardless of their strides in the right direction, UCLA’s defense will not be better than 35th in the country.

They have weapons like Eddie Vanderdoes, and stars like Myles Jack, but they are not set up for the success so many believe they will have. At corner, people expect great things. Names like Marcus Rios, Fabian Moreau, and Ishmael Adams are some big names that generally get tossed around. I’ll keep things simple and break down each player fairly quickly.

Marcus Rios made one big play last season, picking off Jared Goff and stopping Cal’s late game drive. Other than that, he has been an average, maybe good defender. While not a weak link by any standards, Rios has failed to distance himself from any other corner on the team.

Fabian Moreau was talked up by Mora, and had a poor beginning to the season. It seemingly took him 8 games to realize that he shouldn’t play 5 yards off his man in a 3rd and 2 situation, and he never located the ball in coverage. He figured things out as the season progressed, but he is not an All-American of any sorts.

UCLA Bruins
UCLA Bruins /

UCLA Bruins

Ishmael Adams is one of the best return men in the nation. He made a name for himself returning kicks and punts, breaking out at ASU and saving the Bruins in Texas. As a corner, he is talented, well-rounded, and as speedy as any receiver out there — but he is not a defensive anchor. The big play machine is not by any means weak, but he is simply part of a positional unit constantly talked up by both UCLA’s coaching staff and the national media. If he gets his hands on the ball, you can kiss him goodbye, but Adams only broke up 4 passes last season with 2 interceptions.

Finally, we can look at the biggest constant at UCLA in the past few years: penalties. Jim Mora has tried everything; he has even brought Pac-12 refs to practice. Nothing seems to fix the drive killing and unnecessary penalties that the Bruins bring upon themselves. While the coaching staff has made it clear that they will tolerate some penalties that display a football mentality, they have gotten much more. Holding, pass interference, face-mask calls, and so much more regularly kill otherwise solid drives and swing momentum in close games.

Myles Jack struggles to control his temper and he gets called for too many penalties as a result. The offensive line can’t avoid illegal hands-to-the-face calls, and they negate positive plays because of this. I will humor the Bruins and agree that the Pac-12 refs seem to have it out for them at times — and we all know how bad the Pac-12’s officials are to begin with. Regardless, self-inflicted harm will overcome any positive moves the Bruins make.

None of this is to say that UCLA is in for a bad season, but they certainly aren’t in for a top-five finish, they are far from a playoff berth, and they are not ready for or up to the hype they have gotten. If UCLA wants to find the success they so desperately seek, they will need to put everything together in one season. It seems as though every time a door opens for them, another closes.

Two years from now, when Rosen is a junior, if the rest of the team keeps improving, UCLA will be ready for the national spotlight. Then, and only then, can they accomplish what they set out to work towards each and every day.

Next: Top 30 College Mascots of All-Time

More from Saturday Blitz