2012 UCLA Preview - The Do Over
UCLA DE Datone Jones
CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - UCLA Bruins
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- 2012 Week One Opponent
- By Richard Cirminiello
In an effort to put the brakes on the program's recent slide, UCLA went in an unconventional route by hiring longtime NFL coach Jim Mora. Unconventional results are now the goal on campus.
Head coach: Jim Mora
First year: 0-0
Off. 25, Def. 23, ST 2
Lettermen Lost: 18
Ten Best UCLA Players
1. RB Johnathan Franklin, Sr.
2. TE Joseph Fauria, Sr.
3. LB Eric Kendricks, Soph.
4. FS Tevin McDonald, Soph.
5. LB Patrick Larimore, Sr.
6. P Jeff Locke, Sr.
7. LT Xavier Su'a-Filo, Soph.
8. CB Sheldon Price, Sr.
9. DE Datone Jones, Sr.
10. OG Jeff Baca, Sr.
Aug. 30 at Rice
Sep. 8 Nebraska
Sep. 15 Houston
Sep. 22 Oregon State
Sep. 29 at Colorado
Oct. 6 at California
Oct. 13 Utah
Oct. 20 OPEN DATE
Oct. 27 at Arizona State
Nov. 3 Arizona
Nov. 10 at Washington State
Nov. 17 USC
Nov. 24 Stanford
The Bruins have been a collection of underachievers for the better part of a decade, losing at least five games in 11 of the last 13 years. Rick Neuheisel's final squad was a microcosm for what's been taking place in Westwood. Yeah, UCLA backed into a Pac-12 South Division title, but it also got engulfed by Oregon in the championship game, and went on to become the first bowl team in NCAA history to finish two games below .500. By the time Mora was hired, change was long overdue.
Although no games have been played, the coach and his staff have gotten off to a very fast start, hiring a quality collection of assistants, amassing a terrific first recruiting class and ever so gradually changing the culture of losing within the program. The Bruins needed a shock to the system. Mora has been the coaching equivalent of a stun gun for the holdovers.
He's changing the way UCLA prepares, the way it practices and the way it approaches the game. He's stripping away old habits, bad habits, and replacing them with what he learned for so many years on the staffs of five different NFL franchises.
The good news for the new regime is that the cupboard was far from empty when it arrived. UCLA houses a lot of former blue-chip talent on both sides of the ball. Say what you will about Neuheisel, but he sure could attract talented kids back to the program. Mora figures to be the beneficiary, provided he can coach up the young Bruins better than his predecessors did.
Naturally, no games have been played, but Mora brought with him a renewed sense of hope to a school that desperately needs it. Only time will tell if he's UCLA's version of former USC head man Pete Carroll, or just the next in a growing line of failed Bruins hires.
What to watch for on offense: Mission accomplished. The Bruins waited patiently for the return from a two-year church mission of LT Xavier Su'a-Filo, who's back and ready to pick up where he left off. When last seen in pads in 2009, the then-rookie was laying the foundation for a brilliant career in the Pac-12. He has great technique and athleticism, the cornerstones of a top-flight pass protector. While he won't throw a pass over the next three years, his presence will greatly aid a program that has struggled for years in the trenches, and is installing a more passer-friendly attack.
What to watch for on defense: The super sophs. UCLA boasts a trio of sophomores, one at each level of the D, that it feels will someday represent the program on the All-Pac-12 Team. NT Brandon Willis exploded out of the gates in his first year since transferring from North Carolina, beating out veterans to win the job. LB Eric Kendricks is an emerging star on the inside. And FS Tevin McDonald looks as if he'll someday join father Tim and brother T.J. in the fraternity of family members to continue playing in the NFL.
The team will be far better if… it generates a significantly better pass rush. The defense was gutted a year ago for all kinds of reasons, but none bigger than the inability to pressure the quarterback. The Bruins ranked 112th nationally in sacks, bagging just 14 in 14 games. UCLA has talent in the defensive backfield, including three seniors and four returning starters. However, no one will know it if the secondary doesn't get a lot more support up front than it did in 2011.
The Schedule: The Bruins might have a few tough early battles against Nebraska and Houston, but they get three straight home games after a nice layup at Rice to kick things off. The tough battles come in the midseason with three road games in four dealing with Cal from the North along with trips to Colorado and Arizona State. Overall, though, the slate isn't bad missing Oregon and getting the two stars of the South - Utah and USC - in the Rose Bowl.
Best offensive player: Senior RB Johnathan Franklin. Neither a porous O-line nor an ineffective passing attack has been able to slow down Franklin over the last three seasons. He's No. 9, and climbing, on the school's all-time rushing charts, bolting for 2,669 yards and 18 touchdowns on 506 carries. He averaged just below six yards a carry in 2011, showcasing his trademark speed, acceleration through the hole and patience. Even as UCLA shifts to a more passer-friendly system, Franklin figures to remain the focal point.
Best defensive player: Sophomore LB Eric Kendricks. It didn't take very long for Kendricks to establish himself as one of the top young defenders in the Pac-12. Despite starting just three games in his debut, he still managed to make 76 stops, 4.5 tackles for loss and a pair of sacks. He's a fantastic all-around athlete, with the range to dominate as a run and pass defender. Now that he's about to become a fixture at inside linebacker, and has another offseason behind him, Kendricks is poised to rack up 100 tackles, and become a leader of the D.
Key player to a successful season: The quarterback. With UCLA changing to a more up-tempo offense that airs the ball out, it's incumbent upon one of the three contending passers to rise up and play with more consistency than the program has seen in recent years. It's been a long time since the Bruins developed a quarterback that struck fear into opposing defenses. Out of redshirt freshman Brett Hundley and seniors Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut, someone has to give the offense the aerial threat that this offense is desperately seeking.
The season will be a success if ... the Bruins produce a winning season for just the second time since 2006. Even with the challenges of implementing new systems on both sides of the ball, there's enough veteran talent on hand for this program to win seven games. Plus, the schedule is rather forgiving. UCLA plays outside of the Rose Bowl just five times, traveling to Rice, Colorado, Cal, Arizona State and Washington State. It's not inconceivable for the Bruins to finish the year with a winning road mark.
Key game: Nov. 17 vs. USC. It's more than a rivalry game. It's a measuring stick for the Bruins, which have long lagged way behind the Trojans, on and off the field. The game is at the Rose Bowl, and the Bruins are sure to be looking for revenge after getting trampled at the Coliseum last November, 50-0. Plus, this game will be Jim Mora's first of what might be many meetings with Troy and its head coach Lane Kiffin.
2011 Fun Stats:
- Yards per rush: UCLA 4.5 – Opponents 5.2
- Yards per catch: UCLA 14.4 – Opponents 10.6
- Third down %: UCLA 36% - Opponents 48%
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