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2015 Fierce 40 Previews: #17 UCLA

by DJ Boyer on Aug. 26, 2015

#17 UCLA Bruins

2014 Recap:

A successful 10-3 campaign for the UCLA Bruins placed them back in the National Spotlight, but the team was so close to accomplishing much more and mounting a serious threat for the PAC-12 title. The losses for the Bruins came at the hands of Utah, Oregon and Stanford. The Bruins rebounded after losing the regular season finale to Stanford with a hard fought 40-35 victory over Kansas State in the Alamo Bowl.

Coaching:

Jim Mora Jr. Has acclimated himself quite well to college life with an impressive 29-11 record in three seasons at the helm in Los Angeles. Noel Mazzone will lead an offense that was very balanced last season, finishing 22nd overall while placing individually 32nd running the football and 42nd throwing it. Tom Bradley leads a defense that was spotty in big situations a season ago, as teams converted 42% of third downs and 65% of fourth downs. The 29 sacks recorded by the defense was the lowest team total in six seasons, and this number will have to improve with a new quarterback at the helm for the 2015 season.

 

Offensive Analysis

Quarterbacks/Running Backs:

There was a large contingent of fans and media members that just assumed Jerry Neuheisel would take over the controls after the announcement that Brett Hundley was leaving early for the NFL. Neuheisel played admirably when he needed to for Hundley, but the Bruins landed Josh Rosen, the top quarterback recruit in the country. Rosen is slated to start just like Hundley did as a freshman. At 6’4” 215 pounds, Rosen has the size needed for the next level, and his play early in the season will be one of the most talked about Pac-12 topics for the young season. Neuheisel will be waiting in the wings if Rosen flounders or needs some help early in the season, which should make the Bruins feel good about their quarterback situation.

It doesn’t matter who the quarterback is, running the football should be the primary objective for the offense after Paul Perkins stepped out of the shadows and emerged with a monster season that seemed to go largely unnoticed outside of the conference. Perkins totaled 1,575 yards, which was the second highest single season rushing total in Bruin history. Craig Lee and Nate Starks will serve as the backup for Perkins, and both are capable of taking some of the load off of his shoulders.

Best Draft Prospect: Paul Perkins RB 4th Round 2017.

 

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends:

The Bruins will once again be going with a four wide receiver set despite their commitment to the run in the spread offense formation. Jordan Payton was the big play man for the Bruins in 2014, and he should lead them in catches for a second consecutive season. Thomas Duarte at 6’3” and 225 pounds averaged over 19 YPC, and the junior is the best prospect we see at the wide receiver position although both should see time in the NFL on Sundays.

Devin Fuller is back after spending time as a starter before injuries took him away from the field. When you add the statistics of the top three receivers together you are left with 154-1941-13. Now factor in the Eldridge Massington is back as the fourth wide receiver after starting as a freshman, and you have one of the most experienced units within the PAC- 12. Fuller and Massington have shown to be key blockers along the edge and are asked to stay in and block as much as they are to run patterns for the Bruins.

Best Draft Prospect: Thomas Duarte WR 3rd Round 2017.

 

Offensive Line:

Many people will look at the stats put up by UCLA last season and point to the fact that the line struggled with consistency and their ability to protect quarterback Brett Hundley. Hundley was sacked 40 times last season, one of the highest totals in the land, but the numbers don’t tell the whole story. If you look at the tape you will see Hundley held on to the ball far too long, and about half of the sacks he took can be directly attributed to him holding on to the football too long.

UCLA will return all five starters from last year and there is a lot of talent to be found up front. Alex Redmond looks like the top prospect, especially as an internal run blocker. Left tackle Conor McDermott is starting to gain more notoriety and is a prospect worth looking at down the road. McDermott and Redmond are both juniors, but Redmond is more pro ready at this point while the ceiling and potential for McDermott may be greater. Scott Quisenberry gives UCLA an experienced combo at the guard position. Center Jake Brenal is the lone senior along the line, so experience with room to continue to grow makes this a dangerous offensive line at UCLA and a unit that is severely underrated.

Best Draft Prospect: Alex Redmond OG 4th Round 2017.

 

Defensive Analysis

Defensive Line:

UCLA is another team that plays a 3-4 defensive front in most situations. UCLA has a unique situation with Eddie Vanderdoes and Kenny Clark, as both are the size of defensive tackles but one is usually playing at defensive end, and they move around the line constantly. Vanderdoes sees the outside spot more than Clark, but the interchangeability and the fact that they line up frequently beside one another allows the defense a measure of unpredictability not seen by many teams within the conference. The two combined for 108 tackles and 11 stops for loss last season, so the numbers are there to back it up. The play of the two big men could open things up for a player like Takkarist McKinley, a player who started only one game a season ago but showed an explosiveness that will be needed to replace the departed Owamagbe Odighizuwa. Junior Jake Jones will see some time at the defensive end position, but McKinley will see most of the snaps alongside Vanderdoes and Clark.

Best Draft Prospect: Eddie Vanderdoes DT 3rd Round 2017.

 

Linebackers:

Myles Jack should not only be considered a potential top ten or even top five overall pick, he should be considered as a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate. Jack finished fifth on the team in tackles as a freshman and second last season to the departed Eric Kendricks. Jack accomplished this by being a two-way player, as he has scored 10 touchdowns over the last two seasons as a reserve running back. Jack was named the Offensive AND Defensive Newcomer of the Year in the PAC-12 as a freshman in 2013. Jack totaled 88 tackles with eight for loss and another eight passes defensed. He has blocked a few punts during his tenure and made timely interceptions. In short, Jack does it all.

The other starters at linebacker, like Jack, are all underclassmen with Deon Hollins being the other focal point of the linebacking corp. Hollins totaled nine sacks and had 10 tackles for loss as purely a puss-rushing specialist. Having a player like Jack attract as much attention as he does should open things up for Hollins to post double digit sack totals. Kenny Young and Isaako Savaiinaea should primarily be seen as the other starters, and both have extensive experience despite only being sophomores with six career starts between them. Aaron Wallace continues to serve as a valuable backup and a special teams ace.

Best Draft Prospect: Myles Jack LB 1st Round 2016 (early declaration would be needed, a potential top ten pick overall).

 

Secondary:

This is an interesting unit because, while the unit is primarily a 3-4 team, they will morph into a 3-3-5 with matchups that dictate such action. UCLA has a pair of valuable cornerbacks that could be the best starting tandem in the conference, but a lot of pressure will be placed on them because the safeties at UCLA are considerable better against the run vice the pass. Fabian Moreau has the ability to be a top round pick, but right now he is likely a second round selection. Moreau could see his stock go up, as he is one of the best man-to-man cover corners at the NCAA level. Ishmail Adams, despite his size, will be a high pick due to his value as a return man.

Safeties Tahaan Goodman and Jaleel Wadood again are fantastic in run support but lack consistency against the pass. Expect to see Randall Goforth as the added defensive back in five-back sets with Goodman acting as more of a rover. Adarius Pickett Pickett was once thought of as a valuable freshman, but it looks like he is shifting to running back. This could be to offset the amount of carries the Bruins want to give to Myles Jack or in hopes that Pickett could be just another valuable two-way asset. We will see how the Bruins use Pickett once the season begins.

Best Draft Prospect: Fabian Moreau CB 2nd Round 2016.

 

Special Teams

Ishmail Adams is one of the five most dangerous return men at the NCAA level, and he will be the primary kick and punt returner for the Bruins. Adams had one return for a touchdown a season ago and a pair of others that were erased due to penalty. Ka’imi Farbairn and Matt Mengel give the Bruins a senior combo kicking the ball and both were very effective in 2014. Farbairn went a respectable 18-22 on field goals and hit his last eight in a row to end the season. Mengel averaged 40.2 YPK but only had three touchbacks with 20 kicks downed inside the 20 while punting the ball over 60 times. The coverage on kickoffs was a bit suspect and will need to improve if UCLA wants their special teams unit to be elite. They seem to have all the tools in place at the other positions and aspects of the game.

Best Draft Prospect: Ka’imi Farbairn K UFA 2016.

 

2015 Schedule

UCLA has the privilege of avoiding Oregon this season, but the grudge match with USC is on the road (like it’s really a road game). Arizona and Stanford are road games with a home contest against Arizona State sprinkled in between those matchups. There is a BYU home game in the beginning of the season to boot, meaning that their schedule in the first half of the season is among one of the tougher ones in the conference and even nation. The end of October through mid-November should bring four non-ranked teams, so UCLA will have a chance to breathe before Utah and USC on the road.

 

Draft Prospects & Outlook

UCLA has a number of excellent prospects, and Myles Jack looks like a top-10 pick overall if he indeed declares for the 2016 Draft. Ishmael Adams is undersized, but we are seeing smaller nickel corners with increasing value at the NFL level. This coupled with his return ability make him attractive to a number of teams. Fabian Moreau, Kenny Clark and Eddie Vanderdoes are all defensive players with high draft value. There are more offensive players that will be high on a number of draft boards, but the defense is where UCLA sees most of their individual prospects despite the offense being clearly better as a unit.

 

DJ Boyer