We’re now finished with the preview of the 2012 UCLA football schedule. If you missed any of them, check them out here, along with the rest of our UCLA football preview coverage.
Of course, throughout these previews of our opponents, we’ve mentioned “the plan” constantly; our chances of winning if we follow “the plan” and how many wins we’ll have if all things go according to “the plan,” etc.
We weren’t just using “the plan” emptily — and we aren’t putting it in quotes because we think it’s cool. “The plan” is a legit thing with rhyme and reason.
What is “the plan”? It’s a gameplan, a mindset and a purpose. It’s what these Bruins need to be successful — which we will define in a future post. “The plan” is outlined below. Let’s go through each aspect of it.
The Plan: Complacency? Screw that.
This part of the plan falls under the “mindset” category.
These Bruins are good, on paper. They have as much talent and potential as anyone in the Pac-12. Depth is always an issue, but each position seems to be worthy of playing in the Pac-12.
So the problem? They can’t act like it; they should believe it, to the extent that they can beat anyone on any given Saturday, but not to the extent where they don’t feel the need to worry about the next game, no matter if the upcoming opponent is a total cupcake (sorry, Rice).
Last season, UCLA allowed San Jose State (a 5-7 team in the WAC) to be competitive in the Rose Bowl, narrowly beat the bottom-feeding and, at that time, winless Oregon State team in Corvallis, escaped with a win (in Pasadena, mind you) against a Wazzu team that amounted to a four-win season in 2011, and were throttled in horrible fashion by an Arizona team that was coming off five straight losses. To put the icing on the cake, UCLA scored just 14 points in a loss to the 6-6 Illinois Fighting Illini that crashed and burned late in the season. We know UCLA has all the talent in the world, so the only thing that can be at work here is complacency, due to
These are teams that we expect to beat, in 2012, and beat handily. Expecting UCLA to throttle every opponent by four touchdowns is out of the question, but the point is, the game should not be decided by the final possession of the game; in fact, UCLA’s games against Rice, Houston, Colorado, Oregon State, ASU and Arizona should be games that end midway through the fourth quarter at the least, and we need to make sure none of these teams beat us.
The Plan, Part 2: Keep your worst enemies closer.
UCLA has some superior opponents on its schedule. Namely Stanford, South Cal, Utah and Nebraska.
Last season, UCLA never touched any of its toughest opponents. UCLA lost to Stanford, South Cal, Oregon, Texas and Utah by an average of 27.6 points, and excluding the 50-0 manhandling we received, the average was a 22-point loss.
UCLA can’t be expected to win these games outright, but they should be expected to keep it close, and it’s not crazy to expect UCLA to beat one of these four teams to go 1-3 against top-25 opponents (and yes, we think Utah should be top 25-worthy).
How close is close? Again, a final score shouldn’t be the predictor since UCLA can nab trash points and fluff up the score, much like it did against Houston last season. Instead, UCLA should be in contention all the way through the six minute mark of the fourth quarter (arbitrary, we know, but work with us). If these teams pull away with incredible late-game plays, such as forcing turnovers and upping their level of play on offense, UCLA fans shouldn’t be pissed. (Unless it’s against $C, in which case, most Bruins will be pissed if we don’t win, period.)
Although these don’t show up on record as actual wins, they’re signs of improvement and a huge step forward for this flaky-as-hell program, which seemed to tolerate big loss after big loss.
The Plan, Part 3: Rabid Linebackers
Lou Spanos is implementing a 3-4 defense, which puts a hell of a lot of the pressure on the linebackers to become playmakers. With the entire defensive line’s focus being to take up as much space as possible and create holes in the offensive line, the linebackers will have to shoot the gaps with aggression to get into the backfield as well as be ball hawks and watch for screens and silly gadget plays that colleges love to use so much.
The defensive line looks to be the strongest aspect of this UCLA football team, so you’d expect them to hold their own and allow for the linebackers to make plays. If the DL is as good as we think it should be, it’s up to Patrick Larimore and co. to force the opposing QB into bad decisions while the entire defense will look to react to where the ball is at.
The Plan, Part 4: The secondary is primary
We’ve said all throughout our preview coverage that UCLA’s biggest concern is that of the secondary; while Tevin McDonald is going to be an absolute friggin’ stud (and proved to be a dominant defensive back against Bezerkeley) and Aaron Hester is proving to be on NFL draft scout’s radar, mainly because of his size and underrated athleticism.
After them — and Sheldon Price — there’s Andrew Abbott, who’s certainly starter-worthy, but we aren’t sure he’ll be as solid as we want him to be against high-flying Pac-12 offenses. Brandon Sermons can’t be trusted yet, and then it’s all freshmen from there on after. (Dalton Hilliard is still there, mind you, but we’re very sure he would’ve been better off as a running back and the second option behind Johnathan Franklin.)
So the secondary is lacking, in depth. It’s top-heavy and worth being careful if you’re an opposing QB, but a team with a deep receiving corps could exploit them, as can injuries.
With the Pac-12 filled with all offense and no tackling, UCLA’s focus will be to improve the secondary to give its offense a chance to win ball games.
The Plan, Part 5: Run, Brett, Run! Except, not always.
Brett Hundley is now UCLA’s starting QB, and this is a good thing: It means that he legitimately outperformed every other QB in camp, instead of him being picked based purely on his potential. In other words, he’s more polished than we’d like to admit.
What Hundley brings to the table, though, is unrivaled athleticism. The dude can run and force defenses to stay on their toes and think before they react. He’s also a big dude — 6’5”, holy crap — so it’d be even harder to take him down given his strength and height.
But he’s a QB who has legitimate options at receiver and is playing under offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone, who loves to throw the ball every which way.
So for Hundley to be successful and carry this offense, he’ll need to settle down in the pocket and know when to run instead of being super jumpy and taking off at the first opportunity he sees.
The Plan, Part 6: Gun it, Franklin.
Johnathan Franklin is a damn beast. Last season, he regressed — due to splitting carries with Derrick Coleman — and still nearly managed 1000 yards while running for nearly six yards per carry (!).
Franklin’s gotten better, and now that Derrick Coleman is gone — good luck with the Vikes, buddy! — Franklin will get the chance to show he’s the best running back in the Pac-12 and worthy of a first round pick.
Dude has proven to be a playmaker and his lateral movement has risen to the level of “shifty as hell.” He’s more patient, smarter and has become a hell of a leader thanks to seniority. He’s easily the best offensive player this unit has, and, in the words of NBA coach Mike D’Antoni, we better ride him like a friggin’ secretariat.
The Plan, Part 7: This is it, Jerry Johnson.
You didn’t notice, but this is Jerry Johnson’s last season at the collegiate level.
He played in ten games for UCLA and was barely present in any of them. Now, he’s moved to the forefront and could very well be the starter on the final depth chart. He’s performed at a high level during the spring and fall, and you have to expect that he’ll be playing football with reckless abandon to redeem himself from being injury prone.
Johnson, to these eyes, could be UCLA’s most dangerous weapon in the passing game, along with Devin Lucien. Johnson has seniority, too, and could pave the way for Lucien to become one of the premier Pac-12 receivers.
At the worst, Johnson becomes a viable fourth option and helps to deepen UCLA’s receiving corps.
This is your last chance, Jerry. Make the best of it.
“The plan,” if followed correctly, and if everything works out the way it should, should make UCLA a successful football team and worthy of a respectable bowl game, as opposed to the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.
That’s what we think, at least. Did we miss something? Hit us up in the comments as usual.