Half way through season one of the Jim Mora era, UCLA sits at 4-2 overall, 1-2 in conference. The Bruins have shown signs of turning the corner, and have had the all-too-familiar setbacks, as well. Big wins, bad losses, young faces, and old habits have all characterized the first six games of the season. Looking at the Bruins in more detail, let’s break down the Bruins half way through 2012.
Record: At 4-2, UCLA is realistically ahead of where most unbiased observers projected. Predicting five to seven wins in 2012 was the preseason norm and the Bruins are already close to that. Beating Rice, Houston, and Utah were all expected, but the Bruins were also able to upset Nebraska in a thriller at the Rose Bowl. UCLA dropped one at home to Oregon State, which was a surprise at the time, and laid an egg in Berkeley for seventh consecutive time. Despite losing two out of the last three, Jim Mora has done better than most had projected so far in season one.
Offense: Offensive Coordinator Noel Mazzone has become known for turning around floundering offenses quickly. He’s done so once again with UCLA this year. In 2011, UCLA ranked 88th in scoring offense. Through six games in 2012, UCLA is 42nd in scoring offense and has a very balanced attack. Led by Brett Hundley and JoNathan Franklin, the Bruins offense is 19th in passing yards and 21st in rushing yards nationally.
Defense: Although much improved from last season’s defense, the 2012 defensive unit isn’t quite on par with the offensive production yet. In 2011, the Bruins defense was abysmal and ranked 92nd in scoring defense. In 2012, the Bruins currently are 51st nationally, allowing 24.0 points per game. Despite a huge improvement in the front seven, the Bruins have still struggled a bit lately against the run. Pressuring the QB is not an issue, however, as UCLA has already matched last season’s sack total in just six games. The secondary has been the weak link so far and has consistently been getting beat all season.
Recruiting: Jim Mora was praised for bringing in a staff filled with all-star recruiters last winter. So far, they have lived up to the billing. With 16 verbal commits so far, and a ton of talent still considering the Bruins, UCLA is expected to bring in a full class of 25 and it is shaping up to be a top 10 to 15 recruiting class nationally.
Overall: Despite the disappointing loss against Cal, Jim Mora has the Bruins on the right track. UCLA fans must be patient, however, and remember the preseason expectations. Every fan base has hope at the beginning of the season, and after starting 3-0, UCLA fans got a little ahead of themselves. Jim Mora has done and said all the right things. Three freshmen are starting on the offensive line and starting QB Brett Hundley is a freshman, as well. Early season issues, such as penalties and inconsistency, are worrisome, but the positives have outweighed the negatives thus far. If UCLA can win 3-4 more games this year, including a bowl, then Jim Mora will get a solid grade for season one. The Bruins are definitely headed in the right direction, and despite the frustrating setbacks along the way, this team is the best UCLA has had in seven seasons. Stick with the team and enjoy the ride.