Just past the half way mark of the season, with the Bruins sitting at 5-2, Jim Mora and staff are looking to finish season number one on a strong note. Offensively, Noel Mazzone has transformed a unit that was 72nd in total offense and 88th in scoring offense in 2011. The offense, filled with freshman across the board, has seen marked improvement and is in the top 25 in both passing and rushing yards nationally and averages nearly 32 points per game, up from 23 last season. As we dig deeper, position by position, we will grade the Bruins and look for ways to improve even more so as the team hits the stretch run the final five weeks.
Quarterback: Freshman Brett Hundley is completing 67% of his passes and has thrown for 273 yards per game thus far in 2012. His 14 passing touchdowns ranks 5th in the Pac 12, his passer rating of 143.5 ranks 4th, and his passing yards rank 2nd. He has a touchdown to interception ratio of 14:7 and is on pace to throw for 3,284 yards and 24 touchdowns. To go along with his passing stats, he also has 240 rushing yards and his five rushing touchdowns leads the Bruins. Not bad for a freshman, huh? As talented as Brett has been, he obviously has some things he needs to work on. While his pocket presence is very good, he often locks in on one receiver and if he isn’t open, holds the ball too long. Brett also struggles sometimes with his accuracy on short crossing routes. He misses receivers on slants and drags across the field far too often. Brett has fairly good deep ball accuracy and throws the ball well on the run. Much has been made of his throwing motion, but although unnatural, he keeps the ball high and hasn’t got many passes batted down. The meat of the Bruin schedule is ahead and Hundley will have to continue his solid play if the Bruins are to continue winning. Grade: B
Running Backs: Senior Jonathan Franklin aka “Jetski” aka “The Mayor” is off to a fantastic start to his 2012 campaign. Franklin has 878 yards rushing and four touchdowns on 6.8 yards per carry. Franklin is only 184 yards away from passing former Bruin great Gaston Green and becoming UCLA’s all-time leading rusher. Green finished his career with 3,731 yards from 1984-1987. Green’s record isn’t the only one in Franklin’s sights, however. The UCLA single season rushing record is 1,571 yards set by Karim Abdul Jabbar in 1995. Franklin is on pace for 1,505 yards in the regular season. Barring a complete collapse, the Bruins will make a bowl game and give Jonathan another chance at the record. While Franklin has carried much of the load, Damien Thigpen has been a pleasant surprise, as well. Thigpen, known for his blazing speed, has battled injuries the last two seasons, but is finally healthy and compliments Franklin very well. He is averaging 5.2 yards per carry and has scored one touchdown on the season. Jordan James also averages 4.1 yards per carry on the season. Grade: A
Receivers: Much maligned former Bruin receiver Nelson Rosario graduated in 2011, and despite most fans being glad to see him go, he left a 1,100 yard hole in the Bruins offense. Seven games into the season, that hole has not been filled. Shaquelle Evans leads the Bruins with 413 yards and 14.8 yards per catch. Joseph Fauria leads the team in touchdowns with five and is second in receiving yards with 243. Fauria, who is naturally a tight end, doesn’t fit the mold of a Noel Mazzone player, but with his massive 6’8” frame, he is a redzone weapon that most teams simply cannot match up with. Steven Manfro is second on the team in receptions with 23 and third in yards with 220, but has dropped too many passes and has seen his playing time decrease as the season goes on. The most explosive receiver on the Bruins roster had been freshman Devin Lucien, but he suffered a season ending broken clavicle against Colorado. Jerry Johnson, Darius Bell, Jerry Rice Jr., and Ricky Marvray have contributed, along with a pair of freshman in Jordan Payton and Kenneth Walker. Grade: C
Offensive Line: The offensive line is very young and as you would expect, has been very up and down. They had dominant performances against Rice and Nebraska, but also had less than stellar performances against Oregon State and Cal. With three freshman, Torian White, Simon Goines, and Jake Brendel, the future looks very bright for the big guys up front. At left guard, Sophomore Xavier Su’a-Filo starts, but is still searching for consistency after missing two years for a Mormon mission. The most consistent lineman has been senior right guard Jeff Baca. The group, altogether, has done a very good job run blocking and a solid job protecting against a four man rush, but has struggled picking up blitzes. Grade: C