UCLA’s beat-down of the Nevada Wolf Pack saw a stellar performance from its offensive squad, and that’s what you’d expect from a team that hung 58 points on an FBS team that was bowl-eligible a year ago.
And the Bruins’ offensive outfit was brilliant for nearly the entire game and in nearly every aspect. This isn’t an exaggeration, and really, would such claims be an exaggeration given the fact that the Bruins scored 58 points?
Here’s a grade for each unit on UCLA’s offense.
Offensive Line: A+
Any offensive line rarely gets the love it should, but the UCLA offensive line has been heaped with praise from fans and the media and still deserves more of it.
In essence, the line has negated the absence of all-world running back Johnathan Franklin, who’s now a Green Bay Packer. Jordon James stepped in and exploited wide lanes, and the downfield blocking was damn close to masterful.
In pass protection, the UCLA offensive line afforded QB Brett Hundley plenty of time to make calculated decisions. Indeed, Hundley threw downfield significantly more than he did in any game last year, a promising observation given the potential for explosiveness that this team possesses.
Overall, UCLA’s offensive line, though still young, is improved many times over from last year, at least based on this, the first game of the season.
Nebraska? That’ll be a test. For now, this line deserves the highest grade possible.
Brett Hundley looks far more sharp and far more athletic than he did in 2012. Not only do his passes come with a distinct zip, he’s also out-running defenders where, last year, he relied heavily on blockers downfield to get big runs.
And of course, this improvement led to a four-touchdown performance in about three-fourths of a contest (backup Jerry Neuheisel took over the reigns in the fourth quarter with the game well in hand). With over 300 yards of total offense, Hundley’s figured out quite a bit compared to his season-opener against Rice in 2012.
But there’s improvements to be made.
Hundley’s confidence, for all that it adds to his game, has caught him a couple of times. From memory, there were perhaps three throws that Hundley threw into double coverage, far too confident in his week-one abilities, and those passes were dangerous. Against a better secondary, those are interceptions.
Additionally, what felt like countless instance, Hundley overthrew wide open receivers downfield. While we’re nitpicking here, those could’ve been two additional touchdowns for the sophomore quarterback.
Other than that? This quarterback’s going to be a problem for the Pac-12.
Running Back: A
Entering the offseason, no one knew where UCLA would be in terms of finding a running back to take Johnathan Franklin’s place in an offense that relied heavily on the run game in 2012. While the coaching staff (primarily Jim Mora) emphasized that the team would go “running back by committee,” running backs coach Steve Broussard scoffed at this idea.
And the idea was scoff-worthy by the end of UCLA’s tilt with Nevada. Starter Jordon James earned a whopping 155 yards off of just 21 carries, and the 7.4 yards-per-rush average wasn’t a function of a single, long run. Instead, James exploited (admittedly wide) lanes and practiced patience in waiting for blockers to get position. What normally resulted was a sizable gain, as the junior running back found himself biting at the Nevada defense to the tune of around what actually felt like eight yards per carry.
James is solid, and though there’s some talent behind him (notably Steven Manfro and Paul Perkins), he’ll be the starter, and that’s not a bad thing at all for UCLA.
Wide Receivers: B+
It’s hard to be critical of a group that sees much of its players getting a sizable chunk of action. With 12 players earning receptions on the night, none made any glaring mistakes and no gut-wrenching drops were committed. (Although if we’re being picky, there were a couple, one of them from sophomore Jordan Payton.)
Senior wide-out Shaq Evans? He’s as good as the media and fans projected he would be. He was already the team’s top target in 2012, and he figured to be targeted even more consistently this year. On Saturday, he earned six catches for 81 yards to go along with a touchdown. It appears he’ll get touches as the season goes on, and that’s promising for this UCLA team to have a wide-out to rely on.
The other notable star of the group? Quarterback-turned-receiver Devin Fuller, who found himself in wonderful position to create space with his quickness, and as a result, he earned himself 39 yards off of four receptions. Fuller’ll be fantastic for this UCLA team as well as a problem for its opponents.
It’s really difficult to give this team lower than a grade of “A” for its performance on Saturday night. While the Wolf Pack defense is certain to be as bad, if not worse, than it was last year, asking for this UCLA team to produce more than 58 points to exploit that is asking for too much.
Thus, this unit will get a high grade, setting a tone for the rest of the season.