UCLA started the season flaming hot – even working their way to an AP Top 10 ranking – but since then, they have lost three games and dropped back to number 22 in the nation. Have things changed within the team? Has Hundley truly hit a sophomore slump? Is this a bad sign? In short: Yes, yes, and no. Going in order, here is what seems to have gone down.
As for the change within the team, it’s evident that injuries have plagued the Bruins. Every running back ahead of Roosevelt Davis, who stands at 5’3 and 155 pounds, has felt the pains of football. An offensive line that finally seemed strong after years of – well, let’s be honest – playing like garbage, has lost nearly all its starters, and even some backups. That’s the immediately obvious ways the Bruins have changed, but it goes deeper than that; for better or worse. Deviating from the strengths of the offense has been offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone. Why? Probably because a weaker, younger, less experienced line calls for weaker, simpler, less blocking intensive plays. A lot of people are on Mazzone’s case, but he is simply doing what he sees fit. Then comes the defense. After being absolutely blasted through the air against Washington, the Bruins showed more of the same against ASU, but made a remarkable cleanup in the second half. Without corner Fabian Moreau playing, who was injured like the rest of the roster, true freshman Priest Willis stepped in and was targeted and bullied by ASU QB Taylor Kelly. From there on out, there was a rotation of safeties at corner. More important that youngsters though, is that what was once the driving force for the Bruins now seems to be lost. When wideout Nick Pasquale lost his life early this season, emotions were high and the Bruins made way for victory with the saying, “Win 4 Nick”. There is no doubt that the players and coaches still deeply care, but the slogan has gone quiet and his loss has become less of a rallying point for the fan base. Sometimes a little inspiration can change a season.
Next, we look at the ups and downs of Brett Hundley’s sophomore season. Every time the stats are presented, Hundley’s numbers seem more and more impressive. Think of all Hundley has done in his tenure and then consider that he ranks amongst the top in college football when it comes to sacks, hurries, and hits on a QB. Nonetheless, impressive or not, Hundley has not reached the level many thought he would this year. Petty miscues that result in huge plays have been the story, from misreads that go for interceptions, or two pick sixes in UCLA territory have been detrimental. The good news? It looks like Hundley is set to return next season, and as a RS Junior, should have the experience to progress and accomplish great feats.
Finally, the elephant in the room shows itself. Is this a bad thing? Sure, for this season these setbacks along with others have been bad for the Bruins, but for the UCLA coaching staff to accomplish so much with so many roadblocks and holes to fill is quite impressive. Let’s face it too, just two years ago, this squad was just above mediocre, and they have come quite far back onto the national radar. A 10 win season, which is quite the plateau in college football, is still reachable, but next season should say it all. Year three tends to be the showing of a coaching staff, and with the talented returners and the spectacular recruiting class to come, UCLA should be on its way for just that: a showing of this coaching staff’s talent.
And I almost forgot… BEAT USC!