UCLA Football: Offensive Play Calling


Sep 25, 2014; Tempe, AZ, USA; UCLA Bruins offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone reacts on the sidelines against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Sun Devil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

UCLA Football has only played one full game this year. Other than that, their offense has sputtered — and not from half to half. Not from quarter to quarter, or even drive to drive. Brett Hundley and his teammates have seen fluctuations in their offensive production from play to play, and it’s getting clear that this isn’t the players’ fault. No offense, Noel Mazzone, but you have produced no offense — at least when your team needs it most.

If we sit back and objectively analyze what the Bruins’ strengths are with the ball in their hands, we get a short list that can be summed up into simply giving the ball to play-makers and/or taking what the defense gives them. At this point it’s only safe to have the ball in the hands of Paul Perkins, Ishmael Adams, Brett Hundley, or Myles Jack — and even they can be concerning at times. Let’s not beat around the bush, though. It’s clear that this squad isn’t short on talent, so that leaves coaching as the culprit for their struggles.

Offensive Coordinator Noel Mazzone seems to be coaching to a system, rather than the strengths of his team. The struggles UCLA faces can be similar to those faced by David Shaw and his OC Mike Bloomgren at Stanford. For years, the Cardinal offense has been one of a power back set that runs the ball up the gut. From Toby Gerhart to Tyler Gaffney, it never really seemed like it would be an issue. Now, with a smaller line and a smaller, quicker set of running-backs, the Cardinal are struggling at times to put points on the board. Mazzone should learn from Bloomgren’s woes and avoid falling into the same traps. At what point do you say, “Okay, we aren’t converting on third and long, so lets shorten the distance to go on first and second.” or maybe, “Brett struggles with his progressions and our receivers can’t get separation, so lets run plays that develop faster.” Most fans have figured this out already, so why hasn’t the coaching staff? Is it stubbornness? Is it a difference of expectations and reality? Is Noel Mazzone simply not a top tier offensive coordinator? News flash: He’s not.

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Trickery is for underdogs and Oregon. Granted, it makes sense for some teams in some circumstances, but on a crucial fourth down that could put the game away, OC Noel Mazzone elected to give the ball to defensive end Eddie Vanderdoes and have him take it up the gut. Who else was in the backfield on that play? Myles Jack was. When you have one of the best play-makers in the game today, and quite simply one of the best athletes in college football, you give him the rock. That’s what play-makers do… They make plays. Worse than simply not giving the ball to Jack is that Mazzone didn’t even go with the second best option in Brett Hundley. Overlooking the legs of Hundley as he so commonly does, UCLA didn’t convert on that 4th down. In fact, they only converted on 3-of-15 3rd downs, putting their defense on the field for an unreasonable 91 plays.

It’s important to remember, however, what Jim Mora said just the other day. In response to the criticism, Mora reminded us that before his tenure with his assistant coaches and players, “…the last game that UCLA played … was 50-0 ass kicking.”

Coach Mazzone has played a large role in UCLA Football’s amazing turnaround, but it seems to be nearing his time for departure. With the opportunities to put games away plentiful, one would think UCLA would be winning big. Alas, this is not the case, as the Bruin offense falls back to a simple and predictable system that doesn’t set them up for success. In the four regular season games remaining, there had better be some significant changes in offensive production, or come seasons end, there should be some significant changes in the offensive coaching staff.