UCLA Football: Balancing The Run and The Pass Game


UCLA football returns the PAC-12’s leading rusher from last season in Paul Perkins, and their offensive line is comprised of experienced players who have improved steadily. The majority of their receiving core remains in tact, and they are tied with Tennessee and Vanderbilt for the most returning starters of any “Power-5” team (18). 

After finishing the season ranked 10th in the nation, and playing a 2015 schedule that, while difficult, doesn’t include a matchup against Oregon, one might ask why their name isn’t a part of the national championship conversation. The reason is really quite simple.

Sep 26, 2014; Las Vegas, NV, USA; St. John Bosco quarterback Josh Rosen (3) looks to pass against the Bishop Gorman Gaels at Fertitta Field. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Likely starting at quarterback for UCLA is true freshman Josh Rosen, the #1 ranked pocket passer in the nation. The gem of UCLA’s recruiting class looks great — and has looked like that all offseason after enrolling early to participate in spring training, but that, in and of itself, is the problem. Plenty of players have looked great in the spring, at practices or showcases, and on film, but ultimately let down fans or simply taken time to adjust to college football.

Cornerback Fabian Moreau, for example, was talked up by coaches after spring practice last year, being described as “a sure-fire (NFL) first-round pick”, and a potential all-american. He was by no means bad, but certainly had his struggles and didn’t live up to the UCLA fan base’s expectations until very late in the year.

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On the other hand, some players come in and simply run the show, but even those players that mesmerize and delight fans — as is likely the case with Rosen — need time to get their legs under them. Be it one quarter, one game, or even one full season, each player is different; yet they all share one thing: nobody knows how long it will take for them to reach their potential.

Herein lies the problem with starting a freshman at quarterback. Nobody can accurately tell how long it’ll be before Rosen becomes what most speculate will be a premier college quarterback, and because of this, UCLA will need to balance the pass and the run.

UCLA, like other spread, uptempo teams with creative offensive coordinators and talented running backs, have plays in-between the pass and the run.

UCLA’s offense is fairly balanced to begin with. Generally, pregame analysis doesn’t start with the words “run heavy” or “pass oriented”. Rather, players like Paul Perkins or Jordan Payton are brought up as discussion points for their respective position groups.

Why is that? Well, UCLA, like other spread, uptempo teams with creative offensive coordinators and talented running backs, have plays in-between the pass and the run. Though these screen routes generally assigned to half-backs and wideouts are counted as passes, they keep defenses on their heels and can relieve stress on a young or inexperienced quarterback. The video below is a prime example of this type of play.

Flashing back to the Texas game last year, we saw Jerry Neuheisel come in with minimal in-game experience. Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone tailored the offense to the team needs and personnel, securing the win for the Bruins without their star quarterback. These little bubble routs will come in handy for Josh Rosen and his starting running back, who has seen success with them in the past two years.

UCLA Bruins
UCLA Bruins /

UCLA Bruins

Since Perkin’s first season at UCLA in 2013, he has caught 50 passes, amassing 497 yards for an average of 9.9 yards per catch. Additionally, he has hauled in 2 touchdowns. Note, however, that other players caught these types of passes as well, and while most were, not all of Perkins receptions came in the form of these behind-the-line-of-scrimmage passes.

With Josh Rosen taking over as quarterback at UCLA, these types of passes, in addition to a strong offensive line and continued success running the ball, will be crucial in Josh Rosen’s acclimation to the college game, and his hopeful ascension into a star at the next level.

Rest assured, as a Bruin fan, that Noel Mazzone will figure things out in this context. The key will be weaning Rosen off these passes as the season progresses, utilizing them as an aspect of the offense, rather than a crutch. Expect to see a lot of these bubble screens at the beginning of the season, as the Bruins will likely be incorporating a more diverse offense come the start of in-conference play. If you’re not a fan of the Oregon Duck offense, shield your eyes when UCLA takes the field against Virginia in their season opener at The Rose Bowl.