UCLA Football head coach Jim Mora hired longtime Penn State defensive coordinator Tom Bradley and he will have the Bruins go from just good to great.
November 24, 2007. That was the last time the UCLA Football team shutout an opponent as the Ben Olson-led Bruins shocked the #9 Oregon Ducks 16-0. Not to say that shutouts are a direct representative of a good defense but they do show a correlation. Limiting your opponents to not scoring does increase your chances of victory.
Since that game against the Ducks, there have only been five other games in which UCLA has held their opponents to 7 points or under: 2009 and 2008 vs Washington State, 2008 vs Washington, 2012 vs Houston and last season against Arizona.
That game against the Wildcats was the best defensive output from the Bruins and then-defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich. Aside from the first five minutes, UCLA shutout the Wildcats in that game.
Last season, the Bruins were third in the Pac-12 in total defense under Ulbrich. Though that is a positive for the first year DC, there were a lot of issues going on with the Bruin defense and plenty of bad games (e.g.: Stanford). Not to get too into it, but as Go Joe Bruin writer Nathan E. wrote in his recent article Ranking 20 Years of UCLA Defensive Coordinators:
"[Ulbrich] was thrown in over his head as a first time DC for a top ten team in the nation’s most offensively sophisticated conference playing the nation’s toughest schedule."
As Nathan stated, it would have been good for Ulbrich to start out as a defensive coordinator at a lower tiered school, especially with his experimentation using the nickel defense, but it is what it is. Now we look to the future… but let us quickly look back at the past.
MORE: If Not UCLA, Than Who?
Though the circumstances were a bit odd, UCLA football obtaining the services of former Penn State and West Virginia coach Tom Bradley could be one of the best decisions head coach Jim Mora has made among all the great decisions he has made in his time in Westwood. Ulbrich left to the NFL after one year as DC, so Mora needed to find a replacement.
Tom Bradley, known as the “architect of one of the best defenses in college football” during his time as DC at Penn State, is quite possibly the best replacement Mora ever could have hired.
With over 30 years coaching experience and over a decade as a college football defensive coordinator, Bradley has the knowledge and experience to take a team like the Bruins to new heights.
Although how good can he be? Last year at West Virginia, he coached the defensive line and although many factors go into a rushing defense stat, the Mountaineers were 7th in the Big XII, giving up 168.2 ypg. But that was one season in a system that was completely new to him.
At Penn State, Bradley grew with the program and knew what Nittany Lion football was about and he was very good at what he did. Bradley had PSU in the top 15 of total defense and scoring defense from 2004-2009. Now that is something to wrap your head around, especially considering what he has to work with at UCLA.
At this point in time, UCLA Football cannot wait for someone to learn on the job. They need experience and that is what Bradley brings.
Unlike at West Virginia, Bradley once again has control of the entire defense so the third best defense in the Pac-12 last year is his to completely tinker with. On top of that he has a great foundation of position coaches and recruiters to help him transition into his new role as well as some of the best collective talent the Bruins have had in a long time.
The thing about last year is that there were little things that Ulbrich needed to tweak to make the Bruin’s defense a juggernaut and that would have come with experience. At this point in time, UCLA Football cannot wait for someone to learn on the job. They need experience and that is what Bradley brings.
With that being said, Bradley will have this defense playing at a higher level this season. Quite possibly one of the best in the country that will have plenty of shutouts in the near future.