UCLA Football named a starting quarterback this week: True Freshman Josh Rosen. Here’s a look at what the Bruins need to do to protect the young QB as he grows into the job in 2015.
After much anticipation and speculation, UCLA Coach Jim Mora picked a starting quarterback for the 2015 season: true freshman Josh Rosen. If UCLA wants to maximize its huge potential this season (which sports experienced players at every position except quarterback), it is extremely important that his teammates and coaches protect Rosen as he is thrown into the fire.
It has been widely reported that Rosen can make all the throws, he’s reportedly already mature beyond his years, he’s adept at all the fakes required in Offensive Coordinator Noel Mazzone’s Offense… but he is still a true freshmen that has never had to make decisions and execute them at the Division 1 FBS level.
Protecting Our Youth
Mazzone reportedly enters games with as few as 20 plays… the opposite end of that spectrum was Karl Dorrell’s West Coast offense – remember how well that went? Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Protecting Rosen shouldn’t be hard for the Bruins to do on offense if they keep a similar game plan to years past. Mazzone’s offense is not overly complicated.
Chris B Brown, author of The Art of Smart Football, recently commented that “UCLA may run the simplest offense in the NCAA”. Bruin fans may look at this as criticism, and many fans have been frustrated at times with the steady diet of bubble screens and zone read, but its hard to argue with the production.
…The largest hurdle for Rosen will be adjusting to the speed of FBS football…
Think of it as a highly efficient way to deal with the constant player turnover in college football; with a simple system, its easier to acclimate new players.
The largest hurdle for Rosen will be adjusting to the level of competition from high school to the speed of FBS/Pac-12 football.
Keep the Balance
The fact is that in the Jim Mora era, Mazzone’s offense has been extremely balanced and productive. If you look at the Pac-12 from last year, UCLA was #4 in the conference in both Points Scored and Total Offense. They also had the 3rd smallest differential between passing and running yards:
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Of the most balanced teams Utah, Washington and Stanford were much more conservative offensively than the Bruins. Please excuse the qualifier, but UCLA was the most balanced of high production offenses (every team other than Stanford, Utah and Washington) in the Pac-12. Keeping that balance will go a long way towards protecting Rosen in his first season.
…UCLA was the most balanced of high production offenses in the Pac-12 last year …
In order to keep this balance, the Bruins need to be productive on 1st down, primarily with the run. If they start moving backwards or throw a lot of 1st down incompletions, too much pressure will be put on Rosen and the offense to make plays on 3rd and long.
Last year UCLA was one of the best teams in the country at staying ahead of the chains. According to the website Football Outsiders S&P+ ratings that measure an offenses success (based on a team getting 50% of necessary yardage on 1st down, 70% on 2nd down, and 100% on 3rd and 4th down) UCLA was 8th best in the country in 2014 (2nd in the Pac-12 only to Oregon).
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The UCLA offense was at its best when Hundley was spreading the ball around to the multitude of play-makers. He had a knack for making spectacular plays with his feet, but if he had to do it more than a couple of times per game it usually meant the offense was struggling.
Without Hundley and his jazzy improvisational skills the Bruins will need a more disciplined offense when it comes to route running, blocking and penalties, but with a more traditional QB in the backfield the Bruins should be less prone to busted plays and sacks (like last year’s 10 sack Utah game) under Rosen.
UCLA does not have to change much with Rosen at the helm because they are already good at running the ball and should be running Paul Perkins and company as much as possible. If the Bruins can run the ball like they did last year.
…don’t be surprised to see Rosen struggle against an aggressive and unpredictable ACC defense…
Rosen will be able to take advantage of openings down the the middle of the field with play action passes and also with an occasional QB keeper on UCLA’s zone read play.
Also, if the Bruins are running the ball and keeping the defense honest with PA and ZR fakes, opposing defenses will not be able to press UCLA on the edges and Mazzone can use his horizontal passing attack (bubble screens, anyone?) to open up space for the running game and occasional deep passes.
If the Bruins can stay on schedule more often than not (ie, 4 to 5 yards in 1st down, 3-4 on 2nd down) Rosen can manage the game and stay comfortable. If he’s constantly facing 3rd and long, to much pressure will be put on his shoulders and defense will be able to tee off on him with heavy pass rushes. Think of the pass and the run, the vertical and the horizontal attacks, the hand off to the RB and the QB keeper as a symbiotic relationship. One concept flourishing benefits the other, and the balance sustains itself.
Two Games to Learn
UNLV Coach Tony Sanchez has seen Rosen before… last year in the St John Bosco vs Bishop Gorman HS game. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
UCLA’s first two games will give Rosen a decent opportunity to adjust to the competition. Don’t be surprised to see Rosen struggle against the aggressive and unpredictable ACC defense run by Virginia in the season opener.
Once again, it will be important to protect Rosen with good defense and a good running game in his debut against Power 5 competition. If the Bruins can get past the Cavaliers, Mazzone will be able to open it up a little against UNLV and build up Rosen’s confidence as he steps down in competition (although its against a coach that has seen him before).
A level of confidence and comfort on the field will be imperative for Rosen and UCLA when they hit the meat of their schedule against BYU, Arizona, at ASU and at Stanford.
Keep Calm and …
The bottom line is that although Josh Rosen has the opportunity (and expectations) to become a special player for the Bruins, fans need to be patient with his learning curve and with the Bruin offense as he acclimates. If the team can survive the first half of the schedule, Rosen and the Bruins could be in the position to finish strong in 2015.