UCLA Football: Condensing the field only crushes the Bruins

PASADENA, CA - OCTOBER 01: Head coach Jim Mora of the UCLA Bruins looks on during the second half of a game against the Arizona Wildcats at the Rose Bowl on October 1, 2016 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
PASADENA, CA - OCTOBER 01: Head coach Jim Mora of the UCLA Bruins looks on during the second half of a game against the Arizona Wildcats at the Rose Bowl on October 1, 2016 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images) /

Against Memphis the UCLA Football offense was able to score over forty points but didn’t have consistent success. Play calling has been much improved in this young season so far but there is one constant, tight formations aren’t necessarily the Bruins’ friend.

The UCLA Football offense has been much better to date than last year. That much is clear. QB Josh Rosen has been the star of the off the show with his deadly passing ability. He shredded the Aggies in that crazy fourth quarter comeback two weeks ago and then was nearly perfect against an overwhelmed Hawaii team.

TE Caleb Wilson has emerged as the go to target for the offense but when defenses take him away the Bruins are more than happy with the single coverage provided against guys like WRs Theo Howard, Darren Andrews and Jordan Lasley.

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Despite scoring 59 more points over three games as compared to the same stretch in 2016, the offense hasn’t been without it’s issues. The offensive line still struggles to create consistent running lanes and as a result Rosen is on pace to throw for 560 attempts this season. While he’s completing a strong 65 percent of his passes being so one dimensional is going to catch up with this UCLA Football team.

One of the main culprits or catalysts, depending on how you see the reliance on the air attack, is the Bruins being unable to consistently find success in tight formations.

By tight I mean 12 personnel, or one running back and two tight ends, and receivers lining up inside the numbers outside. That scrunching off the offense means defenses can also bring more defenders to bear in the box making any runs more difficult to come by especially with a line that is a long way from good.

We saw the Bruins find great success late against the Aggies by employing more spread looks to force the defense thin especially in the middle of the field where Wilson was able to dominate for 15 catches.

On the very first two UCLA Football offensive plays from scrimmage against Memphis  the Bruins went with a two by two deployment or two receivers to both the top and bottom of the field. The spreading out of the offensive weapons forced Memphis to match that by vacating the middle of the field to cover the receivers and the Bruins attacked it with quick slants. The first one came to Lasley from the left slot position and then it was mirrored by Andrews from the right slot position.

The Bruins can also run with greater efficiency from this formation as it doesn’t ask their offensive line to deal with as many men in the box.

Contrast that with tighter formations and we begin to see the Bruin offense slow down.

Yes against Memphis the Bruins did have some success from these tight formations. Take RB Brandon Stephens‘ big run in the first quarter. It was a 12 personnel formation with the receivers in tight. One WR went in motion to draw a defender and the Bruins ran behind the right side of their offensive line. They also ran away from the overload presence on the left side and just powered through the much smaller Memphis front.

They also hit a deep pass to RB Jalen Starks on a wheel route of the backfield out of a similar tight formation.

However the overwhelming film evidence shows that whenever the Bruins tried to run out of these formations with some power concepts, such as pulling offensive linemen, there was very little success. They did enjoy some points on read-option plays where Rosen kept it but that doesn’t look to be a large part of their offense and frankly for the health of their young QB it shouldn’t be.

The Bruins rely on the pass to set up their run game and they can get it done from spread formations. Even in tight formations they are able to pass but they risk overwhelming their shaky offensive line by inviting more defenders into the box. Next week they’ll face a Stanford defense that would love nothing more than the UCLA Football offense going with tight formations instead of spreading them out thinly and forcing them to pick their poison.

Next: UCLA Football: 5 things we learned from the non-conference schedule

My recommendation to the Bruins, spread it out. Let your athletes do work in space. Give your line and your running backs a fighting chance in the box. Finally, you have a generational talent at QB, give him the opportunities but give him some help by understanding the strength and weaknesses of your offense.