It was a ugly loss for the UCLA Football team and the first to Arizona in the Mora tenure. Sitting at .500 right at the halfway mark through the season this Bruin team is at a crossroads.
As head coach of the UCLA Football team Jim Mora had never lost to Arizona. That changed Saturday night. QB Josh Rosen had never thrown an interception against the Wildcat defense. He threw three in that ugly loss. It was a game of firsts for the faces of this team but could it also be the straw that breaks the camel’s back in a year that has perplexed and frustrated the fan base.
In 2016 the UCLA Football offense was mismanaged to the point that the offensive coordinator and the offensive line coaches were fired. They obviously had to be replaced so enter Hank Fraley and Jedd Fisch as OL coach and OC respectively.
This year the offense hasn’t been the issue. Rosen has been, minus what we saw Saturday night, reborn after missing the final six games last year with injury. He’s made throws that will have NFL teams drooling and shown any doubters that his shoulder is fully healed.
He’s also demonstrated that he wasn’t “bad” in 2016 but more the victim of an OC that didn’t utilize personnel properly and implemented a scheme that his players couldn’t pull off. With competency around him, Rosen still has to carry the team but has receivers making catches for him and a running game that is showing signs of life.
What isn’t helping the progress of this team is the defense. According to ESPN the UCLA Football defense ranks 127 out of 130 in rush defense with 1878 yards given up on the season and a 6.6 yards per carry allowed. Yes this defensive line lost two of their bigger interior players in Eli Ankou and Eddie Vanderdoes during the offseason to the NFL but it seems like nothing has changed from last year’s porous ground defense.
If the 2016 logic holds then someone on the defense has to get the axe but who? The defensive line has been a sieve against the run and hasn’t been able to provide much more than hope in the pass rush game. Yes the most talented DL player, Jaelan Phillips, has been dealing with an ankle injury but an injury to one guy, a true freshman, can’t mean your DL isn’t effective.
It isn’t just the DL though that’s had issues. The LB group has been up and down all season with injuries, suspensions for targeting and missed tackles. The DB group, long believed to be the strength of this UCLA Football team has been shredded like corporate paperwork by lackluster passing offenses.
The entire defense has been an issue against schemes that are basically just beating the Bruins with fundamentals rather than talent. Read-option? Really? High school teams use it for a reason. Because it’s effective against high school defenses. Yes it can be tricky and has even been used at the NFL level but the teams UCLA has lost to aren’t using NFL wrinkles. They’re just ready to play where it seems the Bruins are not.
Against Arizona this defense gave up 457 yards rushing to a team that can barely throw the football. So let me get this straight, against a team that doesn’t want to have to throw you gave up over 450 yards on the ground? Instead of stacking the box and forcing them to throw? You had an entire week to prepare for this offense and still they did exactly what they wanted?
If the whole defense is an issue then who takes the blame? Coming off of a bye-week this UCLA defense should have been well prepared and instead looked like this offense was a gift from Action Bronson and the History Channel’s Ancient Aliens.
So where do we go from here?
The Bruins have six games remaining and at .500 let’s just call it a reset. If the UCLA Football team was just starting out 0-0 how many winnable games remain on the schedule? That of course means you have to take into account what you’ve seen so far.
This offensive staff has taken this task and run with it. They’ve seen what players they have at their disposal and they’ve asked Rosen to take on a big burden while they work around him to build an offense for the future. The defensive staff seems as though they’re already looking for parlay this season into a new position somewhere else.
The game of football is a team sport and perhaps the greatest team sport ever invented. If one guy isn’t doing their job it can derail your whole game plan if not your season. The goal for this last portion of the season shouldn’t just be playing for a bowl game but for job survival.