- Peter Yoon, ESPNLosAngeles.com
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LOS ANGELES -- Pistol haters rejoice; UCLA now has a machine-gun offense.
After two years of a Pistol-based offensive scheme that delivered mostly duds, UCLA will unveil a high-paced spread attack in its season opener Thursday night at Rice.
Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone used the scheme to produce a bonanza of passing yards and points during the last two seasons at Arizona State while UCLA struggled to throw or score with any measure of consistency.
It's an offense that relies on getting to the ball and running a play as quickly as possible. It will look far different than the last two years, when the UCLA offense moved at a snail's pace, was designed to chew up chunks of clock and keep the opposing offense off the field for as long as possible.
This offense is designed only to chew up yards with dynamic playmakers and it has the team excited as the season draws near.
"It’s a more exciting, big-play offense," quarterback Brett Hundley said. "The Pistol was a great offense, too, but this spread is probably going to be more entertaining to watch. It's fast tempo, fast action, big plays and you’re just making things happen."
Mazzone used it quite effectively at Arizona State. In his first year in Tempe, the Sun Devils ranked No. 15 in the nation in passing offense at 286.42 yards per game and were No. 28 in scoring at 32.25 points per game.
Last year, Arizona State was No. 10 in passing (316.69 ypg) and No. 29 in scoring (33.15 ppg) and perhaps most important to UCLA fans, the Sun Devils racked up 392 yards in offense in a 43-22 victory over USC.
Meanwhile, UCLA frustrated their fans with a deliberate offense that produced a mediocre passing attack, ranking No. 116 in the nation in 2010 and No. 81 last season. The offense offered little scoring punch with 20.2 points per game in 2010 (No. 104 in the nation) and 23.07 in 2011. (No. 88). Because of that, the Bruins had few options when it came time to dig out of holes.
"It definitely makes sense, especially with our personnel," quarterback Kevin Prince said of the new offensive philosophy. "We have tons of guys who we just need to get them in open space and get the ball in their hands. Not having that in the past was frustrating, especially for those guys. They obviously knew what they could do and what they were capable of, so it will be a lot more fun."
The premise of the offense is simple: Spread the field with four receivers so there is more one-on-one space for the skill players. Getting shifty players such as Johnathan Franklin, Jordon James, Damien Thigpen and Steven Manfro into open space and letting them make plays will be the foundation.
Short, swing passes, screen and handoff to those players will open things up downfield for home-run threats Shaquelle Evans, Jerry Johnson, Devin Lucien and Kenneth Walker. Possession receivers such as Joseph Fauria, Ricky Marvray, Darius Bell and Jordan Payton will be the mid-range threats.
"We have so many dynamic skill guys who can make plays and they are all different types of players," Mazzone said. "There are a lot of options in this offense, a lot of moving parts. I want us to always be attacking and make the defense react to what we are doing."
Most of what the Bruins will be doing will be happening very quickly. The scheme relies on getting to the line of scrimmage and getting the ball off in rapid fashion. Mazzone said he wants to get plays off with 20 or 22 seconds left on the play clock.
It's similar in that way to the relentless attack Chip Kelly has used to make Oregon one of the most dominant offenses in the nation over the past few years.
"We’re not to Chip Kelly standards, but we’re trying to get there," Mazzone said.
The offense is a pass-first scheme. Arizona State last season passed on 55.5 percent of its plays. UCLA, on the other hand, passed only 38.5 percent of the time. But that doesn't mean the run is going away. Arizona State's Cameron Marshall was a 1,000-yard rusher last season.
"The spread offense was designed back in the day in order to run the football," Mazzone said. "If I spread the defense out of there and only have to block five people up front to run it as opposed to blocking seven or eight, I like my odds better. The idea is to spread them out and make it so you don’t have to make as many blocks inside so that you can run the football."
Of course the pass is the key now. Most of the plays will be designed to get five or 10 yards at a time and sustain drives. There will be other plays that will look for more and some short-yardage plays as well. It's a complete offense that requires everyone to buy in instead of looking to be the star.
"The key is that everybody do their job," said Evans, the junior receiver. "Not every route is designed to get you open. Some routes are to get other people open so you just have to do your job on every play. That’s how we look at it. It's not about how many receptions we get, but how well we can do our job."
There will be plenty of plays to go around. The fast pace will ensure that, as will the heavy rotation required to play at such a pace. The Bruins will rotate as many as four running backs and eight receivers. The idea is to go full speed for three plays and then come out and let someone else do the same.
The end goal, of course, is to get the ball in the end zone and the Bruins are planning on doing that quite a bit this season.
"We’re trying to be the No. 1 offense in the country this year," Hundley said. "We want to be the best offense we can and score every time we get the ball. I mean, that’s the goal, isn’t it?"