- Peter Yoon, ESPNLosAngeles.com
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Instability at the most important position has been the story of the season, with Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut shuffling between starting roles. As a result, neither has been able to find much of a groove. Both have played well at times and the passing numbers are up nearly 100 yards a game over this time last season, but the quarterback play must get more consistent if the Bruins are to remain in the Pac-12 title race.
Johnathan Franklin and Derrick Coleman have been the standouts of the UCLA offense this season, with a combined four 100-yard games in the first half. Franklin, with 509 yards, is on pace for a second consecutive 1,000-yard season and Coleman's six touchdowns are already a career high. Jordon James has emerged as a valuable pass-catching threat as an F-back.
Nelson Rosario has made his share of highlight-reel plays, tight end Joe Fauria has become a valuable weapon in the passing game and Josh Smith has shown flashes of electric playmaking ability, but inconsistency has plagued this unit. The dropped passes are down from last season, but there are still too many, and it sometimes feels like the receivers aren't giving a 100 percent effort.
This unheralded bunch has played admirably through the first half, paving the way for a rushing attack that is 28th in the nation with 194 yards a game. The pass blocking, while suspect at times, has been better than anticipated as UCLA quarterbacks have been sacked only four times, the ninth fewest in the nation. Losing Sean Sheller to a broken arm was a setback, but getting Jeff Baca back at around the same time helped offset that loss.
This unit has been the biggest disappointment of the season. The Bruins are 115th in the nation in sacks and no player has more than one this season. They are 111th in tackles for a loss and no defensive lineman has more than 2.5. They played admirably going into the break with two sacks and eight tackles for a loss against Washington State, and will need more of those types of games if they are to contend for the conference title.
Another pretty disappointing unit that has shown signs of improvement in recent weeks. Tackling was a major issue early in the season and pass-coverage problems continues to hamper the UCLA linebackers. Patrick Larimore leads the team in tackles while Eric Kendricks is emerging as a future star and Jordan Zumwalt leads the team with 3.5 tackles of a loss.
Sheldon Price had established himself as a top-tier cover corner before he sprained his knee and Aaron Hester has been far more consistent this year and also a boon in run support. Andrew Abbott has proven himself a valuable contributor as injuries have hampered the unit the last three games. Those injuries have caused inconsistent play among the safeties. The Bruins have only two interceptions by defensive backs and are 95th in the nation in pass-efficiency defense.
Jeff Locke has been his usual solid self with a 43.77 punting average and the field goal kicking has had its moments, but the special teams are a disaster in other areas. The Bruins rank 102nd or lower in punt returns, kickoff returns, punt return defense and kickoff return defense. Some of UCLA's most memorable gaffes this season -- Oregon State's punt return for a touchdown and Taylor Embree's fumble against Stanford -- have come on special teams.
The offense is still a little run heavy and conservative at times, but offensive coordinator Mike Johnson and coach Rick Neuheisel have shown a willingness to take shots downfield when needed. Pistol guru Jim Mastro has added some new wrinkles to the run game to keep opponents off balance and UCLA's run game is still difficult to stop. Still, you'd like to see a bit more creativity in getting the ball into the hands of playmakers in the open field.
The UCLA defense is giving up 413 yards and 32 points a game and defensive coordinator Joe Tresey's puzzling unwillingness to adjust to short, quick passing routes is a major reason why. UCLA's opponents are completing 68.32 percent of their passes because of soft coverage schemes and UCLA is 118th in the nation in third-down defense, allowing opponents to convert nearly 55 percent of the time.