Take 2: Who will improve on offense?

April, 6, 2012
4/06/12
12:00
PM ET
Points, points, points. This is the Pac-12 after all, where offense rules. Last season, five Pac-12 teams ranked in the top 30 in scoring average. Others, however, weren't as explosive. Colorado (12th in the conference/109th nationally), Oregon State (11/100), UCLA (10/88) and Utah (9/tied for 74th) all had trouble consistently finding pay dirt. So this week we're looking at which of these four teams has the best chance to show significant offensive improvement.

Ted Miller: Oregon State’s offense was bad last year. That’s the obvious bad news. More obvious bad news: It was bad for a fundamental reason: It couldn’t run the ball, ranking 118th in the nation with just 86.9 yards per game. The end result was an offense that ranked 11th in the Pac-12 in scoring (21.8 points per game) and 10th in total offense (373.7 yards per game). And while we’re being party poopers, why not note there are only eight healthy offensive linemen this spring, which makes it impossible to field a full second team?

Ah, but we come not to bury the Beavers, but to praise them! This half of the Pac-12 blog is providing Oregon State fans an iron-clad guarantee: The Beavers' offense will be better in 2012. Perhaps much better. And that’s why we believe they will win enough to earn a bowl berth after consecutive seasons at home during the postseason.

[+] EnlargeOregon State's Sean Mannion
Jim Z. Rider/US PRESSWIREOregon State quarterback Sean Mannion should see some improvement in his supporting cast as he enters his sophomore season.
Why? Let’s start in the cockpit with quarterback Sean Mannion, who won the starting job as a freshman over returning starter Ryan Katz, only to discover THE NEW CAR! he’d been given the keys to was a Pinto. With little support from a running game to keep defenses honest, Mannion threw a lot but not always successfully, ranking ninth in the conference in passing efficiency with 16 touchdowns and 18 interceptions. But two numbers are notable: First, he completed 64.5 percent of his passes and was sacked just 27 times in 473 attempts. That suggests two things. Mannion is both accurate and has good pocket presence. Accurate? That completion percentage ranked fifth in the conference, ahead of Oregon’s Darron Thomas and Arizona State’s Brock Osweiler. As for pocket presence, the Beavers ranked fifth in the conference in sacks surrendered despite ranking third in pass attempts. And that was with no running game.

Mannion’s supporting cast at receiver is strong. Three of the top four receivers are back, including Markus Wheaton and speedy flanker Brandin Cooks. And essentially the entire cast at running back is back.

So, really, it comes down to the offensive line, where three starters are back, not including tackle Michael Philipp, a 2010 starter who is trying to get a once-promising career back on track. Don’t expect to hear glowing reports this spring. Tackle Colin Kelly and guard Grant Enger, both returning starters, are out with injuries, so there’s a lack of bodies. But in the fall they should be healthy just as a pair of intriguing reinforcements arrive: touted freshman Isaac Seumalo, rated the No. 19 overall player in the nation in 2012 by ESPN Recruiting, and junior-college transfer Stan Hasiak, who saw plenty of action during his tumultuous time at UCLA. Both are potential – even likely -- starters.

Mannion flashed plenty of potential in 2011. He will be far more seasoned in 2012. The offensive line will be better, too, which means at least a mediocre running game to keep defenses from pinning their ears back and going after the quarterback.

In other words, the Beavers offense will be much improved overall in 2012. Now ... about that defense ...

Kevin Gemmell: I'm glad you brought up Osweiler, because he's somewhat pertinent to the team I'm picking to improve offensively -- UCLA.

All together now: "Ding, dong, the pistol is dead." And not a half-snap too soon. Time to make way for the shotgun.

To see where the Bruins are headed on offense, you need only to look back at what Osweiler did the past two seasons with the Sun Devils -- specifically what he was able to do with Noel Mazzone running the show.

Now Mazzone is new coach Jim Mora's offensive coordinator at UCLA. I know there is a multi-quarterback competition in the works. That certainly will have some bearing. But even so, it's almost impossible for the Bruins not improve on last year's 23.1-ppg scoring average with this time-tested offense.

Consider the Sun Devils of 2009, pre-Mazzone: 90th in total offense (334.4 yards per game) and 91st in scoring average (22.3 points per game). Now, look at Mazzone's first season in 2010: 29th in total offense (425.6) and 28th in scoring average (32.2). Last year: 25th in total offense (445.8) and 28th in scoring offense (33.2).

Translation: The guy knows how to move the ball and create points.

I talked earlier this week with Brett Hundley, one of those quarterbacks in the hunt for the starting gig, he says this offense is much simpler and allows the quarterback to play more quickly and think less. Makes sense. And whoever wins the gig will have an experienced running back in Johnathan Franklin beside him. The fifth-year senior was 24 yards short of a 1,000-yard season despite an impressive 5.9 yards per carry average.

[+] EnlargeBrett Hundley
Jason O. Watson/US PresswireSophomore Brett Hundley could prove to be UCLA's most athletic option at quarterback.
But this offense is about moving the ball in the air. And finding three or four receivers to consistently perform is going to be just as important as finding the right guy standing five to seven yards behind the center. Mazzone has said he's not married to four- or five-receiver sets. So bona-fide talent Joseph Fauria should get plenty of chances to catch the ball from the tight end position. Devin Lucien, Shaq Evans and Ricky Marvray are the likely wide receiver trio. But unlike the previous offense, the receivers won't be square pegs in round holes. This offense should accentuate the speed and athleticism that UCLA always seems to have, but never knows quite what to do with it.

The Bruins were in the bottom half of the nation in sacks allowed last year, but the return of tackle Xavier Su'a-Filo, who is back after an LDS mission, should help bolster the line. All indications out of spring are that he looks solid. Jeff Baca and Greg Capella both saw significant playing time last season (Capella started 14 games and Baca 13), so that experience should help cut back on the sacks.

Now, to the quarterback spot. Kevin Prince has the most experience, followed by Richard Brehaut. Both are seniors. But there is a call from fans to completely cleanse themselves of the previous regime and start fresh with Hundley, a 6-foot-4, 225-pound dual-threat quarterback who might be the most athletic of the bunch.

Whoever wins the job is destined for a pretty good season. Because given Mazzone's history of turning slugs into sluggers, UCLA looks like the team to drag itself up from the Pac-12's offensive cellar.

Ted Miller | email

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