Thursday, September 6, 2012
Young UCLA offense will be put to the test
By Kevin Gemmell
It's no secret that UCLA is young on the offensive line.
As UCLA's always-charismatic offensive coordinator, Noel Mazzone, playfully pointed out: "We needed permission slips from their mothers just so they could get on a plane last week."
Despite the obvious hyperbole, his point is well taken -- especially since last week was the first time the Bruins had ever started three freshmen on the offensive line in a season opener. Torian White, Jake Brendel and Simon Goines are all still pretty new to this college football thing. Factor in sophomore Xavier Su'a-Filo, who had been out of football for two years on a Mormon mission, and you have a pretty green group protecting a redshirt quarterback ready to make his second career start.
There's a reason Mazzone calls them pups. Still, they played well enough to help carry the Bruins to a 49-24 victory at Rice in Week 1.
"I was really happy," Mazzone said. "They took some big strides in the first game. You just hope during the season you grow offensively and as a team exponentially. You hope each week you get a little bit better and a little bit better and hopefully the finished product is good enough to win some football games."
UCLA's young line helped QB Brett Hundley and the offense churn out 343 rushing yards against Rice.
On Saturday, the line faces a stiffer challenge when No. 16 Nebraska comes to town. And so does starting quarterback Brett Hundley.
Naturally, Mazzone is looking for more consistency out of Hundley, who ran hot and cold in his first collegiate start. But during the times he was hot, Hundley was scorching. He took his first collegiate offensive play and scrambled 72 yards for a touchdown. He completed 21 of 28 passes for 202 yards and two touchdowns.
"I think he did some really good things," Mazzone said. "At times he looked like he was a redshirt freshman quarterback. Last game he'd played had been Chandler versus Hamilton or something back in Phoenix, Ariz. Now he gets a chance to play against traditionally one of the top 10 football programs in the country. As long as he just keeps progressing. He's got some moments he's flashing and some moments you wonder what he's thinking. But if we can keep him progressing and learning from game to game I think he can be a really solid Pac-12 quarterback."
It's pretty safe to assume that the Cornhuskers will present more problems for UCLA's offense than Rice did. They'll likely key in on running back Johnathan Franklin, who opened with a 214-yard, three-touchdown performance against Rice, including scoring runs of 78 and 74 yards.
"Nebraska is a powerful, explosive defensive front," said UCLA head coach Jim Mora. "They can put pressure on the quarterback. That's with four, that's with five, that's with six rushers. [Nebraska coach] Bo [Pelini] will come with some exotic blitzes at times. It will really be a challenge for us. We are starting three freshmen and this will be their second time at the collegiate level. They just have to buckle up and do their best and we just have to help them with good protection calls and getting the ball out quick and running the ball."
UCLA's Week 1 performance was far from perfect. And though the competition level increases, Mazzone said he's still hoping to see improvements in Week 2.
"Like every offense in the country right after its first week, you want more consistency," he said. "You try to minimize the lulls you have offensively. Any offense does. ... We're a tempo team so that's one of the things you fight against is you hit those lulls during a game and try to minimize those.
"Nebraska is a great defense and we're young on offense. We're playing about nine kids that had never played in a college football game before last week. Right now we're trying to walk a little bit before we start running."