Friday, January 18, 2013
Season review: UCLA
By Ted Miller
Before we focus forward, we're going to look back with team-by-team season reviews.
We continue today in reverse alphabetical order.
UCLA (9-5, 6-3 Pac-12)
MVP: Quarterback Brett Hundley. You could make a strong case for running back Johnathan Franklin or linebacker Anthony Barr, but Hundley was the biggest difference-maker because he answered the question UCLA fans have been asking for years: What would happen if we finally got good QB play? The redshirt freshman ranked fourth in the conference in passing efficiency, completing 66.5 percent of his throws for 3,740 yards with 29 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He also rushed for 355 yards and nine scores.
What went right: A lot of things went right in the first season under coach Jim Mora, most notably the Bruins becoming a team that played smarter, tougher football on both sides of the ball. The biggest accomplishment was legitimately winning the South Division, after being gifted it the previous season due to USC being ineligible. But tops on many Bruins fans' lists surely was the 38-28 whipping of rival USC, ending a five-game losing streak in the series which included a 50-zip loss in 2011. The Bruins bested a quality nonconference foe in Nebraska, bounced back from an inexplicably bad performance in a 43-17 loss to California to win five in a row and pushed Stanford to the brink in the Pac-12 title game. This team really was just a few plays from the Rose Bowl. Further, the quick development of Hundley and Barr's decision to return for his senior season bodes well for next fall.
What went wrong: The Bruins ended the season with a three-game losing streak, including a woeful performance in the Holiday Bowl against Baylor. There was no shame in the Stanford defeats, particularly the Pac-12 title game thriller, but the bowl loss was flat embarrassing. While the offense was good much of the year, the defense was an issue at times. It yielded 27.6 points and 416 yards per game, with both totals ranking eighth in the conference. To move up in the pecking order, the Bruins need to get better on that side of the ball. That's Mora's speciality, so you'd it expect improvement next fall. Finally, the young offensive line yielded 3.71 sacks per game, which ranked 10th in the conference and 118th in the nation. Part of that fell on Hundley, who often held the ball too long, but that number must improve.
2013 outlook: The Bruins have 12 position players coming back -- six on each side of the ball -- including Hundley and Barr. This figures to be a top-25 team in the preseason, and UCLA is pretty much a toss-up with Arizona State for the South Division front-runner position. Ergo, the expectations figure to be high, and justifiably so. Improving on nine wins means eyeballing the nation's top-10. The youth of the offensive line this past fall -- three freshman starters -- should grow into a solid unit in 2013. That combined with a year of experience from Hundley should reduce the sack totals. There are, however, some questions. There's no obvious replacement for Franklin, who played his way into the early rounds of this spring's NFL draft; the loss of tight end Joseph Fauria, who caught 12 touchdown passes last season, also looms large. No other Bruin caught more than three, so red-zone work likely will be an emphasis this spring. Three of four starters in the secondary need to be replaced, so there may be some growing pains there. Still, this is a team that could end up in the Rose Bowl if everything falls into place.