The first thing that strikes you when you watch UCLA is their size. The third thing that strikes you about UCLA is their acronymness. The second thing that strikes you about UCLA is how the Pistol offense forces you to think out of sequence and puts you off balance.
We're facing our first true running team this season and it should represent an interesting challenge for us.
If you'd like to understand The Pistol offense, its base plays, and see clips of how UCLA runs it, check out this excellent breakdown on Bruins Nation. Please read it. Here's some Pistol Veer against U of H.
Now, Houston defended like idiots, but you can see the issues presented by this offense.
Chow and Neuheisel are now all in on The Pistol and we'd better show the ability to deal with its complexities or it will be a frustrating day on Saturday. UCLA is really starting to pick up the offense and you can see how dangerous it is as their comfort level increases repping it at a game speed.
Their overall offensive numbers are moribund, largely because of a horrendous passing game and poor execution, but a 17.7 per game scoring average, 303 yards per game, and a weak 4.9 yards per play average belies the fact that they've been good running the ball. They average 5.0 yards per carry and if you take out sack yardage, that number goes to 5.7. Their killer has been turnovers (10 on the year) and if you're giving up the ball more than 3 times a game on average and you can't convert 3rd and 6 in the passing game, it's hard to win consistently.
Kevin Prince is a big, athletic guy (6-3 230) and though he doesn't run like Colin Kaepernick or Taylor Martinez, he's a decent runner (10-12 carries per game) who can move the chains if you don't respect him in UCLA's Veer package and on bootlegs. His best athletic comparator would be Austin Carta-Samuels, from Wyoming. One of the most striking things about Prince is his steep level of improvement in running Pistol ball fakes, deception plays, and in his decision making on the option since the K-State game. There was a noticeable delay in UCLA's game speed in their first two games that went away against Houston.
He has really struggled throwing the ball. So far, KP is 24 of 55 for 258 yards with 1 TD and 4 INTs. Much of that is on him and his scatter-arm, but a decent amount of his 43.6% completion rate is because his WRs have pre-game manicures featuring Crisco soaked cuticle rubs. If we can get UCLA into 3rd and long, it's going to be a punt, sacks, or a turnover 85% of the time. They are miserable on 3rd and long.
They've got three backs ranging from solid to excellent and this is the strength of the offense. Johnathan Franklin is averaging 97 yards a game with a 5.8 ypc average. He has average size and good speed and a knack for slashing runs cutting back against the flow of The Pistol's down blocks.
Junior Derrick Coleman (6'0 230) missed a game with a concussion, but he's back and he's a solid power option. Malcolm Jones (6'0 220) is their super freshman and he was a highly coveted national recruit with a Top 20 National Ranking in his class. He's still getting his feet wet, but he's good.
Their TE Harkey goes 6-5 260 and the WRs are 6-5 220 (Rosario) and 6-3 205 (Embree) respectively. They've got size out on the edge and our secondary has to be physical challenging them, particularly our backside safety who will have to fight through the wash to be a run force. Rosario is the #1 WR with 10 catches for 100 yards, but this whole group has been miserably underperforming. The Pistol offense should open up some easy throws downfield as teams crowd the box, but UCLA hasn't been able to get it done. I don't see success this week unless they hit something flukey or we have to throw bodies at the run indiscriminately.
Josh Smith - who many of you may remember from Colorado - where he was Darrell Scott's grandpa, his Mom's cousin, and the uncle of himself or some shit, has been used pretty adeptly on misdirection and he has notched a 43 yard run already. Watch for him on the end around flip.
They average 317 across the front and they're all seniors. They had some preseason injuries and suspensions that hurt them a bit, but they're starting to cohere into a unit, at least one that has been effective running the ball. In my viewing, their pass blocking has been shoddy and predictable passing situations are a nightmare for them. The beauty of the UCLA offense is that all of their OL block at advantage on almost every snap and the diversity in their running game is its own form of constraint on a defense. They attack you in a lot of different ways and if safeties, linebackers, and defensive ends don't play with eye control, they will run themselves out of the play while UCLA gets good push on double teams on your front and the running backs cut back against flow.
This OL is not that talented, but they are road graders and they're playing in a system that places blockers at advantage.
This is a completely average unit sprinkled with a few really good players. They lost their best DL early in August in Datone Jones. Like UCLA's offense, they're pretty big up front. You can't blow them out running straight ahead, but they lack lateral movement, they're sluggish in pursuit, and I saw Kansas State and Stanford destroy them with cutbacks. They're giving up 4.8 ypc and 210+ yards per game rushing, but that's also having played Stanford and Kansas State, who both possess physical, well-coached running games. The assumption that we can duplicate those efforts requires faith.
Again, size. Their front four averages 290+, including a 300 pound DE in Nate Chandler. They're very solid at the point of attack, but they lack a dynamic pass rush without blitzing and they will lose footraces to the corner. I don't like four jumbo down linemen in the 4-3 (unless they're Reggie White) because I think you lose something in pursuit and motor on the backside of plays. Does this mean we can finally run our outside zone play without getting run down? If it's going to happen, this is the week.
Guess what? They're big. The best player in their front 7 is LB Akeem Ayers and he's a big-time athlete at 6-4 250+. Think Sergio Kindle level of athleticism. UCLA will use him off of the edge as a blitzer/disruptor, but he's also capable of playing off of the LOS. He has a knack for big plays though he will disappear from time to time. Pat Larimore is a really good player at MLB and he's a quick, though not fast, 250. I'm not impressed with their 3rd LB Westgate. I bet they pull him for a nickel.
This is the strength of the team and a legitimate top 10 unit nationally. They give up less than 6 yards per attempt and around 10 per completion. They will give up some stuff underneath, but it's hard to make plays over the top with Rahim Moore ranging back there. This is the first real secondary we'll see and it should be an interesting test for Gilbert and our WRs. Rahim Moore led the country in interceptions last year with 10 and he already has one this year that he brought back 42 yards. His safety sidekick Tony Dye leads the Bruins in tackles and he's willing to put his nose in there. Their corners are very solid and they both have excellent size - they go 6-1 and 6-2 respectively. They create a lot of tipped balls because of their length, but I wonder how they'll fare against some of our water bugs.
They have arguably the best field goal kicker in the country, a good net punting game, and Josh Smith is a threat to bring one back on kick returns. Their coverage teams have been solid for the most part. Team strength here.
Our defense doesn't know what a quality running game looks like because we haven't seen it in games and we can't simulate it in practice. I expect an adjustment period as our defense gets used to dealing with cutbacks, read responsibilities on the option, and is punished for over pursuit. UCLA will ultimately be betrayed by a substandard passing game, Muschamp's in-game adjustments, an inability to convert on 3rd down, and our overall team speed. The Bruins would be wise to stick to their knitting, work on Kheeston Randall with big-boy double teams, see if they can Chykie to sleep on a vertical after a dozen consecutive run plays, and hope to wear us down inside late.
Defensively, UCLA's glaring weakness doesn't appear, at first blush, to be something we can readily exploit, but I expect them to have some conditioning issues with their combination of size and lack of depth that should show up in their pass rush, at least. It would be great to start well and play with a lead, as UCLA's offense will be utterly destroyed if they have to throw the ball in predictable game situations.