Bears v. Bruins: UCLA analysis

By Daniel Hill
Sports Writer

Under first year head coach Jim Mora, UCLA Bruins football is back on the map.

The UCLA Bruins finished the regular season with a 9-4 record and posted a 6-3 record in Pacific-12 Conference games.

The mind-set for Bruins football underwent an immense change this season. Coach Mora wanted to instill a sense of toughness among his team.

For summer training camp, coach Mora banned his players from having cell phones and moved training camp to the Cal State San Bernardino campus in the middle of the desert to make his men gain an edge in toughness in the sweltering summer heat.

Apparently the strategy to forge a tough team worked because UCLA plays a physical brand of football. Senior running back Johnathan Franklin amassed 1,700 yards rushing on 268 carries. Franklin, in impressive fashion, averaged 6.3 yards per carry for the season.

UCLA redshirt freshman quarterback Brett Hundley is a budding superstar for head coach Jim Mora. Hundley had a breakout season and averaged a phenomenal passer rating of 150.1 for the season, which ranked 26th in the nation. He threw for 3,411 yards and 26 touchdowns, to go with only 11 interceptions.

Rick Neuheisel, who was fired from UCLA once joked that he’d still be the head coach at UCLA if he only knew how good Brett Hundley really was at playing quarterback.

To help Hundley out, he has one of the best tight ends in the nation making plays for him in senior Joseph Fauria. He is a premiere tight end and had 561 yards receiving and 11 touchdowns. When UCLA is in the red zone, look for Fauria to receive targets and make plays.

On the other side of the ball, the Bruins do have a strong defense. Coach Mora hangs his hat on being a defensive coach and his Bruins defense proves it.

The Bruins have the 55th best scoring defense in the country and only allow 25.9 points per game. Granted 55th best in the nation is not overwhelming, but it is a definite improvement from where this unit was last season in before coach Mora came to town.

UCLA is No. 15 in the nation in tackled for loss with 7.23 per game. They are also seventh in the nation in sacks per game with 3.31.

UCLA junior outside linebacker Anthony Barr is an aggressive defensive player who racked up 13.5 sacks this season. Jim Mora called Anthony Barr “the most impactful defensive player in the Pac-12”.

UCLA has a balanced offense with a passing attack that is 36th in the nation and a rushing attack that ranks 26th in the nation. UCLA won’t blow anyone away offensively, but UCLA has a sound attack. The Bruins have a healthy balance of run and pass schemes. Plus, they protect the football and do not turn the ball over.

UCLA started the season with a strong nonconference slate and defeated Rice, No. 16 Nebraska and Houston. Once conference play started for the Bruins in the Pacific-12 conference, UCLA started off with a close 27-20 loss to the Oregon State Beavers, who ended up being the No. 13 team in the BCS.

UCLA’s then defeated everyone else in conference play except for the Bay Area teams, California and Stanford. By far UCLA’s worst loss of the season happened in Berkeley when they lost 43-17 to an underwhelming California Golden Bears team. At one point, the Bruins were 9-2 with Stanford looming in the final game of the season. But the No. 6 BCS ranked Stanford Cardinal defeated UCLA in the Rose Bowl 35-17.

The first loss to Stanford setup the Pac-12 Championship game for another consecutive rematch with the Cardinal. For the second time in two weeks, the Cardinal bested UCLA in a bitter, hard-fought rematch 27-24.

UCLA has not won a bowl game since 2009 and the Bruins are clearly a team on the rise under the guidance of head coach Jim Mora.

Baylor and UCLA have never met on the gridiron, but this is definitely an intriguing match up because of the talent and resurgence of UCLA football.