| ||2011 SEASON IN REVIEW:It would seem that a trip to the Pac-12 championship game and a bowl game, like it had in 2011, would be seen as a successful season for UCLA. Unfortunately those accolades are not what they seem. |
The Bruins' conference title chance was made possible by USC's postseason ban and the squad's final record of 6-8 gave the Bruins their fourth losing season in five years, prompting the firing of head coach Rick Neuheisel
UCLA began 2011 with a 38-34 shootout loss at Houston. From there the Bruins alternated wins and losses over the next six games. The wins came against San Jose State (27-17), Oregon State (27-19) and Washington State (28-25), and the losses against Texas (49-20), Stanford (45-19) and Arizona (48-12). The Bruins salvaged their bowl hopes and conference title chances with wins in three of their next four games, before a 50-0 embarrassment to rival USC in the regular-season finale.
The loss to the Trojans was the last straw for Neuheisel, who didn't coach the team in either the Pac-12 Championship game loss to Oregon (49-31) or the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl defeat to Illinois (20-14). The Bruins brought in Jim Mora Jr. as head coach to replace interim Mike Johnson and are now ready to look forward.
"We're not looking towards the past, we're looking towards the future," Mora said, "I don't know what they had or didn't have last season and that's not my concern. My concern is what we have now."
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|A 30 at Rice |
S 8 vs. Nebraska
S 15 vs. Houston
S 22 vs. Oregon State
S 29 at Colorado
O 6 at California
O 13 vs. Utah
O 27 at Arizona State
N 3 vs. Arizona
N 10 at Washington State
N 17 vs. USC
N 24 vs. Stanford
RB Johnathan Franklin
WR Shaquelle Evans
TE Joseph Fauria
OT Jeff Baca
OG Greg Capella
DE Datone Jones
DE Cassius Marsh
LB Damien Holmes
LB Patrick Larimore
LB Jordan Zumwalt
CB Aaron Hester
CB Sheldon Price
S Tevin McDonald
P Jeff Locke
OFFENSE:Under Mora, new offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone will be replacing Neuheisel's pistol offense with one based more on spreading the field and passing the ball.
To make that scheme succeed the Bruins need to find a quarterback to lead the offense. There are three different contenders to fit in as the starter.
Seniors Richard Brehaut and Kevin Prince each have experience. Prince was the primary option last season, completing 56.3 percent of his passes for 1,828 yard and 12 touchdowns as well as eight interceptions. Brehaut completed 55.4 percent of his passes for 948 yards but only threw one interception. If the Bruins would rather try someone new, talented redshirt freshman Brett Hundley could get broken in early.
Obviously the quarterback is an very important position but they're still just part of a team and we're going to put a heck of a team around whoever our starting quarterback is," Mora said.
With the quarterback position a three-way race the Bruins will need a lot from running back Johnathan Franklin. Franklin rushed for 976 yards and five touchdowns as a part of a two-man attack with departed senior Derrick Coleman. Malcolm Jones will also get carries to replace Coleman's production.
Joseph Fauria is the starting tight end and most reliable receiver for the Bruins. At 6-foot-8, he is an imposing target especially in the red zone. Also known as the Y receiver, Fauria caught 39 passes for 481 yards and six touchdowns last season. The rest of the receiving corps is considerably less experienced.
Left guard Greg Capella and right tackle Jeff Baca are the only two returning starters on the offensive line.
DEFENSE:New defensive coordinator Lou Spanos will be using a 3-4 scheme with the Bruins. In the new system, Spanos will try to get more production from a squad that ranked 89th in total defense in 2011.
The switch to a 3-4 requires talent at linebacker which the Bruins have. Patrick Larimore and Eric Kendricks were the top two tacklers for the Bruins last season, combining for 158 total tackles in 2011. Damien Holmes had 32 total tackles and six for a loss last season, giving the Bruins three reliable players in the middle.
Up front the Bruins struggled to create pressure on opposing quarterbacks with only 14 sacks as a team, ranking 112th in the country. Defensive ends Datone Jones and Cassius Marsh are both returning starters, while touted freshman Ellis McCarthy should get plenty of early playing time at defensive tackle.
Both starting cornerbacks from last season are back in Aaron Hester and Sheldon Price. Hester had 57 total tackles and Price had 47. Tevin McDonald had three interceptions last season and will be back at free safety for a team that ranked 64th nationally in pass defense.
SPECIAL TEAMS:The Bruins will have a freshman at place-kicker in Ka'imi Fairbairn, who takes over for last year's starter Tyler Gonzalez. Starting punter Jeff Locke had a strong season last year after averaging 44.3 yards-per- punt and if need be can fill in for Fairbairn.
Jordon James and Ricky Marvray are the likely successors in the return game. James is the better of the two, after averaging 18.7 yards on kickoff returns last season.
OUTLOOK:There is talent on this roster, especially on defense, and a change in leadership might be able to bring out that potential. Mora has not coached in college since he was a graduate assistant at Washington, but has the right mindset for a school with UCLA's expectations.
"I feel we're taking the right steps to put UCLA back on the map. Coach Mora comes with great emphasis on toughness and discipline," running back Johnathan Franklin said, " We're working as hard as we can each and every day and trying to get better. If we do that everything else will fall into place."
Mora's first game as a college head coach is on the road against Rice. The Bruins then return home for three straight games including matchups with Nebraska and the Pac-12 opener with Oregon State. Three of the next four games are on the road with bouts at Colorado, California and Arizona State. Then the Bruins are home in three of their final four games including back-to-back critical tests against USC and Stanford to close out the regular season.
Even at 6-8, the Bruins did improve last season after finishing 4-8 in 2010. In a year of transition the Bruins aren't likely to make a jump into the Pac-12's elite, but another bowl game and a few more wins isn't outside the realm of possibility.
By Phil Neuffer, Associate College Football Editor