2016 season preview: UCLA Bruins
UCLA is bringing back a stacked defensive line and one of the most talented young QBs in college football. Is that enough to win the Pac-12?
2016 season preview: UCLA Bruins
The UCLA Bruins will be featuring new schemes on both sides of the ball this season, but have the talent to make the switch while still performing at a high level. UCLA is returning one of the best quarterbacks and one of the most talented defensive lines in the country, which makes the Bruins a favorite to win the Pac-12 South in 2016.
Let’s take a look at their offense, defense, biggest star and breakout candidate entering the season:
The Bruins’ offense will face a difficult task in their very first game of the season, playing against the best defensive player in the nation in Texas A&M edge rusher Myles Garrett. Complicating matters further is that only two starters return from last season’s offensive line: tackle Connor McDermott and guard Kenny Lacy.
The turnover on the line is one of several reasons that the Bruins will be changing to a more run-heavy attack under new offensive coordinator Kennedy Polamalu. The departure of running back Paul Perkins opens the door for Nate Starks and Soso Jamabo to get the ball and make some plays.
The Bruins return one of the better college quarterbacks in Josh Rosen, who looks bigger and stronger this year and should benefit from the new offensive scheme. The wide receiver corps is so depleted from departures that their returning wide receivers have a combined two touchdown catches between them. That’s why the speedy and versatile Ishmael Adams will be playing full-time at wide receiver now, to provide some playmaking ability and depth, while the Bruins also hope that some difference-makers will emerge from the receiver group of Darren Andrews, Kenneth Walker III, Eldridge Massington and Jordan Lasley.
The Bruins’ defense will be playing to its strengths and using more fronts with four defensive linemen this season. UCLA has two explosive players who can provide serious edge-rush production in Takkarist McKinley and Deon Hollins, who should both see increased pass-rush opportunities in 2016. Redshirt freshman DE Rick Wade was very disruptive during the team’s spring game, and looks like another edge-rush threat for the Bruins.
Star defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes has returned from injury and will hopefully return to his dominant form of two seasons ago. He joins fellow defensive tackle Eli Ankou, who graded positively as a pass-rusher and a run defender in 2015. Jayon Brown is a tackling machine, and his 83 tackles last season rank No. 1 among returning Pac-12 linebackers. Isaako Savaiinaea had the best coverage grade in 2015 of any returning Pac-12 linebacker.
Returning cornerbacks Fabian Moreau and Marcus Rios both graded positively in coverage in 2015, but Moreau is returning from injury. Safety Randall Goforth is on the NFL radar, and his 2015 coverage grade ranked No. 3 among returning Pac-12 safeties.
Rosen is already firmly on the NFL radar entering his true sophomore season, and looks to be a very high draft pick when he leaves UCLA. The Bruins are taking great steps to protect Rosen and groom him for the NFL by changing the offense to feature more running plays and having him take more snaps under center. Rosen should see a decrease in production, as he will be throwing the ball less, but Rosen excels at throwing play-action passes (61.3 completion percentage, with 10 touchdowns in 2015), so the opportunities for big plays downfield should be there in 2016.
Running back Soso Jamabo could be the beneficiary of the Bruins’ new run-heavy offense. He is also a talented receiver and open-field runner who can be featured in the pass game. Jamabo only carried the ball 66 times in 2015 — as he sat behind Paul Perkins, PFF’s No. 1 back in elusive rating a year ago — but scored four touchdowns and averaged 6.0 yards per carry. Look for Jamabo to see a big increase in touches and production in 2016.
The Bruins have a tough opening matchup playing Texas A&M, but their conference schedule isn’t too difficult. Their toughest conference road game is at Washington State, and they play home games against Stanford and South rivals USC and Utah. The Bruins have the talent on both sides of the ball to not only win the Pac-12 South, but the conference championship as well.