On Oct. 4, Utah will travel to Pasadena, Calif. to take on the UCLA Bruins at the Rose Bowl to try to avenge last year’s 34-27 loss in Salt Lake. UCLA leads the all time series with Utah 10-2 and is 6-0 at home. Expectations have not been this high for UCLA in a long time. Most fans expect UCLA to win the Pac-12 championship and possibly the national championship. Head coach Jim Mora has been quite the hot name in coaching lately, being linked to coaching vacancies last year at Washington and Texas, but he ultimately chose to stay at UCLA. Joe from Bruins Nation believes that Mora will not leave UCLA until he brings home a championship and that Coach Mora deserves a lot of credit for "doing things the right way" at UCLA.
Nine starters are back from last year’s offense, including quarterback Brett Hundley, a Heisman Trophy candidate and possible first-round NFL Draft pick. Hundley’s return gives the UCLA offense a huge boost this year. He threw for over 3,000 yards and 24 touchdowns last year. There will be plenty of weapons for Hundley to throw to as well since the wide receivers should be a position of strength with players like Devin Fuller, Thomas Duarte, and Eldridge Massington. There are a few areas on offense that need a little work though. Joe’s prediction for the two weakest positions for UCLA is running back and offensive line. This makes sense given that the two runners that got the most hype for UCLA last season were quarterback Brett Hundley, who was UCLA’s leading rusher in yards (748), carries (160), and touchdowns (11), and linebacker Myles Jack, who spent some time at running back in the last five games of the year. Joe did praise Craig Lee, mentioning how explosive he was in spring ball. This is a position that will probably improve this season with a healthy Jordan James in addition to players like Craig Lee. UCLA’s offensive line also struggled last year, yielding 35 sacks (which is especially poor considering how mobile Brett Hundley is). The offensive line returns 89 career starts, and they add in Miami transfer Malcolm Bunche, which should ease the loss of left guard Xavier Su’a-Filo to the NFL. Part of the problem for the offensive line last year was injuries, forcing three freshmen to play. With more experience on the offensive line, I expect them to improve for UCLA, which should also help the running backs as well. A better offensive line and more potent rushing attack will only help Brett Hundley by taking some pressure off of him. Expect the Bruins to improve on last year’s 448 yards (38th) and 37 points (20th) per game last season.
The defense welcomes back eight starters from last season. UCLA lost the number nine NFL Draft pick Anthony Barr (outside linebacker), but their defense still has many strong pieces. Eric Kendricks, UCLA’s leading tackler, returns and should be fully healthy this year, providing a boost to the linebacking corps. There is also the reigning Pac-12 Offensive and Defensive Freshman of the Year, Myles Jack, playing linebacker for the Bruins as well (expect him to be at running back less this year). UCLA should also be strong on the defensive line with Owamagbe Odighizuwa, Eddie Vanderdoes, and Kenny Clark. With all that said, the defense will be headlined by the secondary. Joe said that the secondary is the strongest position group on the team. With players like Randall Goforth, Anthony Jefferson, Tahaan Goodman, Fabian Moreau, and Ishmael Adams, it is easy to see why. UCLA’s defense should improve on last year’s 387 yards per game average (good for 54th in the nation).
Utah always seems to play UCLA tough, so I think this game will be closer than many people think. Being on the road does not bode well for Utah though since they are 1-8 in Pac-12 road games the last two years. I think it is a game that is close through the end of the third quarter, but UCLA’s talent wins out in the fourth quarter. UCLA should be as good or better at every position this year than they were last year. I would be surprised if they do not represent the South in the Pac-12 championship game. They are the most complete team in the South division, but Coach Mora and Brett Hundley are 0-4 against the Pac-12 elite in the North (Stanford and Oregon), losing the four meetings by an average score of 32-16. I think given UCLA’s struggles against the top two teams in the North, it is a little premature to be expecting a national title this year until UCLA proves they can beat Stanford and Oregon.
Listen to the audio only version of The U Fan Cast: