UCLA is Winning the War in the Trenches

UCLA has suffered offensive line woes for years, but the Bruins' class of 2012 is shaping up to be the catalyst that changes the direction of both UCLA's pass protection and rushing productivity. And it all starts with Hiva Lutui.

It's been 12 years since a member of UCLA's interior offensive line (sans tight ends) has been drafted to the National Football League. Although tight end Marcedes Lewis, drafted in 2006, is technically considered a part of the O-Line, no Bruin center, guard or tackle's name has been called in the NFL Draft since Kris Farris was last selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1999.

Head coach Rick Neuheisel has acknowledged his offensive line issues during the off-season. The injuries, which seemingly pile up every year, have been devastating to the team. Guard Jeff Baca and center Kai Maiava, both of whom suffered fractured ankles, will hopefully be able to contribute to the team at full strength this year—Maiava is already back with the team. On Tuesday, guard Chris Ward was carted off the field with a sprained ankle.

But there is some good news for the Bruins. Really good news. The class of 2012—currently at twelve committed prospects—includes four offensive linemen.

The latest O-line commit for the Bruins, and by far the one who should get UCLA fans most excited, is four-star Hiva Lutui out of Texas. At 6-3 and 280 pounds, Lutui is a beast. Ranked the ninth overall tackle by Scout.com, Lutui has excellent blocking skills and pulls with ease. Scout's National Recruiting Analyst Greg Powers described him as "mean and nasty" and said "once he hits the field he will be a terror."

Lutui's commitment to UCLA became a family matter as well—his first cousin, Isaiah Folasa, also committed to UCLA last month. Folasa, a two-star tackle, impressed Scout's National Recruiting Analyst Brandon Huffman. "Folasa is very agile for his size, and plays real low," Huffman said after watching him work out at UCLA's Lineman Camp in June.

"He gets good bend for his size and does a great job with his hand placement. In the footwork drills and other drills, Folasa moved really well."

Mario Yakoo, a two-star guard out of Spring Valley, California, fielded offers from Arizona and Oregon State but ultimately committed to UCLA. Yakoo is smart—he carries a 3.2 GPA—and according to Scout's Western Recruiting Reporter Tara Turnure, academics are important to Yakoo.

"I am looking for a strong football program, somewhere that has a good education system and a good business program," Yakoo said. "At this point, I would like to graduate with a degree in Business."

Rounding out the fourth lineman for UCLA is three-star tight end Ian Taubler. His list of schools of interest is impressive, but what's more impressive is Taubler choosing UCLA over USC, two of many schools that offered him. Taubler is 6-5 and 250 pounds and Scout's National Recruiting Analyst Scott Kennedy notes that although Taubler played on both sides of the ball as a tight end and defensive end at Bullard High School (Fresno, CA), he "projects best on the offensive side of the ball."

Rick Neuheisel is impacting its rival USC's recruiting, something that clearly is important to both Bruins boosters and the future of UCLA's football program.

UCLA has improved its rushing productivity drastically over the last two years—from No. 97 in 2009 to No. 32 in 2010—but the biggest blip in the Bruins' offense has been the passing game and protecting the passer. Last year the Bruins gave up 27 sacks in 12 games for a loss of 186 yards. If the Bruins can shore up their O-line and protect the passer, those numbers will improve and give UCLA a more balanced attack and give life back to their anemic passing game.

The class of 2012 looks to be just what the doctor ordered.
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