Breaking down the UCLA offense

In a rematch of last year’s thriller at the Rose Bowl where ASU clinched the Pac-12 South over UCLA, the Sun Devils welcome the Bruins to Tempe this Thursday for an early season matchup with large implications. What can the Sun Devils expect from this year’s Bruin offense? Ross Dunham analyzes key plays from UCLA’s offense and talks to Def. Cord. Keith Patterson and safety Damarious Randall

For the third straight season, the Devils will have to try and contain UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley, the only difference this year being he’s coming off an arm injury that sidelined him against Texas a couple of weeks ago.

To go along with the arm injury, Hundley has been beaten and bruised behind an offensive line that’s struggled to start the year off – though with how often Hundley tries to extend plays, the sack totals were destined to be high.

Even so, players describe Hundley as “slippery,” and the type of success he has extending plays will give any defensive coach nightmares. Not to mention an arm that can make plenty of throws around the field.

“He’s a threat to throw the ball vertically, and a threat to run the ball so you’ve got to play with your eyes,” ASU defensive coordinator Keith Patterson said. “He definitely has tendencies when he likes to run, so you just have to make guys aware of that. But you have to be careful to not give guys too much information so they over think it. The main thing is to just know that you have got a guy that is a dual threat and to maintain pass rush integrity.”

Last year, in the first play from scrimmage for the Bruins offense, Hundley showed what he can do with his arm, and not just his feet.

After a great kickoff return that got the Bruins in “plus” territory, UCLA OC Noel Mazzone dialed up a play action shot.

After the fake to Myles Jack, Hundley steps up in the pocket and delivers a bomb 50+ yards through the air.

Right on the money to a streaking Devin Lucien for six.

Preventing big plays like that has always been a huge focus for Graham and his bunch, and that won’t change this week.

“If we leave the game without giving up a cheap 60-yard touchdown I think we will have won the game,” defensive back Damarious Randall said. “The safeties are probably going to be playing a lot more top down this week.”

One of the things that the Bruins do really well is getting the defense in a lull with short passing game and an effective running scheme. Get too aggressive on the underneath routes as a defense, and that’s when Mazzone and crew will call a play action/fake screen to connect behind the secondary similar to that of last year’s game.

“They try to soften you up underneath to try and get guys to be undisciplined and come down to make plays and then they go over your head,” Patterson said. “You have got to be sound vertically with these guys, and that starts with controlling the underneath passing game.”

Damarious Randall echoed that statement.

“They motion a lot to try and confuse the defense and they throw quick passes out wide; we like to call them extended running plays,” Randall said. “They just want to get the ball out on the perimeter and stay ahead of the sticks and stay in second and short. So we just have to get them up out of their comfort zone.”

A formation that pops up more often than others in games for the Bruins this year is four wide receivers, two to each side, and a running back (shown below).

UCLA loves to send the slot -- #7 Devin Fuller – in motion. Mazzone does so much out of this one set.

On this particular play Hundley calls for Fuller to motion, and Hundley shovels the ball to Fuller who turns the edge and follows his blocks for a nice 11-yard pickup.

The play is essentially a jet sweep handoff, but if there’s a problem on the exchange it’s ruled an incomplete pass because Hundley technically “threw” the ball forward. To Randall’s point above, it’s just an extended handoff.

That’s just one of the play designs that Mazzone calls upon from the 2x2 set. Just this year, Fuller has gone in motion and bubbled out for a swing pass, or has joined the other two WRs to that side to block for a swing to RB Paul Perkins, and much more.

By giving different looks from the same formation, it has the defense on its heels, not knowing what is coming. But Randall isn’t all that worried about it.

“We’ve got two good physical corners starting this week, Kweishi (Brown) and Lloyd (Carrington),” Randall said. “Honestly, I think them doing that (UCLA throwing screens and quick passes) is helping us out because our defense is very, very fast.”

Jordan Payton, a 6’1” 215 lbs. junior wide receiver, has been the main target throughout the season for Hundley and the Bruins.

“Payton is their go to receiver and he’s pretty good,” Randall said. “Big, physical guy that they like to go to in the red zone.”

Payton has 19 catches for 266 yards and one touchdown on the year, which came in the Texas game to give UCLA a fourth quarter lead.

Here we see Payton split out to the left of the formation by himself with a trips formation to the right. Now, as a precursor to this play, the Bruins had another great return on special teams and found themselves in plus-territory yet again. Also, they’d been hitting the underneath stuff all day and hadn’t taken a legit shot downfield.

As you can see form the play art, Neuheisel pumps as Payton fakes the curl route and the corner bites just a step. It was all Payton needed to squeeze past.

Neuheisel hit Payton for a bomb and the go-ahead score. Mazzone likes to take his shots after a game-changing play on the other sides of the ball, especially if he finds his offense on the opposing side of the 50-yard line.

There’s so much more to this offense that makes them a threat. The way the Bruins utilize their players in space is what truly makes them deadly. And similar to ASU, UCLA uses the run coupled with a short passing game to open up the deep routes later on in the game.

Pass Rush

Arizona State has had a rough time getting to the quarterback through the first three games of the season compared to previous years – though the Devils showed improvement in that area against Colorado two weeks ago. Luckily, a weakness for UCLA this season has been its offensive line play – the Bruins have given up 12 sacks through three games this season.

“I think that’s just typical of any team early on in the season,” Patterson said of offensive line play. “In games one through three you see a lot of improvement offensive line wise. They’ve got big tackles and they swallow you up – they’ve gotten better each week.”

Arizona State will have to find a way to create pressure and get Hundley uncomfortable in the pocket in third down situations, which will be tough against the four wide sets that they tend to use.

“Obviously you have got to be able to cover people and when they’ve got you spread sideline to sideline then you have to be explosive down in front,” Patterson said. “You can’t just rush down the middle.”

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