QB josh Rosen (Photo by Steve Cheng)

First look: UCLA

The UCLA Bruins enter Saturday's contest with a pair of victories over Arizona State at Sun Devil Stadium in the Todd Graham era.

Of the mere six home losses head coach Todd Graham has endured since taking over Arizona State coaching duties in 2012, two of them have come at the hands of the UCLA Bruins.

Losing to UCLA in 2012 and 2014 at Sun Devil Stadium, ASU took its worst beating of the two in its 62-27 loss on Sept. 27. 2014, before bouncing back on the road the week after against USC at the Coliseum.

Graham reiterated on Monday the importance of winning at home, especially with Pac-12 teams going 6-0 at home last weekend. UCLA won 45-24 at home over the Arizona Wildcats Saturday night in Pasadena, California.

“You better play well at home,” Graham said. “That’s one thing that we’ve been able to do. For four and a half years played really, really well out here. You have to win at home, you better win them all at home if you want to compete in this league…we have to go figure out how to beat a very, very good UCLA team at home here.”

Under Graham, ASU has a 24-6 record at Sun Devil Stadium. In its previous 29 home games prior to the Graham era, ASU was 16-13. Graham has a 2-2 overall record against the Bruins since 2012.  

This season, UCLA is 3-2 overall and 1-1 in the Pac-12. The Bruins' two losses were to Texas A&M, 31-24, in week one and a 22-13 loss to then-No. 7 Stanford on Sept. 24.

Last season, UCLA was 8-5 overall, 5-4 in the Pac-12. The Bruins started 4-0, but lost three of their last four games. UCLA head coach Jim Mora has a 40-18 record overall, 24-14 in the Pac-12 since taking over the program in 2012.

In the Bruins’ most recent meeting with ASU on Oct. 3, 2015, the Bruins lost 38-23 in Pasadena, Calif. UCLA was previously undefeated coming into the game and ranked No. 11 in the country. Then-freshman UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen went 22-of-40 for 280 yards and one interception as the Sun Devils held UCLA’s rushing attack to a mere 62 yards. 

This season, UCLA has a new offensive coordinator, Kennedy Polamalu, after former UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone took the job as Texas A&M’s offensive coordinator in January. Mazzone was UCLA’s offensive coordinator for four years before leaving to the Aggies.

Mazzone was also the offensive coordinator at ASU from 2010-11.

Polamalu, who has both college and NFL experience, was elevated to UCLA’s offensive coordinator in January after serving as UCLA’s running backs coach the two previous seasons. Polamalu was hired as a running backs coach by UCLA in December 2013 and prior to UCLA, Polamalu was USC’s offensive coordinator from 2010-12.

“They are very different,” Graham said regarding Mazzone and Polamalu. “Obviously coach Mazzone’s offense was where they spread the field a lot of open sets and their base formation is with two tight ends and one tight end sets very similar to USC and what we just faced. Fast, very, very fast. Big outside receivers, a lot of speed in the inside receivers. Very similar, if I had to describe it, very similar to USC’s offense and more of a pro-style offense.”

This season, UCLA is No. 8 in the Pac-12 in scoring offense, averaging 28.2 points per game. It is No. 9 in the Pac-12 in total offense with Rosen leading the Bruins to an average of 424.8 yards per game and a 5.8-yard per play average.

“What makes it work is their quarterback,” Graham said of Rosen. “They’ve got as good as there is, as good as we’ll play and he makes all the throws, very efficient in throwing the ball intermediately as well as the deep ball and he’s what makes their whole thing work and it’s very pro-style. They want to be physical, they want to run the football, and they want play-action.”

Rosen was 20-of-37 for 350 yards and three touchdowns in UCLA’s victory over Arizona last week. The 6-foot-4, 218-pound quarterback is 113-of-188 for 1,515 yards on the season with four interceptions and eight touchdowns.

Rosen lost his top two receivers from 2015, Jordan Payton and tight end Thomas Duarte, but found a new leading receiver this season in junior wide receiver Darren Andrews. Andrews leads the Bruins in receptions with 21 catches for 301 yards and one touchdown.

In addition to Andrews, UCLA senior wide receiver Kenneth Walker III has three touchdowns and 15 catches for 299 yards after a 2015 season when he only had nine catches for 231 yards and one touchdown.

Despite being a pro-style offense, on the ground, the Bruins are last in the Pac-12 in rushing offense, averaging only 119.2 yards per game. Former UCLA running back Paul Perkins led the Bruins last season with 103.3 rushing yards per game before being drafted in the fifth round of the 2016 NFL Draft.  

Through five games this season, two UCLA running backs average only about 47 yards per game.

UCLA sophomore running back Soso Jamabo leads the team in rushing with 47 carries for 186 yards and three touchdowns. Junior running back Nate Starks has 42 carries for 143 yards and one touchdown.

In addition to its rushing concerns, UCLA’s offensive line has given up 10 sacks on the season, tied for sixth in the Pac-12. In UCLA’s season opener, Texas A&M sacked Rosen five times. Last season, UCLA only gave up 14 sacks on the year.

On the other side of the ball, UCLA is in its second year under defensive coordinator Tom Bradley. Bradley replaced Jeff Ulbrich, who spent three seasons with the Bruins and is now the linebackers coach for the Atlanta Falcons.   

Bradley was named the defensive coordinator at UCLA in February of 2015. In his first season at UCLA in 2015, Bradley’s defense surrendered just 4.9 yards per play, the lowest mark in the Pac-12.

Bradley came to UCLA after spending 2014 as West Virginia’s senior associate head coach. Prior to 2014, Bradley was Penn State’s defensive coordinator from 2000-2011 and interim head coach in 2011. Bradley was the AP Defensive Coordinator of the Year in 2005.

With UCLA, Bradley runs predominately a 4-3 defense, but said he does mix it up a lot and goes into multiple different fronts. Prior to Bradley, UCLA’s defense was more of a 3-4. When Bradley was at Penn State, he also ran a 4-3 defense.

“Coach (Tom) Bradley I know,” Graham said. “Known him since I was at Pitt and does a really good job of their defense and has evolved their defense and is strong up the middle inside on defensively and likes to get after you and their secondary is a veteran group that does a good job covering.”

Under the leadership of UCLA’s veteran secondary group -- senior cornerback Fabian Moreau, sophomore cornerback Nate Meadors, senior safety Randall Goforth, and junior safety Jaleel Wadood -- the Bruins are No. 3 in the Pac-12 in pass defense, allowing 186 yards per game.

In 2015, the Bruins' secondary led the conference in fewest yards passing allowed per game and in team pass defense efficiency. It also topped the league in fewest yards allowed per passing attempt (5.6).

“I like their corners,” Graham said. “Their corners are very physical. They are a team that is going to play a lot of man free. They do a good job.”

Overall, UCLA is only giving up 22.4 points per game, but the Bruins are also No. 7 in the Pac-12 in rushing defense, allowing 170.8 yards per game. In the Bruins’ loss to Texas A&M, they gave up 203 yards on the ground to the Aggies and against Stanford, they gave up 207 rushing yards.  

Despite its trouble defending the run, UCLA’s linebackers prove to be a strength, led by UCLA senior linebacker Jayon Brown and UCLA junior linebacker Kenny Young.

Brown leads the team in tackling and is No. 3 in the Pac-12 in tackling with 44 total tackles and an 8.8 per game average. Brown led the team last season with 93 tackles.

Young is No. 6 in the conference with 39 tackles and a 7.8 tackles per game average. Young also has three sacks on the season. In UCLA’s win over Arizona last week, Young had 12 tackles and one sack.

Despite losing former standout  defensive tackle Kenny Clark to the 2016 NFL Draft, senior defensive lineman Takkarist McKinley has stepped up for the Bruins, leading the team with six tackles for loss and three sacks. McKinley had 35 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks in 2015. 


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