Reviewing QB Recruiting Under The Mazzones

Jan. 12 -- After going over the on-field performance of the offense the last four years yesterday, today we review quarterback recruiting under the Mazzones...

Now that we’ve gone over Noel Mazzone’s impact on the field, it’s time to go over the impact of both of the Mazzones on quarterback recruiting, the key piece of recruiting that they were primarily in charge of. There’s no getting around this simple fact: in 2015, aside from Josh Rosen, there wasn’t a scholarship player in the quarterback depth chart that the Mazzones recruited to UCLA. Quarterback recruiting has been mostly awful for the last four years, and it has put UCLA in a really tough spot where an injury to Rosen would be absolutely catastrophic to the Bruins’ chances next season.

The best way to go through it all is to start at the beginning, just after Mazzone was hired and UCLA was closing on the 2012 class.

At that point, Mazzone had already built a relationship with T.J. Millweard, who committed to him at Arizona State before Mazzone left Tempe for UCLA. Soon after Mazzone was hired at UCLA, Millweard committed to him again. Obviously Millweard didn’t pan out, and it’s hard to fault Mazzone for taking his commitment with limited time to recruit heading into February. The interesting part is that, at that same time, Nate Sudfeld, who has gone on to be a really solid starter for Indiana, had decommitted from Arizona and was looking strongly at UCLA.

Millweard ended up transferring prior to the 2013 season, lasting just one full season as a Bruin before heading off to Kansas, where he has seen limited playing time over the last two years. But, again, as an isolated recruitment, given the just over a month UCLA had to recruit heading into 2012 signing day, you basically give UCLA a pass for that one. It is worthwhile to note, though, that Millweard was an out-of-state quarterback, which started a trend.

The 2013 cycle was decidedly screwier. Early on, in spring of 2012, UCLA took a commitment from Georgia three-star quarterback Eddie Printz, which sort of came out of nowhere. At that time, the Bruins were probably in the lead for local four-star quarterback Troy Williams, who we actually heard attempted to commit at one point to UCLA, but was told to hold off. UCLA held onto Printz’s commitment until September of 2012, while most of the local quarterback talents committed elsewhere, with Williams committing to Washington and Hayden Rettig committing to LSU. At that point, UCLA cut ties with Printz and didn’t immediately pivot to any quarterback, thinking that it could actually stand pat on quarterback recruiting for that cycle.

By December, it became obvious that they would need to get another quarterback, given that Millweard wasn’t looking great, but it was too late to get involved heavily with either Williams or Rettig, despite late pushes on both. Thankfully, Asiantii Woulard basically dropped into UCLA’s lap after decommitting from South Florida, so UCLA had something to show for the class in terms of quarterback recruiting.

Woulard, of course, ended up transferring after spring practice this season, lasting just two full seasons in the program. Out of three quarterback commitments UCLA took in that time span, all three came from out of state.

The 2014 cycle started off seemingly well, and we’ve heard it corroborated by several sources that for a long time, UCLA was heavily in the lead for five-star quarterback Kyle Allen, to the point where he was telling pretty much everyone he was coming to UCLA right around UCLA’s spring game in 2013. Over the next few weeks, though, things changed drastically, as people around Allen, including some Elite 11 coaches, explained to him how good they thought Woulard was and that it might be a good idea for Allen to not go to UCLA since he might not play. So, UCLA missed on Allen, and he went to Texas A&M.

Now, that’s not something you can really pin on UCLA. From everything we heard, they did a good job recruiting Allen, and it was just a matter of people in his ear pushing him elsewhere. The real issue is that, after losing Allen, UCLA didn’t really have a plan or make a concerted effort to get another quarterback until very late in the cycle. It’s instructive to look at what Arizona State did -- immediately after losing Allen, they pivoted to Manny Wilkins, the four-star from Northern California that they had kept warm while they recruited Allen. Within a short time, Wilkins committed to the Sun Devils, giving them a solid prospect in the 2014 class.

For UCLA’s part, it took until deep into the high school season before the offensive staff was convinced to target Miami commit Brad Kaaya, and even then, it was a bit of a half-hearted recruitment. Kaaya stuck with his Miami commitment, ultimately, but there’s no telling what might have happened if UCLA had pursued him more heavily earlier.

Again, as with the 2013 class, UCLA had to take a flyer on a quarterback near the end of the cycle, and opted for Aaron Sharp, who was in the process of moving to receiver before the 2014 season ended.

In 2015, obviously, UCLA got Josh Rosen, but if we’re being completely blunt, the Bruins largely landed Rosen because Jim Mora has a very good relationship with Rosen and because Stanford never offered him. If Stanford offered him when Rosen attended the Cardinal junior day, he almost certainly would have committed and ended his recruitment. Notably, Rosen was the one quarterback prospect from California, or even the West, that UCLA earned a commitment from during the Mazzone years.

For 2016, the Mazzones targeted and earned a commitment from Matt Lynch after missing on Devon Modster, and Lynch is scheduled to enter school in March. Lynch is a promising prospect who will probably need a year or two to develop. Again, though, just to keep track, this is another quarterback prospect from outside of California.

So, to sum up, UCLA effectively struck out on quarterback recruiting for three straight cycles from 2012 to 2014, and then landed a big prize in Rosen in 2015. Obviously, landing Rosen was huge, but the lack of depth is a potential killer.

The big errors that the Mazzones succumbed to, generally, involved targeting too many out-of-state quarterbacks and not recruiting multiple options early enough in the cycle. Quarterback recruiting is a tricky business because quarterbacks generally don’t have a ton of position versatility, so they’re stuck in the depth chart for one position for four years. If they don’t see potential to start soon, they’re very likely to transfer, which is why it helps significantly to target local prospects who have other incentives to stay in the program (proximity to home) besides playing time. About the worst thing you can do is recruit marginal out-of-state prospects, because they won’t start early and they’ll transfer at the first sign of adversity.

Then, in both 2013 and 2014, UCLA didn’t keep backup options warm, or at least not early enough to make a difference. Quarterback recruiting is a different beast than recruiting any other position in that quarterbacks all generally decide very early in the process. If you miss on your first choice, you generally need to have a second or third option ready to go before too long, because they’ll be scooped up fairly soon as well.

UCLA has had to deal with bad quarterback depth the last three years, and the Bruins have gotten inordinately lucky that Brett Hundley is the most durable man alive and Rosen didn’t suffer any even really minor injuries this year. Hopefully, the next few years see UCLA rebuild the depth chart so that the Bruins are not in such a precarious position year-in and year-out.


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