O is Vanilla, the D is Tough

On Saturday, the UCLA football team for the first time in the last three years came away from its fall scrimmage without an injury. The offense looks vanilla, as you'd expect, and the defense looks particularly solid and experienced, as you'd also expect....

The two biggest take-aways from Saturday's scrimmage at Spaulding Field:

-- You have to hope the offense was intended to be this vanilla, so as not to give anything away to opponents.

-- No one was injured. In the last two years, UCLA has lost key personnel in this fall scrimmage – last year, Joe Cowan and the year before Kevin Brown.

Not participating was fullback Michael Pitre and offensive tackle Shannon Tevaga.

The offense didn't show much of its hand at all, running straight-ahead or off-tackle on conventional hand-offs with little mis-direction. I could be wrong, but I didn't see one pitch in the entire scrimmage, while there were a coupe of draws. The passing game was very conventional, working off quite a bit of play-action with the quarterbacks throwing timing routes to the sidelines or hitches, with a few unsuccessful, over-the-top deep balls. Both Ben Olson and Patrick Cowan rolled out a few times. The offense went out of the shotgun on 5 or 6 third downs.

Olson looked just okay, completing 7 of 10 for 61 yards. His biggest throw was as 25-yard gainer to Marucs Everett in the first series on a fade down the sideline. Olson still looks like he's taking a bit long to make decisions but, again, it's difficult to determine how much is UCLA's defense knowing UCLA's offense so well.

Cowan was 5 of 10 for 51 yards, while he had a couple of balls dropped that should have been completions. Probably the nicest-looking offensive play of the day was Cowan hitting Osaar Rasshan on a slant but Rasshan dropped the pass. He did hit Dominique Johnson on a 25-yarder down the sideline that Johnson had to snag over his defender.

Third-string quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson certainly looks like a scholarship quarterback. You have to take into consideration he was going mostly against the third-string defense, but still, he looks good, throwing a nice, tight ball with velocity and looking like he can make quick decisions.

True freshman quarterback Chris Forcier struggled, which is what you would expect. He looks very slight out there, and he threw the ball with some shaky mechanics.

Running back Chris Markey found yardage tough going, gaining 27 yards on 10 carries, with one touchdown. Second-stringer Kahlil Bell looked fairly good, a bit quicker and stronger than he was last season, and he gained 40 yards on 7 carries. Ryen Carew had 38 yards on 17 carries and three short-yardage touchdowns, and Craig Sheppard had 46 yards on 12 carries, going up against the fourth-string defense.

The running game looked decent. The #1 offense didn't blow up any big, gaping holes, but they did get some decent gainers – again, against a very good defense that knows what the offense is doing.

Interestingly, with fullback Michael Pitre out, walk-on back-up Trevor Therior worked with the 1s. But in some short-yardage and goal-line situations, Dylan Rush came in as a battering ram and was effective.

With the offense running more than it was throwing, there weren't many opportunities for receivers to make plays. In fact, not one ball was thrown to a tight end. Rasshan led receivers with 37 yards on 3 catches, mostly because he lined up at different times with the 1s, 2s and 3s, probably getting the most reps of any receiver. Everett had 30 yards on two catches; Gavin Ketchum caught 2 balls for 27 yards and Ryan Graves had nine yards on two receptions.

Rasshan did make one nice play when he caught a 10-yard hitch and then juked two would-be-tacklers to get some YAC (yardage after the catch).

Place-kicker Kai Forbath started the day hot, hitting a 43-yarder and then a 48-yarder with confidence and some considerable foot. He then made a 32-yard chippee before missing a 30-yarder and a 42 yarder, and kicking a 45-yarder into the line of scrimmage. Alterraun Verner was credited with the block.

On defense, most of the usual suspects looked about the same. Perhaps the guy who might have had the most unexpected impact was back-up middle linebacker John Hale. On a third-and-six he sacked Cowan, and he stood up a running back on a tackle, and generally looked aggressive and around the ball quite a bit.

The 1s didn't get much run, conceding field time to the back-ups. The first-string defensive backfield did have quite a few bright moments, providing tight coverage and break-ups. Rodney Van had a couple of nice break-ups, and Trey Brown had six tackles.

Middle linebacker Christian Taylor led the day with 7 tackles. Back-up linebacker Korey Bosworth had a sack and a fumble recovery that he returned for a touchdown. Defensive end Jeff Miller batted down a pass, and walk-on cornerback Chris Meadows had a textbook tackle on Brandon Breazell on a quick 2-yard flare. Freshman linebacker Akeem Ayers had a nice pop on a tackle and was credited with a sack.

The first-string D looks solid, as it did last season, and it just plainly doesn't make many mistakes.

On kick-offs, kicker Jimmy Rotstein couldn't reach the goal line, his kicks coming down anywhere between the 10 and the 5, so it looks like UCLA's kick-off coverage teams will have to be very good this year. On the other side of the equation, senior Matt Slater, who has gone from wide receiver to cornerback to safety, looked good returning a kick, hitting a hole and accelerating through it quickly. It would be something if he found a role as real kick-off return threat. Carew looked shaky on a kick-off return, trying to catch the ball above his head, but missing it, then allowing it to roll into the endzone and then trying to bring it out.

Punter Aaron Perez had a typical day for him – one punt he didn't hit well for about 35-yards and then the next he boomed for 57.

Recruits in attendance were committed guys Jerry Johnson (WR from Venice), Aaron Hester (CB from Compton Dominguez), Cory Harkey (TE from Chino Hills), Kevan Walker (WR from Arcadia), Milton Knox (RB from Birmingham) and Donovan Carter (LB from Birmingham).

Willie Mobley, the defensive tackle prospect from Minnesota, hung with the committed guys. When he was catching passes on the sidelines, Walker asked him, "So, you going to play tight end here, too?" Mobley also threw the ball pretty well for a big man, playing catch with basketball player Josh Shipp (Alfred Aboya was also there, along with coaches Scott Duncan and Scott Garson).


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