UCLA Football: The Transformation Under Jim Mora Is Astounding
Okay folks, here are the facts at the start of Week 4 for head coach Jim Mora and the UCLA Bruins:
- At 3-0, the Bruins are the only undefeated football team in the city of Los Angeles.
- Currently, UCLA has the top ranked offense in the Pac-12, and second-best in the entire nation.
- In the Pac-12, the Bruins rank second in sacks, total passing offense and in kick return yards.
- As the No. 19 team in the AP Top 25 poll, the Bruins are ranked for the first time since 2008.
- Senior tailback Johnathan Franklin is the top rusher in the nation with 180.33 yards a contest.
- Franklin also is tops in all-purpose yards with 222.33 per game.
Did anyone truly see this level of success heading into the year? I don't even know if Mora expected such an offensive explosion throughout the first three games of the season.
The fact is, this isn't the same team that floundered on offense under former head coach Rick Neuheisel. This current offense is explosive, inventive, incredibly fun to watch and above all else—effective. The spread offense isn't the most complex nor the most complicated, but that level of simplicity makes it relatively easy to comprehend and thus implement.
How many games will UCLA win this season?
There's never been a shortage of talent under Neuheisel, but he never fully utilized all that he had. Guys like Damien Thigpen and Jordon James are thriving in this offense and are getting minutes that weren't available to them in recent years.
Of all people, cult hero Steven Manfro is leading the team in receiving. In the first game alone, redshirt freshman quarterback Brett Hundley completed passes to nine different receivers. Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone has made it a concerted effort to get all of his playmakers involved.
Defensively, this team has shown a physicality not seen in years. Every defender is flying to the ball with fervor and energy. With the newly implemented 3-4 defense, it's allowing for outside linebackers Jordan Zumwalt and Anthony Barr to get upfield and make positive things happen in the opposition's backfield.
This defense is catered towards an attacking mindset, one that looks to create turnovers and cause havoc. The UCLA defense had 14 sacks all of last season. Right now, they already have 10. Against Houston last week, they ruffled the Cougars' offense for five interceptions.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect is that defensive coordinator Lou Spanos can make adjustments on the fly—something the previous regime had struggled with.
Against Rice, they pitched a shutout in the second half after relinquishing 24 points in the first half. Versus Nebraska in Week 2, they allowed only six points in the second half after giving up 24 in the first portion of the contest. This past Saturday against Houston, they allowed only six points in the entire game.
Although it's extremely early in the season, this UCLA team has the look of one that's turned the corner—in large part due to Mora and his staff. There's a renewed sense of enthusiasm and discipline in the program, and without question, there's a buzz around the program not seen since the days of Cade McNown and DeShaun Foster.
Are the Bruins a relatively inexperienced football team? Yes. Do they have depth issues at key positions? Absolutely. Are growing pains still expected with the squad? Most definitely.
However, this team is on the rise. They play their Pac-12 opener this upcoming weekend as they welcome the Oregon State Beavers to town. The Beavers are coming off of an impressive victory over Wisconsin and are looking to continue their momentum in the Rose Bowl.
Regardless of the outcome Saturday, it's quite apparent that the desired "culture change" by the UCLA fanbase is present and accounted for.
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