UCLA Football: 5 Most Important Takeaways from September
Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports
The No. 12 UCLA Bruins are a football team on the fast track towards their third straight Pac-12 South Division Title.
Expectations should be tempered a bit, considering that the conference season is only a week old. The Bruins (3-0) have also yet to play a team with a credible defense.
However, Jim Mora's squad has looked good in a number of categories. Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone's offense has been putting up extremely gaudy numbers. Jordon James has solidified the starting spot at running back, and an array of young players have been impacting the team in a positive fashion.
Here's what we can take away from the month of September for the UCLA Bruins.
The Emergence of Jordon James
Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports
Who was going to replace Johnathan Franklin?
That was perhaps biggest question heading into this season on the offensive side of ball. There wasn't one returning running back who seemed capable of performing in the lead role.
Jordon James has dispelled that notion completely to start this 2013 season. The Corona, Calif. native has rushed for 462 yards and four touchdowns through three games. He's also averaging a robust 6.8 yards per carry.
By comparison, he rushed for 215 yards for the entire season in 2012 and a paltry 3.5 yards per carry.
James has looked decisive when hitting the hole this season. Once into the second level, he's flashed immense quickness and agility. At the 1:57 mark of this video, James makes a Nebraska defender look absolutely silly in space.
The possible running-back-by-committee theory most certainly does not apply to this team with the emergence of James. Through three games, he's given UCLA much-needed backfield production.
The Secondary Has Yet to Be Truly Tested
Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports
UCLA's young secondary has performed relatively well this season.
Replacing an entire starting secondary unit is never an easy proposition. However, Jim Mora and defensive backs coach Demetrice Martin has done a nice job with the inexperienced group. The Bruins are second in the nation in fewest passing yards allowed and No. 19 in passing yards allowed per game.
It's a respectable ranking for a group that had next to no starting experience heading into the season. However, the team hasn't really been tested up to this point.
Both Nevada and Nebraska are teams that rely primarily on running quarterbacks. The Cornhuskers Taylor Martinez, for example, isn't what anyone would call a "prototypical" thrower of the football. He has a tough time passing the ball downfield with any consistency.
In UCLA's third game versus New Mexico State, the talent disparity between the Bruins and the Lobos was too vast. It wasn't the type of game to get a true gauge on how good the Bruins secondary actually is. The No. 19 ranking in pass defense is undoubtedly a solid mark. UCLA's secondary could turn out to be a strength.
But at this point, the unit is still a relative unknown.
As the Bruins get further into conference play, one can be sure that the quartet on the defensive back end will be tested early and often. It would not be a surprise to see quarterback Travis Wilson challenge the Bruins vertically, when UCLA heads to Utah to face the Utes on Thursday.
The Reliance Upon True Freshmen
In terms of actual participation, UCLA has played an astounding 16 true freshmen so far in this 2013 campaign.
And it's not as if they are playing sparingly, either.
Offensive guard Alex Redmond, punter Sean Covington and outside linebacker Myles Jack all start. Mora told Ryan Kartje of The Orange County Register that Redmond was, "one of the players of the game on offense against Nebraska." Redmond has been an absolute mauler in the run game and looks like a future All-Pac-12 performer.
The success of these players is truly indicative of the work done by Mora and his coaching staff. They have been able to develop young talent quickly enough to allow these athletes to make an immediate impact in their collegiate careers.
This 2013 class has a chance to be special within the next couple of years.
The Progression of Noel Mazzone's Offense in Year Two
For the record, UCLA's offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone does not star on the famed show "Breaking Bad."
That's not to say, however, that the Walter White look-alike isn't a scientist with a creative ability. Mazzone's offense has been putting up ridiculous numbers through three games.
UCLA is second in the nation in total offense. The Bruins are accumulating 614 yards and 52.7 points per game. Mazzone's offense is first nationally in third-down conversions (68.3 percent) and rank in the top 15 in both rushing offense and passing offense.
The craziest stat of all? UCLA has punted the ball a total of only three times in three games.
The Advancement of UCLA as a Program
Has UCLA officially turned the corner as a program?
The Bruins are ranked as the No. 12 team in the latest AP Top 25 poll. Offensively, Jim Mora's team ranks at the top of nearly every single significant category.
And not to be overlooked, with the turmoil at USC, it appears that UCLA has supplanted the Trojans as the most talented team in the city of Los Angeles.
Mora has this team headed in the right direction. Through three games, UCLA has shown how talented it is. Bruin teams under former regimes would likely have struggled to beat a team like Nevada.
It's also unlikely that a Bruin team within the last decade would have gone on the road and beaten Nebraska by 20 points. This UCLA team has a depth, youth and level of athleticism not seen in the program in years. It's also quite apparent that the young team has matured from a season ago.
A complete change in culture has taken place in Westwood. The passing of Nick Pasquale has also seemingly galvanized this group. The team is on a mission to win the Pac-12 South Division for a third straight year, and the talent is certainly there to accomplish that feat.