UCLA Football: Midseason Grades for Players and Coaches
Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sport
At 5-0, the No. 9 UCLA Bruins are nearing the midpoint of their season.
A monumental test will come this weekend in the form of the No. 13 Stanford Cardinal. The road affair will help to demonstrate just how good Jim Mora's bunch truly is.
As currently constituted, the team has played well. A majority of the units are performing at such a level that a possible BCS Bowl appearance isn't out of the realm of possibility.
Here are the midseason grades for UCLA's coaches and players.
Brett Hundley has had a solid start to the season.
He's thrown for 1,469 yards and 12 touchdowns through five games. The redshirt sophomore is also completing passes at a 68.1 percent clip.
Those numbers are very good from the surface level. However, Hundley still does need to develop in other areas.
His pocket awareness is improved from the standpoint that he's no longer taking unnecessary sacks.
As a redshirt freshman, he had been holding onto the ball for far too long in the pocket. Hundley has made some adjustments compared to in 2012. However, that's an area that he'll need to improve upon.
Hundley's vision isn't the greatest, nor is his accuracy on deep balls down the field vertically. There have been opportunities in every game where he has either overthrown or underthrown a wide open receiver.
With more maturity, he'll continue to get better at the aforementioned areas of concern.
Offensive Line: B
The offensive line was a considerable concern heading into 2013.
Last year in 2012, Hundley was sacked an eye-popping 52 times. It was a miracle that the signal-caller didn't suffer an injury.
The young line is a year older, and improvement is apparent.
Left guard Xavier Su'a-Filo has continued to perform at an extremely high level. He's definitely headed towards an All-Conference season when it's all said and done.
The unit is No. 50 nationally in total rushing yards with a respectable 223.4 yards per contest. Pass protection is still somewhat of an issue. Hundley has been sacked 10 times on the season thus far.
UCLA took a blow with a season-ending injury to starting left tackle Torian White. As a result, right tackle Simon Goines was moved over to the left side. True freshman Caleb Benenoch has taken over the right tackle starting job.
Next to Benenoch is another true freshman, Alex Redmond. The Los Alamitos, Calif., product has really impressed with his physicality and nastiness.
It's not an ideal scenario to have two true freshmen starting on the offensive line.
However, it's a group that has improved from a season ago. Playing with consistency should be the mantra with regards to this unit.
Running Backs: B
The running back corps has been a pleasant surprise in 2013.
No one truly thought that the team would be able to replicate the success of Johnathan Franklin in 2012. This sentiment will in all likelihood hold true.
Regardless, Jordon James has been relatively productive this season.
He's rushed for 463 yards and five touchdowns on 74 carries. His 6.3 yards per carry average is considerably higher than it was a season ago. He's made a concerted effort to hit the hole hard and run up the field as opposed to dancing in the hole behind the line of scrimmage.
Along with James, Paul Perkins, Steven Manfro, Malcolm Jones and Damien Thigpen make up a deep backfield rotation. The group is versatile in nature with all of them having the ability to catch passes out of the backfield. The swing passes that have become a staple in Noel Mazzone's offense are essentially extended handoffs.
James recently suffered an ankle injury, and his status for this weekend against Stanford is in doubt.
Expect both Perkins and Thigpen to get the majority of the carries should James be out for an extended period of time.
As Aristotle said, "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts."
This quote specifically applies to UCLA's backfield.
Wide Receivers: B+
Hundley doesn't have a shortage of targets to throw to by any stretch of the imagination.
The starting corps of Shaq Evans, Jordan Payton and Devin Fuller has been very productive. The trio has combined for 55 catches, 778 yards receiving and seven touchdowns.
Fuller, in particular, has been devastating in the open field. His quickness and shiftiness makes him a nightmare to defend against in the slot.
Blocking has been an aspect that isn't usually highlighted. Evans and Payton are two of the best blocking wideouts in the conference. Each has been instrumental this season in springing long plays on screens or swing passes.
True freshman tight end Thomas Duarte only has seven catches on the season, but he appears to be emerging.
Against Cal this past Saturday, he had three catches for 76 yards and a touchdown. His athleticism makes him a potential mismatch against linebackers defending him in coverage. Expect his role to get bigger as the season progresses.
The wide receiver unit is highly productive. From UCLA's point of view, there isn't one guy that's defined as the top pass catcher of the bunch. Hundley spreads the ball around consistently, and it makes the team more dangerous as a result.
Offensive Coordinator: A
Here's a brief look at how prolific UCLA's offense has been through five games:
Total offense per game: 547.0 yards per game (No. 5 nationally)
Scoring offense: 45.8 points per game (No. 7 nationally)
It's hard not to give Noel Mazzone an "A" for his play-calling.
UCLA also ranks in the top 20 for both passing offense and rushing offense. Every facet of the offensive side of the football has been very effective.
The scary thing is, the play-calling has been relatively vanilla thus far. The schedule after five games hasn't been overly challenging. As the Bruins face stiffer competition, expect the offense to become more diverse and exotic.
Also, expect those offensive numbers to keep rising.
Defensive Line: B
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The defensive line was perceived as the strength of the defense heading into the season.
It hasn't been poor. With that said, it hasn't exactly been dominant either.
UCLA defensive linemen have accrued nine sacks on the season. Perhaps the biggest surprise has been Keenan Graham.
The redshirt senior from Las Vegas leads the team with 5.0 sacks. He had been a linebacker and was converted to a defensive end in order to fully maximize his potential as a rusher.
Senior Cassius Marsh has had a bit of a disappointing season.
With only 2.0 sacks on the year, he hasn't fully lived up to the hype. He's also committed a couple of untimely penalties. He was ejected in the Cal game for throwing a punch at an offensive lineman. He needs to keep his composure and play with more consistency overall.
Freshmen Eddie Vanderdoes and Kenny Clark have played well. Vanderdoes, in particular, looks to have a chance to be very good one day. Ellis McCarthy and Seali'i Epenesa have been solid in general.
UCLA is No. 40 in rush defense. The defense against the run will get tested heavily in the next two weeks against both Stanford and Oregon.
This unit has unequivocally been the strength of UCLA's team thus far.
In essence, the unit comprised of Anthony Barr, Myles Jack, Eric Kendricks and Jordan Zumwalt could be the most talented in the entire country.
Jack has been an utter revelation. His athleticism and speed is off the charts for a true freshman. His instincts have been spectacular, and he's constantly around the football. Barring injury, he's a future NFL player.
Kendricks is second in the conference in tackles per game (9.40) and is fifth overall (47). Zumwalt has shown the versatility to cover in space or rush the passer on third down plays. His lengthy frame matches up extremely well against bigger receivers. He's also equipped with the quickness to make plays in space.
Barr has just been Barr. There's been absolutely no drop off from a season ago in which he had 13.5 sacks. The Loyola High School product leads the team in forced fumbles and tackles for loss and is second in sacks.
Defensive Backs: A-
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The secondary was arguably the biggest question mark heading into the 2013 season.
Mora and defensive backs coach Demetrice Martin had the unenviable task of replacing all four starters from 2012.
So far in 2013, so good.
A team has yet to throw for 300 yards against the unit.
On the season, the starting quartet of Ishmael Adams, Fabian Moreau, Randall Goforth and Anthony Jefferson is allowing 206.8 yards per game through the air.
If anything, this unit has proven to be opportunistic. The team intercepted Utah quarterback Travis Wilson six times in their 34-27 win. A majority of those interceptions were on tipped passes.
Moreau, in particular, has been great on pass coverage. Against Cal's prolific pass attack, the Bruins held receivers Chris Harper and Bryce Treggs to 35 and 42 yards receiving, respectively.
The Golden Bears are averaging 371 yards through the air per game. Against UCLA, Cal quarterback Jared Goff only threw for 215 yards.
A supposed weakness heading into the season has seemingly turned into a strength.
Special Teams: B+
Kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn has rebounded from a shaky freshman season in 2012.
Thus far in 2013, the sophomore from Honolulu has connected on 9-of-12 field goals. He's also a perfect 28-of-28 on PAT attempts.
True freshman punter Sean Covington hasn't had a ton of work to do.
He's only punted 14 times on the season for an average of 40.8 yards. He suffered one flub against Nebraska in which he couldn't cleanly catch a snap. It ultimately turned into a touchdown for the Cornhuskers.
Returners have done a decent job thus far.
Defensive Coordinator: A-
Defensive coordinator Lou Spanos
Lou Spanos has done a great job with UCLA's defense.
The defense as a whole is relatively inexperienced. There's a completely brand new secondary when compared to a season ago, and two true freshmen are also starting (Myles Jack and Eddie Vanderdoes).
On the season, the Bruins are ranked as the No. 27 defense in the country. The opposition has scored a paltry 18.2 points per game on the year.
Spanos has been great at utilizing the said talents of his players. Whether it be Barr attacking off of the edge or Jack dropping in coverage, he's been adept at truly catering to the strength of his personnel with his play calling.
He's also been the master of adjustments.
UCLA has outscored opponents 71-0 in the third quarter this season. In the second half, the Bruins are outscoring the opposition by a mark of 126-50.
Head Coach: A
The transformation of this football team under Jim Mora is virtually complete.
This team in no way resembles the sluggish, underachieving, apathetic squads that we've come to witness under the regimes of Karl Dorrell or Rick Neuheisel.
Mora's team plays with energy, enthusiasm and most importantly, heart. He's effectively built a team that is considered to be the class of the Pac-12 South Division.