A potentially historic season at UCLA capped the first phase Saturday with the spring game at the StubHub Center in Carson, California.
UCLA went live in the first half with the first-team offense squaring off against the first-team defense on the opening drive. Though quarterbacks were obviously off-limits and sporting no-contact jerseys, the first half emulated a regular-season game as much as a spring scrimmage can.
|UCLA Bruins Spring Game Grades|
|Positional Unit||First-Half Grade||Final Grade|
|2014 UCLA Spring Game|
First-half analysis for the UCLA Bruins
UCLA's lofty expectations for 2014 are tied directly to redshirt junior quarterback Brett Hundley's decision to return for another season.
He went 4-of-5 on the game's opening drive, spreading the ball among a variety of deep threats. His only incompletion was a bullet that likely would have gone for a touchdown, if running back Jordon James had caught it.
Drops were the most glaring issue for the Bruins offense. Walk-on Tyler Scott hauled in a few passes and showed a knack for getting open but dropped a surefire touchdown ball from redshirt freshman Asiantii Woulard after breaking past the secondary.
Woulard connected on three of his first four pass attempts, one of which was a swing route that running back Craig Lee took for a big gain. Woulard went 1-of-9 on his subsequent attempts.
Jerry Neuheisel stole the show in the first half, leading each of the Blue Team's two scoring drives—one of which was coordinated by Hundley.
The search for 2012 All-American running back Johnathan Franklin's replacement lasted the duration of the 2013 season and continues into the spring. Sophomore Paul Perkins may have made some inroads to be the Bruins' feature back in 2014.
He continued to build on his strong finish to the previous season, breaking off a pair of impressive rushes in the first quarter including the game's first touchdown.
James, UCLA's No. 1 back before suffering an ankle injury early last season, capped a long drive with a short rushing touchdown in the second quarter.
Plays were blown dead the instant a defender came within tackling range of the quarterbacks—a precautionary measure that obviously prevented Hundley and Woulard from demonstrating their rushing abilities.
New defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich was rather conservative. The quarterbacks took advantage of some soft coverage despite multiple-defensive back formations.
Still, the tenacious pass rush that typified UCLA's defensive approach each of the last two seasons disrupted a few passing plays early, as blitzing Bruins reached the backfield.
After Hundley called it a day, the defensive backs settled in and broke up several attempts in the second quarter.
Reigning Pac-12 defensive freshman of the year and sophomore linebacker Myles Jack made his presence known early. He swarmed to the ball on the initial rushes.
His effort keyed the White Team's showing against the run early, although the Blue Team broke through later in the half. Overall though, both defenses limited the big play.
Steven Manfro and Ishmael Adams both had return opportunities that resulted in minimal yardage. Punter Sean Covington booted a few deep, but his one field-goal attempt went wide left.
Final analysis for the UCLA Bruins Spring Game
UCLA's reserve quarterbacks began struggling down the stretch of the first half, and none quite found a rhythm in the second half.
Still, there were plenty of positives. Jordan Payton finished a very busy spring game with nine receptions. Payton was a more than capable No. 1 option with Devin Fuller out of the lineup. Devin Lucien was also a frequent target, setting the tone for his role in the 2014 offense.
Lee and Manfro both had major breakthrough runs in the second half, as the positive momentum the Bruins established on the ground just before halftime carried over into the game's back end.
The offensive line opened big gaps that the Bruins ball-carriers hit more consistently than in the first half.
James reached the end zone a second time and Manfro capped the afternoon with a rushing score.
After settling in, the secondary for both the Blue and White locked down on the receivers. The defensive backs were aggressive and stingy, flexing their muscles as a unit for an A-grade performance in the second half.
Ishmael Adams was active throughout the afternoon. He intercepted Neuheisel and broke off a long return. Adarius Pickett also snagged an interception.
Fabian Moreau was arguably the day's defensive star.
Linebacker Ryan Hofmeister was highly active throughout against the rush throughout the day. His ball-hawking allowed Jack to roam and blitz. Defensive lineman Kenny Clark keyed the efforts up front nicely.
The rush defense was solid throughout the day despite the rushing offense breaking off a few long gains late.
Adams' long return late in the third quarter was a highlight of the spring game. Adams faked a reverse, which the coverage unit bought, and Adams took it to the opposite side of the field to move the White Team deep into Blue territory.
Covington never got a second change at a field goal, but he remained strong in the punt game throughout the second half.