Last year was supposed to be “the year” for Josh Rosen and the UCLA Bruins. After some crushing injuries and some big departures, can the Bruins bounce back into title contention in the Pac-12?
After a 4-0 start to the 2015 season, Jim Mora and the UCLA Bruins looked like a legitimate College Football Playoff contender. That is until the injury bug sank its teeth in the Bruins, and never let go.
Two-way physical specimen and All-American Myles Jack tore his meniscus and was lost for the year before the conference opener in Week 4 against Arizona. Eddie Vanderdoes tore his ACL in the first game of the season. Starting cornerback Fabian Moreau would miss the same amount of time with a foot fracture. Mossi Johnson was gone from the receiving corps before UCLA’s Week 5 bye.
Star freshman signal-caller Josh Rosen and the now-departed Paul Perkins could only do so much to keep the 2015 Bruins afloat in the Pac-12 race. By the time the Bruins got to Santa Clara for their meeting with Nebraska in December, they lost three of their last four games and had seemingly packed it in for the season.
UCLA’s Pac-12 title (and playoff) hopes ride on Josh Rosen’s right arm
If Rosen is upright, he’s one of the best players in the country and could be the best quarterback behind Clemson’s Deshaun Watson.
In his first season with the Bruins, Rosen threw for 3,670 yards, 23 touchdowns and completed 60 percent of his passes last season. There’s plenty of hype surrounding Rosen entering his sophomore season, but if he’s throwing dimes like this one against Nebraska, look out.
But, it’s a new year and Rosen’s back with Moreau and Vanderdoes also back in the fold on the defensive side of the ball.
The talks about who the best quarterback in the country starts with Clemson’s Deshaun Watson. That’s not an opinion. That’s just a fact. You don’t put 40 points in a national title game on the best program of the last decade by accident.
However, Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield isn’t a lock for the No. 2 slot like many would believe. The super sophomore in Westwood might have something to say about that.
Rosen isn’t the threat that Watson or Mayfield are with their legs. But from the pocket, not many do it better than the Bruins’ 6’4”, 210-pound star. He sees the field as well as anyone in the country, and with the touch and precision he can provide to throw guys open, UCLA’s offense may be one of the most dangerous units in the country this season.
This throw from Rosen’s first start against Virginia last season is exactly why UCLA is a Pac-12 title contender. The Bruins don’t have a future NFL stud like JuJu Smith-Schuster and hated rival USC do, but, if guys like two-way star Ishmael Adams can find space, Rosen will find them.
Rosen and the Bruins offense will provide a new, yet “outdated” look this season. With new offensive coordinator Kennedy Polamalu in the fold and Mora being a former NFL coach, the Bruin offense will look more like a pro-style attack with a dual-back scheme.
During his time in high school, Rosen perfected the more traditional spread looks you see from almost every team in the country these days. The Bruins have depth and talent in their backfield behind Rosen, so an old-school look that you see from Pac-12 favorite Stanford could provide some versatility to the Bruins system.
So basically, be prepared for Andrew Luck-like comparisons when it comes to Rosen and his ability to squeeze throws into any window imaginable this season.
On paper, UCLA’s only competition in the Pac-12 South comes in the form of rival USC, whom the Bruins will take on at the Rose Bowl on Nov. 19 in a game that could very well decide the division. As long as the Bruins avoid the injuries, they’ll be favorites in virtually every game.
The start of the season is tricky, with an early kickoff against Texas A&M on Sept. 3, a rematch from last year’s classic against BYU two weeks later, and the showdown with No. 8 Stanford at the Rose Bowl the next week. The major key for the Bruins is being able to come through that stretch clean and without major injuries.
Rosen will likely still be the Rosen many expect him to be under Polamalu. After former offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone bolted for Texas A&M coincidentally, Polamalu was given the reigns to the Bruin offense. Polamalu’s approach to the season has been about Rosen taking control, but bringing a jolt of energy to the offense. That adds up, being that Polamalu is a former NFL running backs coach with the Cleveland Browns and Jacksonville Jaguars.
The new three-headed backfield of Soso Jamabo, Nate Starks and Bolu Olorunfunmi could replace Paul Perkins’ production behind Rosen. If that happens, the UCLA Bruins could be the team that gets the Pac-12 back into the College Football Playoff.