It's not often that winning a division title gets a head coach fired. It's also not often that a division champion in a BCS conference finishes the year 6-8. In fact, it's never happened, until...
Such was the case last season for UCLA, who fired Rick Neuheisel and brought in Jim Mora Jr. The former Falcons and Seahawks head coach then assembled a good staff, including ace recruiter Adrian Klemm and two familiar names to Arizona State fans: Noel Mazzone to run the offense and Steve Broussard to coach the running backs.
Mora will bring the Bruins to Tempe still in the running for the South title at 5-2 (2-2), and feature new looks on both sides of the ball.
UCLA's Season to Date: The Jim Mora Jr. era in Westwood got off to a rousing start in Week 2, when the Bruins upset then-No. 16 Nebraska. After another win took them to 3-0 and No. 19 in the rankings, they fell to Oregon State in Week 4. They re-entered the polls again after trouncing Colorado, but laid a huge egg in a 43-17 loss to Cal. They then beat Utah 21-14 and were on a bye last week.
UCLA's Last Game: The Bruins were last in action on October 13th, when the beat Utah. The UCLA defense held the Utes in check while the dynamic duo of Johnathan Franklin and Brett Hundley combined for 147 yards and two touchdowns, and Hundley tossed a 64-yard touchdown to Shaquelle Evans in the 21-14 win.
UCLA's Statistical Leaders:
- Rushing - Johnathan Franklin: 878 yards, 6.8 ypc, 4 td
- Passing - Brett Hundley: 1,916 yards, 66.5 completion %, 14 TD, 7 INT, 143.5 rating
- Receiving - Shaquelle Evans: 28 receptions, 413 yards, 2 TD
- Tackles - Eric Kendricks: 57
- Sacks - Anthony Barr: 7.5
UCLA's National Ranks (Among 124 FBS Teams):
- Rushing Offense: 23rd (216.6 ypg)
- Passing Offense: 25th (288.7 ypg)
- Scoring Offense: 46th (31.7 ppg)
- Rushing Defense: 54th (148.3 ypg)
- Passing Defense: 84th (250.9 ypg)
- Scoring Defense: 41st (22.6 ppg)
UCLA on Offense: Like ASU, UCLA handed the offensive reins to a first-time starter and have reaped excellent results. Brett Hundley, a local product from Chandler, has been electric this season both on the ground and with his arm. The 6-foot-2, 225 pounder ran for a 72-yard touchdown on his first play as a starter in the opener against Rice and hasn't looked back...well, except for the Cal game. Hundley tossed four interceptions in a six-turnover fiasco that knocked UCLA from the rankings a second time. Nevertheless, he has operated Mazzone's quarterback-friendly offense extremely well, and will be a very dangerous threat for the ASU defense. He is a very effective runner, and is second on the team with 240 yards on the ground and a team-high five touchdowns.
The offense has been geared towards the run, and with Johnathan Franklin, it's easy to see why. The senior comes in with 878 yards on the ground, and has good speed to go with his polished game. He's also a factor in the passing game with 16 receptions. The versatile duo of Damien Thigpen and Jordon James bring speedy change-of-pace threats to the fold, with Thigpen running for 219 yards and 128 for James
As you'd expect from a Mazzone offense, the Bruins air it out a bit, and junior Shaq Evans has emerged as the go-to target. Thanks to good hands and precise routes, Evans has team-highs with 28 catches and 413 yards. Inheriting the Jamal Miles role in UCLA's offense is Steven Manfro, who catches a lot of short passes out in the flats and from the slot. Unlike his tenure in Tempe, Mazzone uses the tight end in the passing game, and he has a good one in Joseph Fauria. The 6-foot-7 senior is a tremendous target, with 19 catches and 241 yards, and more importantly, a team-high five touchdown receptions.
The Bruins offensive line is a mix of youth and experience, and has had some predictably mixed results. They have been very effective in helping UCLA to be such a force on the ground, yet they are also prone to giving up big plays. The Bruins rank 113th in tackles-for-loss surrendered (7.7 per game) and 105th in sacks allowed (3.0 per game). That could play a major role on Saturday.
UCLA on Defense: New coordinator Lou Spanos has scrapped the previous 4-3 scheme in favor of an aggressive 3-4 set and it has worked quite well so far.
Up front, the Bruins are stout with 323-pound tackle Seali'i Epenesa flanked by 280-pound Datone Jones and 295-pound Cassius Marsh. Jones has been very productive with 11 tackles-for-loss and four sacks and Marsh has 4.5 and two, respectively. While they can be vulnerable against the run, they are a powerful group that will be a major challenge for ASU's offensive line.
Like every 3-4 defense, the bulk of the playmaking is designed for the linebackers. Outside 'backer Anthony Barr has been explosive, with 7.5 sacks so far, eighth-best in the nation. In the middle, the athletic Eric Kendricks is a dynamic playmaker all over the field and has 57 tackles, while Damien Holmes is a 260-pound former defensive end who can be a bull to stop on blitzes.
UCLA returns an experienced secondary. Free safety Tevin McDonald—brother of USC's T.J.—could be among the Pac-12's best defenders over the next few years. He's extremely gifted, and can fly all over the field against the run or the pass. Seniors Aaron Hester and Sheldon Price bring loads of experience to the cornerback spot, with Price already having four interceptions on the season. Strong safety Andrew Abbott moved over from cornerback, and his ball skills have shown, as he has three interceptions and five passes defended on the year.