Know Your Enemy: Previewing the UCLA Bruins Offense

Gary A. Vasquez-US PRESSWIRE

Cal faces another top-tier offense this weekend. Does Cal have what it takes to slow down the UCLA offense or will Mazzone's offense require too much from the depleted Cal defense?

"Preparedness on the left means lack on the right, preparedness on the right means lack on the left. Preparedness everywhere means lack everywhere" - Sun Tzu

Noel Mazzone runs a deceptive yet simple offense. He will force the defense to overcommit to stopping the pass before sending the running back up the middle. If the defense commits too many defenders to stopping the run, Mazzone will screen them to death. If Mazzone threatens screens on both sides of the field and the defense sells out to stop them, he will send Hundley up the middle into open space for a long run. Mazzone's offense is a reactionary unit, always looking to throw a counterpunch to the defense's initial punch.

Stopping this offense means winning the battle at the line of scrimmage (doom), having excellent spatial awareness (DOOM), taking smart pursuit angles (DOOOOOM), and cleverly disguising coverage to bait the offense (DOOO--actually, Andy Buh did a decent job at this against Northwestern). Is Cal up the the task? We'll find out on Saturday.

Scheme

Schematically, Noel Mazzone does not run a complicated offense. He says he brings about 35 plays with him to each game. What's most interesting about this offense is how many different plays the team can run from a single formation. Similar to Urban Meyer's offense which only requires Braxton Miller to read the safety, the Mazzone offense is predicated on simple reads. Mazzone usually gives his offense a run option and a pass option and uses the defensive coverage and spacing to decide which play to run. For more on packaging multiple plays together, see this post from Smart Football.

Check out this post at Bruins Nation that features several links to posts on different play concepts. We will highlight the zone key and snag concepts from jtthirtyfour's excellent multi-part analysis of Mazzone's offense. He analyzed Mazzone's offense at ASU, so keep that in mind when reading the excerpts where he refers to ASU.

Screens

Get ready to see a ton of screens out of a trips formation. jtthirtyfour describes several of Mazzone's screen concepts. The Bruins frequently line up with one receiver on the weakside of the formation and trips (three eligible receivers) on the strong side of the formation. The QB will line up in shotgun with the RB a yard over and roughly a yard behind him. Below is an image of the formation.

Zonebubble_medium_medium

The QB will read the middle linebacker (circled in red) to determine whether to run the ball or pass. If the linebacker stays in run support, the Bruins will throw the screen. If he moves over to cover the receivers, the Bruins will have five blockers on five defenders (excluding the safety): a great recipe for running the ball.

The base zone read used by ASU last year wasn't the typical read of the DE, where the QB decides to either give the ball to the back or run it himself. Instead, Mazzone combined the handoff to the back with a quick screen to the outside - bubble or outside "key" WR screen. Mazzone forces the defender to declare towards either the back up the middle, or the bubble/key screen to the sideline, which can span a distance of 20 feet or more. Note how much wider the angle is between the two options.

Either way, the goal of the play is in line with Mazzone's base philosophy - remove defenders from the box to allow him to run inside. With 5 OL, ASU was typically able to handle 6 defenders in the box. Backside DE was sometimes left unblocked, and sometimes it was a frontside LB - not sure what his blocking rules are vs each front, but the RBs seemed to be cutting off a defender and then looking to get upfield.

As jt explains, the Bruins want to run the ball on every play and their O-line is more than capable of supporting that strategy.

The above play is somewhat unusual in that Mazzone does use any pre-snap motion. The Bruins regularly will have a player dash across the field, behind the offensive line. This moving player may be a RB, an inside receiver, or occasionally a wide receiver. Below is an illustration of the F (running back) crossing the field to turn a 2x2 (2 receivers on each side) into a trips formation on the right.

Zonebubble_medium_medium

Motion helps Hundley decide which play to run. It usually demonstrates whether the offense is in man or zone coverage.

Same concept out of 2x2 with motion - motion helps to identify the defender responsible for the adjustment as someone has to slide out - usually either a LB or safety. Against teams like Oregon that are good at disguising defensive responsibilities, ASU used more motion to help identify the read defenders. Against UCLA, they didn't do as much as we were pretty vanilla on defense and it wasn't hard to figure out who was responsible for the perimeter.

Once again, if the Bruins get a numerical mismatch on the trips, they'll run a screen. If they get a mismatch in the box, they'll run the ball.

Now let's take a look at something a little more complicated: a two-screen package play. We get our usual bubble screen (on the left) and a RB screen (on the right).

Slide9q_medium

Mazzone likes to package screens together - for example, running swing or bubble screen to one side, and then having the back leak out to the other side with a slower-developing screen. If teams overplay the swing out of the backfield, there are options to attack the other side. The difference between called bubble screens and what they do off the zone key series is that the linemen release outside to block on called screens.

Again, this is predicated on pre-snap motion to help Hundley decide which play to run.

They won't always throw to a bubble screen. Sometimes they'll instead use a slip screen. The same concepts apply here, though. The offense uses movement to diagnose the defense and determine whether to run or pass.

Zonebubble_medium_medium

As always, Mazzone would prefer to run but will not hesitate to throw the screen.

Primary goal is always the dive, so the QB should hand off unless the read player bites on the run. If he hesitates, the QB should still hand off, as if the defender is stuck in space, he'll likely not be a factor vs the run anyways, whereas he'll still be able to make a play on the bubble. Again, the goal is to displace defenders from the box with the outside threat in order to open the run inside, they're not looking for a big play each time - 5 yards on the bubble is a win for the offense.

While the Bruins will rely very heavily on the screen, they will also regularly use a familiar-looking play.

Snag

This looks a lot like the Air Raid mesh we covered last week, doesn't it? We have two inside receivers running crossing routes underneath the zone while the WR runs a go route (i.e. straight down the field). The running backs, meanwhile, will each run wheel routes.

Slide1kt_medium

In the post on snag and quick routes jtthirtyfour explains how this fits in with the rest of the offense.

The big thing about snag and other quicks are that they fit in line with the rest of the offense with a back swinging out into the flat and are versatile enough to be run out of several different looks. There is almost always a perimeter threat, which forces the defense to spread out to account for the sidelines. Zone Key, Snag, Double Ins/Slants, Bubble Screen all look the same at the start. Teams that send their LBs and safeties down hard to stop the swing route/bubble will widen and leave the snag and inside run open, and if a team tries to leave a corner in the flat, they'll leave the deep sideline open for corner and fade routes. If they overcommit to the motion side, there's always the threat of the backside fade or screen as well.

This play will have subtle variations depending on whether the defense is playing man or zone. If it's a zone defense, the inside receivers will run into the defense's seam (behind the linebackers but in front of the safeties), stop, and wait for the pass. If it's a man defense, they will run a mesh instead of stopping. As the receivers' routes cross, defenders may get caught in traffic and they may even run into each other.

Defending this play takes plenty of discipline by the defense. The players guarding the running backs must have excellent spatial awareness to avoid taking bad angles. If a RB sneaks around to the sideline, he will motor down the field for a huge gain.

As I have mentioned, these screen plays have running options build in. The Bruins will usually run inside behind a big, physical O-line. Hundley will frequently hand the ball off, but he has the option to carry the ball on zone reads.

Zone Read

We've seen the zone read from 4 of our 5 opponents this season. As usual, the offense will leave a defender unblocked and the QB will read him. If he stays outside, he will hand off to the RB who will take the ball up the middle. If the defender goes after the RB, the QB will keep the ball and run past him.

The following is from last year's Cal-UCLA game. I chose this because a) I don't have film of UCLA's 2013 games and b) it's a good excuse to watch the only good game from the past two seasons.

UCLA lines up with 2 RBs, 2 WRs on the short side of the field, and 1 WR on the open side of the field.

Uclapackage_medium

As we have seen many times, one RB motions out behind the WRs to run a bubble screen. On this play, however, UCLA opts to run the ball.

Uclapackage2_medium

Hundley and Franklin mesh as Hundley reads the unblocked defender (Chris McCain, #40). McCain appears to be keeping outside contain. Additionally, the O-line has opened a huge hole between the right tackle and right guard. Instead of handing off (as he should have done), Hundley decides to keep the ball and runs for a modest 4-yard gain.

Diamond

The Bruins also run a diamond formation. Here is an example from the same game. The same principles that guide UCLA's offense apply here. UCLA will motion a player and see how the defense reacts.

Ucladiamond_medium

The right fullback moves from the diamond to a position behind the left TE. Notice how little the Cal defense moves in response to this motion. The safety moves from the "E" to the edge of the "B," barely more than a couple feet.

Ucladiamond2_medium

UCLA likes what it sees and decides to pass.

Ucladiamond3_medium

The fullback who moved across the formation heads downfield while the other "fullback" (who is actually DE Cassius Marsh) is wide open as he heads to the end zone. It's an easy TD for the Bruins and Cal fans uneasily shift in their seats as it appears they are doomed to a 1-5 start. Fortunately UCLA only scored one more TD the rest of the game and the Bears earned a glorious, short-lived victory.

We will see plenty of new faces on the UCLA offense tomorrow. Let's get to know them.

Personnel

* Denotes returning starter

Quarterback

*Brett Hundley: 6'3", 222 lbs., So.

Starting quarterback Brett Hundley returns after a stellar freshman season. The All-Pac-12 honorable mention passed for 3,740 yards with 29 TDs and only 11 interceptions. He's an efficient, accurate quarterback who also has the ability to make plays with his feet. This was clear when he run for a 72-yard touchdown on his first collegiate snap. He will carry the ball about as often as Braxton Miller/Kenny Guiton did. Put another way, his running ability must be held in check on every single play.

He endured the worst game of his career against Cal in 2012, mostly due to his 4 interceptions. Besides that 4-interception game, the most interceptions he has thrown is only 2. And he only did that twice. It's fair to assume that Kam Jackson and the rest of the Cal DBs (or LBs or WRs or hydro techs or whomever else we throw out there to cover receivers) will not be gifted several interceptions on Saturday night.

Fun fact: Brett Hundley is backed up by Jerry Neuheisal. There's a pretty good chance we'll see the younger Neuheisal in garbage time during the second half.

Pros

  • Efficient, accurate, mobile
  • Doesn't really have bad days (except against Cal last year)
Cons
  • Offensive line exposes him to pass rush

Running Back

Jordon James: 5' 9", 194 lbs., Jr.

Steven Manfro: 5' 9", 189 lbs., So..

Paul Perkins: 5' 10", 196 lbs., RS Fr.

The Bruins are not supposed to be rushing for 260 yards per game. They lost Johnathan Franklin to the NFL, their next-best back Damien Thigpen has been injured all season, and their offensive line was inconsistent last season. Franklin ran for an incredible 1,734 yards last season and Thigpen backed him up with 262 yards. This year's leading rusher is Jordon James, who left last week's game with injury and is doubtful for Saturday.

This means we'll see a heavy dose of Paul Perkins and Steven Manfro. Manfro had 70 yards and 2 TDs last season while Perkins redshirted. In addition to playing RB, Manfro also played Y (inside receiver) last year and continues to be a receiving threat this season. Perkis is a versatile athlete who ran hurdles in high school. The coaches clearly saw something beyond his 2-star and 3-star ratings. He looked impressive filling in for James last week and was a factor both on the ground and as a receiver.

Pros

  • Deep, versatile stable of backs
  • Reliable receivers
  • Improved O-line play

Cons

  • May be limited without James, Thigpen

Outside Receiver

Devin Lucien: 6' 0", 192 lbs., So..

*Shaq Evans: 6' 1", 204 lbs., Sr.

Despite losing three of their top four receivers, the Bruins' are enjoying surprising production at WR this season. Last year's receptions and yardage leader Shaq Evans returns and should be the team's top receiver. Evans runs great routes and is a solid blocker on screens and run plays. He is the team's leader in receiving touchdowns this season (3) and is the only player with more than one TD reception. Fellow outside receiver Devin Lucien showed promise in the first five games of last season before getting injured and missing most of the rest of the year.

These are only a few of the team's outside receivers. The Bruins like to spread the ball around and have distributed the ball to 21 different players on 93 completed passes.

Most of the receivers are strong blockers. They have to be to execute Mazzone's screen heavy offense. Our DBs have had trouble shedding blocks from receivers this season and we will be entering a world of pain if this continues Saturday.

Pros

  • Return their most productive receiver
  • Incredible depth
  • Great blockers in space

Cons

  • Limited experience

Inside Receiver (Y)

Devin Fuller: 5' 11", 195 lbs., So.

Darius Bell: 5' 11", 200 lbs., Sr.

This group has a very difficult task this season: replacing Joseph Fauria. Now a Detroit Lion, Fauria led the team with 12 TD receptions last season. The second-place receiver only had 3 TDs. Finding anyone as reliable in the red zone as Fauria will be an ongoing challenge this season.

Devin Fuller and Darius Bell are the team's top inside receivers this season. Both saw limited time last season. Fuller was a reliable, short-yardage receiver while Bell was a home run threat in open space. Fuller has played many positions in the past, including QB and DB in high school. He also played some QB at UCLA. Bell is another former QB. He was a backup QB in 2010 before redshirting in 2011 and transitioning to inside receiver in 2012. Bell's name will sound familiar to those of us who suffered through his brother Khalil's 142-yard rushing performance against Cal in that awful, awful 2007 game.

Pros

  • Bell and Fuller have complementary skillsets

Cons

  • Not Joseph Fauria

Fullback

Phillip Ruhl: 6' 0", 230 lbs., Jr.

The fullback is not used extensively in Noel Mazzone's offense, although Ruhl was used as a blocker in goal line situations last season.

Offensive Line

*(LT) Simon Goines: 6' 6", 320 lbs., So.

*(LG) Xavier Su'a-Filo: 6' 3", 304 lbs., Jr.

*(C) Jake Brendel: 6' 4", 285 lbs., So.

(RG) Caleb Benenoch: 6' 5", 320 lbs., True Fr.

*(RT) Torian White: 6' 5", 290 lbs., So.

A rather inconsistent unit last year, the UCLA offensive line is much improved this season. Despite their strong start to the season, the line boasts nine underclassmen in the two-deep. These guys will be clearing running lanes for years to come. Last year they surrendered a terrible 3.71 sacks per game (123rd) and 8.66 tackles for loss per game (122nd). They were much better at run blocking and helped pave the way for 190.79 rushing yards per game (37th) on 4.46 yards per carry (53rd).

Starting right tackle Torian White will miss Saturday's game after tearing a ligament and breaking his ankle. Right guard Benenoch was a 4-star recruit, but he is still just a true freshman. If Cal wants to get pressure on Brett Hundley, attacking the right side of the line is the way to go. The left side of the line is anchored by Xavier Su'a-Filo. He has started all 27 games in his career, won several All-America honors last season, and was a consensus All-Pac-12 first team guard. Center Jake Brendel earned several honors last season, including several freshman All-America awards.

Pros

  • Great run blocking
  • Young but experienced

Cons

  • Pass protection could use improvement
  • Right side of the line may be vulnerable

Statistics

If you're not terrified yet, wait until you're done with this section.

Individual Statistics

Passing

  • Brett Hundley: 1059 yards, 65.5% completions, 8.9 yards per pass attempt, 9 TDs-4 interceptions, 158.54 pass efficiency rating
It's tough to find fault with those stats. His interception rate is a little higher than one would like, but otherwise those are some excellent numbers. 8.9 yards per pass attempt? That's terrific.

Rushing

  • Jordon James: 463 yards (6.26 ypc), 5 TDs
  • Brett Hundley: 242 yards (4.65 ypc), 3 TDs
  • Paul Perkins: 192 yards (6.19 ypc), 2 TDs
  • Malcolm Jones: 63 yards (5.25), 3 TDs (8 of his 12 carries in the red zone; only played in garbage time)
With James out, we'll be seeing plenty of Paul Perkins. What he lacks in volume (192 yards) he makes up in efficiency (6.19 yards per carry). Keep an eye out for Malcolm Jones in the red zone. He only has 12 carries on the season, but 8 of them were in the red zone and 3 of them turned into touchdowns. He has only played in garbage time so far, but James' injury may force him into the lineup. That or we'll see him when UCLA inevitably pulls its starters.

Receiving

  • Shaquelle Evans: 14 receptions, 221 yards, 3 TDs
  • Devin Fuller: 16 receptions, 167 yards, 1 TD
  • Jordan Payton: 9 receptions, 163 yards, 1 TD

Complementing these guys are Paul Perkins with 105 yards and Steven Manfro with 62 yards. EVERYONE gets receptions on this team, even Brett Hundley.

Team Statistics

Scoring

  • 48.0 points per game (5th)
  • 561.8 yards per game (4th)

Although they only average 45 more yards than us per game, they have scored almost twice as many points.

Passing

  • 302.0 yards per game (21st)
  • 8.8 yards per passing attempt (20th)
  • 160.20 pass efficiency (16th)

Our depleted defensive backfield will have its hands full once again.

Rushing

  • 259.75 yards per game (14th)
  • 5.25 yards per rush (24th)

Despite some questionable pass protection, this offensive line has paved the way for a prolific running game.

Conversions

  • 58.33% third-down conversions (3rd)
  • 75.0% fourth-down conversions (9th)
  • 72.0% red zone touchdown conversions (28th)

If it makes you feel any better, the 2010 Cal offense converted 70.8% of its red zone possessions into touchdowns.

Ball Management

  • 7 turnovers (37th)
  • 29:45.75 average time of possession (62nd)
  • 21.32 seconds per play (medium) (Cal averages 18.77 seconds per play)
  • 83.75 plays per game
There's nothing noteworthy about their tempo or time-of-possession numbers. They take pretty good care of the ball, so we will not likely have a repeat of the 2012 UCLA game.

Negative Yardage

  • 2.00 sacks allowed per game (73rd)
  • 6.50 tackles for loss allowed per game (91st)
  • 88.0 penalty yards per game (123rd)

Finally! A weakness! They get penalized at a very heavy rate. Additionally, the offensive line continues to struggle in pass protection. Although they offense is extremely productive, the number of screens they run exposes them to many tackles for loss.

Conclusions

What have we learned? The Mazzone offense is a run-first offense that usually uses pre-snap movement to determine whether to run or pass. They rely heavily on screen passes and the run game is a mix of inside runs and inside zone read. The offensive line excels in run blocking while its pass protection is a work in progress. Barring sudden ineptitude from UCLA, the Cal defense will almost certainly be outmatched by another one of the nation's top-tier offenses.

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