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Know Your Enemy: Previewing the UCLA Bruins Offense

Outside zone read. Outside zone read. Inside zone read. Screen. Outside zone read. Screen. Inside zone read. 35-yard scramble on 3rd and long.

If we cannot pressure Hundley, we might as well not have a defensive line.
If we cannot pressure Hundley, we might as well not have a defensive line.
Harry How

This week we have the great fortune of welcoming the best opposing QB to play in Memorial Stadium this year.  While Marcus Mariota is clearly the Pac-12's best quarterback, one could make the argument that UCLA's Brett Hundley is the second-best quarterback in the league.  After watching Cal surrender nearly 500 passing yards per game against Pac-12 foes, the thought of Hundley taking on our depleted secondary terrifies me.  He is good enough to win this game singlehandedly and, given the state of the rest of the UCLA team, he may have to win this game by himself.  I hope you have your cardiologist on speed dial because this game could be another terrifying shootout.


UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone is a simple man. All he wants is for his offense to run on every single play.  He will do whatever he can to encourage the opposing defense to oblige him.  He will frequently use motion and misdirection to open up the running lanes.

Mazzone runs a simple yet deceptive 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 lines up 5 receivers to threaten 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.  This is in contrast to an offense like Chris Petersen's that sets itself up for success based on succession in playcalling.

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. The Mazzone offense is predicated on simple reads by the quarterback. 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.

If you would like to read more about the UCLA offense, take a look at this post at Bruins Nation that features several links to excellent posts on different play concepts.  I utilize many of their diagrams in today's post but do not cover them with as much depth as our brethren down south.


Fortunately for us,  UCLA is not a consistently explosive offense (unlike, for example Washington State).  When UCLA gets a big play, however, watch out.  This offense explodes like Super Fly TNT or the Guns of the Navarrone.  UCLA is in the top-10 in number of 50+ yard plays and in the top-5 in number of 60+, 70+, and 80+ yard plays.


UCLA relies heavily on two elements in its passing game: screens and stretching the field.  Often both elements will occur in the same play.


Get ready to see a ton of screens out of a trips formation. Bruins Nation's jtthirtyfour describes several of Mazzone's screen concepts. The Bruins frequently line up with one receiver on the weak side 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 a diagram of the formation.


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.

UCLA will not always line up in this 3x1 formation, however.  Often they will use pre-snap motion to turn a 2x2 formation into a 3x1.

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.


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

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.

To illustrate several of these plays today I use film from the 2012 Cal-UCLA game.  This is 1) because it's a feel-good win that ought to get us fired up for the UCLA game and 2) previewing this offense is severely depressing given the state of our defense.

Here is the bubble screen from trips.  Cal is in its 2-4-5 nickel package with one safety in run support and another in man coverage on the intended receiver.  The play calls for the two of the UCLA WR trips receivers to block their corners while the intended receiver waits behind the line of scrimmage before catching the pass and motoring upfield.  If UCLA holds its blocks, the WR will have one man to beat.

And in motion.  The receiver at the bottom of the screen forgets his blocking assignment which nearly turns the play into a 5-yard loss.

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.


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

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.

Once again Cal is in its 2-4-5 nickel below.  I have circled the safety who is responsible for the receiver.  With the wide receiver blocking the CB, UCLA is once again a missed tackle away from a big gain.

A poor angle from the safety turns this into a 15+ yard gain on first down.

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).


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.

Stretching the Field

UCLA is heavily reliant on screens in the passing game.  They know it and their opponents know it.  And they know their opponents know it.  So they sometimes use screens as distractions, as I illustrate below.

UCLA did not actually run the following play (it was blown dead just after the snap), but it used a clever bit of misdirection.  UCLA lines up with trips on the field side, a single receiver on the boundary side, and a RB just behind Hundley.  Prior to the snap the potential screen receiver motions across the formation to give UCLA a 2x2 formation.

At the snap, the RB then moves to take his place as the bubble screen receiver.  The motion man runs a wheel route.  What makes this particularly effective is that the boundary side receiver runs a post route, which pulls the cornerback towards the middle of the field, away from the wheel route.  Because the play did not develop, I did not see who was covering the motion man.  A linebacker could be too slow to keep up with a receiver while a safety might have to declare his coverage prior to the snap.  Either scenario benefits the Bruins.

Finally, I illustrate UCLA's diamond formation.  Like our offense, UCLA likes to use the diamond in goal line situations.  Usually they run from the formation but, like us, they occasionally throw from these formations.  Here UCLA lines up in the diamond with Hundley under center.

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.  UCLA likes what it sees and will pass.  UCLA will stretch the field and get a numbers advantage on the field side.

The tight end blocks the outside LB for a split second and then takes on the safety.  The motion fullback blocks the cornerback.  This leaves no one to cover the stationary fullback who rumbles towards the end zone.


The UCLA passing attack is the third-most efficient passing game in the conference after Oregon's and ours and about the 10th-best passing game in the nation.  This is bad, badbad news for our defense.

  • 285.5 yards per game (29th)
  • 8.8 yards per attempt (13th)
  • 165.02 QB efficiency (6th)

Facing this passing attack and Oregon's within the span of six days is going to be an incredible challenge for our defense.

  • QB #17 Brett Hundley: 254.3 yards per game, 11 TDs, 3 interceptions, 170.06 efficiency rating
  • WR (X) #9 Jordan Payton: 92.0 yards per game, 14.92 yards per reception, 5 TDs
  • WR (Y) #18 Thomas Duarte: 47.0 yards per game, 18.8 yards per reception, 2 TDs
  • WR (X) #82 Eldridge Massington: 46.3 yards per game, 19.86 yards per reception, 2 TDs
  • WR (F) #7 Devin Fuller: 37.8 yards per game, 8.73 yards per reception, 1 TD

UCLA's passing offense is directed by Brett Hundley, who decided to terrorize Pac-12 defenses for one more year before departing to the NFL.  Although many of his throws are simple screen passes, he is more than capable of delivering accurate bombs downfield...if his O-line lets him.  He was sacked 35 times last year and already has been sacked 23 times this season in about five and one-quarter games.  Last time he visited Memorial Stadium he played the worst game of his career and threw 253 yards on an awful 5.3 yards per attempt.  He had 4 interceptions including an interception on every drive in the fourth quarter.  He bounced back with a 410-yard, 10.0 ypa, 4TD, 0 interception performance against the Bears last season, one of the best games of his career.

The 6'1", 215lb Jordan Payton has taken over as the Bruins' top receiving target now that Shaq Evans is enjoying the dysfunctional Jets offense.

Other than 6'1", 200lb Devin Fuller, these receivers are all deep threats.  They're big too, with Devin Lucien standing 6'1" and Eldrige Massington standing 6'3".  Our only solace is that UCLA somehow does not manage to score many passing touchdowns (relative to their efficiency, at least).

If there's one bright spot in the UCLA passing game, it is their line which puts the offensive in offensive line. Despite returning a line with a combined 88 career starts this season and enjoying a wealth of 4-star talent, this UCLA offensive line is terrible.  They were bad last year and that was before the graduation of All-Pac-12 guard Xavier Su'a-Filo, one of Mora's favorite players.  Brett Hundley is constantly running for his life and probably cannot wait to graduate.


UCLA has a competent rushing attack that relies on many schemes we have seen already this season.  We have experience (and success) defending zone reads, but I am a bit worried about Hundley's escapability.  Perhaps Kaufman will assign Sebastian as a spy, especially given Avery's struggles in pass defense.


Inside Zone Read

A staple of the Bruins running game is the inside zone read.  We've seen this from every single opponent this season. UCLA's approach is a little different in that they regularly threaten to throw the screen pass on these inside zone read looks.

Below UCLA lines up with 2 backs in the backfield, 2 WRs on the boundary side of the field and 1 WR on the field side.

Just prior to the snap the field side running back moves towards the two receivers to threaten as a receiver for a screen.

At the snap, the QB Brett Hundley reads the unblocked LB (circled below).  If the LB keeps outside containment, Hundley will hand off to his running back.  If the LB keys in on the RB, Hundley will keep the ball and head outside.  This is particularly tough to defend because UCLA's receivers will already be blocking their receivers in anticipation of a screen.

The LB stays home and does not clearly attack the RB or the QB.  Hundley probably should have handed off by default (especially considering the size of the hole opened by the O-line), but he kept the ball.  A great pair of blocks from the UCLA inside receiver at the line of scrimmage keeps Hundley from taking a loss.

UCLA will couple the inside zone read with pre-snap movement to try to get the defense to overpursue on the screen.  Below UCLA lines up with  a WR and a TE on the field side and a pair of receivers on the boundary side.

Prior to the snap UCLA motions WR #2 across the formation, where it looks like he may be preparing to catch a screen pass.  Meanwhile Hundley and the RB mesh while Hundley reads the defense.  One advantage for UCLA is that the WR's movement across the field brings a DB across the field.  This leaves only one DB on the boundary side of the field.

Hundley hands off to the RB, who is swallowed after a short gain.

Had the RB broken through he would have had plenty of room to run, as the Cal DB Josh Hill (#23) is tangled with the UCLA WR.

Outside Zone Read

UCLA will also run the outside zone read.  I had the Oregon-UCLA game on in the background last week and it seemed like UCLA ran the outside zone read on every play.  I don't have tape of that game and I did not see any OZR in the 2012 Cal game, so I'll give you a sneak peek of an excerpt from next week's preview of Oregon.  The Ducks often run OZR and UCLA's variant is very similar.

You can tell the difference between outside zone read and inside zone read based on how the RB lines up.  If he's roughly parallel to the QB, it's an outside zone read.  If he lines up over and behind the QB, it's an inside zone read.  This gif helps to illustrate the difference between the two plays.

[This gif is adapted from a video made by the fantastic Charles Fischer, who runs  We'll hear more from him next week]

Now let's take a look at the outside zone read (OZR). Like the inside zone read, the pre-snap formation can tell us whether to expect an OZR. Once again, the key to identifying the play is the spacing between the QB and RB. With the OZR, the RB lines up parallel to the QB, about a yard to his left or right. Secondly, the blocking is distinct from the IZR blocking. Here the linemen kick-step to the outside (the playside) as they move to the perimeter.



Do not be fooled: this is a very flexible play. There is a very good reason defenses have such difficulty defending it. First, the RB usually reads the blocks and reacts accordingly. He may run through the gap between the playside guard and tackle, or he may run off tackle. Or he might cut back and run backside. He'll run wherever the best hole opens up, and this is often decided by the defense. Look at the following example:


USC's defense sees the pre-snap OZR formation and rushes its defenders (red arrows) to the edge of the playside (the direction linemen are blocking). That is bad news for the Trojans. The middle of the field has opened up and that is exactly where TheMichael is running for this 45-yard touchdown. The defense was so concerned about the Ducks' speed around the edge that they left the middle of the field open. Oops!

Cutback lanes are lethal in the OZR. The Ducks count on overpursuit by the defense, which allows wide-open running lanes in the middle of the field. Sometimes the QB or RB will even run around the backside edge (opposite side the linemen are blocking).

Here's an example in motion.  This is a great play for stretching the defense horizontally and getting fast RBs into open space.


Like UW, UCLA's running game is productive but not particularly efficient.

  • 194.5 yards per game (39th)
  • 4.39 yards per carry (60th)

The Bruins have 10 rushing touchdowns all season, only one more than we do.

UCLA's running game is mostly a one-man show.

  • RB #24 Paul Perkins: 121.67 yards per game, 6.29 yards per carry, 3 TDs
  • QB #17 Brett Hundley: 35.17 yards per game, 2.81 yards per carry, 3 TDs
  • RB #6 Jordon James: 25.00 yards per game, 4.69 yards per carry, 0 TDs
  • LB #30 Miles Jack: 6.17 yards per game, 2.85 yards per carry, 1 TD

Paul Perkins accounts for over 60% of the Bruins' rushing yards this season and has more than twice as many carries than the rest of the RBs combined.  The 5' 11", 198lb back is very consistent and has accumulated no fewer than 90 yards in any game this season.  No one has run for 90 yards against the Bears this season, so one of these streaks will come to an end on Saturday.  Despite his impressive productivity (and great yards-per-carry), Perkins has not consistently found the end zone.  Two of his three TDs came against Memphis.  Perkins' emergence as a playmaker has been a boon for the UCLA running game.  Last year Brett Hundley led the team in carries, yards, and touchdowns and the Bruins are undoubtedly pleased that someone else can shoulder the load on the ground.

If he has to run, however, the 6' 3", 226lb Hundley is a quick, elusive runner.   Hundley's numbers are deflated by incredible numbers of sacks.  Not counting sacks, he averages more than 50 yards per game and about 7 yards per carry.

After some incredible productivity late last season, the Miles Jack experiment has fizzled this year.  He and Jordon James may see a handful of carries on Saturday, but the running game will primarily be carried by Hundley and Perkins.


And now for more depressing statistics that could not fit elsewhere.

Total Offense

The Bruins are both productive and efficient.

  • 35.0 points per game (35th)
  • 480.0 yards per game (29th)
  • 6.25 yards per play (35th)

If it makes you feel any better, UCLA only has one more offensive TD than Washington this season, and Washington's offense isn't that great.  UCLA averages fewer than four offensive touchdowns per game.


These are some pretty good conversion numbers too.

  • 45.74% third down conversions (31st)
  • 78.95% red zone TD conversions (3rd)

Here's another fun fact: UCLA is the only team in the nation that has scored every single time it has reached the red zone.  One pleasant caveat is that they are 102nd in the nation with only 19 red zone appearances.  Although given the number of 30+ yard plays they have, they don't usually need to reach the red zone in order to score.

Negative Yardage

If there is one section of this preview that will make you feel good, it is this.

  • 4.00 sacks allowed per game (122nd)
  • 9.83 tackles for loss allowed per game (127th, DEAD LAST)
  • 68.5 penalty yards per game (101st)
  • 7 turnovers (19th)

Although the Bruins do not turn the ball over very often, they are constantly moving backwards on sacks, runs blown up at the line of scrimmage, and busted screens.  UCLA's sacks and TFLs move them back over 60 yards per game.  Their penalty yards are much-improved this year: UCLA averaged 91 penalty yards per game in 2012 and 73 in 2013.  If Cal can capitalize on UCLA's tendency to move backwards, we may be able to slow this offense down enough to give us a chance in a shootout.

Clock Management

  • 29:31.51 avg time of possession (72nd)
  • 23.05 seconds per play (moderate pace)
  • 76.83 plays per game

This definitely is not an Arizona or a Colorado, fortunately.


Noel Mazzone wants to run on every play and he has the personnel to do so.  To encourage the defense to focus its efforts elsewhere, Mazzone will bait the defense into overcommitting to defending screens.  UCLA uses pre-snap motion to force the defense to reveal its coverage.  If the numbers in the box are favorable, UCLA will run the ball.  Otherwise Hundley will throw some screen variant, usually bubble, slip, or RB screens.  When running the ball UCLA will run plenty of inside zone read and outside zone read.  Hundley is a threat to run on every play, including passing plays.  If his receivers are covered, he will take off downfield (sometimes by design).  UCLA's biggest weakness is its tendency to move backwards on negative plays and penalties.  If we can keep the passing game in check and exploit UCLA's terrible offensive line and tendency to go backwards, we may have a chance...