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UCLA Bruins 2015 preview: Can Cal beat their baby brothers in Pasadena?

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Cal Football is heading to the Rose Bowl for a Thursday night, prime-time game against the Bruins this season (October 22). How good was UCLA last season? What's their outlook this season? How will our Golden Bears fare against the baby bears from down south?

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

2014 Season Overview

Cal's only Thursday night game this season will be against our little siblings from down south (ESPN primetime under the lights!).  By all accounts, UCLA had a very successful 2014 season - going 10-3 with an Alamo Bowl win against Kansas State to cap it off.  UCLA finished ranked #14 in the CFP rankings and #10 in the AP and USA Today polls.  Their three losses all came at home (vs. Utah, Oregon & Stanfurd).  Big wins at Virginia and Texas (Jerry's playpen) started off their season on a hot streak, and a win at home against rival U$C sealed the deal on a successful campaign for Jim Mora's third season in Westwood.

After going 9-5, then 10-3, Mora's second 10-3 season came with much hoopla as UCLA garnered national championship buzz at the onset of the season, Heisman hype with Brett Hundley at the helm, and an early-season crush with Jerry Neuheisel leading a miraculous comeback against the Longhorns.  UCLA couldn't quite gain back the allure after its two mid-season losses to the Utes and Ducks at home.  But, it still remained a Pac-12 standout behind only the usual Ducks and surprising Wildcats.  UCLA's exciting style of play, big-name head coach, and affinity for TV attention provided excitement to the Bruins' fanbase that is surely going to continue into their 2015 campaign.

Last season, UCLA outscored, out-passed, out-rushed, and all-around outgained their opponents.  The Bruins' 258 passing yards per game was 43rd in the country and 210 rushing ypg was 34th in the country.  Check-out their indicative stats:

Offensive Production
UCLA's Production (2014 season)
Opponents' Production against UCLA (2014 season)

Scoring

33.5 ppg (36th in the country)

28.1 ppg (77th in country)

Passing

148.8 team passing rating

126.8 team passing rating

Rushing

4.9 yards per attempt

3.8 ypa

Offense (overall)

6.1 yards per play

5.2 ypp

Red Zone Scoring

94% of red zone plays

84% of red zone plays

UCLA's 2014 defense also proved to be effective all season long, forcing 11 interceptions (compared to opponent's six on UCLA) and 22 fumbles (compared to the 12 that UCLA committed).

Overall, in 2014, the Bruins were 5-2 against AP Top 25 teams and 9-3 versus FBS Power 5 teams.

Key Personnel Losses

Heading into the 2015 season, UCLA lost a few key players to the NFL or eligibility.  On the offensive side of the ball, QB Brett Hundley, OT Malcolm Bunche, and TE Jordan James all moved on.  On defense, ILB Eric Kendricks, DE Owamagbe Odighizuwa, and S Anthony Jefferson will be missed for their strength, size, and leadership.

Offense - Brett Hundley (QB):  Hundley was the face of the Bruins' team last season, even reaching considerable Heisman hype at one point early-on before injuries affected the rest of his campaign.  Hundley provided stability, smarts, and composure at the #1 spot for the Bruins.  His commitment to the team and extension of Mora on the field shown through over and over again.  While his arm strength, accuracy, and other measurables were not always through-the-roof, his athletic abilities certainly popped through the screen every time he touched the ball.  In his third season playing for the Bruins, Hundley amassed 3,155 total yards, had a 69.1% completion percentage, averaged 8.0 yards per completion, and threw for 22 TDs and only five INTs.  ESPN gave him a total QBR rating of 76.2 (16th best in the country), bringing him only two spots above our very own Jared Goff (75.2 total QBR, ranked #17 overall).  The Bruins will sorely miss Hundley next season (taken in the 5th round by the Packers - good luck learning from the best Golden Bear QB!).  Neuheisel is a career backup, so one of the fresh faces on campus will surely have to carry the signal-calling load.

Defense - Eric Kendricks (ILB):  Kendricks was the heart and soul of UCLA's intimidating defense last season.  The senior had 145 tackles (101 solo tackles), 11.5 of which were for losses totaling 45 yards.  He had four sacks for a total of 29 lost yards.  And, he created three interceptions followed by 58 return yards and one pick-6.  Kendricks was an all-around beast for the Bruins D that really cemented itself to be quite formidable.  Kendricks won the Butkus Award as the nation's top linebacker (see moving video of the award presentation) and was universally loved by his teammates.  Kendricks was picked in the 2nd round by the Vikings.  Interestingly, Eric is the younger brother of former Cal great Mychal Kendricks (who's tearing it up with the Eagles these days).

Key Returner

Myles Jack (LB):  Who remembers anyone else at UCLA besides the two-way star Jack?!  His bust-out 2013 true freshman campaign was one to remember.  On the defensive side of the ball in 2013, he had 76 tackles and two interceptions (including one pick-6). In 2014, he had 87 tackles - 66% of which were solo - that's an average of almost seven tackles per game.  He also had one interception followed by a 41-yard return.  On the offensive side, in 2013 - when he was much more featured on that side of the ball - Jack had 38 rushes for 267 yards and seven TDs.  When you have the power to rush for over seven yards/carry, you're one heck of a force. In 2014, Mora decided to focus on building Jack's defensive prowess (probably because he had stud Paul Perkins - a Heisman hopeful next season - handling the rock), so his offensive stats went down a bit to 113 total yards rushing on 28 carries, and three TDs.  But, given his true dual-threat capabilities, Jack will always need to be accounted for by opponents.

Recruiting Synopsis

The Bruins amassed the 11th best recruiting class heading into this next season (Cal's somewhere down that list at #53).  Their headliner is QB Josh Rosen (the #2 pocket passer in the country), who will surely compete for the top gig right out of the gates.  Rosen has the prototypical size (6'4", 206 lbs) and pedigree (hails from St. John Bosco, a SoCal powerhouse) to help UCLA quickly get over the loss of Hundley.  In addition to already having a great O-line with returning senior C Jake Brendel snapping the ball, the Bruins are bringing in many big uglies up front to learn-up and build size for down the road, including 4-stars Fred Ulu-Perry Jr, Joshua Wariboko, Andre James, Tevita Halalilo, and ESPN JuCo Top 50 Zach Bateman (who will surely serve on UCLA's second unit from the get-go).

Offensively, UCLA stocked-up on talent yet again, with Soso Jamabo (RB from Plano, TX) leading the charge - both on and off the field.  On the field, Jamabo is a freak of nature - extremely athletic and a highlight reel in the making every single play.  Off the field, he likes Asian girls (not sure why Cal didn't use that advantage, too) and is facing legal troubles before even stepping foot on campus.  (It wouldn't be UCLA if they didn't recruit baggage, now would it?)  Cordell Broadus, already a reality TV star and son of the great DJ Snoopadelic U$C-turned-UCLA fan, is a talented 4-star WR who's desperately trying to climb away from daddy's hash-ridden shadows [the latest development is that he's quitting football for film for this exact reason; we'll have to wait and see if Mora can't convince him to come back to the team].

2015 Season Predictions

Our friends at Bleacher Report are predicting that UCLA will have another 10-2 regular season in 2015 (losses to ASU & Furd).  According to early Vegas odds, the Bruins are 22/1 favorites to win the national championship, coming in as the 11th-best team, behind two other Pac-12 hopefuls (USC @ 16/1, and Oregon also at 22/1).  The offshore gambling site 5Dimes has UCLA with +2500 odds to win the chip, also coming in as the 11th-best team, behind USC (+1800) and Oregon (+2000).  UCLA is predicted to finish 2nd in the Pac-12 behind Oregon.  5Dimes even has UCLA's RB Paul Perkins with +1200 odds of winning the Heisman, making him the preseason 6th-best player, ahead of all other Pac-12 hopefuls like USC QB Cody Kessler (+1300), UofA QB Jarrett Solomon (+2000), Oregon RB Royce Freeman (+3000), and our very own Cal QB Jared Goff (+5000).

Cal vs. UCLA Matchup

Cal's game at UCLA on Thursday, October 22nd doesn't bode well for Cal.  While we will certainly have a chance to win any game with Goff at the helm, the line up front for Cal is thin.  UCLA's D-line is big, really big.  Its secondary is big, fast, and smart.  Will Goff have time to get the rock to the many weapons out wide?  Who can run it between the blockers into the heart of the Bruins defense?

UCLA's offense shouldn't drop very much with Hundley gone - Rosen will most likely step in like a champ and, after a few early bumps, pick-up Mora's offense and show-off his great arm strength.  Perkins will become a household name by the time this Cal matchup arrives.  Has Dykes and Kaufman developed our D enough to battle upfront with UCLA's enormous O-line?  Can our secondary successfully spy on Rosen and capitalize on his rookie mistakes?

We need the Bear Raid to come through for us all season long, including this pivotal mid-season battle at the Rose Bowl.  On paper, UCLA should destroy us.  In reality, our third season under Sonny will hopefully amaze us and build upon all the progress made last season.  With a few timely trick plays, great tackling, out-of-our-minds O-line play to give Goff precious extra seconds, and a little bit of luck, we may just be able to pull-off an upset against the mighty Bruins.