True freshman Josh Rosen didn't carry UCLA to the promised land in 2015. He did, however, anchor an oft-injured Bruins team on an 8-5 campaign that came within one win of a Pac-12 South title. Now, with major turnover on both the roster and coaching staff, it will be up to Rosen and coach Jim Mora to maintain that stability come fall.
From the moment he earned the starting job in fall camp, Rosen was set to be the story of UCLA football in 2015. It didn't take long for him to break out either, as he impressed observers with his three-TD performance in the Bruins' season opener against Virginia. Things wouldn't always be rosy for the freshman, as he struggled against non-conference opponents UNLV and BYU, but some generous assistance from junior RB Paul Perkins helped carry the Bruins to a hot start and a 3-0 record.
The situation on defense was more troublesome, as DT Eddie Vanderdoes and CB Fabian Moreau suffered season-ending injuries before star LB Myles Jack went down with a torn meniscus before the conference opener against Arizona. Though the Bruins pummeled an overrated Wildcat squad on the road, their young quarterback and depleted defense would haunt them in losses to ASU and Stanford.
They would bounce back the following Thursday with a 40-24 drubbing of our Golden Bears. Josh Rosen had one of his best performances as a Bruin, passing for 399 yards and 3 scores, while setting a UCLA record with 34 completed passes. Freshman running back Soso Jamabo also had one of his better games of the season in the win over Cal. With a tight win over Colorado and a 41-0 blowout of Oregon State, the Bruins improved to 7-2.
They split their next two games, falling to Washington State but beating a Utah team that was missing RB Devontae Booker. At 8-3, ranked 22nd, and needing one win to clinch their first Pac-12 title game berth since 2012, the Bruins faced off against rival USC at the Coliseum. Cody Kessler outdueled Rosen, and the USC offense rolled up a 40-21 margin in Jim Mora's first loss to the Trojans. The Bruins earned an invitation to the Foster Farms Bowl, where they lost to 5-7 Nebraska.
A final record of 8-4 was a step back after two ten-win seasons, but perhaps an understandable one considering the Bruins started a true freshman at QB and had to navigate a minefield of injuries to starters. Rosen, who earned Pac-12 Offensive Freshman of the Year Honors, was a bright spot. He finished the season with a 60% completion rate and a UCLA freshman record for passing yards and touchdowns.
Building on Rosen's success won't be a straightforward process, as the Bruins will face a number of changes as they begin spring camp. The biggest difference will be on the coaching staff, as offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone departed to fill new Cal coordinator Jake Spavital's former job at Texas A&M. Mazzone's son Tyler, who had been the QBs coach at UCLA, will go with him. Mora elected to promote from within to fill the vacant coordinator position, naming RBs coach Kennedy Polamalu the new OC. He also convinced Marques Tuiasosopo, former UCLA assistant coach under Rick Neuheisel, to return after time coaching at Washington and USC.
How will these changes affect the Bruins' offense going forward? Though Polamalu is well-versed in UCLA's current system, Mora has promised a change from the spread to a more power-based offense. This will mean some adjustments for Rosen, who will also be working with a new QB coach in Tuiasosopo. Mora hinted at change on defense as well, suggesting that the Bruins may move from their 3-4 hybrid base defense to a 4-3.
Personnel changes abound on the field too. Running back Paul Perkins, who led the team with 1337 yards and 14 TDs, will enter the NFL draft, though backups Soso Jamabo, Nate Starks, and Bolu Olorunfunmi all contributed in the backfield this season. The offense will also lose four of its top five receivers (including Perkins), and more than half of the offensive line. On defense, departures include Myles Jack and the team's two sack leaders, LB Aaron Wallace and DT Kenny Clark. Coach Mora will also need to find a replacement for Lou Groza Award-winning kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn. In total, nine Bruins attended the NFL combine.
UCLA's ability to reload will be tested right away, as they open the season against the Mazzones' new team at Texas A&M. Rematches with UNLV and BYU complete the non-conference schedule. Due to Pac-12 scheduling, the Bruins will miss Oregon and Washington in 2016, and close their season with back-to-back rivalry matches against USC and at Cal.
Expectations have to be tempered somewhat by the number of departures on both sides of the ball, but a year of experience for Rosen and the emerging talent at running back are encouraging. Both USC and Utah, who finished ahead of the Bruins in the South standings, will be breaking in new quarterbacks. Bruins fans will surely also celebrate the departure of stars Su'a Cravens and Devontae Booker from the division. Especially if Jim Mora can facilitate a smooth coaching transition on offense, the Bruins could be in a position to contend for the conference title this fall.