UCLA Offensive Preview

Brett Hundley

Arizona will be facing one of the best offenses it has seen all season in UCLA. Read on for a complete preview of the offense, including how to stop it and the key players.

Arizona faces a big road test this weekend as it travels to Pasadena to face the UCLA Bruins. A team that is very similar to the Wildcats in numerous ways, the Bruins are right in the thick of the Pac-12 South race and are coming off a big victory over Arizona State.

For UCLA, it's been all about the offense this season. In 2011, the Bruins ranked 87th in the nation in scoring and 72nd in total yards per game. After a change in coaching staff brought in head coach Jim Mora and offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone, UCLA has made a huge leap and developed into one of the better offensive attacks in the Pac-12 this season.

Through eight games, the Bruins are averaging 33.4 points per contest, good for fifth in the conference. Also, the Bruins are averaging nearly 503 yards of total offense per game, ranking them behind only Oregon and Arizona in the Pac-12.

UCLA's offense is led by redshirt freshman quarterback Brett Hundley, who has made a huge impact on the offense in his first season under center. He currently ranks third in the Pac-12 in passing yards with 2,190 and is tied for fourth in touchdown passes with 18. Hundley is also very dangerous with his legs, racking up 267 yards on the ground and five rushing touchdowns.

The quarterback also has some viable weapons within the offense to work with. Running back Johnathan Franklin is one of the most impressive runners in the conference and currently leads the Pac-12 in rushing with 1,042 yards.

Franklin is a dynamic back who can do a little bit of everything out of the backfield. On top of his impressive numbers as a rusher, Franklin has also tallied 17 receptions for 203 yards and one touchdown catch.

The Bruins also like to involve wide receiver Damien Thigpen in the rushing attack. The junior has carried the ball 43 times for 225 yards and a score. Thigpen adds another dimension to Mazzone's offense and could be a huge factor against an inconsistent UA defense.

UCLA's running game allows Hundley to have a little more success as a passer. With so many defenses focusing on Franklin as the primary weapon, Hundley is able to spread the ball around as he likes to get as many people involved as possible. Eight players on the Bruins' roster have 10 receptions or more and 11 different targets have caught touchdown passes.

The leader of the group is wideout Shaquelle Evans. After two seasons where he was involved in the offense sparingly, Evans has emerged as UCLA's primary receiving target. With 33 catches, 488 yards and a pair of touchdowns, Evans is having his best season as a junior. Given how UA consistently has trouble with opposing number one wide receivers, Evans could be in store for a big night on Saturday.

Joseph Fauria – the former tight end who now plays inside wide receiver in the new system – could be another weapon Hundley utilizes frequently. The 6-foot-7, 255-pounder has the frame to win battles over the middle of the field and the Wildcats have had trouble defending big tight ends.

Fauria leads the Bruins with six touchdown receptions and will be Hundley's best option if and when UCLA reaches the red zone.

The offensive line is a unit that is merely average. It does very well in run blocking, allowing UCLA to pick up five yards per carry. Its pass protection is the main issue and it's an area that requires a lot of improvement.

The Bruins have allowed 26 sacks this season and face a Wildcats' pass rush that has collected six sacks – half of the team's season total – in the past two games. It wouldn't be surprising at all to see UA blitz early and often.

Other receivers such as Thigpen, Steven Manfro and numerous others could all have an opportunity to make an impact this weekend. Like the Wildcats, the Bruins like to get everyone involved and will likely attempt to do the same thing this weekend.

Players to watch

#23 – RB, Johnathan Franklin: The Pac-12's leading rusher should be the primary weapon UCLA utilizes this weekend. Arizona's run defense hasn't looked as bad as it did earlier in the season, but UA hasn't been required to defend the conference's leading rusher yet. Franklin is a do-it-all type of back and can pile up the yardage quickly.

#17 - QB, Brett Hundley: It's been a pretty solid debut season for Hundley, who ranks behind just Matt Scott and Matt Barkley in passing yards in the Pac-12. In a lot of ways, Hundley is similar to Scott, especially in the fact that he will run when the opportunity presents itself. UA will have to be at its best to stop Hundley.

#1 – WR, Shaquelle Evans: The junior has been Hundley's favorite passing target to date and will likely see the ball often on Saturday. After the game Marqise Lee had against the Arizona secondary this past weekend, it wouldn't be surprising at all to see Evans have a big day as well. Evans isn't quite the athlete Lee is, but he is talented enough to put forth a big performance.

#8 – WR, Joseph Fauria: Previously a tight end, Fauria has been slid outside a little in the offense Noel Mazzone has established,. Fauria continues to be a reliable target and has size to outmatch anyone in one-on-one coverage. He leads the Bruins with six touchdown receptions, so expect to see him more utilized in third down situations as well as in the red zone.

Five keys to the game

1. Contain the run: The Wildcats have improved against the run in recent weeks, but the UCLA attack poses another big obstacle to overcome. It will be extremely difficult to stop the Bruins' run game altogether, but if Arizona can disrupt it periodically, it could make a world of difference.

2. Keep Hundley in the pocket: The Bruins' signal-caller is most dangerous out of the pocket. He is more than capable of making passes within the pocket, but his feet bring another dynamic to the UCLA offense and allow it to be as successful as it has been this season. Keeping him from running around will be crucial.

3. Blitz: This could be where it gets tricky for UA's defense, but if it can pull off bringing pressure while simultaneously keeping Hundley from running around, the UCLA offense could end up stalling altogether. UA has been most successful on defense when it has been able to put constant pressure on the opposing quarterback.

4. Don't let Evans run wild: The last thing Arizona needs is a repeat of last week's performance from Marqise Lee. Evans may not be on Lee's level athletically, but he is going to be given plenty of opportunities to make plays. UA's defensive backs must play him tight, or they risk giving up big plays again.

5. Pay attention to Fauria: The Wildcats have found covering tight ends to be difficult at times this season. Fauria is a big body who will be used whenever permitted. He is a mismatch for just about anyone who covers him, but he is far from unstoppable. If Arizona can keep him from getting comfortable in the middle of the field, it could take away one of UCLA's most deadly weapons.

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