In Part 1, we take a look at Coach Mora, Coach Mazzone, and Coach Spanos and evaluate their first season at UCLA.
Head Coach Jim Mora
But for one road game at Cal, I'd say Coach Jim Mora had a fantastic season. The problem is, I attended that game at Cal and it was awful. Don't get me wrong, I think this year's team was a resounding success. Most of us here wanted to see 9 wins this season, including a win against Southern Cal, and that's exactly where we sit right now. It doesn't mean that that game at Cal can't still piss me off.
Overall, Coach Mora coached aggressively and showed a good feel for the college game for a coach that spent nearly all of his career in the NFL. His most astute move was hiring his staff. Naming Coach Mazzone as offensive coordinator and plucking Coach Klemm, Coach Martin, and Coach Broussard all demonstrate that he was in tune with the college game prior to signing on to coach the Bruins. He also showed his NFL savvy by hiring Coach Spanos and Coach Ulbrich from the NFL, two guys who not only bring a wealth of knowledge, but also have perfect personalities for the college game.
Looking back, Coach Mora's decision to hold summer camp in San Bernardino was just what the team needed. The team endured a grueling two weeks in severe heat, but they came back a stronger, more unified team. You'd be hard pressed to convince me that the summer camp didn't play a role in the thrilling wins against Nebraska, Arizona St., and Southern Cal. The team chemistry was great all season long, and it is hard to listen to Coach Mora talk about the team and not come away impressed by how much he genuinely cares about his players.
Of course, the game against Cal wasn't the only problem this season. UCLA led the nation in penalties, which is a direct reflection on coaching, and there were some clock management issues that may have cost UCLA the opportunity to play in the Rose Bowl. Given the fact that Coach Mora preached the fact that he was an excellent game manager, we should expect that our offense would be able to execute a game ending drive better than the way they did against Stanford. Running plays that don't get to the sticks to start the drive, and clocking the ball on first down when the clock had stopped simply didn't make sense. I don't know if sending out a freshman kicker to attempt a 52 yard field goal was a good move, but I don't know if there was a good move at that point.
The fact that we can even complain about missing on a chance to play in the Rose Bowl shows what a good first season Coach Mora and our football team had. I certainly did not expect to be playing for a Rose Bowl berth when the season started. For that, I'll say Coach Mora exceeded my expectations.
Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Noel Mazzone
The offense put up some pretty gaudy numbers this season. UCLA is ranked #20 in total offense with roughly 475 ypg. Mazzone's offense was very balanced, gaining 203 ypg on the ground and 273 ypg through the air. UCLA scored 35 ppg, which was good for 28th nationally. The fact that the offense was very young makes those numbers even more impressive. The offense had a freshman starting quarterback, three freshman starting offensive linemen, and played four freshmen receivers fairly extensively.
The offensive numbers are pretty similar to the 2010 Arizona St. offensive numbers, which was the first year under Mazzone. Arizona St. passed for 286 ypg and rushed for 140 ypg, and the Sun Devils scored 33 ppg. However, UCLA also has some of the problems that Arizona St. faced, specifically with regard to red zone issues.
UCLA only converted on 82% of their red zone opportunities this year, which was 52nd in the country. UCLA's touchdown rate was only 62%, which was 55th nationally. Those numbers cannot be chalked up to youth. The 2010 Arizona St. squad scored on 77% of the red zone opportunities, and scored touchdowns on only 54% of the red zone trips. Those numbers improved in 2011 to scoring 79% of the time and scoring touchdowns 59% of the time. UCLA's better numbers could be evidence that Mazzone has refined his red zone offense, or it could be related to the Jonathan Franklin/Joseph Fauria factor, ie, two very good players that artificially inflated the numbers. Regardless, those numbers are far below the elite level where top 25 teams generally have score rates north of 85% and touchdown rates north of 70%.
Overall, Coach Mazzone did a fantastic job. In fact, the results were much better than I expected. The offense was explosive despite relying on a lot of young players, and Coach Mazzone found ways to both isolate his best playmakers and spread the ball around. Coach Mazzone should also get credit for working with Brett Hundley and helping him become the best freshman quarterback in UCLA's history. The numbers weren't all good though. The team struggled in the red zone and also had 25 turnovers on the season. Granted, quite a few of those turnovers were on special teams, and 11 of the 25 came in the Houston and California games, but it's a number that could and should be reduced to the 15-20 range.
Defensive Coordinator Lou Spanos
Prior to the season, I was most worried about the defense and Coach Spanos' move from the NFL. I wasn't worried because of Coach Spanos ability, but I didn't know if he would be able to adjust to the college game quickly in terms of both scheming the opponent and simplifying the scheme for the college athlete. If you just look at the numbers of yards and points allowed, I don't know if you could say that Coach Spanos had a good year.
There is no getting around the fact that UCLA gave up a lot of yards. UCLA ranked 73rd in total defense, allowing 410 ypg. UCLA was 55th against the run, giving up 155 ypg, and 93rd against the pass, giving up 255 ypg. Those yards weren't meaningless either, as UCLA gave up 26 ppg, which is also 55th in the country. That doesn't mean that Coach Spanos' first season was all bad.
There are some things that UCLA did very well which gives a good sense of optimism moving forward. First, UCLA was 4th nationally with 43 sacks. That is particularly impressive considering that UCLA was 108th nationally last year with only 15 sacks. Second, UCLA forced 29 turnovers, good for 14th in the country. Finally, even though UCLA's defensive numbers weren't great, they showed improvement across the board from the previous year.
While I don't think Coach Spanos had as good of a season as Coach Mazzone, I do think he had a more difficult job and did well enough to warrant excitement in the future. Our team no longer sits back and plays bend and break defense, and for that, I think Coach Spanos did a good job.