Were the Bruins an offensive or defensive team in 2013?
This question might seem simple if you look at basic statistical measures like total offense, total rushing defense, passing yards allowed.
The UCLA defense looks like a middle of the pack unit overall.
54th nationally in total defense and 5th in the Pac-12 (387.1 yards per game).
Passing defense in terms of passing yards allowed:
40th nationally and 3rd in the Pac-12 (217.6 yards per game)
The rushing defense was markedly worse than the passing defense:
71st nationally and 8th in the Pac-12 (169.5 yards per game).
The offense had to be better than that, right?
There isn't that sharp of a contrast on the offensive side of the ball.
In terms of total offense, the Bruins total offense is 38th nationally and 7th in the Pac-12 (448.5 yards per game).
In rushing offense, the Bruins were 36th and 5th in the Pac-12 (196.6 yards per game).
A solid effort, but also affected a bit by UCLA's prevalence of tackles for loss allowed (with 94 on the season, that is 7.23 per game, ranking 112th in the country and 11th in the Pac-12) and sacks allowed (105th nationally and 10th in the Pac-12 with 36 total and 2.77 per game).
The passing offense is actually a bit worse actually, which is surprising given that Brett Hundley ranked so highly in ESPN's total QBR (7th nationally), 13th in completion percentage (tops in the Pac-12 at 67.2%) and 17th in passing efficiency (2nd behind only Marcus Mariota in the Pac-12).
The Bruins were 43rd in passing offense nationally at 251.8 yards per game (7th in the Pac-12).
So, you might ask, how did the Bruins manage to win 10 games last season with just average units on offense and defense?
Because, the Bruins are efficient on both sides of the ball. My thinking on football has evolved a lot over the last 5 years. I am a huge believer in the use of advanced statistical measures to evaluate performance. Basic line of thinking with that is that as technology changes, the way we think about things should change as well. Metrics like yards per play aren't computer-based or overly complicated, but they are criminally underused in general analysis of football.
And that is ridiculous because yards per play is so much more relevant to a team's performance than total yardage. Yards per completion and yards per attempt are much better measures of a passing game than just looking at total passing yardage. Yards per carry in the rushing game gives a much better idea of how a rushing offense is working than just looking at the raw total in the stat column. Coach Mora and staff are aware of this, and have mentioned this multiple times in interviews. Also, they note the importance of Scoring Defense over Total Defense. That one doesn't really require explanation, the whole point of football is to have more points than the other team.
If you look at these measures, UCLA , especially their defense, look much more like their performance in the Eye Test. Reference for the following stats from here. This website also takes out any stats from games where a team plays a non-FBS opponent (SEC gets marked down for those 77-0 wins over Savannah State and the like)
For reference on Yards Per Play, the Pac-12 plays at a much higher rate than other conferences so the defenses suffer as a result by generic measures. Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Washington State, UCLA, Arizona, Utah and California all had more than 75 plays per game run against their defenses. I would say that all of those schools, except California, have above average to very good defenses. Even Stanford's slow pace on offense didn't mask this, as they had 73.6 defensive plays per game.
UCLA was 22nd in the nation and 4th in the Pac-12 on defense with 4.9 Yards Per Play.
In terms of Scoring Defense, UCLA was 27th nationally and 4th in the Pac-12 with 23.2 points allowed.
That number gets even better when you go by Points Per Play, where UCLA is 15th nationally and 3rd in the Pac-12 at .295 points per play.
The Bruins were also 16th nationally in scoring margin, outscoring opponents by 13.8 points per game (2nd in the Pac-12 behind only Oregon). This again, does not count games where a school plays against Alabama A&M or Northern Arizona and outscores them by 60 points.
The rushing defense gets a huge boost looking at this style as well, as I noted throughout the year in the Eye Test.
If you look at yards per rushing attempts (yards per carry), UCLA moves up to 42nd at just 3.9 yards per carry (tied for 3rd in the Pac-12)
The passing defense actually moves up to 36th if you take out non-FBS games. In terms of Yards per Attempt and Yards per Completion, it is a much improved perception.
24th nationally in Yards Per Attempt and 5th in the Pac-12 (basically a tie for 4th with Stanford) at 6.5 YPA.
That is down from 7.3 YPA in 2012, huge improvement with 4 new starters.
Yards per Completion is an even bigger jump, as UCLA ranks 13th nationally and 4th in the conference (Oregon, Stanford and Southern Cal are top 5 in this nationally), as they allowed just 10.6 YPC.
This shows how effective the defense was in limiting big plays and closing down on underneath throws by tackling well. Also, down a full yard from 2012's defense, which was somewhere in the 45-60 range nationally.
Also, an interesting note is that the sack percentage was way down from 2012, UCLA was 6th nationally in 2012 at 8.94% and declined to 39th in 2013 at just 6.64%. This was likely a result of blitzing noticeably less in 2013 and losing two strong pass rushers in Datone Jones (to the NFL) and Owamagbe Odighizuwa (to injury).
So, with the defense looking like one of the strongest units in the country on a per play basis, the next thing to address is how the offense looked on a per play basis.
Overall, for Yards Per Play on a total offensive scale, UCLA doesn't move much at 38th nationally and 5th in the Pac-12 (5.9 Yards Per Play).
What is surprising about the conference rankings is that one of the schools ahead of UCLA is Stanford at 21st nationally (6.2 YPP), an offense that gets minimal acclaim but is similar on a per play basis to perceived powerhouse offenses like Clemson and Missouri.
The rushing offense looks a bit worse at 45th nationally and 5th in the Pac-12 with 4.5 yards per attempt.
Like the general number, it is affected by UCLA's struggles in tackles for loss allowed (ranking 112th in the country and 11th in the Pac-12) and sacks allowed (105th nationally and 10th in the Pac-12). With just an average performance there, UCLA would probably be in the high 20's instead of mid-40's nationally.
The passing offense boosts to 8th nationally in completion percentage (67.6% and tops in the Pac-12).
Brett Hundley performed at an extremely high level this year in most facets.
The Yards Per Attempt passing skyrockets to 19th nationally and 3rd in the Pac-12 (behind Stanford and Oregon) at 8.3 yards per pass attempt.
Yards per Completion goes down quite a bit to 54th nationally and tied for 6th in the Pac-12 at 12.3 Yards Per Completion.
This speaks to the lack of a deep threat in the offense as it stands. You've got a QB that has the arm to make every throw and the accuracy to lead the conference in completion percentage. He needs to be able to take shots beyond 10 yards with confidence. One of Hundley's greatest strengths is his accuracy and ball placement from 10-20 yards. He can throw the deep out from the opposite hash, he can thread the needle between a linebacker and a safety, he can put a ball in a place to protect receivers and have a high chance of a completion.
Think about it, how many times has Hundley left a receiver out to dry on a throw? I can remember maybe 3 times in two years where a receiver got hit because of a less than ideal throw (twice it was Darius Bell, by chance).
WRs and TEs don't get hit hard by defenders partially because of the offense, but mostly because of Hundley's ball placement. For whatever reason (and I look forward to trying to figure out exactly what the issue was during this offseason) the offense only took advantage of this in a minimal fashion.
The defense looks strong and should only improve this season with the entire secondary returning, in addition to Johnny Johnson (who was practicing with the starters before his injury in Fall Camp) and Marcus Rios returning and 5* Priest Willis having a year under his belt to acclimate. Plus, the recruiting class of defensive backs features a couple of players that could make an impact as freshmen. The rush defense, and pass rush, should be helped by another full offseason of development from Ellis McCarthy, Eddie Vanderdoes, Kenneth Clark, Myles Jack, Eric Kendricks, Isaako Savaiinaea, Kenny Orjioke and the returning Owamagbe Odighizuwa.
That defense could be a top 10 unit nationally with the talent available. The offense should also improve a great deal. With another offseason for Brett Hundley to further mature and develop physically, it is within reason to expect the most productive QB season in the history of UCLA football. 5 out of the top 6 receivers return, along with Jordon James, Steven Manfro, Paul Perkins and Craig Lee off of his redshirt season. The biggest improvement should be up front, with Alex Redmond, Caleb Benenoch, Simon Goines, Torian White, Jacob Brendel, Scott Quessenberry and the transfer of Malcolm Bunche should produce the deepest and most talented line that the Bruins have had in a very long time.
Even though the Bruins were very solid in 2013, expect an improvement across the board in 2014 as the Bruins embark on what could be one of the most memorable seasons in UCLA history.