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Line Winning Games

A couple of good local articles look at the UCLA Offensive Line and how their rise has paralleled the Bruins' rise.

Xavier Su'a-Filo watches Malcolm Jones burst through a hole.
Xavier Su'a-Filo watches Malcolm Jones burst through a hole.
Eric Francis

Line Wins Games.  I've said it before a hundred times and I've said it for years.  Really, I don't just make this stuff up.  If you don't want to take my word for it, then you should listen to Chris Foster and Jack Wang, both of whom wrote good articles recently in the local southland media that hit on that topic.

Foster at the LAT focused on the Bruins' rejuvenated Offensive Line and that the current players are making people remember the last time we had a crop of linemen like this.  It's no accident that it was the last time we had a team this successful.

What Jonathan Ogden sees seems familiar.

Ogden, who played at UCLA from 1992-95, was the best offensive lineman in what was an era of top offensive linemen in Westwood. He has identified a renaissance.

"It's amazing to look back at the lines we had," said Ogden, a member of the NFL Hall of Fame and College Football Hall of Fame. "There was all that NFL talent. Myself, Vaughn Parker, Mike Flanagan, Craig Novitsky."

Flashing forward, Ogden said, "The talented guys UCLA has now look like they can play at the next level."

The Bruins had a lineman drafted earlier this year.  Jeff Baca was selected by the Minnesota Vikings in the sixth round of this spring's NFL draft and made the roster.  Prior to that, the last Bruin lineman drafted was Outland Trophy winner Kris Farris, in 1999.  As in last century.

It is no coincidence that the Bruins cumulative record from the 1999-2011 seasons when they did not have an offensive lineman worthy of being drafted was 81-78.  It's no coincidence that since Baca's senior year and the return of Xavier Su'a-Filo to the OL and the introduction of some young talent that the record in 12-5 and counting.  It's no coincidence that in 2012 Johnathan Franklin had one of the biggest seasons in U.C.L.A. history, which made possible his biggest career at U.C.L.A. ever.  It's no coincidence that in 2012 Brett Hundley set all sorts of U.C.L.A. passing records as a freshman.  It's no coincidence that this year the Bruin offense is putting up numbers that we haven't seen in a very long time.

The Bruins are third nationally, averaging 52.7 points in three games and UCLA offensive line coach Adrian Klemm said, "Everything starts with the line."

Coach Jim Mora rightly gets a ton of credit for instilling a new winning attitude and turning around our football program.  But OL Coach and ace recruiter Adrian Klemm, along with S&C Coach Sal Alosi, are the real heroes of the offensive resurgence.

And so is Xavier-Su'aFilo.  Lost in the nerves of our first conference game against a tough opponent on the road, Jack Wang wrote a nice article reminding us that our best OL is going back home this week.

"It'll be a special one for me going back home, having a lot of people who love and support me watching," he said.

With XSF being the veteran on the line as a junior, the others, which include sophomore Simon Goines, redshirt sophs Jake Brendel and Torian White, and true freshmen Alex Redmond and Caleb Benenoch, have had to grow up fast.  Foster talks about the maturity and leadership that center Brendel has assumed as the QB of the line.

Center Jake Brendel has developed into the cornerstone, even off the field, where he acts as judge, jury and, if need be, executioner. "I appointed myself," Brendel said. "I'm not a sugarcoater. I'll get on people when needed, but I'll also say good job when they do a good job."

Hundley delegates to Brendel during games. "If I see a different front, instead of me having to stop everything to making changes in the blocking, I let Jake handle things," Hundley said.

I wrote in the preseason that it was an unusual luxury for the Bruins to have 4 returning starters on the OL, and despite that, some of them were being pushed for playing time and the starting spot.  Though Redmond got the lone empty spot, vacated by Baca, Benenoch has been getting snaps there are several others are getting closer to being able to step in on the line, too.  It is great to have the combo of depth and skill.  As Ogden said in the Foster article, we haven't had this sort of OLine roster in over a decade.  Again that harkens to the efforts of Klemm and the coaching staff to recruit this level of talent.  But I'd be remiss to not to also salute Rick Neuheisel who, along with Bob Palcic and Norm Chow, got XSF and his 4* talent to leave Utah and come to California.  Wang looked back at that decision.

His recollections of UCLA [in 2008] were a little less thrilling. As a senior, he watched as BYU - located just two miles south of his high school - crushed the Bruins, 59-0. And yet, he chose blue and gold.

"You can imagine, I caught a lot of flack for it," he said.

At that point, Utah had just completed an undefeated season, capping a streak of five straight bowl wins with a Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama. The Cougars were stuck in perennial Las Vegas Bowls, but the Bruins only had one bowl victory in six years. He still can't fully explain his decision.

"I feel like the morning of signing day, UCLA felt like the right place for me," Su'a-Filo said. "I couldn't exactly explain to you why I felt that way. Even when my freshman year came, I was still a little curious why. I just felt like it was the right thing to do.

Thank goodness he took that path to Westwood.  And the timing of X's LDS mission really worked out well for our football program, too, as XSF came back to U.C.L.A. right when Baca became a senior and Mora and Klemm and Alosi and Hundley and the freshman class were stepping in and the program was taking off.

Said Brendel: "I came to UCLA because I saw promise. It wasn't so much what had happened, but what could happen."

What could happen is headed in the right direction. Toward the past.

If the Bruins can go into Rice-Eccles stadium tomorrow night on what will probably be a cold and damp evening and handle the Utes' very good defensive front, then our stable of running backs will chew up yards, Hundley will pick out his favorite 12 or 13 receivers, the offense will run play after play after play as fast as you can say it, and the Bruins will put a big number on the scoreboard that will be very hard for anyone to match.

#OLineU.  This wins games.