The summer was quiet, minus a kettlebell or two. Camp was a little louder, minus the son of a celebrity quitting the team. Saturday is the time for UCLA to make a statement, minus one of the top defensive backs in the conference.
As the Bruins take the field this Saturday, I think we've gotten a pretty good feel for this year's team. The team is loaded with talent and experience, but that doesn't mean that nothing is new with this year's team. We have a new QB and a new defensive coordinator, but both of them should bring lots of euphoria to Bruin fans this season.
As we finally have a game to play this weekend, let's start our look at this week's opponent: the Virginia Cavaliers by looking at the coaching staff and special teams.
Virginia was an improved program last year as we saw in the season opener. The team finished 5-7 compared to 2-10 the previous year. That didn't stop UVa fans from wanting the school to make a coaching change. It didn't happen and head coach Mike London is back again this season, but his seat is hotter than ever. If London can't get the team to a bowl game this year, the Cavalier fan base will probably get even more vocal about wanting him gone.
This is London's 6th season in Charlottesville and he has posted a 23-38 record in his first five seasons. That's a stark difference from the 24-5 record London had at Richmond before he was named head coach at UVa. London's experience comes on the defensive side of the ball, having played defensive back at UVa and with the Dallas Cowboys.
The coordinators did not change after last season. Steve Fairchild returns for his third season as the Offensive Coordinator. The offense did not really show much improvement statistically last season. In 2013, the team was ranked 97th in total offense and, in 2014, they were 87th. They did improve the efficiency of the passing game slightly by averaging 6.5 yards per attempt in 2014 compared to 5 yards per attempt in 2013.
The team ran the ball a little bit less last season and their rushing yards per game dropped from 150 in 2013 to 137.4 in 2014. Subsequently, the team gained more passing yards per game last season than in 2013. But, ultimately, it's points on the scoreboard that wins games and Virginia scored an average of 25.8 points per game last year which was an improvement of 6 points per game over 2013.
Defensively, Jon Tenuta returns for his third year as well and Tenuta's defense got stingier last season. The team allowed almost 50 fewer yards per game in 2014 compared to 2013 and 9 fewer points per game than 2013 as well.
It was the team's run defense that really showed improvement last season. Virginia' rushing yards per game dropped to 120.7, ranking them 18th in run defense for the year, compared to 170.7 rushing yards per game in 2013.
So, in general, it would appear that the way to beat Virginia is to run the ball successfully. If the O Line and running backs can put together a big game, expect an easy victory. If the running game struggles, look for a close one.
Let's turn to Special Teams.
Senior Ian Frye will should be handling the placekicking duties like last season. Fry hit 34 of 35 extra points and was perfect on field goal attempts under 40 yards, making 17 such attempts. He was 5 for 7 on attempts between 40 and 49 yards and 0 for 3 over 50, with a long of 47 yards.
Punting should be handled by redshirt junior Nicholas Conte who takes over after Alex Vozenilek graduated. Conte has yet to punt in an actual game since coming to UVa.
Virginia was 7th best in the nation last season on kickoff returns, averaging 25.29 yards per kick, but their punt return team was the 11th worst in the nation, averaging 4.4 yards per punt. Obviously, the key for UCLA will be to keep both of these stats as low as possible.
That wraps up our look at the coaching staff and special teams.