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UCLA Football: Bruins Nation's Virginia Post-Game Roundtable Discussion

The writers and editors of Bruins Nation discuss the opening game of the 2015 season, a convincing 34-16 victory over Virginia at the Rose Bowl, marked by a terrific debut by freshman quarterback Josh Rosen.

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

1. There has been a lot of criticism of Offensive Coordinator Noel Mazzone's play calling over the last few years. What did you think of his play calling against Virginia?

gbruin: I was pretty pleased, tbh. Going deep on the first play set the tone in a lot of ways. It told the Virginia D we weren't afraid to throw the ball. It told the QB that he was gonna have to make plays. And it showed me personally (I'm sure that was Mazzone's intent) that the coaches weren't limiting the offense because of the new QB. Virginia stacked the box against the run early, betting that Rosen couldn't beat them in the air, and the second possession featured more throws including a great screen to counter that and got us in the end zone. As the D softened up to respect the pass, Paul Perkins, Soso Jamabo, and Bolu Olurunfunmi all started knocking out yards. It was a well executed game plan.

DCBruins: The playbook seemed more open.  Overall he called a good game.

Bruinette88: I thought the play-calling was very good. There was reason to believe that UCLA would take a cautious approach with Rosen, but that notion was dispelled on UCLA's first offensive play. Overall, I thought the offensive scheme put Josh in good positions to succeed without being conservative or predictable.

Joe Piechowski: Someone asked us about that on Twitter. I responded with a quote from Noel Mazzone at National Signing Day in 2012: "I am a really good offensive coordinator...when I have a really good quarterback." So, yeah, he looked like a freakin’ genius on Saturday, but do you know what proves he isn’t one? Too many bubble screens that went nowhere.

orlandobruin: I thought, by and large, Mazzone’s play calling was very good. I think that Rosen fits Mazzone’s system much better than Brett Hundley did. Mazzone mixed it up well. I am not sure we saw and run on 1st, run on 2nd, pass on 3rd all day. At least it seemed like we didn’t. Then only negative from a play calling perspective was having to settle for 2 field goals in the red zone. At least, on the first one, we threw for the end zone on 3rd down (in which Rosen threw it where only Duarte could have a chance). It is only one game though. Let’s see if Coach Mazzone can keep it up against stiffer competition.

2. A lot of us have been hoping to see a change in the Bruins' defensive philosophy with Defensive Coordinator Tom Bradley in charge. What was the biggest change you saw in UCLA's defensive approach against Virginia, and how optimistic are you now about this year's defense?

gbruin: I saw the defense get stronger as the game progressed. Last year, the defensive ranking by quarter was 8, 67, 33, 48. It showed that Ulbrich could game plan well, but couldn't adjust well, and even with halftime couldn't get close to the pregame level. Yesterday the defense seemed a bit soft in the early going, particularly against the pass, but it was solid in the red zone and it got better as the day went along. I attribute that to Bradley starting out basic and then adding wrinkles and adjusting as the game went along throughout the entire 60 minutes. The starting D gave up 9 points Saturday. Not bad. We'll take that. I expect the unit will get better as the players get more familiar with the system and Bradley implements more of his schemes as the season progresses, and I still hope we'll more variety of blitzes and stunts as well.

DCBruins: The pass rush was a bit of a concern in the first half.  There wasn’t one.  Outside of that I thought the defense was pretty good.  Of Virginia’s three scoring drives 2 were only successful because of big penalties on 3rd and longs (8 and 9 yards) where we stopped them. Without those two penalties, UVA only has three points in the first half, those drives don’t kill as much of the clock, and the blowout is on earlier.

Bruinette88: When I judge a defense, the two most important factors are points allowed and takeaways. Although the Bruins' defense didn't create a lot of turnovers, the starting defense kept the Cavaliers out of the end zone, and grew stronger as the game went on. I was particularly impressed by the play of the defensive line. It will be interesting to see if the D-line remains the strength of the defense without Eddie Vanderdoes lining up next to Kenny Clark. In terms of Coach Bradley's influence, I see two changes that are encouraging. First, the defense strengthened as the game progressed, which is a welcome change from last season. Second, while I could be imagining this, there seemed to be quiet confidence in the way the defense went about its job. I didn't see any finger pointing or panic when something went wrong--the defense simply regrouped and got back to work. I'd like to think that's a reflection of Coach Bradley's personality, but I'll withhold judgment until I see how the defense reacts when its under more pressure.

Joe Piechowski: I saw a defense that was unbelievable at stopping the run. I also saw a defense that kept the opponent out of the end zone. When your opponent can’t score touchdowns, your odds of winning go way up! I would like to see a little bit better pass rush, but if we can get similar results in every game, I’m less concerned about the pass rush.

orlandobruin: To me the biggest change seems to be the halftime adjustments. The defense was at its best in the 3rd quarter. Under Coach Ulbrich, I don’t recall much change from the first to second half. The bend don’t break defense in the first half led to three long scoring drives, but UCLA bowed up on the red zone and only allowed field goals. In the second half (really the 3rd quarter because the 4th quarter was played with reserve players), the defense stopped the Cavaliers every time except for the garbage time touchdown. I like the second half improvement. I saw some comments about the lack of the pass rush. Although the Bruins only had one sack, there was fairly consistent pressure on Matt Johns, and the Bruins forced him to throw it away several times, which it a positive. Again, it is only Coach Bradley’s first game. We’ll see where he goes from here.

3. One of the major concerns I had heading into the season is the Bruins' lack of discipline, which resulted in UCLA being one of the most penalized teams in the nation in 2014. Did you see anything in the Virginia game that leads you to believe that we will see a more disciplined team this year?

gbruin: It was definitely better. The two glaring penalties by Jack certainly stand out, but after that, we had 5 penalties for 45 (?) yards. That's pretty good. You figure you'll get a PI call and a holding on a kick return in most games. If you give a child a hammer, everything's a nail. Same with refs and flags. So those penalties are pretty common. Beyond that, it was a pretty good game from a penalties standpoint.

DCBruins: Better.  Jack’s penalties hurt though.

Bruinette88: I have doubts. Although we had fewer penalties (7 for 75 yards) than we did in our encounter with Virginia last year (12 for 87 yards), we were still near our season average for 2014 (8 penalties per game for 75.3), so it's hard for me to see Saturday's performance as significant evidence of greater discipline. To be fair, it's probably generally true that teams commit more penalties in their season opener than they do later in the year, and for the most part, our penalties didn't hurt us much. But my concern is that instilling discipline starts at the top with the coaches and the veteran leaders on the field. Myles Jack is a junior now, and needs to take on leadership responsibilities. At the very least, he should be the leader of the linebacker corps, but I haven't yet seen the maturity from him that I expect. After he was penalized a second time for a horse-collar tackle, he was visibly angry with himself. but later in the game, after the fumble recovery that wasn't, he demonstrated the same immaturity that we've seen far too often from him. It's a problem that he needs to address for his own good as well as the good of the team.

Joe Piechowski: The team looked a lot more disciplined. The offensive line wasn't being called for false starts. That shows an increase in discipline overall. Now, if we can just get Myles Jack to tackle properly….

orlandobruin: With the exception of Myles jack’s two horse collars, yes. Aside from those calls, which amounted to 30 yards in penalties, the Bruins only had 5 calls for 45 yards. I can live with 5 call for 45 yards. Unfortunately, the Jack calls happened, which kind of sullies the whole concept of progress. To his credit, Jack immediately owned up to these mistakes in the postgame interview and vowed to "clean them up." Now he just has to act upon his words. SIDE NOTE: I am personally sick and tired of hearing the phrase "clean them up" with respect to UCLA football and penalties.

4. Although the Bruins only returned four kicks (1 kickoff, 3 punts) during the game—which is admittedly a small sample size—what is your initial opinion of UCLA's return game without Ishmael Adams?

gbruin: It's too early to say. Randall Goforth showed some nice elusiveness and ran north south on one good punt return. After that, I don't recall much from the rest of the kicks. Just as long as Myles Jack isn't back on kickoffs, I'll be happy with ball security and a steady return game until Ish gets back.

DCBruins: The biggest weakness of this team, seems to be special teams, in all aspects. Goforth looked okay and kick coverage was okay, but everything else was suspect.

Bruinette88: It's too early to tell, but as gbruin suggests, I'd rather see a safe and steady approach than gimmicks (e.g., Myles Jack returning kicks) until Ishmael Adams is back. Steven Manfro did a good job returning kicks in 2013, so it would be great to see him get an opportunity to fill that role as soon as he's 100% healthy again.

Joe Piechowski:  I have to grade it as incomplete because it  just isn’t enough of a sample size, but, overall, Goforth looked good on the punt returns.

orlandobruin: I thought Goforth was fine. Remember, although Adams was electric early in the season, teams stopped kicking to him and/or schemed him well on kickoff and punts in the latter half of the season, when he was largely average.

5. The Pac-12 didn't shine on opening weekend, barely finishing with a winning record at 7-5. Two losses in particular stand out: #21 Stanford's defeat by Northwestern and Washington State's loss to Portland State. After seeing the results from week 1, has your opinion changed about the relative strength of the conference and/or how the conference races will play out?

gbruin: Besides Cal, the North looked a lot worse than I expected, but I still think the South will be a monster. Utah's win over Michigan was very nice. ASU's loss against a favored aTm in a de facto home game for the Aggies is not a reason to doubt them. Other than Colorado, the other 5 teams in the South all have a legit shot at getting to the conference game, and nothing from Week 1 changed that. Well, actually one thing changed. I was worried we would have some growing pains with a new QB, and I think we still will, but those pains don't look as ominous as I feared. UCLA is in a very good place.

DCBruins: Oregon may have it relatively easy in the North.  The PAC-12 South is still looking tough.

Bruinette88: While I'm not ready to buy into the idea of Cal finishing ahead of Stanford in the North, the results from the first weekend strengthens my view that Stanford has slipped relative to Oregon. In the South, I was surprised by how poorly ASU played, but the outcome is consistent with my view that ASU is a second-tier team in the division.

Joe Piechowski: Stanford’s loss increase my hope that we will get past them this year. Utah looked tough and I’m still not looking forward to our team heading there in November. So, actually, my original thoughts appear to be confirmed.

orlandobruin: No. People are focusing on the PAC 12 as a whole. I like to break it down by divisions. I firmly believed that the North was far inferior to the South this season. I only had two North teams bowl eligible in picking the season, and had WSU, OSU, and Washington way down. That pretty much played out last weekend. The South, on the other hand, did just fine, with the exception of Arizona State. But playing TAMU in Houston is hardly a "neutral" field. UCLA and USC did well. Utah had a big win. Arizona was not impressive, but still won.

6. Since there was a lot of criticism during the summer of the new UCLA uniforms that Adidas has created, I'm curious to know if your opinion has changed after seeing them in person or on television during the game. Are they better, as bad, or worse than you thought they would be?

gbruin: They were worse. The photos from the studio this summer were ok, but in the sunshine, the reflective material used for the names and numbers would create a glare in some parts and dark spots in others, and it made the names on the jerseys and frequently the numbers totally unreadable. And I was watching on a very large HD TV. It's frustrating that more people aren't up in arms about adidas destroying our traditional stripes and colors, but if the big donors with good seats and old eyeballs can't read the names on the jerseys, the athletic department is going to hear about it.

Bruinette88: Worse. As gbruin points out, depending on the light, the names and numbers on the jerseys could be unreadable at times. However, worse than that are the shoulder stripes—somehow adidas has managed to turn the classic UCLA shoulder stripes into something that's starting to look like weird collar stripes.

Troy Aikman

Josh Rosen

Please, adidas, just stop.

Joe Piechowski: They looked worse in person and, considering how much I panned them, that is saying a lot. Dan really needs to let the April 1st exclusive negotiating deadline pass without a contract renewal with adidas.

orlandobruin: Not a fan. A classic case of "good from a far, far from good." Meaning, they look fine on tv during the actual plays, where you can’t see the details. But once you get up close, they are so BUSY, with the sliced numbers; the weird, pointy ended UCLA stripes; and the God-awful tire tread pattern. BTW, Adidas makes Michigan’s uniforms and frankly, they looked great. They had kind of a cool, retro mesh look. No reflective numbers, no tire treads. In fact, in looking closely at the seams on the Michigan jerseys, one could put a pretty damn good UCLA stripe on the cut of that uniform. If UCLA doesn’t ditch Adidas, they should demand the Michigan style jerseys next season.

7. The extra point - final thoughts?

gbruin: Like I said above, the South is loaded. It's no stretch at all to think the title comes down to a tiebreaker which is determined by one play here, a SPTR call there, or an ill timed injury along the way. But championship teams make championship plays and that includes our kicking game. Ka'imi Fairbairn is excellent at kickoffs, puts us in good field position, and is deadly on FGs inside 40, but there will be a game when we need a long field goal. I don't expect the FG team to bang home every one from 50+, but making just one may be the difference between a trip to the title game and losing a 2 or 3 or 4 or 5 way tiebreaker. On that long FG yesterday, the snap was off, the hold wasn't perfect, and the kicker couldn't connect. I know first hand how many fast moving parts there are to place kicking and the margin for error is tiny, especially from distance. But the margin of error for winning the conference might be smaller.

DCBruins: I think the cynics are shut up for the timing being in the post-Hundley era.  Of course, I am not sure how good or bad Virginia is. I just wish we played in the PAC-12 North without playing Oregon instead of the South.

Bruinette88: I want to mention the fantastic work of the kickoff coverage team. The numbers show how good this unit was against Virginia: 7 kickoffs, 5 touchbacks, and 2 returns that averaged 12.5 yards. It doesn't get much better than that!

Joe Piechowski: Rosen likes to throw the fade. He relied on it a lot. By moving through his progressions and opting to throw the deep ball, he made Mazzone look like a genius when it was, in fact, the play of our freshman quarterback which stood out more than Mazzone’s play-calling.

orlandobruin: Looking forward to seeing the team in person next weekend for the first time since Lincoln in 2013! ¡Viva Las Vegas! Go Bruins!