LOS ANGELES, August 30, 2013 — The UCLA Bruins are looking to build off the momentum of an exciting 2012 season where they won the Pac-12 South under Jim Mora Jr. in his first year as the Bruins head coach. UCLA came within one game of being crowned Pac-12 champions, and earning their first Rose Bowl bid since 1999. In the end, the ultimate dream was crushed as they lost to the eventual Pac-12 Champion, Stanford.
The excitement is undoubtedly swelling with Bruin Nation as Jim Mora and company had a very impressive off season hauling in the third ranked recruiting class, first in the Pac-12, headed by top defensive recruits Eddie Vanderdoes and Kylie Fitts. Both of whom verbally committed to USC before changing their minds and choosing the Bruins.
Starting quarterback Brett Hundley returns to lead an offensive attack that ranked 13th overall in the nation last year in total yards from scrimmage. The Bruins overall talent and depth at the skill positions will give Hundley an array of weapons in his arsenal to throw to this season.
Unfortunately, the loss of UCLA’s all-time leading rusher, Jonathan Franklin, will be one tough act to replace. Franklin had a combined total of 2,019 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2012. Jordon James will be the immediate starter at running back going into the season, although Franklin’s production may ultimately have to be replaced by committee.
UCLA also will have to deal with the loss of starting tight end Joseph Fauria, who is now with the Detroit Lions. Fauria’s loss will be especially felt in red zone situations and really the passing game as a whole. Fauria accounted for over 41% of the Bruins receiving touchdowns last year.
Darius Bell should provide senior leadership, and will take on the challenging task of replacing Fauria as the starting Y receiver in Noel Mazzone’s spread offensive attack. Veteran receivers Shaq Evans, Devin Fuller, and Jordan Payton will lead a young, but talented corps of Bruin receivers.
One of the additional bright spots for Mazzone is that he has the fortune of returning a more seasoned offensive line this year starting with junior guard Xavier Su’a Filo. With an average height and weight size of 6‘4/304 pounds, and more beef inside at the guard positions, the offensive line may be the most physically athletic group UCLA has ever fielded. Returning veteran tackles, Torian White, Simon Goines and former Freshman All-American center, Jake Brendel, round out the starting unit along with top incoming freshman guard Caleb Brenanoch.
The defense, lead by national sack leader and Heisman candidate, linebacker Anthony Barr from Los Angeles Loyola High School, will be interesting to watch. They are a talented and capable bunch, but fairly young and inexperienced within the secondary. Sophomores Ishamel Adams and Fabian Moreau get their shot to replace multi-year starters Aaron Hester and Sheldon Price at the corner positions, which has definitely been a weakness for the Bruins in recent years. Redshirt junior Anthony Jefferson and sophomore Randall Gorforth will take over for last year’s team captain, Andrew Abbott and Tevin McDonald at the safety positions.
Replacing Datone Jones’ production leaves huge cleats to fill for senior defensive ends Keenan Graham and Cassius Marsh. Jones lead all defensive lineman with 52 stops and was second on the team in tackles for loss with 19. Freshman ends Kylie Fitts and Eddie Vanderdoes will be in the rotational mix replacing Owamagbe Odighizuwa, who is out for the season, giving UCLA an infusion of depth and athleticism at the position.
Senior nose tackle, Seali’i Espenesa, rounds out the starting defensive line unit. He will be clogging up the lanes in the middle with sophomore Ellis McCarthy backing him up at the position.
The line-backing corps will be the strength of the Bruin defense and arguably one of the best groups in the conference as three key starters return. Eric Kendricks, Jordan Zumwalt and Anthony Barr all return from last year. Redshirt sophomore, Aaron Wallace, will replace Damien Holmes at outside linebacker. Coach Mora is a big fan of speed and athleticism at the linebacker position and this group definitely has that in spades.
Being ranked #21 overall in the nation by the Associated Press builds pressure, as high expectations are definitely set for the Bruins. UCLA is the favorite to repeat as Pac-12 South champions. The road will not be easy though, as they will have one of the toughest schedules in the conference.
The Bruins have games on the road against Utah, Arizona and USC. They also line up to play back to back road games against perennial conference contenders, Stanford and Oregon. Opening up against Nevada, followed by #18 ranked Nebraska, will be a huge test for UCLA right out of the gate. Jim Mora may have his work cut out for him in his second season in Westwood, but it should be fun to watch.
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