Stephen Dunn - Getty Images
The UCLA Bruins are uncertain of their trajectory this season heading into the bye week. Jim Mora, Johnathan Franklin, Brett Hundley and company still have a lot of improving to do, as do the defense and the special teams.
The UCLA Bruins seem to be caught in that bizarre middle where they might be really, really good, or they might just be going as far as they can go. It remains to be seen. They're 5-2 going into the bye week, but given the nature of their schedule (perhaps one of the easier ones in the Pac-12, particularly with all the home games and no Oregon), that's about where they were expected to be going into the season.
In many ways, UCLA looks pretty damned functional. Their offense, after being one of the worst overall in college football is definitely top-tier in the conference, rivalling Oregon, Arizona State and USC with regards to total offense. They're averaging 6.27 yards per play, and are really doing a good job of moving the football down the field on a regular basis.
However, for the last couple of weeks, they've had a lot of difficulty converting those yards into points. UCLA is a top-30 team in terms of total offense, but they're only top-50 or so in terms of scoring offense, and they drop to a tie for 76th in conference play. That leaves the Bruins generally underachieving with regards to the amount of real estate they're able to consume on the field.
One of the big questions lies with their offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone, and how much the offense might be keeping the Bruins from really scoring. Mazzone produced similar high yardage numbers at Arizona State, but his offenses sputtered on way too many occasions and struggled to finish drives. The quick passes to the perimeters had their benefit in moving the football, but it became as much of an impediment if they got stuffed, because UCLA almost immediately became a two down football team. 3rd down passing situations do not usually end well for the Bruins, because UCLA doesn't have the pro-style game to really go at a defense and pick up big yards.
Brett Hundley is very talented, but he is still learning in his first season managing the offense. There are times he tries to do too much in the pocket and there are throws and reads he still struggles to make. There are certain home run footballs he can hit, but all too often the offense seems to stutter.
There have been improvements. The Bruins seem more committed to the running game, which makes it easier for the offense to move the football on a regular basis and get into more manageable situations. As talented as Hundley is, Johnathan Franklin has the experience and probably has earned the benefit of the doubt in terms of being a workhorse. Franklin carried the ball a pretty decent amount last week in the Utah victory after never touching it more than 15 times in any of the previous three conference victories, and even though he ended up with less yards, UCLA was able to keep the ball and the clock moving and grind away a methodical win against the Utes.
Then there's the matter of the UCLA defense, which continues to be an error-prone bunch. Despite limiting Utah to 14 points, they also gave up plenty of big plays to a first year quarterback making his first ever real start. The defense seems to have its up and down moments and tries its best to perform well, but their performance up to this point has been at best inconsistent.
Then there's the special teams, which have been an utter fiasco all season. That it hasn't cost the Bruins a game yet is something short of miraculous. The turnover in the end zone by Steven Manfro definitely brought the Utes into a game that they would otherwise have been totally out of. It's hard to see this flying against offensively proficient opponents like the Arizonas or USC.
The result is a bit of a tough watch, but as long as the Bruins are winning the fanbase should be pretty happy. However, if the wins stop coming, the Jim Mora era could take an ugly turn in year one.