It’s so obvious the Bruins would be the answer in a game of Which One Doesn’t Belong that it might seem like a trick. Except it’s not. Those are the Power 5 teams that have attempted 70 passes in a game this year.
After an offseason tailored toward becoming more like Stanford, UCLA is now peers with the Air Raid teams.
“Their run game was almost nonexistent,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said after the Bruins attempted 71 passes against his team Saturday. “It was almost like playing Washington State.”
If UCLA wasn’t 3-5 and losers of four of its last five, coach Jim Mora might even be able to laugh at the strange evolution of his offense.
His first full-time job in coaching was under Don Coryell, who earned the moniker "Air Coryell" because of how often his San Diego Chargers teams threw the ball. But Mora has never believed that relying so heavily on the passing game is a formula for prolonged success. Or, for that matter, success in the short term.
“I didn’t know I’d be a part of a team as a head coach and we would call 76 passes,” he said.
The Bruins’ inability to run the ball, however, has forced his hand. UCLA’s running backs are averaging just 2.65 yards per carry in conference play, which is the worst among Power 5 teams. The only team whose running backs are averaging fewer rushing yards per game is Texas Tech (51.8 to 54.6), and the Red Raiders are doing it with seven fewer attempts per game.
“We didn’t go into the game thinking we’d throw it 70 and run it 10,” Mora said. “But we were moving the ball through the air, and our offensive line was doing an excellent job with protection.”
The question now, for the rest of this season, is whether they’ll even try to run. If their most recent performances are indicators, the answer is no.
Saturday’s 52-45 loss to Utah made it clear the Bruins’ offense is more effective settling for a one-dimensional approach. The scoreboard proved that. Every time the Bruins ran the ball, it seemed like a wasted play, and it’s unlikely the bye week will do much to change that. If anything, the added prep time for next Thursday’s game against Colorado should help fine-tune the tempo aspect of the offense, which UCLA hadn’t practiced at all this season until last week.
“I think you always have to adapt,” Mora said. “I think we still want to do the things that we wanted to do. You really aren’t going to win big unless you can run the football, and we have to be able to run the football.”
Having quarterback Josh Rosen back would also be a boon, but after Mora revealed Monday the sophomore is dealing with a nerve issue in his shoulder, it’s unclear whether he’ll return this season.
Needless to say, this isn't the type of season anyone foresaw for UCLA. Just two months ago, Rosen talked openly about winning the national title this year, and how the Bruins’ weren’t proud of their appearance in the Foster Farms Bowl after last year’s 8-4 regular season. Now, with four games left, UCLA needs three wins to reach bowl eligibility, and is running out of time to qualify for an even lesser-tier bowl.