It’s a slow time of year in college football. Spring practices are over, the NFL draft has come and gone, leaving four long months before college football returns to our television screens. We’ll take a look at some questions facing each Pac-12 team over the next couple weeks. Next up: UCLA.
Can the Bruins develop a running game?
If the UCLA offense had an identity last season, it was that there really wasn't one. Offensive coordinator Kennedy Polamalu ditched the spread the program has been running and introduced more of a multiple, pro-style system, but by the middle of season it had evolved into something more closely resembling an Air Raid. It didn't matter what they did; the Bruins couldn't run the ball. They finished last in the country with 1,011 rushing yards and their running backs managed a measly 3.72 yards per carry.
With Polamalu out and Jedd Fisch in, the running game remains a concern primarily because there hasn’t been much roster turnover. It's essentially the same cast, with some new faces on the offensive line and Josh Rosen back at quarterback after he missed the second half of last season. The scheme obviously makes a significant difference, but after last year's disaster it's hard to be overly optimistic at this stage.
Will DE Jaelan Phillips make an immediate impact?
In a word: yes. Phillips was the top-ranked defensive player in the Class of 2017 and his performance throughout the spring only reinforced the idea that he could potentially help the Bruins right away. There was an adjustment period, of course, but by the end of the 15 practices he certainly didn't look like a player who had just enrolled in school.
Takkarist McKinley's departure will still be felt, but Phillips' arrival will help lessen that. It's too early to handicap this with much confidence, but Phillips still feels like a heavy favorite to be the Pac-12 Defensive Freshman of the Year. Another true freshman, CB Darnay Holmes, also impressed during the spring and should be a contributor from Day 1.
What should be expected from Rosen?
Rosen's sophomore season should be graded as incomplete. The Bruins were just 3-3 in games he started, but that's not necessarily indicative of how he was playing. With a running game as bad as the Bruins had, opposing defenses were free to pressure him at will and the offensive line was often overwhelmed. He didn't light the world on fire but still averaged 319.2 yards passing a game and made several throws that are usually reserved for Sundays.
There were some decision-making issues -- notably against Texas A&M when he threw three interceptions -- but it's fair to wonder how much of those came as a result of a poorly-installed scheme. What we know is that Rosen is one of the most talented quarterbacks in the country and should still be penciled in as a likely first-round draft pick in the 2018 NFL draft. There were no signs of any lingering effects from the shoulder injury that cut his season short, which was the most noteworthy development for the Bruins since the season ended.