LOS ANGELES – When UCLA coach Jim Mora chose Josh Rosen as the Bruins’ starting quarterback, he did so knowing opposing teams would see "true freshman quarterback" and dial up more pressure than they might have with a veteran guy.
Perhaps there was some uncertainty in how Rosen would handle those situations -- as there would be with any new quarterback -- but never concern. That’s partially due Rosen’s beyond-his-years grasp of the game, but more so because of the experience around him.
“Pass protection is a function of everybody and everybody being able to sort it out and pick up the right guy and being able to do that,” Mora said. “That’s what’s important about playing teams that come after you and give you varied looks. Especially early in the season when you get it figured out. Then you’ve got that in your memory bank and draw on that.”
Through four games, Rosen has been blitzed on 40 drop backs, which ranks 12th-most among Power 5 quarterbacks, according to ESPN Stats & Information. His 38 pass attempts rank seventh-most among Power 5 quarterbacks, during which he’s completed 60.5 percent of his passes. That completion percentage is only a slight decline compared to when he hasn’t faced a blitz (63.3 percent).
Saturday’s game against Arizona State should provide a unique test as the Sun Devils come in as far-and-away the nation’s most blitz-happy team. The Sun Devils are an anomaly in that they’ve blitzed on 66 percent of opposing drop backs, while only four other schools in the country are even over 40 percent.
“They come after you a lot, but we’ve had a lot of that already this year with a freshman quarterback,” Mora said. “We’ve seen pressure every week, so from Virginia, which was unique with a lot of things they do, to UNLV, who brought it almost every [down], BYU had the stand-up move around stuff and [Arizona] with the 3-3-5 stuff and all the combinations of all the linebackers coming. We’ve seen a lot.”
Virginia actually ranks second behind ASU in how often it has blitzed, largely because it sent pressure 14 times against Rosen in the opener. That plan backfired. Rosen completed 11 of 14 passes against Virginia’s blitz for 143 yards and three touchdowns.
He hasn’t fared nearly as well since, completing just 12 of 24 passes for 136 yards and one touchdown, with two interceptions.
A common theory of blitzing is that it makes a defense more susceptible to big plays, but with Arizona State it hasn’t played out like that. On ASU’s 68 blitzes, it has surrendered six plays of 20 yards or more and four touchdowns. And on the 38 pass attempts it hasn’t sent extra pressure, it has given up seven 20-yard plays and, again, four touchdowns.
All statistics via ESPN Stats & Information.