For the first time since his first year at the helm, Jim Mora leads an unranked UCLA football team into its season opener. It’s a long climb back from 4-8. Here’s what to watch as the Bruins attempt to rebound from the coach’s first losing season in Westwood.
Who will make the clutch plays on offense?
UCLA was last in the Pac-12 and 103rd in the country in third-down conversions in 2016 with just a 35.2 percent success rate. With a healthy Josh Rosen, that number should increase, but the Bruins need other players to step up, whether it’s a running back battling for first-down yardage or a receiver making a difficult catch. Darren Andrews was one of Rosen’s favorite targets during training camp. The senior receiver led the Bruins in receptions last year with 55 catches and 709 yards. Tight end Caleb Wilson is also one of the most reliable pass catchers on a team that struggled with drops last year.
Will the offensive line hold up?
One offensive lineman is already down and the Bruins can’t afford any more. Redshirt senior Kenny Lacy, who has started 21 career games, will likely miss the season with a hip injury that requires surgery. He was an integral piece of UCLA’s offensive line despite the fact that he had been moved to the second string, because he was able to sub in at tackle or guard if an injury flared up. Grad transfer Sunny Odogwu seemed like a quick fix to UCLA’s offensive line struggles with his massive size and starting experience at Miami (Fla.), but spent most of training camp working with the No. 2 unit. The gregarious 24-year-old is also coming off two season-ending injuries.
How much can Jedd Fisch and Co. improve the running game?
With many of the same players returning from last year’s painfully bad rushing attack, it’ll be up to UCLA’s four new offensive coaches to manufacture a legitimate running threat. A leaner, faster Bolu Olorunfunmi is likely the No. 1 running back, working behind a retooled offensive line that will include redshirt freshman Michael Alves at right guard. Fisch is a creative football mind who has studied under some of the best in the game. Although he has specialized in the passing game during his career, having coached quarterbacks and receivers, invigorating the running game again will be paramount to getting the Bruins back on track.
How good can this defense be?
This is the third year of Tom Bradley in Westwood and the Bruins are hoping to turn a corner under the former longtime Penn…