LOS ANGELES (AP) — Several months later, UCLA's collapse last season is no easier to understand. A talent-laden program that had become a perennial winner under coach Jim Mora crumpled into a 4-8 also-ran with an ill-conceived offense that was painful to watch. Even a solid defense couldn't prevent the Bruins from sliding into irrelevance.
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Several months later, UCLA's collapse last season is no easier to understand.
A talent-laden program that had become a perennial winner under coach Jim Mora crumpled into a 4-8 also-ran with an ill-conceived offense that was painful to watch. Even a solid defense couldn't prevent the Bruins from sliding into irrelevance.
Although it still doesn't make sense, Mora and quarterback Josh Rosen are determined to turn it around this fall.
"It was hard," said Mora, who lost only 16 games in his first four seasons in Westwood combined. "You're not in this to do anything but have success. You have to look at everything when you evaluate where it went wrong. You just pull it all apart."
The Bruins are putting it back together this month, starting with Rosen's offense. Jedd Fisch is Rosen's third offensive coordinator in three seasons, replacing Kennedy Polamalu after the disastrous attempt to turn the Bruins into a power running team.
Fisch brought along passing game coordinator Jimmie Dougherty, who worked alongside him at Michigan under Jim Harbaugh last season. The assistants' pedigree is strong, but they'll look even smarter if Rosen bounces back smartly from a shoulder injury that caused him to miss half of last season.
The Bruins' running game was the second-worst in the FBS, and they're determined to fix it as well. UCLA still landed a top-25 recruiting class despite last season's woes, and the Bruins have the ingredients to run the ball — but only if Mora and Fisch figure out what went wrong.
"Our running game was awful, and I'm hopeful that it will be improved and get back to where it was the first few years we were together as a staff," Mora said. "I feel good about the direction it's headed. I think we've got good backs. We've got a good scheme, and the players understand and we understand that it needs to be better."
Here are more things to watch from the Bruins:
BIG MAN UP FRONT: Jaelan Phillips was likely the top defensive prospect on the West Coast, and he enrolled early at UCLA. The 6-foot-5 defensive end appears likely to be a starter as a freshman, and his versatile presence should ease the Bruins' loss of Takkarist McKinley to the Atlanta Falcons. Phillips has looked exceptional in practice this month, his coaches say.
REBUILT LINE: UCLA's offensive line wasn't really built for a power running game last season, and it unsurprisingly struggled when it was asked to be that type of line. The Bruins have refreshed their talent pool for Fisch's presumably more versatile offense, starting with massive graduate transfer Sunny Odogwu at right tackle. New line coach Hank Fraley is concentrating on improving the Bruins' depth in camp.
QUICK START: The Bruins host Texas A&M at the Rose Bowl on Sunday, Sept. 3, in a vicious start to the season. UCLA's overtime loss at College Station last season was actually among the Bruins' better performances, and revenge should be on their minds.
KEY GAMES: Late September will be important. The Bruins visit Memphis on Sept. 16 for the dreaded 9 a.m. Pacific time start to a game that already looks like a trap with a visit to Stanford looming the following week. Mora has never beaten the Cardinal. A Halloween stretch also looks brutal: At home against Oregon before back-to-back road games against defending Pac-12 champion Washington and (on a short week) perennial power Utah.
PREDICTION: The biggest tangible reason for last year's slide was the ineptitude of the offense. With Fisch and Rosen in charge, it's inconceivable the Bruins could be that bad again. If Mora's defense remains solid, UCLA is a prime candidate for a bounce-back season in the Pac-12 South, where everybody is looking up at USC. Don't be surprised if the once-downtrodden Bruins win 8-10 games, finish second in the division and advance to a significant bowl game with Rosen boosting his draft stock.