UCLA's offensive overhaul yields 45 points, but another loss
PASADENA, Calif. (AP) UCLA set season highs in points and total yards in its loss to No. 19 Utah, just not with the offense it spent all offseason installing and refining in hopes of becoming a more physical team.
The change wasn't enough to salvage what looks to be a lost season for the Bruins (3-5, 1-4 Pac-12), but it could offer a way forward.
Instead of featuring multiple tight ends and fullbacks, the Bruins used an up-tempo spread with three or four wide receivers on every play Saturday, essentially returning to the offense as it was under former coordinator Noel Mazzone last season.
''I'll always simplify it, and I thought that was pretty simple,'' first-year offensive coordinator Kennedy Polamalu said.
The UCLA offense had been at the bottom of national rankings in yards rushing per game and yards per carry. Coach Jim Mora hoped that returning to a more open approach would give the running backs a better chance to be productive while taking pressure off the rebuilt offensive line.
The change was implemented last week, quarterback Mike Fafaul said, and the former walk-on felt the team ''transitioned seamlessly'' after running a spread offense for the previous four seasons.
The fundamental difference between Mazzone's offense and the one employed against the Utes came on the ground.
UCLA didn't just change its running game - it all but abandoned it. Six of UCLA's 16 rushing attempts came on plays where Fafaul scrambled or was sacked. After Bolu Olorunfunmi was stuffed on fourth-and-1 at the Utah 47 early in the second quarter, 28 of the next 29 plays were dropbacks for Fafaul.
''Pure runs you can probably count on one hand, maybe two,'' Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said.
It worked at times, taking advantage of surprisingly poor tackling by Utah for touchdown catch-and-runs of 50 yards by tight end Nate Iese and 75 yards by receiver Jordan Lasley.
But Fafaul also threw four interceptions, one at the end of the first half leading to a Utah field goal and another in the third quarter, which was followed by a Joe Williams' touchdown run on the next play. Fafaul was also intercepted in the end zone in the fourth quarter.
''You can't be so stubborn as to say we're not going to try that because it's not conventional,'' UCLA coach Jim Mora said. ''You have to be willing to try to win. We didn't go into the game thinking we'd throw it 70 and run it 10. But we were moving the ball through the air.''
Fafaul finished 40 of 70 for 464 yards and five touchdowns in his second start replacing the injured Josh Rosen. The redshirt senior broke Rosen's school single-game records for completions and attempts, smashing the old mark on his 58th attempt with 10:10 remaining.
With Rosen not throwing the ball before the game because of an injured shoulder and limping afterward during postgame mingling, it could be Fafaul moving the ball in UCLA's next game at Colorado on Nov. 3. Despite Mora's public declarations that Rosen was making progress, Fafaul said he knew early in the week that he would start.
''Josh, he's still struggling with his shoulder, but he is getting better,'' Fafaul said. ''I don't know about Colorado, but I'm going to keep working like I'm the starter every day.''
Neither Mora nor Polamalu would commit to a specific style of offense going forward, but Fafaul has no problem throwing in a spread offense.
''Just four plays I wish I had back, but that's life and I'm going to bounce back,'' Fafaul said. ''I like throwing the ball. I feel comfortable back there.''
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