When it’s done right, a snap is quicker than a hiccup.
With a flick of the center’s wrist, the ball is instantly in the hands of the quarterback just below chest height and the play can run as designed.
When there are complications, however, the challenge of even gaining positive yardage becomes infinitely tougher. A low snap means the defensive line has more time to close the distance to the quarterback, and timing on potential reads and handoffs is thrown off, particularly when facing a fast defense like Oregon’s on Saturday.
For UCLA center Jake Brendel, the last three weeks, full of low snaps and O-line penalties, have been admittedly tough. The redshirt sophomore and co-offensive captain has been without redshirt sophomore left tackle Torian White to lead the starting five. For the bulk of UCLA’s most recent game against Stanford, Brendel was without another starting tackle, sophomore Simon Goines.
Save for junior Xavier Su’a-Filo – who normally plays left guard but has been shifted to left tackle in Goines’ absence – Brendel is without a linemate with more than six games of experience. Against Utah, when the low snaps first became a problem for the Bruins, Brendel faced a relentless blitzing effort from the Utes and consistently had a defensive lineman line up in his face as he also called the signals for the two freshman – guard Alex Redmond and tackle Caleb Benenoch – to his right.
Mash all the responsibility, offensive line inexperience and defensive blitz packages together, and the result is something resembling the yips.
“I don’t know where it came from,” said coach Jim Mora. “I know we’re trying to fix it and I know he’s desperately trying to fix it. If you play golf you get the yips or something, I don’t know. Get him Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book.”
Unlike a Charles Barkley golf swing, this hitch is one that both Mora and Brendel said can be fixed, and has looked better throughout the week, according to the pair.
“It’s definitely a quick fix,” Brendel said. “We are definitely ready to fix that, and I really think it will be good by Saturday. I really don’t expect defenses to change. I’m pretty sure (Oregon is) going to do what they’re good at.”
But while Brendel continues his efforts to master the art of snapping, the circumstances surrounding Saturday’s game paint the picture of a troublesome afternoon for the offensive line.For one, the No. 12 Bruins (5-1, 2-1 Pac-12) will be playing in Autzen Stadium, which only seats 54,000 but was ranked as college football’s second-loudest football stadium in a video released by the NCAA in September.
And despite “good reports” from Mora on Tuesday regarding Goines’ status for the Oregon game, offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone mentioned on Wednesday that with Goines “out,” he was “excited” about freshman Scott Quessenberry, who will likely take over at left guard in place of redshirt sophomore Ben Wysocki.
“I’m really excited about him, and what a great experience for those kids, getting to go on the road, playing a top team, on TV, that’s why they signed up. It’s just next guy up for us,” said Mazzone of Quessenberry. “They’re all the same. Whether they’ve played in 30 games or played in two games, you treat them all the same.”
Quessenberry has yet to take an in-game snap at the college level, and he joins an offensive line that will likely roll out three true freshmen for No. 2 Oregon (7-0, 4-0).
A huge indicator of UCLA’s success Saturday will be its ability to keep the Ducks’ offense, which averages just under 58 points in only 27 minutes and 31 seconds of possession per game, off the field. Accomplishing that will require adequate protection of redshirt sophomore quarterback Brett Hundley and the line’s facilitating an effective run game, two offensive staples that Mora said makes the line’s stability that much more important.
“I think the two areas of your team that are difficult to hide are your offensive line and your secondary,” he said. “If you think about it, you’re protecting two pretty darn valuable commodities.”