Thursday, May 24

UCLA ready to face an unpredictable Hawai’i team after short week off

UCLA's defense will have to deal with a team that has shown it can score both in the air and on the ground. (Aubrey Yeo/Daily Bruin senior staff)

UCLA's defense will have to deal with a team that has shown it can score both in the air and on the ground. (Aubrey Yeo/Daily Bruin senior staff)

UCLA’s defense had a good idea of what to expect last Sunday.

That won’t be the case Saturday.

Spread-happy former UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone and Texas A&M started a redshirt freshman at quarterback and returned the team’s top-two rushers from last season, but the Bruins’ next opponent won’t have such a one-sided offense.

Unranked Hawai’i (2-0) visits the Rose Bowl with two completely different offensive profiles in its victories. In the Rainbow Warriors’ season opener against Massachusetts, they averaged 3.2 yards per rush and 10.3 per pass attempt en route to a last minute win. The following week against Western Carolina, they ran for almost 300 yards at a clip of 6.1 yards per carry, while averaging 6.4 yards per pass attempt.

“They’re multiple in their formations and their personnel groups,” said coach Jim Mora on Tuesday. “They can give you three, sometimes four, different personnel groups. They’ll create different formations with those personnel groups, so they force you to make some adjustments.”

UCLA’s offensive line will also have to make adjustments during its shortened week.

Texas A&M was a middle-of-the-pack run defense last year, ranking 75th out of 128 FBS teams in rushing yards allowed per game last season. But even without first-overall NFL draft pick Myles Garrett and third round pick Daeshon Hall, the Aggies held the Bruins to 70 yards on 25 carries – not counting yards lost due to sacks or kneeldowns.

Redshirt juniors left tackle Kolton Miller and tight end Austin Roberts both allowed free rushers to record sacks and force fumbles. Looking back at the film, redshirt senior center Scott Quessenberry said the major takeaways were straightforward.

“Just one-man breakdowns (in the running game),” Quessenberry said. “We need the communication stuff in protection, and we had some breakdowns in our seven-man protections.”

Saturday’s matchup could be another high-scoring affair. Hawai’i hasn’t had a top-50 scoring defense since 2007 and allowed 37.5 points per game last season, though the Rainbow Warriors do return their two leading tacklers, linebacker Jahlani Tavai and defensive back Trayvon Henderson.

Redshirt sophomore tight end Caleb Wilson – who set a school record with 15 receptions against Texas A&M – could be poised for another big game against Hawai’i, which gave up nine catches for 179 yards to Massachusetts tight end Adam Breneman.

Frequently lining up against Texas A&M’s preseason second-team All-American safety Armani Watts, Wilson consistently gained space by using his body leverage to force Watts to his outside shoulder before cutting inside. Wilson’s slipperiness, which helped him earn a 99.9 overall grade from Pro Football Focus, opens passing lanes down the middle of the field for Rosen.

“He’s got an incredible feel for the game, one of the most deceptive players I’ve ever seen before in just how he gets open,” Rosen said. “He wiggles around a little bit and can just feel windows, has great hands … We’re giving him a big role and I think he’s welcoming it with open arms.”

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