After a loss in their season-opener, UCLA football will return to the Rose Bowl for a home game against the San Diego State Aztecs. The Bruins will see a team that only scored six points in week one, but still won in its first game thanks to a complex defensive scheme and a top rushing defense. Here is the scouting report from Daily Bruin staff writer Jack Perez.
San Diego State’s offense
Base formations: Spread
Run-pass percentage: 58.9% run, 41.1% pass
Strength: Running game
X-factor: RB Juwan Washington
The Aztecs are historically known for their long line of stellar running backs. Some notable alumni include Marshall Faulk, Rashaad Penny and Donnel Pumphrey.
Washington was tabbed to take over once Penny left for the NFL, and he had a solid season in 2018 with 111 rushing yards per game in nine games.
However, he had a game to forget in the opener against Weber State. The senior had 55 yards on 22 rushing attempts, an average of 2.5 yards per rush. With one of those rushes accounting for 18 yards, Washington had just 37 yards on his other 21 rushes. This was mostly due to suffering an ankle injury that caused him to miss part of the first half.
Washington – who is questionable for Saturday’s game in Pasadena – was not the only one to struggle in the opener, as the offense only scored six points against an FCS opponent.
Quarterback Ryan Agnew, in his first season as the full-time starter, was just 16-of-30 with 108 yards. The senior also fumbled once and failed to lead his team to a touchdown in three red zone opportunities.
Part of the problem may be the Aztecs’ recent switch to a spread offense, a big departure from the pro-style design that led to much of their success in the past decade. A bigger problem last week was their consistency and ability to finish strong. Agnew would lead his teams on long drives to the red zone, only to come up short each time.
If the Bruins’ defense is able to force a couple of turnovers and the offense is able to score a couple of touchdowns, the Aztecs may not be able to score enough to keep up. UCLA should be able to perform at least as well as Weber State did.
San Diego State’s defense
Base defense: 3-3-5
Blitz tendency: Low
Strength: Rushing defense
Weakness: Pass rush
X-factor: Defensive backs
The Bruins get no rest, going from a tough rushing defense to an even tougher rushing defense.
Cincinnati gave up the 13th fewest rushing yards per game in 2018, while San Diego State was seventh in the same category. The Aztecs gave up just 103.8 rushing yards per game in 2018, and they only allowed 35 yards on the ground in their first game of 2019.
The biggest advantage the Aztecs have is coach Rocky Long’s signature 3-3-5 defense. Long was the Bruins’ defensive coordinator when they went 10-2 in 1997 and finished as the No. 5 team in the nation.
Although Long has not brought San Diego State to that level yet, his defense has still managed to confound opponents. The formation allows him to put extra defensive backs on the field to defend against spread offenses.
This does leave the defense vulnerable to runs up the middle and does not allow for many blitzes. San Diego State did not have a single sack against Weber State and had just 25 sacks in 13 games in 2018. However, they are able to bring pressure from any direction, which can lead to the quarterback having to throw the ball quickly.
After a disappointing performance against the Bearcats, sophomore quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson should be under less pressure against the Aztecs. He will have to make smart throws against the Aztecs’ defensive backs if the running game stalls. If he forces throws or the running game is stuffed early, the Bruins may be in for a defensive battle.