Scouting report: UCLA vs. South Alabama
Sept. 16, 2022 3:33 p.m.
UCLA football (2-0) will host South Alabama (2-0) at the Rose Bowl on Saturday in a battle of unbeaten teams. The Bruins will look for their first 3-0 start since 2015, while the Jaguars will hope to build off a strong start to their season and pull off an upset in Pasadena. Here is this week’s scouting report from Sports Editor Sam Settleman – who is hoping this week, he doesn’t write his whole scouting report about a quarterback who doesn’t end up playing.
South Alabama’s offense
Offensive scheme: Spread
Run-pass percentage: 47.5% pass, 52.5% run
Strength: Receiving corps
Weakness: Rushing offense
X-factor: TE DJ Thomas-Jones
This is, without a doubt, the best offense the Bruins have faced this year.
Not only do the Jaguars boast a solid quarterback and dynamic weapons across the board, but they have few weak spots for the Bruins to exploit. While it hasn’t faced much competition yet, South Alabama has put up 43 points per game and totaled over 500 yards of offense per contest thus far.
As a pass-heavy offense, the Jaguars like to spread it out wide. They throw in some pistol as well, but most of their offense – both through the air and on the ground – comes out of the shotgun.
South Alabama is led at quarterback by Carter Bradley, who spent four seasons with Toledo before transferring out of the Rockets’ program last December. Bradley doesn’t do anything exceptionally well, but he’s got all the tools – and all the weapons at receiver – to lead an explosive passing offense.
Bradley has a strong arm that can beat you over the top, and he also doesn’t get forced into many bad decisions. This Jaguars offense depends primarily on drags and short crossing routes to get receivers in space, mixed with the occasional deep shot out wide, but Bradley can throw it to pretty much anywhere on the field.
The Jaguars’ style of offense produces big results in large part because of the talent they have at receiver and tight end.
That list starts with wide receiver Jalen Wayne, who has already totaled nearly 200 receiving yards and three touchdowns in two games. The sixth-year senior looks the part of a true No. 1 receiver, so UCLA sophomore defensive back Devin Kirkwood should get his first true test against a top receiver.
But perhaps the most underrated weapon for the Jaguars is tight end DJ Thomas-Jones. As they do with some of their other receivers, the Jaguars often dump it off to Thomas-Jones and let him use his athleticism to make a play. However, the tight end is also fully capable of stretching the defense.
He’s already been listed under three different names this year and worn two different jersey numbers, but whatever name and number is on the back of his jersey Saturday, watch out for Thomas-Jones.
While they aren’t as effective on the ground as they are in the air, the Jaguars utilize their passing threat to fuel a serviceable running game.
In its win over Central Michigan last week, South Alabama opened its first drive out of the pistol with a few running plays, but the Jaguars don’t get much on the ground out of the formation. Instead, South Alabama relies on a lot of draws and inside zones out of the shotgun, keeping the defense honest and adding a level of versatility to its offense.
If the Jaguars can get their shotgun running game going early, they could incorporate play action to earn some big plays through the air. With a respectable running game and a high-octane passing game, this is an offense capable of heating up quickly.
South Alabama put up 31 points in less than two quarters last week, so if UCLA can’t figure out the Jaguars’ offense early, it might be in for a long day.
South Alabama’s defense
Defensive scheme: Nickel 4-2-5
Strength: Rushing defense
X-factor: S Jaden Voisin
The Jaguars have been stout on defense thus far, but as it was last year, their offense is undoubtedly their calling card.
South Alabama gave up 24 points to Central Michigan in a convincing win a week ago, but Chippewas quarterback Daniel Richardson couldn’t buy a throw in the game. Against a competent passing offense such as the Bruins’, the Jaguars likely won’t have had the same success.
South Alabama’s secondary had a couple of breakdowns in the game and picked up a decent chunk of penalty yardage as well. With an experienced quarterback such as redshirt senior Dorian Thompson-Robinson leading the way for the Bruins, they won’t miss a chance to exploit any small breakdowns in the Jaguars’ secondary.
Where South Alabama can make an impact on that side of the ball is defending against UCLA’s prolific rushing attack. The Jaguars have only given up 2.6 yards per carry this season, largely because they’ve proven to be impressive in pursuit of the ball and don’t miss many tackles either.
UCLA senior running back Zach Charbonnet and company will provide a test for South Alabama’s run defense, but the Bruins haven’t exactly showcased a dominant offensive line yet this season either.
South Alabama’s defense doesn’t force many turnovers and probably won’t be a game-changer Saturday, but UCLA likely won’t get anything easy either.
That being said, the Bruins should have no problem extending their five-game streak of scoring 40 or more points. The question is whether UCLA’s offense can keep up with South Alabama’s.