SOME RISE, SOME SIT: Despite Prince and Fauria being out injured and Kai Maiava breaking his ankle on the third play, the Bruins catch 4 Touchdown Passes and the attention of 5,500, as a new Tradition of Big Plays is about to raise the Roof at UCLA
Playmakers. It takes Playmakers to put points on the board consistently; To Step Up in Clutch Situations, and come down with the ball and six points, or the crucial First Down, or the game-saving Interception. Most would say that the Bruins have LACKED Playmakers during the Post Jones-Drew Era. There were a few, but never enough,
But based on Fall Practice and “confirmed” by the Fall Scrimmage at Drake Stadium on Saturday Evening, the Bruins are now STOCKED with game-breaking Playmakers, on all “3 sides” of the ball.
Most of the Scrimmages over the past several years have been pretty much devoid of explosive, highlight-reel plays, but this one started with a bang: A Kickoff Drill that saw Josh Smith go the length of the field for a Touchdown. Granted the Coverage Unit may not have been gunning for him at 100%, but he still found the open space, and easily outran his pursuers.
Several subsequent Kick and Punt Returns went for long gains, as the design of the returns, and the instincts of the Returners, have all seemed to improve. With the return of All-World Kicker Kai Forbath and All-American caliber Punter Jeff Locke, as well as All-American Long Snapper Christian Yount, UCLA will have the Nation’s Finest Kicking Unit. And if Sean Westgate is still part of the Special Teams this Season, that adds one more Big Play guy to an already-stellar group.
On Saturday evening, Westgate started at Linebacker, and he was all over the field (in a good way). Westgate has a knack for being in the right place at the right time, ala Spencer Havner, and Westgate can hit, too. On Saturday, he delivered a jarring hit, that separated an intended Receiver from a Pass that was about to be caught. Westgate is apparently competing with converted D-Back Glenn Love for a Starting LB spot, and I’m not sure if he would still be a Special Teams staple if he’s a Starting Linebacker. Maybe they’ll share time equally — that would probably allow for Westgate to continue his Special Teams dominance.
Speaking of Special Teams dominance, although the Bruins won’t be punting as much this Season, it’s nice to know that Locke can hit a coffin corner whenever he needs to, as he did during the Scrimmage.
On Defense, both Westgate and Love could be game-changers, but Linebacker Akeem Ayers and Safety Rahim Moore will probably change even more games. Both are making National Watch Lists, and Ayers was seen disrupting the Offense on more than one occasion Saturday night.
Including Westgate’s big hit, the Bruin Defense made several Big Plays on Saturday. Both Tony Dye and Dalton Hilliard picked off errant throws, and it looked like a couple of balls were stripped as the D swarmed the ballcarrier. The Defense held the two returning Running Backs completely in check. When the Second Strings met, the Defense gave up a lot of yardage on the ground. Conclusion: Injuries to the Defensive Starters would be costly.
And speaking of costly injuries: Someone has definitely put the Kai-bosh on UCLA’s Offensive Line, as Center Kai Maiava is now out for the year after snapping his ankle on the third snap of the night. The Bruins’ Opening Day Starting O-Line will now ALL be Players who were probably expected to be second-stringers this Season.
But despite the unproven Line, and despite REPEATED bad snaps by the back-up Center, both Bruin Quarterbacks were able to provide some explosives. The Offensive playcalling seemed to keep the Defense off-balance, the misdirection seemed to give the QB’s some more time, and the Recievers MADE THE CATCHES. Nelson Rosario is now a confirmed Playmaker, starting the Scrimmage with another one-handed grab, and later reaching over a Defender with both hands to snag one of Richard Brehaut’s 3 TD Tosses. Taylor Embree doesn’t want to be forgotten in the Playmaker discussion, as Embree’s one catch was also for six points. Brehaut’s 3rd TD Pass was a deep pass to Randall Carrooll, who got behind the Secondary and held on as the Defenders converged on him.
The 4th Pass to Paydirt was thrown by QB Darius Bell, who hit Anthony Barr. These are two newcomers who could BOTH wind up being the biggest Playmakers on the Team. Barr has been impressing ever since he got to Westwood, and Bell showed the intangible of knowing what to do as a play develops — or FAILS to develop.
The other incoming Player who may be an Instant Difference Maker is Running Back Malcom Jones. It may have been against reserves, but Jones had runs of 17 and 18 yards. Maybe he just has the right instincts, and will find the same running room against the A Teams too.
The one other guy who is becoming a dependable source of Offense is Receiver Ricky Marvray. Like Barr, Marvray has been on fire all Fall, and he made another great catch during the scrimmage.
The surprise of the Offense’s night? That would have to be H-Back Christian Ramirez. Christian made a couple of nice plays, including a long run-after-catch on a short crossing pattern. I think he had a Drop too, but he made up for it with the huge gainer. Mark down Ramirez as a dark horse for Offensive Playmaker. And don’t forget Josh Smith, who won’t just be returning Kicks.
Add in Kevin Prince and Joseph Fauria, and the Bruins have more legitimate weapons than they’ve had in years. Even if Prince fails to recuperate, Brehaut showed that he is more than capable of making the Big Play, and Bell as well seems to have the aptitude to move the ball.
So for the first time in many seasons, it looks like THE TRAINING WHEELS ARE COMING OFF, and Norm Chow is going to open up his attack. And why not? He’s got the Players, and it’s time to let those Players make the Plays.
[DISCLAIMER: There are two reasons why I can’t SWEAR to who exactly made every good and bad play — #1: Chris Roberts was calling the Action (and yes, he literally asked the crowd if one of the TD’s was actually a Touchdown), and #2: I was thoroughly distracted. What could possibly distract me from my beloved Bruin Football? Keep in mind, the Bruin Cheerleaders do NOT perform at the Fall Scrimmages. Then it must be a fan. Yup. 5,500 fans in attendance, and the most captivating one sits right near me. Sorry if I missed a couple of plays. It was worth it.]
Here are 14 photos from the Scrimmage (the first one is the same TD Catch from above), with 6 Action shots, and 8 from the Post-Scrimmage Autograph Session, featuring some potential Bruin Playmakers.