UCLA will toe the line on Saturday with three freshmen on the offensive line, including right tackle Simon Goines, who has been dinged up this week in practice. While the Bruins are talented up front –Xavier Su’a Filo was a top 10 tackle in the Class of 2012– they’re allowing more than three sacks per game, sitting at 112th in the nation, signalling a mis-match with the Trojans’ 4th ranked pass rush.
The Bruins’ offense as a whole deploys a scheme similar to Noel Mazzone’s previous employer, Arizona State, yet more advanced and with better talent. Knowing how much the Trojans shut down ASU, as evident by holding them to just 76 total yards in the second half last Saturday, USC’s defense should enter the Rose Bowl with plenty of confidence, even just two weeks removed from a 700-yard performance from the No. 1 ranked Oregon Ducks.
Last week, the Trojans deployed a blitz scheme that was reminiscent of the Pete Carroll era, as they blitzed continuously on second and third down to force Taylor Kelly to make poor decisions and force the ball to his playmakers. The result was seven sacks and three interceptions.
UCLA has more playmakers than ASU, namely Johnathan Franklin, so by no means can the Trojans expect to waltz into the Rose Bowl and hold the Bruins to a minuscule amount of yards on the ground. But given the success of the pass rush and the Bruins’ struggles to protect Hundley, it would be surprising if the Trojans didn’t at least force the freshmen into tight spots on occasion.
Hundley has been terrific this year to not let himself appear to play as a first-year starter typically would, but given his speed and athleticism, there’s a lot to be said for still being sacked more than three times per game.
Against SC, he’ll have to read the blitz off the edge and up the gut, in addition to buying time to get the ball out and thrown away, as opposed to being too confident in his speed and backing himself into a corner like Kelly did a week ago when he totaled 56 lost yards on the day.
Hundley’s got the tools. He can avoid the rush and be a matador with the talent he has, and he’ll have to if the Bruins are going to control the game on offense.