UCLA Bruins Preview 2022: Previewing, predicting, and looking ahead to the UCLA season with what you need to know and keys to the season.
UCLA Bruins Preview
Head Coach: Chip Kelly, 5th year at UCLA, 18-25
9th year overall, 64-32
2021 Preview: Overall: 8-4, Conference: 6-3
Offense, Defense Breakdown | Keys To The Season
Season Prediction, What Will Happen
UCLA Top 10 Players | UCLA Schedule & Analysis
UCLA Bruins Preview 2022
You ready, UCLA?
Last year the Bruins finally broke through under Chip Kelly. After years of working through several rough patches, the result was a solid eight-win season that might have been nine if there weren’t COVID issues forcing the cancellation of the Holiday Bowl.
That was nice, but considering 2021 was when USC imploded, UCLA – even with the explosive win over its rival – should’ve done more.
With a down USC, the window was wide open in the Pac-12 South over the last several seasons. Arizona State didn’t blow up under Herm Edwards, Arizona spent the last few years finding itself, and Colorado sputtered around its good moments. It was Utah that took advantage with three conference championship appearances in the last four years, not UCLA.
And now there’s no South in a division-less Pac-12. It’s no longer good enough to be the best team in a six-team division; UCLA has to be one of the top two in the 12-team league.
Even worse, on a regular basis, one of those top two teams will probably be Lincoln Riley’s emerging juggernaut at USC, and Oregon will be right there.
But this is what UCLA has been building towards.
There might be a whole slew of big personnel losses from last year’s Bruin squad, but it’s got a great veteran quarterback in Dorian Thompson-Robinson, good lines, surprising depth – considering the question marks with the starting 22 – a strong kicking game, a surprisingly favorable schedule, and reinforcements from a nice recruiting class to go along with some fantastic gets from the transfer portal.
And it’s almost like everyone has to be reminded that the head coach is Chip freaking Kelly.
The luster might be off after the struggles in the NFL and three straight losing seasons to start his run at UCLA, but as it turned out, this was far more of a rebuild than it appeared to be a few years ago.
Now there’s a whole lot to get fired up about.
It’s the hottest school going – close to 150,000 freshman applications this year – with elite academics, better weather, great campus, and football-wise, the style of offense finally in place to be a whole lot of fun to keep up with what everyone else is trying to do.
And it’s going to be in the Big Ten in 2024. The big school and program will only get bigger.
The pressure will be on USC to win right away with its shiny new head coach. The pressure will be on Oregon to win right away with its shiny new head coach. The pressure will be on Washington to win right away with its shiny new head coach. The pressure will be on Utah to win with its shiny terrific old head coach.
And if Kelly did this right to prepare the program over his first four years, UCLA should be ready to be one of those shiny teams deep in the mix for the Pac-12 Championship.
UCLA Bruins Preview 2022: Offense, Defense NEXT
UCLA Bruins Preview 2022: Offense
That’s how the Chip Kelly offense is supposed to work. It’s supposed to put up 62 on a wounded USC. It’s supposed to be the most efficient passing team in the Pac-12, it’s supposed to average 215 yards rushing yards per game, and it’s suppose to lead the conference with 36.5 points an outing.
But it’s supposed to do even more. It’s supposed to be even more dangerous. That might be tough, though, with a slew of key parts gone, but there’s enough talent back at the skill spots to be okay. The work has to be done on …
The offensive line. It was okay in pass protection and great for the ground game, but Sean Rhyan is gone to the Green Bay Packers and a few understudies have to step up.
On the way to try taking over for Rhyan at left tackle is Raiqwon O’Neal from Rutgers, senior Jon Gaines could work at guard or center, and Duke Clemson is a veteran who’ll be back on the inside, likely center.
The running backs are in place to keep all the ground game fun going, Brittain Brown is done, but former Michigan transfer Zach Charbonnet is back after running for 1,137 yards and 13 touchdowns, but the developed depth isn’t there – redshirt freshman Deshun Murrell has to rise up and play a big role.
The ground game will get help from Dorian Thompson-Robinson, a slippery runner who kept rolling with the passing game in an all-star season, throwing for 2,409 yards and 21 touchdowns with just six picks. Backup Ethan Garbers is back, too – he threw for 305 yards and two scores in his limited work. However, big armed freshman Justyn Martin might be too good to not get into the mix to get him ready for 2023.
The receiving corps got a bit of a bump. Leading target Kyle Philips is off the Tennessee Titans, but in from the transfer portal is Jake Bobo, a big veteran receiver from Duke who caught 126 passes for 1,441 yards and three scores in four years.
Kam Brown and RB Kazmeir Allen are speedsters who need the ball more – they each made 17 grabs last season – and star recruit Jadyn Marshall and former UCF Knight Titus Mokiao-Atimalala have to be major factors right away.
Replacing TE Greg Dulcich is a problem – he’s off being a Denver Bronco. Superstar recruit Jack Pedersen will eventually be a factor, but for now it’s senior Michael Ezeike, coming off a three-catch, one-touchdown 2021.
UCLA Bruins Preview 2022: Defense
The defense was okay. In the world of the Pac-12 is was solid, but it still needed to generate more of a pass rush, allowed 384 yards, and it gave up a conference-high 260 passing yards per game. Worst of all, it was awful on third downs allowing teams to convert 44% of their chances.
It’s going to be an interesting mix of players with the transfer portal playing a massive role around a few good veterans. It’s going to be tough to put together, and it’s up to new defensive coordinator Bill McGovern to try making it all happen. There’s one big problem – most of the top tacklers are gone
The pass rush was fine. It averaged over two sacks per game, but it needs to be able to be more disruptive.
Enter the Murphys – Gabriel and Grayson Murphy from North Texas. Gabriel came up with 71 tackles and 12 sacks with 17.5 tackles for loss over the last two years, and Grayson added 57 stops with 11.5 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss. They’re about to crank up the production on one side with veteran and leading sacker Bo Calvert on the other.
6-3, 277-pound Harvard transfer Jacob Sykes is a too-quick interior presence coming off a 56-tackle, seven-sack season living the Ivy life, and next to him is Jay Toia, a former big get for USC who’ll get his first look for the Bruins this year.
The linebacking corps will see some new starters taking over, and it’s about to get a great one in Darius Muasau from Hawaii. He was one of the Mountain West’s best players over the last few years, and he’s about be one of the Pac-12’s leading tacklers.
The secondary might have been roasted last season, and it’s going to take some time before this group comes together. Stephan Blaylock is a good-tackling safety. but losing Quentin Lake, leading tackler Qwuantrezz Knight, and both starting corners is a problem.
Wyoming’s Azizi Hearn should be a nice addition to the safety mix – he’ll roam around and make plenty of plays.
UCLA Bruins: Keys To The Season, Top Game, Top Transfer, Fun Stats NEXT
UCLA Bruins: Keys To The Season, Top Game, Top Transfer, Fun Stats
UCLA Bruins: Key To The 2022 Offense
Do all of this, and even faster.
It’s hard to argue too much with what the second-best offense in the Pac-12 did, but it might not be a bad thing if this attack goes warp speed a wee bit more.
Setting the dial to hypocrite, I was always the annoying guy who complained about the Chip Kelly’s Oregon offenses not paying enough attention to time of possession – there were times when the O getting off the field fast was a problem against the pounders who controlled the tempo.
When UCLA’s offense is humming, it’s moving much faster, it’s ultra-efficient, and it’s putting defenses on their heels and stressing out opposing offenses to take more chances.
UCLA outscored teams 89 to 42 in the first quarters of games, but that was offset by the defense allowing 141 points in the second quarter to screw it all up.
This offense has to be so dangerous that it all but has the game won after a few drives. But that only works if …
UCLA Bruins: Key To The 2022 Defense
The pass defense has to be a whole lot stronger.
The pass rush was okay. It was among the best in the Pac-12, but it was just 69th in the nation overall and went missing a bit too often. That needs to help the cause, but the secondary has to do its part, too.
To be fair, the UCLA offense really was good, and offenses had to throw to keep up at times. That, and the secondary struggled a bit too much early on.
The Bruins got hit for 240 yards or more in each of the first six games and seven of the first eight. There were a slew of lighter passing teams over the second half of the year – UCLA allowed just four touchdown passes over the final seven games after giving up 11 in the first five.
There aren’t a ton of high-powered passing teams on the slate – especially early on – so there should be no excuse. The pass D stats should be far stronger.
UCLA Bruins: Key Player To The 2022 Season
WR Jake Bobo, Sr.
The Duke transfer made a whole lot of plays over his four years in the ACC. He caught 126 passes for 1,441 yards – 74 of the grabs and 794 of the yards coming last year – but he only scored three touchdowns and averaged 11.4 yards per carry.
No one’s asking him to become an NFL-caliber star to replace a bulk of the lost production from Kyle Phillips, Chase Cota, and TE Greg Dulcich, but …
A second straight 74-catch season would certainly help the cause.
UCLA Bruins: Key Transfer
LB Darius Muasau, Sr.
There are several key transfers. Bobo is one. Rutgers OT Raiqwon O’Neal is definitely one, and as pass rushing terrors, Gabriel and Grayson Murphy might be the scariest twins since Marco and Leonel Salamanca from Breaking Bad.
If all goes according to plan, Muasau is going to be the one who takes the defense up another notch.
He’s a guided missile of an all-around middle linebacker, turning into more of a pass rusher along with hitting the 100-tackle mark for a second year in a row. The two-time First Team All-Mountain West star brings a resumé with 274 career tackles, 11.5 sacks, 26.5 tackles for losses, and last year he forced five fumbles.
Bruin fans are going to love him.
UCLA Key Game To The 2022 Season
Utah, October 8th
There aren’t any divisions this season, so every game is a big deal in Pac-12 play. However, the date with Utah sets up everything else.
Bowling Green, Alabama State, South Alabama, at Colorado, Washington. Any team worthy of thinking about playing for the conference championship has to be 5-0 to start the season against that slate.
The USC game is at home, and the team only leaves California once over the final five games. Get through the home game against Utah – it was a 44-24 Ute win last year, and there’s two weeks off to prepare for the trip to Oregon.
Lose to the Utes, and the Oregon game probably becomes a must-win to get to the Pac-12 title game.
UCLA Bruins: 2021 Fun Stats
– Opponent 1st Quarter Scoring: 42 – Opponent 2nd Quarter Scoring: 141
– Punt Return Average: UCLA 19.14 – Opponents 4.5
– 4th Down Conversions: UCLA 20-of-31 (65%) – Opponents 10-of-24 (42%)
UCLA Bruins Season Prediction, What Will Happen NEXT
UCLA Bruins Season Prediction, What Will Happen
UCLA is usually the victim of being a good looking team with a rough schedule to screw it all up.
Usually it seems like it has everything in place, and then it plays a schedule with – say – Oklahoma, or LSU, or a rising Cincinnati, or road dates in conference against the league’s killers.
Last year’s team might have gone 8-4, but it lost to Fresno State and Oregon each by three, struggled against Arizona State and Utah, and pretty much rocked everyone else.
This year’s UCLA team shouldn’t be as strong – there are way too many big holes being patched up with transfer portal prospects – but the program gets a break with the schedule this time around.
There are two ways to look at this. It should be a worse team that happens to have a more favorable slate, and/or it should a be a worse team that’s going to get time to grow into a great team thanks to the favorable slate.
Set The UCLA Bruins Regular Season Win Total At … 8.5
Last year’s team had to deal with LSU – it was a nice win – a sneaky-nasty Fresno State, and then three road games in four weeks to start out the Pac-12 season before hosting Oregon and going to Utah.
The 2019 team started out with a sneaky-nasty two games against Cincinnati and San Diego State, and then had to deal with Oklahoma … before starting out the Pac-12 season with three road games in four weeks.
There ain’t nothin’ sneaky-nasty about Bowling Green, Alabama State, and South Alabama. The Pac-12 season starts out with a road date at Colorado before hosting Washington an Utah.
Missing Washington State and Oregon State is the one negative, but – as misleading as this is considering one of the teams is USC – four of the last five games are against teams that didn’t go bowling in 2021.
If all goes right as the year goes on, the Bruins should have the most regular season wins since going 9-3 before the bowl in 2014.