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Duck Dive: UCLA Football 2022 Preview

Going deep with the Bruins’ scheme, returning personnel, and unknowns

UCLA v USC Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Special thanks to Michael Hanna of The B Team podcast for joining me on the Quack 12 Podcast to discuss UCLA’s roster. LISTEN HERE

Nota bene: It has been 72 days since UCLA concluded Spring practices and the official 2022 roster still doesn’t appear on the Bruins’ website. In addition, their televised Spring game was just a practice with minimal live scrimmage snaps and provided very little information. Typically those things are two of my best tools in writing this series and so this article is more guesswork than most. I’m grateful for Michael’s help on the podcast sorting this out and for his patience with my exasperation with this needlessly opaque roster.


UCLA had an 8-4 season in 2021, head coach Kelly’s fourth year with the Bruins, on the strength of the 13th ranked offense in F+ advanced statistics. They benefited from what turned out to be a fairly soft schedule, as none of their wins came against a team with a winning record - those opponents had a combined 33-65 record, while opponents in the four losses were 38-16. In every stat but one — explosive rushing offense — that I recorded when charting UCLA’s games and excluding garbage time, the Bruins performed with mediocre and sometimes poor numbers.

As I’ve written about for years with this team, I think Kelly outsmarts himself – his playbook is absurdly complex and changes weekly, his roster management is wholly without reason resulting in a dire offensive line situation, and the QB he’s joined at the hip with has wild swings in efficiency and accuracy.

Returning starter #1 QB Thompson-Robinson will probably set some records this year since this will be his fifth year as UCLA’s starting quarterback – the former borderline 5-star began as a true freshman in Kelly’s first season in 2018 and has been the signal caller ever since (including the eligibility holiday in 2020), although he’s missed a couple games every year with injury.

On the podcast Michael and I spent some time discussing Thompson-Robinson’s legacy at UCLA. I think his development has been relatively flat with little more than small incremental improvement since his debut, but 36 games of that adds up. His career NCAA passer rating is 140.9, almost exactly the center of the FBS bell curve, but it’s been trending up to around 150 over the last 15 games which is about half a deviation above average. Most importantly, he seems to have almost entirely cleaned up the bizarre fumbling issue he had his first couple years where the ball would randomly pop out of his hand with no contact from the defense, making him at one point the player responsible for the most turnovers in FBS. I think the two most important things he brings are an excellent scrambling ability – which bails Kelly out of his too-clever-by-half playcalling a lot – and an incredible tenacity in single-handedly willing his team to comeback wins or close losses in what otherwise would have been blowouts.

The backup order seems pretty clear – former 4-star and previous UW transfer #10 QB Garbers (brother of Cal’s Chase) who came in when Thompson-Robinson was hurt last year, then mid 3-star #11 QB Griffin who filled in during 2020. Potential backups Parker McQuarrie and Kajiya Hollawayne have both transferred out, and Michael says the 2022 low 4-star Justyn Martin is a project who has lots of physical tools but needs to redshirt and learn the position. Garbers’ numbers aren’t great, a pretty poor 116 passer rating on 51 attempts, and he doesn’t run nearly as well which I think is a big problem with Kelly’s offense and the dire pass protection situation. But he was put into a bad spot last year and may be better than his stats indicated, and Michael suggested the intriguing possibility that Garbers is more willing to push the ball downfield to outside receivers than Thompson-Robinson who tends to focus almost entirely on inside guys and the tight end. I like Griffin’s football IQ a lot but he has notable arm strength limitations that will probably keep him at third-string at best.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 20 UCLA at USC Photo by Jordon Kelly/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Bruins return one of the best backs in the league, former high 4-star and previous Michigan transfer #24 RB Charbonnet, who had over 1,100 rushing yards at 5.6 YPC last year (plus almost 200 receiving yards). He got about 60% of the carries by the running backs last year.

UCLA loses the primary backup, Duke transfer Brittan Brown who had 6.0 YPC, and explosive runner Ethan Fernea who had 8.3 YPC (remarkably, the former walk-on converted from wide receiver). Those two accounted for about a third of this unit’s production last year. The only returners besides Charbonnet with any experience are both walk-ons, #22 RB K. Jones and #24 RB Kowell, who combined for only 90 yards at 2.9 YPC last year. The rest of the room is redshirt freshman high 3-star #31 RB Murrell, 2019 low 3-star #32 RB Grubb, and true freshman mid 3-star Tomarion Harden, none of whom have carried the ball in college yet.

Michael tells us that the battle for the second spot in the unit is between Jones and Murrell, but they have contrasting styles so I wouldn’t be surprised to see them both situationally. Jones has track star speed but is so small he can’t really punch through the gap and there’s a reason he only got a 2-star rating out of high school; Murrell has a workhorse back’s frame but isn’t very fast (his most recent listing was 30 lbs lighter than Charbonnet, but it’s possible he’s bulked up in the year since that was released). It appears that Grubb will be an infrequently used change-of-pace back and special teams contributor, and Harden is a project.

Even though I have high expectations for Charbonnet and think Kelly has well earned his reputation as a run-game wizard, I suspect overall this unit will take a step back for the loss of Brown and Fernea, who were very experienced and effective players to relieve the starter in 2021. Each of the options for the second back in 2022 has a significant knock on him and it’s tough to project they’ll find equivalent production without severely overworking Charbonnet and endangering his NFL future. I think it’s further indictment, if any were needed, of this staff’s internal player management that last year 100% of the carries in his run-heavy offense were by transfers or former walk-ons.

Oregon v UCLA Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

UCLA loses tight end Greg Dulcich, a former walk-on, to the Broncos. He was basically tied with inside receiver Kyle Philips for the most receiving yards last year, though Dulcich did it on 17 fewer catches. They return the very experienced #88 TE Martinez, who’s a blocker only and built more like an offensive tackle, though according to Michael he refuses to bulk up and switch positions.

The most likely replacement for Dulcich is returner #21 TE Ezeike, a low 4-star from the 2018 class who came in as a wide receiver. He caught 12 passes his true freshman season, but I thought he had a notable problem with drops and it seems the staff didn’t trust his hands at all. He effectively didn’t play the next two years, switched to tight end, and caught three balls last year. Throughout his career he’s been passed up by three different primary TEs and it remains to be seen if Ezeike is ready to step up.

The other two returning options are mid 3-star 2018 recruit #83 TE Priebe and 2019 walk-on #81 TE Habermehl, neither of whom have played college football yet. Michael says both had some good Spring practice reports, for what that’s worth. There are two low 4-star true freshmen joining the room, Jack Pedersen and Carsen Ryan; only the latter was available for Spring practice but I wasn’t able to really see him during the exhibition.

Ezeike’s hands have been problematic enough – and he’s had so many chances by now – that I think this race is wide open. I could easily see either of the freshmen grabbing significant minutes - they’ll be losing almost everybody else soon so early playing time for young bluechips would be smart roster management, though that’s in short supply in Westwood. I think Dulcich last year was probably much better than any of these guys are right now, so it’s hard for me to imagine this unit doesn’t take a step back. Michael says that Kelly has demonstrated he’ll find somebody to take a starring role at TE and I definitely believe he’ll try – he clearly loves having a go-to and I believe several of his plays are entirely designed to engineer the TE open with the WRs all being decoys. But I don’t take anything on faith and this unit is entirely unproven and uninspiring … just because Kelly got lucky with one walk-on in Dulcich doesn’t mean it’ll happen again.

Philips has also left the team, and he represented about 80% of the targets to the inside receivers last year. They return converted running back #19 WR K. Allen who got almost all the rest. The three other returners have basically no experience: walk-on #14 WR Norwood, low 4-star junior #17 WR Loya, and mid 3-star redshirt freshman #20 WR Justice. Norwood got the most targets of those three, which amounted to just four catches.

I’m sure that Allen will play a role here, but whether that’s continuing as a backup or taking the starting spot, as well as who the other main guy in the room will be, are anybody’s guess right now. Michael thinks it could be Loya, but I’m skeptical since he only has three catches in two years as a 4-star and his blocking – essential to getting the ball under Kelly – hasn’t been as enthusiastic as Philips’. Other options include a couple of low 4-star additions who measure 6’1” and could play inside or outside: true sophomore transfer Titus Mokiao-Atimalala who caught 12 passes last year at UCF, and Fall enrollee Jadyn Marshall who Michael says is another track star.

Whether it’s Kelly’s engineering or Thompson-Robinson’s preference, the lion’s share of passes over their entire time in Westwood have gone to inside rather than outside receivers. Losing Philips is pretty significant since he’s led all pass-catchers by a significant margin for the last three years. There’s some talent here but it doesn’t jump off the screen and it’s largely unproven, so it’s tough to predict they’ll pick up where Philips left off without missing a beat.

UCLA v Washington Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

On the other hand, it does appear that the outside receivers are taking a net step forward. While losing Chase Cota to the Ducks is a blow, he was basically in a 50/50 split with the other outside receiver last year, the 4-star Texas A&M transfer #0 WR K. Brown, and the other two losses to this unit got no playing time in 2021. They’ve added Duke’s leading receiver last year, super-senior Jake Bobo, who at 6’5” towers over the rest of the receiving corps.

They’ll also add 6’4” high 3-star Braden Pegan, but Michael is pretty sure he’ll redshirt. The additions at outside might also include the previously mentioned 6’1” guys, Mokiao-Atimalala and Marshall, though Marshall may redshirt regardless. The other three returners have basically no experience: mid 3-stars #25 WR Staples and #12 WR Sykes (though they both have four years of eligibility left), and #7 WR Yankoff who was a mid 4-star QB and recruited to UW then transferred (after some drama) to UCLA and converted to WR but hasn’t played.

Bobo and Brown alone are more than enough outside receiver capability for this offense’s demonstrated preferences so even though there are a ton of question marks surrounding every other guy in the unit, I don’t think that’s a big deal. I think trading Cota for Bobo will probably be zero-sum but there’s a net talent upgrade with the other additions and another year’s worth of practice time in this offense for the returners. To me the only real question is whether the ball actually goes to the outside any more than it has in the past, to match what I suspect will be an improved unit, all things considered.

The experience and depth gap between the guards and tackles on the offensive line is extreme. For the last few seasons UCLA has operated a five-man rotation at the three interior guard spots, including three different guys snapping the ball. Four of those five return: #62 OG Clemens, #57 OG Gaines, #56 OG Mafi, and #64 OG Marrazzo.

The departure is Paul Grattan, who Michael and I both think was the best of those five, but it shouldn’t matter much because there’s so much experience here. Mafi is a converted defensive lineman and the only one of the four returning guards who hasn’t played center, and as of last season he was still too big to be truly effective at 355 lbs, but on the certain types of plays where you just need an immoveable object he certainly fits the bill. Michael tells us there’s a possibility that untested mid 3-stars #68 OG Pulealii and #59 OG Taupaki may be ready to play as depth at the interior as well.

I don’t think any of the talent of these six guys is great – Mafi is a relatively recent defensive convert, Grattan and Marrazzo were walk-ons, and the rest are low-to-mid 3-stars – and I’ve never been in love with their film, but they are executing an absurdly complex and ever-changing playbook and they certainly don’t fall on their faces either, so they get extra points from me for degree of difficulty. According to Michael, Clemens has probably wrapped up the starting center spot, but even if there’s an unforeseen issue the snapping from Gaines and Marrazzo has been just fine. I expect the interior to continue to be a solid and deep group with no real problems.

The tackle situation, however, is looking like a nightmare. They lost both of the longtime starters, Alec Anderson and Sean Rhyan, plus potential tackle Beau Taylor has transferred out, and apparently #55 OT Cole and #76 OT Selna haven’t been seen at Spring practices. Of course we don’t have the official roster to verify those two but even if they do make it back to the team it’s hard to believe they’ll be ready to take over as starters or reliable backups if they’ve never played and missed Spring practices.

There’s a very thorough and entertaining rundown on the podcast of each of the tackle options and the astonishing roster management failures that led the Bruins to this situation. The bottom line is that UCLA has to bet a couple of mid 3-stars who haven’t played in Kelly’s incredibly demanding offense before are ready to go: Rutgers transfer Raiqwon O’Neal at left tackle when he arrives in the Fall, and redshirt freshman #72 OT DiGiorgio at right (apparently he was on the right throughout high school; UCLA they tried him out at left and he can’t do it). If not, their best and perhaps only option is another converted defensive lineman, #50 OT Manoa who just switched this offseason.

I wouldn’t be comfortable with this situation even if UCLA had the best offensive line coach in the world, and they’re not going to have that either. The previous coach for the last four seasons was Justin Frye and he’s been hired away by Ohio St. Kelly has replaced him, shockingly, with OL coach Drevno. He was one of the very few position coaches Clay Helton ever fired during his disastrous nine-year run at USC, and the Trojans are still dealing with the damage at o-line. I have very little confidence that Drevno will be able to sort out this mess, and given how complex Kelly’s run schemes are, I expect that the rushing offense will suffer as much as the pass protection.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 23 Oregon at UCLA Photo by Jordon Kelly/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images


In 2022, the defense will undergo the third scheme change in Kelly’s tenure, though only its second DC. Jerry Azzinaro has been the coordinator since this staff arrived in 2018, but in 2020 Kelly hired DB coach Norwood from Navy and UCLA switched from Azzinaro’s 3-4 hybrid to Navy’s unconventional 4-2-5 with a “Striker” DB and a “Raider” OLB in the box, and it was widely understood that Norwood was the coordinator in all but name. This offseason, after four straight years of the Bruins ranking 69th or worse in F+, Kelly cleared out the entire defensive staff except for Norwood, and even he seems to have been stripped of the “shadow DC” role as new titular DC McGovern appears to have installed his traditional 4-3.

McGovern has spent almost his entire coaching career since 1985 in the Northeast, bouncing around college programs as a position coach until landing at Boston College in 2000 as the linebackers coach where he stayed for nine seasons before being promoted to DC for another four. The Eagles had an excellent defense during McGovern’s last two years as LB coach only and first two as DC/LB coach, ranking 16th or better in F+ from 2007-2010. But the final two years they slid to 51st then 68th, and the entire BC staff was let go following the 2-10 season in 2012. McGovern has spent eight of the last nine seasons as one kind of linebackers assistant coach or another for three NFL teams, with one year in 2020 as an analyst at Nebraska. His most recent job was ILB coach with the Bears in 2021, but McGovern wasn’t retained when Matt Nagy’s staff was let go last year.

On the podcast, Michael called McGovern’s hire “five tiers below uninspiring.” It certainly seems like an odd choice to me, given that UCLA doesn’t have the right personnel for this scheme switch, he has zero West coast ties, and it’s been over a decade since he coached a good college defense during which time virtually every competitive team has abandoned this scheme as antiquated and unable to stop modern college offenses.

The defensive line in previous seasons was best understood as a 3-down front. In 2022, the d-line will get two new coaches, move returners around to different techniques in the 4-down front, and face an extraordinarily high personnel turnover rate.

They lose each of the five most experienced linemen last year: Otito Ogbonnia, Datona Jackson, Odua Isibor, and Tiaoalii Savea have left, and the aforementioned Manoa switched to the o-line. Four more young players who never played and have now transferred out would have been d-linemen had they stayed, I think: Christian Burkhalter, AJ Campbell, Tyler Kiehne, and John Ward; the first three of whom were 2021 recruits.

The only experienced returner big enough to play tackle in this scheme is #93 DT Toia, a 4-star 2021 recruit whom UCLA lured away from USC after he signed with the Trojans. Toia played backup nose tackle as a true freshman in three games; I thought he looked fine but at 325 lbs I have a hard time seeing him shooting gaps in the new scheme (ironically, he probably would have fared better had he stayed at USC and gotten to play in their new 3-3-5). Michael says the most likely returner to play is #44 DT Andrus, a sixth-year senior who missed last season with an injury. It’s hard to know what to make of the rest of the returning tackle candidates who also haven’t played: #95 DT Havili-Kaufusi was injured in Spring, low 3-star #46 DT Harris seems to be a project at 251 lbs, and redshirt freshman 4-star #92 DT Somerville’s official weight is too small at 265 lbs. Of those three, Somerville is the most likely to break in based on pedigree if he’s bulked up since whenever his last weigh-in was; he had several older but less talented guys ahead of him last year and the staff had him redshirt, but that didn’t stop them from playing Toia.

It’s more likely that UCLA starts the two transfers here: low 3-star upperclassmen Gary Smith from Duke and Jacob Sykes from Harvard. Both had about 25 tackles last year at their previous schools and each represent considerably more experience than all returning d-linemen combined. Assuming that they know what they’re doing in a 4-3 (time didn’t permit evaluating their film), this unit should be fine with a couple experienced albeit new-to-LA starters, some potentially talented but inexperienced backups, and some unknowns at depth. There are plenty of question marks surrounding everybody here, however, since body types seem inapposite for the scheme change and I can’t check them against a non-existent roster or Spring game, and Kelly hired another line coach Clay Helton fired at USC, DT coach Kauha’aha’a. So while I think the safest bet is that the tackles should be okay, it certainly wouldn’t shock me if this unit turns out to have depth or performance problems.

NCAA Football: UCLA at Southern California Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

There is basically no returning experience at the new defensive end position, since the only returners lining up here (according to 2022 practice reports) were both playing linebacker last year. Those were #33 DE Calvert, whose film has been thoroughly unimpressive, and #35 DE C. Jones, who I liked as a speedy OLB in the previous system but is drastically underweight for the new job at 220 lbs. They also return previous high 3-star Notre Dame transfer #41 DE Aupui; I haven’t really seen him play but Michael says the staff has been bringing him along and at 250 lbs he’s got a better body type for the new position than Calvert or Jones. Rounding out the returners are low 3-star #48 DE Price and walk-on #96 DE Nelson who have reportedly been practicing with the ends, but I don’t expect to see them on the field in 2022.

Like the tackles, it’s far more likely that we see the new transfers starting at end: the twins from UNT Gabriel and Grayson Murphy. They were both mid 3-stars in the 2019 class and last year combined for 91 tackles, 27 TFLs, and 16 sacks with the Mean Green. Regardless of the quality of opponent those are incredible numbers and it’s very difficult to imagine that they don’t start for the Bruins. They’ve also taken Laiatu Latu, a 2019 mid 4-star from UW, but we haven’t really seen him play aside from a few backup reps his true freshman season since he’s been battling injuries almost his entire career.

If Latu is healthy and playable, I think he and Aupui look like the best backup candidates to the Murphys. But if there are problems with those guys, this unit could have significant rotation or fatigue issues since nobody else looks ready to contribute at the starters’ projected level. I like new DE coach Malloe and think he was the only competent staff member at UW last year (UCLA currently lists him as OLB coach but that position doesn’t exist in the new scheme; doubtlessly Malloe is actually coaching the DEs and this confusion is likely another result of UCLA’s failure to post an updated roster in a timely manner); he’ll have a tricky job with so many transfers in the spotlight and converting undersized returning backers into playable ends.

NCAA Football: UCLA at Southern California Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

The linebacker unit is looking at a pretty dramatic transformation. In my experience, switching to a 4-3 structure usually upends the production because the inside/outside distinction disappears and bodies go from scheme fits to mismatches (and vice versa). So unlike most units most of the time, last year’s film and individual stats don’t do observers a lot of good here. Still, the amount of production on paper the backers are losing is substantial: Mitchell Agude, Jordan Genmark-Heath, Myles Jackson, and Caleb Johnson who combined for 106 tackles last year have all left the team, and Calvert and Jones who had 61 between them are apparently on the d-line now (and I have my doubts about their playing time there).

The returners with some experience who have been practicing as backers are #10 LB Kaho, #20 LB Medrano, and #21 LB Vaughns. I wasn’t particularly impressed with their film last year, and although it’s a new scheme and so they could flip the switch, I haven’t been able to see much of them in it during Spring since the first two have been hurt and the last has been playing baseball. Four other scholarship returners round out the room, though I don’t have any stats recorded for them last year: #9 LB Bryant-Strother, #15 LB Newman, #0 LB Sellers, and #52 LB Trojan. I don’t expect to see much out of mid 3-stars Newman and Trojan, but Michael says that low 4-stars Bryant-Strother and Sellers may be much better fits for the new scheme according to their high school tape and they could break into the rotation or even supplant guys with far more reps than them for that reason.

Michael tells us that Hawaii transfer #53 LB Muasau has completely taken over practices at MIKE and that the entire linebacking unit is likely to be built around him. He was the Bows’ leading tackler last year with 108, and also racked up 14 TFLs and 7 sacks in 2021. With numbers like his, regardless of competition, I have no doubt Michael is right about that. It remains to be seen how the other starters and backups will perform, and I’d be concerned about everybody else given that a 2-star Mountain West player immediately passed up 4-stars Bryant-Strother, Kaho, Sellers, and Vaughns.

Including Muasau there are only four backers who played last year and that’s not enough to fill out a depth chart in a three-backer system, so some inexperienced guys will have to get some playing time on top of the challenge of switching schemes. Michael tells us that new LB coach Norton (a former Bruin LB himself) has taken to the job well and seems like he’s up to the task; it’s hard to imagine he’s not a substantial improvement on previous coach Don Pellum. Given how poorly backers have been managed at UCLA for as far back as I can remember this unit seems poised to take a step forward, but that’s a very low bar to clear, and depth and adaptation issues may still wind up as real problems.

NCAA Football: Fresno State at UCLA Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

The departures in the secondary are staggering. UCLA is losing eight defensive backs who contributed significant minutes in recent years: Obi Eboh, Elisha Guidry, Martell Irby, Cameron Johnson, Qwuantrezz Knight, Quentin Lake, Jay Shaw, and DJ Warnell. They combined for 243 tackles last year, almost 70% of the secondary’s production in 2021. The Bruins are also losing three high 3-stars who didn’t play last year and got in the portal: Patrick Jolly, Shamar Martin, and Josh Moore.

UCLA only returns four defensive backs with significant reps last year: #4 DB Blaylock, #28 DB Churchwell, #26 CB Kirkwood, and #7 CB Osling. Fifth-year senior Blaylock and true sophomore Kirkwood were 4-stars who combined for 76 tackles last year; Michael and I both think those are starters at safety and outside corner, respectively.

For the other outside corner spot, Michael seemed pretty sure that’s going to #6 CB Humphrey, a high 3-star from the 2020 class. That strikes me as odd because he’s only played a tiny number of backup reps so far, and because they’ve taken transfer #20 CB Hearn from Wyoming who was the starting outside corner for the Pokes and enrolled early for Spring practices with UCLA. Michael says that instead Hearn will be playing slot corner, which again seems odd to me because McGovern’s 4-3 only rarely puts five DBs on the field so that’d be quite a waste of experience when it’s in such short supply.

It’s very difficult to peg the rest of the two-deep here because there are so few bodies and so little playing time returning. I would guess that Osling has a slot or corner job since he has some experience and has been around since 2017, at times over the years I thought he was the Bruins’ best DB in coverage (though that’s not saying a lot). Churchwell also has some experience at safety; Michael shared my assessment that he’s a hard hitter but not great in coverage. Beyond that it gets really dicey. 2018 walk-on #19 DB A. Johnson got a few reps last year, ahead of high 3-stars #31 DB Newcombe and #32 Nimmo plus low 3-star non-scholarship USAFA transfer #18 DB Woullard, none of whom played in 2021.

There are four other additions besides Hearn. Oregon 4-star Jaylin Davies transferred to UCLA and will enroll in the Fall, we saw very little of him as a cornerback in his true freshman season but he’s the most talented guy in the room on paper. UCLA took three prep recruits: low 4-stars Kamari Ramsey and Clint Stephens, and mid 3-star Croix Stewart. Stephens enrolled early but Michael says he was getting beat in coverage in practices. Ramsey and Stewart don’t arrive till the Fall; Michael tells us that the program has high hopes for the former but the latter is a project.

So that’s only 14 defensive backs in the entire room, of whom one is a Mountain West transfer, two aren’t on scholarship, three are true freshmen, and four are on scholarship but basically didn’t play last year. The remaining four have some experience … in what’s been a terrible defense their entire careers. There is some talent here on paper, with five bluechips and an average 24/7 composite rating (excluding the walk-ons) of .88 for the whole secondary which is a high 3-star. So there’s a possibility that these guys come together and play just fine if they stay healthy, overcome their lack of experience, and get Norwood’s full attention now that he isn’t running the entire defense from the shadows. But as Michael put it on the podcast, “UCLA is scary, scary, scary thin in the defensive backfield. Any one injury wrecks the depth chart; any two injuries and you’re playing a coterie of walk-ons.”

Accountability Corner

In last year’s preview, I predicted that Thompson-Robinson would keep his job despite some good buzz around the 2020 backup Griffin, and that Garbers was the most likely to challenge for the 2021 backup position while McQuarrie would transfer out – and that’s exactly how it went down. I thought that running back would remain the strength of the team despite the loss of their leading rusher, due to the pair of good-looking transfers in Charbonnet and Brown, and that’s how it went too. The receiver rotation went as predicted as well, though that one was easy since even a cursory glance at the stat sheet showed that if Philips was available he was getting most of the passes and it didn’t matter who else was on the field. I made a big deal of UCLA’s inadequate depth at tight end and the inability of anyone besides Dulcich to catch the ball given how heavily they rely on the position, and I still think that was a point worth making and salient for 2022, but Dulcich stayed healthy and played in every game so it was a moot one (notably, Fresno St’s defense made a special effort to keep him from getting the ball entirely and that ended up an upset loss). Offensive line was an easy prediction because they returned all seven guys from the 2020 rotation; I thought they’d be a good but not elite line due to their modest talent ratings and I still think that was a fair description, especially after watching them get torn up by the best pass rush they faced.

I thought that UCLA’s defense would face a net falloff with the loss of their most important player from 2020, disruptive d-lineman Osa Odighizuwa. It certainly wasn’t a good defense, with the 72nd ranking in F+, but that was only a fall of three spots from the previous season. It seems that his replacement Ogbonnia did a better job than I was anticipating in filling in for him, and he got drafted in the following cycle. Overall I think I’ve been too hasty in writing off the quality of former DL coach Nansen (who after being possibly unfairly dismissed from this staff landed at Arizona); in hindsight his lines each year have outperformed my predictions so I need to re-evaluate him in particular and my tools for assessing DL coaching in general. The backers and secondary all went exactly as I wrote, which required a lot of verbiage because those were wildly overrecruited positions in 2021 (and have now exited en masse in 2022, typical of poor roster management), but ultimately came down to only half a dozen actual predictions of which only one – the ILB – was a toughie.

Oregon v UCLA Photo by Harry How/Getty Images