The numbers don’t lie.
When UCLA spreads the ball evenly among its stable of receivers, the Bruins prove to be successful. UCLA is fourth in the nation in total offense (558.40 yards) and 19th in passing offense (315.0).
A part of that success is credited to the fast tempo dictated by offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone. And for that, a team needs the right personnel and depth.
UCLA (4-1, 1-1) seems to have both. The Bruins have thrown to no less than eight receivers in each game this season, and for the third consecutive week UCLA threw to 11 different receivers.
“We tell them we don’t really have a starting five,” Mazzone said. “We have more of a starting 10.”
Fresh and able bodies help establish a rhythm.
“We want to try to go fast,” UCLA coach Jim Mora said. “We get eight, 10, 11 guys every week and spread it around. That way everyone can play fast and we can be fresh and be sharp.”
In short, don’t expect a go-to receiver, and that’s OK for UCLA senior Jerry Johnson and junior Shaquelle Evans, who in a 27-20 loss to Oregon State made little of their career performances.
Johnson caught a career-high five passes for 75 yards and Evans had 148 yards on six receptions for his first 100-yard game. It was the only game this season UCLA had two receivers with at least five receptions.
The only other time UCLA had a receiver with five or more receptions was Steven Manfro, who caught seven passes in a 37-6 victory over Houston. In that game, Johnathan Franklin caught four passes and Jordon James caught three. The remaining eight receivers caught two or less.
No receiver has caught four or more passes outside the Houston and Oregon State games.
“Everybody wants to be that go-to guy,” Johnson said, “but I think if we get it in everybody’s hands, we’ll win a lot more games.”
With as many as 11 receivers rotating, it’s more about defending schemes than it is about stacking defenders on one receiver. It also gives UCLA a shot in the arm offensively.
“Just by giving everybody an opportunity like that makes the offense a lot more confident,” Evans said.
Every receiver wants the spotlight, but Johnson’s maturity shows when asked if he’s bothered that in his last season his numbers won’t reflect his talent. Johnson’s in his fifth season and entered his redshirt senior year with a career 21-30 record. His only winning season (7-6) was in 2009, so it’s safe to say he’ll trade stats for more wins.
“For me, I just put my team before myself,” he said. “Us winning games is better than having 1,000 yards and a 50- or 60-reception season.”
Evans knows his effort and talent aren’t limited to catching passes. It’s the meticulous tasks like downfield blocking and selling routes that go a long way.
“Little things like that help you win,” Evans said. “It’s infectious throughout the whole team. When one guy sees one guy doing that, everyone wants to do that, and it it helps us get yards, it helps us get points, it helps us get wins, and that’s why we’re successful.”