Major injuries have hurt UCLA on both offense and defense. They’ve hit every position and claimed key pieces of the team for the rest of the year. Head coach Jim Mora cites the injuries as a major factor for UCLA’s struggles this season, especially on defense.
So how exactly have they all affected the team’s production on the field?
Here’s a look at which players have been kept out of games due to injury, which games they missed, overlayed with graphs showing UCLA’s offensive yards per play and the opponent’s yards per play in each game:
The linebackers have been hit the hardest with injuries as six different players have missed a combined 21 games. That includes two season-ending injuries to Josh Woods (shoulder) and Breland Brandt (concussions forcing medical retirement), who were expected to be key players this season.
As a note, Matt Dickerson‘s injury (collarbone) is not classified as “season-ending” on the chart but he likely won’t be able to come back unless the Bruins make it to a bowl game. Consider it “regular-season-ending.”
On offense, the wide receivers and tight ends avoided the injury bug mostly until Caleb Wilson suffered a season-ending Lisfranc injury against Colorado. Now they are without Wilson and receiver Darren Andrews (ACL), who are the team’s two-leading receivers.
Wilson’s injury seemed to do more than just open a coincidental floodgate, however, as it seems to have had the biggest affect on the offense. The Bruins gained a then-season-low 5.8 yards per play against Colorado — the game during which Wilson’s injury occurred. The efficiency has only continued to fall steadily, bottoming out against Washington’s stout defense that kept UCLA to just 3.8 yards per play.
There’s no clear trend that emerges with the defense as the injuries have piled up, though, so perhaps it’s not completely accurate to cite them as the main cause of the unit’s historic struggles. (UCLA is one pace to give up 3,638 total rushing yards in 12 games this season, which would eclipse the current school record of 2,793 set in 2005.)
Mora often says this abomination of a defense comes from a combination of injuries and inexperience. It’s the injuries that have forced the Bruins to suddenly play young players. However, they should have known they were going to play some of those young players anyway.
For example, the defensive line had only three seniors at the start of the year: Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, Dickerson and Nick Terry (a former junior college transfer). The coaching staff likes to rotate in as many defensive linemen as possible, so it knew it was going to have to turn to players like Jaelan Phillips, Osa Odighizuwa and Chigozie Nnoruka, who were playing their first Division I snaps. True freshman Martin Andrus burned his redshirt in the second game of the year before the injuries really started piling up.
Two defensive linemen who have been forced to play more due to injuries are Marcus Moore and Greg Rogers. Moore started at defensive end against Oregon when Phillips was just coming off his ankle injury and Keisean Lucier-South had started his move to linebacker to plug those injury holes. Rogers, who Mora stated earlier this year was supposed to redshirt, made his UCLA debut against the Ducks when Dickerson broke his collarbone and Jacob Tuioti-Mariner went to the hospital after he was concerned with a possible appendicitis flare up. (The concern ended up being nothing and did not cost him any full games.)
UCLA knew it was going to have to play inexperienced players this season on defense, but they have not grown up as quickly as the team would have liked or as quickly as people (myself included) would have expected, especially considering Mora’s track record of bringing in top-20 recruiting classes every year. However, it’s becoming apparent that another part of Mora’s track record is underachieving with top recruits.