UCLA Football: Midseason Awards for Players and Coaches
The No. 12 UCLA Bruins (5-1) are about halfway through their 2013 season.
As a result, it's time to take a look at some of the midseason award winners for Jim Mora's bunch. The team is enjoying a successful season thus far. It comes as no surprise that the two projected lynchpins heading into the season (Brett Hundley, Anthony Barr) are leading the team from their respective sides of the ball.
Additionally, there have been two players who have become very pleasant surprises. A longtime reserve has also thrived in a starting role this season.
Here are the midseason awards for the UCLA Bruins.
Offensive MVP: Brett Hundley
It's difficult to not name Hundley as the offensive MVP thus far in the season.
UCLA doesn't have a true dominant receiver. In Noel Mazzone's spread offense, he loves to spread (no pun intended) the ball out to a plethora of skill position players. Devin Fuller and Shaq Evans have been the best of the bunch, but neither have put up numbers that suggest a billing as the most valuable player on offense.
The running backs on the roster have been solid, but not spectacular by any means. Jordon James could have been the running for this title. However, he's been plagued by injury in the past three games.
Hundley is the default winner here. That's not to say that he's been overly impressive. He's still far too indecisive with his decision-making. There were numerous times against Stanford in which he failed to escape the pocket and run with the ball. He also is plagued by holding onto the ball for far too long when surveying the field.
It'd be poignant to note that his struggles most likely coincide with a shaky offensive line. His accuracy hasn't been great (61.5 percent for the year), and it probably does stem a bit from being rushed within the pocket.
Defensive MVP: Anthony Barr
Anthony Barr has been the best defensive player for the Bruins through six games.
The Loyola High School product is given quite a bit of attention by the opponent. Barr is constantly double- and even triple-teamed. Extra offensive linemen, tight ends and running backs are all tasked with keeping the Bruins' talented outside linebacker out of the backfield.
On the season, Barr leads the team in tackles for loss (11.0), forced fumbles (three) and fumble recoveries (two). He's second in sacks (4.0) and sixth in total tackles (34).
UCLA's defense is infinitely better with Barr on the field. He's proved himself to be one of the best defensive players in the entire country. He also may have surpassed Jadaveon Clowney as the favorite for the top pick in the 2014 NFL draft.
This trick play in the 34-27 victory over Utah essentially was the difference in the contest.
At this point in the game, Utah had all the momentum. The Utes had scored two straight touchdowns to take a seven-point lead. In front of a hostile environment on the road, the Bruins needed points in order to snatch the momentum back.
UCLA marched down to the red zone. Although starting under center, quarterback Brett Hundley wandered off to the side of the offensive line to essentially give the impression that he was calling an audible at the line of scrimmage. Running back Jordon James ended up taking the direct snap as wide receiver Devin Fuller came around from the slot on a reverse.
James pitched the ball to Fuller (a former high school quarterback). By that point, Hundley leaked out and was wide open in the end zone. Fuller calmly tossed his quarterback the ball, and Hundley held on for the touchdown reception.
*The play can be seen at the 1:27 mark of the video above.
Best Coach: Lou Spanos
UCLA's defensive coordinator has been very solid in the early goings of the season.
In 2012, UCLA's defense was ranked No. 78 in the nation. The group last season included an entire secondary made up of seniors, and also had first-round pick Datone Jones patrolling as a defensive end.
This season, Lou Spanos filled those spots with true freshmen and vastly inexperienced players. Conventional wisdom would suggest that the unit would most likely have some growing pains.
It hasn't quite happened thus far. The Bruins defense is ranked No. 32 nationally in 2013. Spanos' unit has intercepted nine passes through six games. It also ranks No. 9 in defending against third-down conversion attempts. For the year, UCLA is only allowing 19.2 points per game by opponents.
Freshmen such as Myles Jack, Eddie Vanderdoes and Kenneth Clark are playing integral roles on the defense. An entirely new secondary from a season ago has also played considerably beyond expectations.
Simply put, Spanos has done a masterful job of meshing together inexperienced players with season veterans.
Most Improved Player: Jordon James
Before James got hurt, he was a stabilizing force in the backfield for the Bruins.
He's rushed for 463 yards and five touchdowns in the four games that he's participated in. His 6.3 yards-per-carry average is tops on the team (for someone with more than 10 carries).
The biggest knock on James coming into the year was his reluctance to hitting the hole hard and charging up field. Historically, he'd rather dance in the backfield and try to juke every single defender out of his proverbial shoes.
This year, he's done a much better job at cutting once and running upfield. The proof is truly in the pudding for James. Last year as more of a glorified dancer, his yards-per-carry average was a paltry 3.5. He's improved on those numbers a great deal.
UCLA hopes that its leading rusher can return to action soon. The run game has stalled considerably without James in the lineup.
Rookie of the Year: Myles Jack
Jack has been an absolute revelation for the Bruins.
The true freshman out of Bellevue, Wash. has started every game for UCLA at outside linebacker. His athleticism completely jumps off of the screen when he plays.
Jack not only has the raw power and strength to go up against defensive linemen when rushing the quarterback, but he also possesses the speed and quickness to cover receivers. Yes, an outside 'backer who can stick smaller skill players on routes out in space.
He's third on the team in tackles (41). Jack also leads the team with six pass breakups and seven pass deflections. Jack is a truly special prospect. His potential is sky-high, and there's no telling how good he truly can be.
Jack hasn't been the only freshman to make noise this year. Guard Alex Redmond has also started every single game for the Bruins. Vanderdoes and Clark have both seen quality time on the defensive line, and Thomas Duarte has started a few games at tight end for UCLA.
Surprise Stars: Fabian Moreau/Randall Goforth
The selections for this slide might surprise some people.
Jack is the obvious answer here. For the sake of being diverse, I'll opt to include other team members for this slide.
Both Fabian Moreau and Randall Goforth have been very solid in the secondary. The secondary itself was perhaps the biggest question mark heading into the season. UCLA had the unenviable task of replacing the entire unit from a season ago.
Goforth, although a true sophomore, was the most experienced member heading into the year.
He's been a stabilizing force for the green secondary in 2013. He's second on the team in tackles with 43. It's no doubt an indication as to how solid Goforth has been near the line of scrimmage. He's adept at creeping up toward the box and making the requisite play. Goforth is also second on the team in interceptions with two.
No one knew how good Moreau would be. As a corner, it's always a good thing when there's little mention of one's name during the game. It generally means that wide receivers aren't running freely down the field.
The former running back has constantly been able to body up receivers with his impressive physical traits (6'0", 193 pounds). Moreau is also equipped with above-average athleticism, and that's allowed him to stay with smaller receivers.
The secondary, which was considered to be a potential weakness, has turned into a strength. Moreau and Goforth are two big reasons for this development.