Josh Rosen wins, but BYU’s defense gave him a lot to think about

Prior to the season, UCLA head coach Jim Mora made waves when he attacked freshman quarterback Josh Rosen in the media. It turns out that Mora’s words may have had some validity, regardless of whether they were warranted or not.

Rosen profoundly struggled for much of his team’s victory Saturday night against BYU, in a matchup against the toughest opposing defense he had seen to date. In many ways, the Bruins got the best of both worlds: They picked up the result they wanted, but their quarterback will have so much to learn in game film. If Rosen is a quick study, he can become a much better player as a result of this seminar conducted by Bronco Mendenhall’s defense.

With a mixture of exotic blitzes and confusing defensive alignments, the Cougars had Rosen guessing nearly all night. This included plays when BYU had only one down lineman and several others in a standing position at the line who could rush. It is not often that a team wins when a quarterback completes under 50 percent of his passes and tosses three interceptions.

Of those picks from Rosen’s arm, two were plays in which pressure caused Rosen to roll out of the pocket. While running for his life, Rosen lofted the ball up, resulting in an interception. On both of those plays, the Bruins were in field goal range and figured to get at least some points. Those are mistakes that just can’t happen against good teams in close games.

The third interception occurred within the pocket, as pressure caused Rosen to throw off his back foot into coverage. While Rosen is much better in the pocket, he showed on Saturday that he still requires a clean pocket to succeed.

When the clean pocket was there, and the Bruins needed a play, Rosen certainly showed flashes of considerable quality. This included a perfect throw on a touchdown to cut UCLA’s deficit to three, at 20-17, early in the fourth quarter. While some pressure was applied by BYU’s left corner on a blitz, the push up the middle was limited. Rosen delivered an excellent post-corner toss for the score.

Rosen also still showed the ability to drive the ball at times when he was comfortable, but he still has some room for improvement that will be gained with experiences like Saturday night’s difficult journey.

In the first two games of the season, against more vanilla defenses in Virginia and UNLV, Rosen threw for 573 yards and four scores, with just one interception. Rosen also attempted 42 and 35 passes over the first two weeks because the passing attack was working for the Bruins’ offense.

With Rosen out of rhythm for much of this game against BYU, the approach shifted. UCLA attacked with the running game and Paul Perkins. That rushing attack is what carried the Bruins to the victory, as Rosen unloaded just 24 passes on Saturday.

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On the opposite end of this quarterback confrontation, BYU quarterback Tanner Mangum seemed to have a lot more rhythm most of the night. However, the Cougars — like UCLA — attacked in a different style compared to the first two weeks of the season.

Coming into the game, Mangum was averaging over 10 yards per pass attempt. However, UCLA attempted to contain the quarterback’s running ability, as well as the big plays Mangum had created out of nothing.

Mangum responded by taking the underneath throws and moving the ball for his squad. The Cougars were also not afraid to use the running attack, as Adam Hine had 149 yards on 23 carries. Mangum was also clutch when needed, making several key third down plays when points were absolutely needed (until, of course, the very end of the game).

Against UCLA, Mangum also showed his elite arm strength, which allows his gunslinging ability to become a productive force for this offense. This has been the case ever since Taysom Hill went down with an injury. On several occasions, Mangum used his legs to keep plays alive. On his touchdown pass in this game, he noticed man coverage on the outside at the line and dropped in a stellar back-foot pass to his receiver, showcasing that arm strength. However, it was not enough — a third straight Hail Mary did not materialize for the Cougars.

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While Mangum and Rosen go about their business in different ways, they have both managed to be successful for a majority of the young season. For Rosen, the defensive pressure gauntlet continues next week in a battle with Arizona. Only time will tell if he can take Saturday’s experience into that conference clash, and make this season all it can become for the Bruins.

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