UCLA should be worried after defense bails them out

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There's no two ways about it: UCLA really fell flat in its season opener.

If you want to be positive, give your platitude about how the No. 7 Bruins "found a way to win" in their 28-20 victory over Virginia Saturday. 

If you want to be realistic, remember that 21 of UCLA's points were scored by its defense.

That's not the sign of a successful squad that could compete for a national championship this season. It doesn't signify the potential that made many coaches and fans rank the Bruins as a possible Pac 12 Champion.

All this game showed was that if UCLA doesn't see its offense catch up to its defense, it will remain a talented team on paper that can't live up to the hype on the field.

Defensive bailout

Scores from the defense are college football's red herring: they can make a bad team look better than it is.

Give UCLA's defenders some credit for coming out and playing in a competitive second quarter that saw them score three defensive touchdowns.

The diminutive Ishmael Adams got the Bruins on the board for the first time a minute and a half into the second quarter, when he picked off Cavalier quarterback Greyson Lambert and ran it 20 yards into the end zone. 

That score combined with a scintillating 75-yard fumble return by defensive back Randall Goforth and another interception return, this time by senior linebacker Eric Kendricks for 37 yards.

As good as the defense was, the offense was just as bad.

UCLA lost two fumbles, averaged three yards-per-carry on 39 rushes and failed twice on fourth down. While quarterback Brett Hundley didn't have a terrible game - he passed for 242 yards on 20-for-33 passing - the Bruins offense stalled on too many drives and had a single touchdown for the game.

But the real problem is high expectations based on talent alone.

While this roster has the potential to be an offensive juggernaut, its present reality is far worse than the team's high ranking would suggest.

Overrated offense

The promise of Brett Hundley was partially responsible for the Bruins' high hopes entering a season where they were ranked No. 7 in the Associated Press  poll - its highest preseason ranking since 1998.

Hundley finished as the Pac 12's leader in accuracy, completing 66.8 percent of his passes for 3,071 yards and 24 touchdowns, to only nine interceptions. His offensive prowess helped lead UCLA to its 11-2 record and a berth in the Pac 12 Championship Game against Stanford, which it lost.

The junior quarterback turned in a typically efficient performance. However, his running mates faltered - Paul Perkins had a healthy 5 yards per carry, but no other running back averaged more than a single yard per carry.

That kind of performance might be good enough to beat Virginia. 

But if UCLA expects to fulfill its potential as a dark-horse playoff team, it will have to perform much better against the football giants on its schedule, including No. 3 Oregon and No. 11 Stanford.

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