True freshman Josh Rosen took the college football world by storm when he made his debut as UCLA’s starting quarterback this season, doing great work in a 34-16 win against the Virginia Cavaliers. But after a subpar performance against BYU last weekend, Rosen is now in a situation where his overall potential will be tested, even though he has thrown for 680 yards, five touchdowns and four interceptions this season while completing 61 percent of his passes.
Before we go any further, it is important to note that Rosen is an incredible talent and not average by any means. He was a four-star recruit out of California’s St. John Bosco High School, about 20 miles outside of Los Angeles, has great size and presence for his position at 6-foot-4, 210 pounds, and has for the most part been a rock star on the field since arriving in Westwood. In the Bruins’ season opener against Virginia, he completed 28 of 35 passes for 351 yards and three touchdowns.
Rosen then took a step back the following weekend against UNLV, making just 22 of 42 throws for 223 yards and a touchdown and an interception apiece, but a lot of that can be attributed to head coach Jim Mora featuring running back Paul Perkins more often, plus junior Jerry Neuheisel getting some garbage time minutes in a 37-3 victory.
But it was Rosen’s performance against a tough BYU team last weekend that surely has some fans concerned about him regressing against actual competition, cracking under the pressure, or both. Though UCLA won by the skin of its teeth 24-23, Rosen was just 11 of 23 for 106 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions. Were it not for Perkins having an amazing game again, rushing for 219 yards, plus star linebacker Myles Jack killing a Cougars drive by intercepting quarterback Tanner Mangum’s pass late in the fourth quarter, chances are the Bruins would have lost the game. Sure enough, fans breathed a sigh of relief as the team’s record improved to 3-0 and UCLA moved up to No. 9 in the Top 25.
And this is where Rosen’s biggest test of the season thus far arrives. UCLA is set to take on a tough Pac-12 rival in the No. 16 Arizona Wildcats, who are also 3-0 and rank fifth in the nation in total offense, plus fourth in rushing offense. The game is also at Arizona Stadium and with an unfriendly crowd doing all it can to throw him off, this game is going to determine just how far Rosen can take UCLA as a freshman. Given how Arizona has outscored opponents 163-65 this year, and opponents have probably scored more than usual because of star linebacker Scooby Wright being out with a knee injury, one can see the hurdle that stands in front of Rosen and his teammates.
Granted, not all of the effort falls entirely on Rosen. It’s up to the Bruins’ defense to slow down Wildcats quarterback Anu Solomon, who has started the year by throwing for 778 yards and 10 touchdowns with no interceptions, and running back Nick Wilson will also be a tough task.
But the focus of this piece is what UCLA does on the offensive side of the ball, specifically Rosen. If the rumors are true, the aforementioned Wright could very well make his return to the field for this game. He led the nation with 164 total tackles and 31 tackles for a loss last season, plus 15 sacks. Though UCLA’s offensive line has only allowed Rosen to be sacked once this season, the return of Wright could give the Wildcats’ defense an extra bounce in its step and also very well cripple the Bruins’ scoring attack.
Which is why Rosen needs to shake off his rusty performance against BYU last week and thus eliminate any concerns over what seems to be, on paper at least, a downward trend. He’s a talented young man and has an incredible football IQ despite being a freshman, and he knows just how important this weekend’s game is. UCLA’s College Football Playoff hopes highly depend on it.
Thus, though he has fallen in terms of overall production with each passing week, look for Rosen to rise up in the face of pressure this weekend. He hit the bottom he needed to hit against BYU last weekend, and can now rise from the ashes and do what the fans all know he can.
That being lead the Bruins to a key victory and one step closer to a shot at a national championship.
*Featured Photo (above) credit to USA TODAY Sports