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UCLA Report: Bruins must beware this running Rebel

Texas A&M quarterback Trevor Knight (8) scores on a 1-yard run in overtime against UCLA on Sept. 3. (Bob Levey / Getty Images)

Just what UCLA needed. Another running quarterback to worry about.

Every time Nevada Las Vegas’ Johnny Stanton dashes across the Rose Bowl field Saturday evening, drug the Bruins might be reminded of the pain inflicted by Trevor Knight, see the Texas A&M quarterback whose touchdown run on an option read in overtime spelled defeat for UCLA in its season opener.

Stanton has been on the move since he departed Santa Margarita High three years ago. He barely played in two seasons at Nebraska, appearing in two games and throwing one pass. His inactivity was partially the result of a prolonged recovery from a severe knee injury he suffered his senior year in high school.

The bit role prompted a transfer to Saddleback College, where Stanton thrived. He led the team with 747 rushing yards last season and passed for 3,471 yards and 27 touchdowns with 10 interceptions.

In his first start for UNLV last week, Stanton showed why he had been so widely coveted coming out of high school. He completed 10 of 12 passes for 217 yards and three touchdowns against Jackson State, with all of the scoring passes going to receiver Devonte Boyd. Stanton also rushed for 35 yards in four carries, meaning he’ll provide dual anxiety for UCLA defenders Saturday in their home opener.

“That extra guy causes that extra gap, that extra guy that you have to account for,” Bruins defensive coordinator Tom Bradley said of a running quarterback.

Several UCLA defenders are already familiar with Stanton. Linebacker Jayon Brown and safety Randall Goforth played against the quarterback while attending Long Beach Poly High.

“He’s a big guy, great competitor and he has a great winning mentality,” Brown said.

Said Goforth: “He’s smart, aggressive. We’ve got our hands full this week.”

Bag it

UCLA has implemented a clear-bag policy for its home games this season in an effort to improve security and expedite entry to the Rose Bowl.

Allowable bags include clear plastic, vinyl or PVC ones that do not exceed 12 by 6 by 12 inches; one-gallon clear plastic freezer bags; small clutch bags about the size of a hand, with or without a handle or strap; diaper bags (as long as an infant is present); and soft, flexible seat cushions that do not include frames or pockets.

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Halftime: UCLA Bruins 9, Texas A&M Aggies 10; Second Half ThreadDespite missing a 48 yard field goal that could have given UCLA the lead at the half, freshman kicker JJ Molson has all of UCLA’s points at the half.

The Bruins and Aggies have played 30 minutes of football andUCLA trails by one point, 10-7. The Bruins will get the ball to start the second half.

The Bruins won the toss and deferred. TAMU received the kickoff and, three plays into the game, disaster struck for them, as Tahaan Goodman forced a fumble. After the Bruins recovered the fumble on the A&M half of the field, the Bruins could do nothing on offense and were forced to settle for a 38 yard field goal from freshman, JJ Molson, on his first kick in college. UCLA over TAMU, 3-0.

Texas A&M took over and promptly went three and out. UCLA could do nothing with the ball and Josh Rosen made a huge mistake trying to make something out of nothing at was he was being sacked, flipping the ball right in the arms of the Texas A&M defender at midfield for an interception.

UCLA’s defense stepped up, forcing a 38 yard field goal attempt from the Texas A&M freshman, also his first kick in college. Unfortunately for the Aggies, the kid rung it off the right upright, UCLA maintained its lead, 3-0.

The teams switched possessions again with Texas A&M pinning UCLA at their own 4 yard line towards the end of the first quarter. After two UCLA first downs, taking UCLA out to their own 39 yard line, the first quarter ended with UCLA up, 3-0.

UCLA continued its drive in the 2nd quarter, as Bolu Olorunfunmi (Verne had trouble with the pronunciation) sprung a big run, taking the Bruins to 1st and goal. The drive stalled there, however, and UCLA had to settle for a field goal with 11:33 left in the second quarter, with UCLA leading 6-0.

TAMU took over at their own 30 yard line after the kickoff. The Aggies went through the UCLA defense like butter, taking 11 plays to go 70 yards into the UCLA end zone, capped off by a 6 yard TD run by Keith Ford. 7-6 Aggies over Bruins.

UCLA responded with an impressive drive, highlighted by a 25 yard bullet to Darrin Andrews to get UCLA to first and goal at the 10. Once again, UCLA could not solve TAMU deep, and were forced to settle for Molson’s third field goal of the day, a chip shot. UCLA led, 9-7 with 4:56 left in the half.

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We continue our team-by-team preview in the Pac-12. Up next, the UCLA Bruins.

2015 record: 8-5 (5-4 Pac-12)

2016 FPI preseason rank: 17

2016 FPI win projection: 9.0-3.5

FPI chance to win the Pac-12: 29.1 percent

FPI chance to win the Pac-12 South: 49.1 percent

Key losses: DT Kenny Clark, LB Myles Jack, OT Caleb Benenoch, RB Paul Perkins, WR Jordan Payton, LB Aaron Wallace, WR Thomas Duarte, WR Devin Fuller, C Jake Brendel

Key returnees: QB Josh Rosen, LT Conor McDermott, DL Eddie Vanderdoes, LB Jayon Brown, DE Takkarist McKinley, S Randall Goforth, S Jaleel Wadood
UCLA Bruins 2016 season previewIf Josh Rosen steps up as a sophomore, UCLA could be the team to beat in the Pac-12 South. Jae C. Hong/AP, File

Most important player: Rosen. Forget just UCLA — Rosen is the most important player in the Pac-12 and maybe the country. Take him off the Bruins and few would consider the Bruins a conference-title favorite, but with him that’s exactly what they are. Backup quarterback Mike Fafaul, a fifth-year senior and onetime walk-on, has looked good in training camp, but the difference between him and Rosen is substantial.

Impact newcomer: WR Theo Howard. After losing three receivers to the NFL draft, UCLA has a lot of production to replace. Howard should play a big part in filling that void. Throughout training camp, Howard’s teammates have been extremely complimentary of the true freshman, and the expectation is for him to make a real impact from Day 1.

Breakout player: McKinley. He has set the bar high for himself. McKinley said the team’s shift to a predominantly 4-3 base defense will allow him to “show why I’m going to be the best pass-rusher in the country.” That might be a bit extreme, but McKinley has the physical traits to be among the best pass-rushers in the Pac-12, and a double-digit sack total wouldn’t come as a surprise. After arriving during the season in 2014 and playing somewhat out of position on the interior last year, he’s at home at defensive end this season.

Position unit of strength: Defensive backs. Three starters — Wadood and Goforth at safety and cornerback Fabian Moreau — have been second-team All-Pac-12 selections in the past and headline one of the best defensive backfields in the country. After a strong 2015 campaign, Marcus Rios will start opposite Moreau. Adarius Pickett could step in and the defense wouldn’t miss a beat.

Position unit of weakness: Receiver. Weakness is relative here because the Bruins could turn out to be very strong at receiver. But, for now, it’s the position group with the least amount of clarity. As noted above, the departures to the group will free up opportunities for players who haven’t been called upon to be major contributors in the past.

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LOS ANGELES — With Josh Rosen at quarterback and a deep, talented defense, the UCLA Bruins are expected to be serious contenders to win the Pac-12 title. The Bruins were voted by the media as the favorite in the Pac-12 South, and ESPN’s Football Power Index gives them a 29 percent shot at winning the conference for the first time since 1998.

Asked what type of team goals UCLA has on the first day of training camp, Rosen took it a step further.

“I want to win a national championship,” he said. “Coach [Jim Mora] always talks about one step at a time. We’re trying to play December 2, get in the Pac-12 [championship game], and that’s step one, and we’ll take every step from there.”

UCLA QB Josh Rosen: 'I want to win a national championship'Quarterback Josh Rosen has big expectations for the Bruins this season. John Cordes/Icon Sportswire

That type of success would represent a stark contrast to the way the Bruins finished last season when they lost three of their final four games, including a 37-29 loss to Nebraska in the Foster Farms Bowl.

“It was just a bitter end,” Rosen said. “Preferably we wouldn’t lose in a bowl game that we weren’t proud to be in in the first place. We want to be in a big-time bowl game against big-time opponents.”

The Bruins will get their first crack at a big-time opponent on Sept. 3 when they open on the road against Texas A&M. While Rosen has grand visions of a national title, he hasn’t quite turned his attention to the Aggies, who hired former UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone to the same position during the offseason.

“We’re worried about us right now,” Rosen said. “There’s always the little undertone afterthought in the back of your head about it, but we’re worried about us.”

After spending last training camp in a quarterback competition, Rosen is trying to evolve into more of leader. It was just one day, but he said he’s got more responsibilities and is focused on helping his teammates line up in the right spots.

“Having certainty at that position is a big help for us,” Mora said. “It allows everyone to settle down a little bit.”

“Today was as good as a first practice as, and I don’t want to overstate it, which I’m prone to do at times, but it seems like as good a first day of practice as we’ve had since I’ve been here that I can remember,” he added.

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