The University of California uses a quarter system, which means classes just recently began at UCLA. However, it’s more like midterm time for the Bruins football team, including its star pupil, quarterback Josh Rosen.
UCLA is through five games of a 12-game regular-season schedule, and the junior quarterback leads the nation in passing touchdowns with 17 and sets the pace in passing yards per game by a considerable margin. His 427 is roughly 32 more than second-place Nic Shimonek of Texas Tech is averaging.
Statistics only tell a portion of the story, however. Opponents who have faced Rosen this season tell a more vivid tale.
“He was always accurate, but he’s just more accurate,” said Colorado head coach Mike MacIntyre. “He really knows where he’s going in this system he’s running.”
Like most of the teams in the Pac-12, Colorado didn’t see Rosen in 2016 while the quarterback was sidelined with a shoulder injury. Rosen helped the Bruins to a 27-23 victory over the defending South Division Buffs on Saturday, though, finishing with 372 yards on 28-for-45 passing.
In 2015, Rosen went 19-for-33 for 262 yards against the Buffs.
The system that MacIntyre referenced is another change from 2016. UCLA head coach Jim Mora brought offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch on board in the offseason.
Fisch arrived in Westwood with NFL experience, coaching quarterbacks for the Seattle Seahawks in 2010 and coordinating the Jacksonville Jaguars offense in 2013 and 2014. Rosen’s impressive play in Fisch’s NFL-shaped scheme bodes well for the quarterback’s professional future.
“It’s been enjoyable to watch him work,” Fisch said following the Sept. 9 win over Hawaii. “He’s really worked hard at it to be locked in. He’s always really focused in camp and he’s focused in the season and practices and meetings.
“I’m pretty happy with where he is in terms of leading the first offense,” he added.
Another coach with NFL experience who has seen Rosen this season is David Shaw. Shaw’s first team as Stanford head coach featured the player to whom Rosen drew the most comparisons when arriving from UCLA out of St. John Bosco High School: Andrew Luck.
“Josh Rosen has proven he is one of the best quarterbacks in the nation,” Shaw said. “He can make throws that other guys can’t make. He’s been able to will them down the field.”
Rosen completed 66.7 percent of his attempts against the Cardinal last month, compared to 52.4 percent when the two teams met in 2015. His 480 yards against Stanford would have been a career high — had Rosen not thrown for 491 in the 2017 season opener against Texas A&M.
Rosen walked a tightrope in that contest — by the quarterback’s own admission. UCLA came “inches” from losing “10 times.”
But for a play such as the 42-yard touchdown to Darren Andrews that came a hair from being intercepted, Rosen delivered on several others that made the game-changing moments in a 31-point comeback possible.
“The plays that ended in the end zone are a result of the plays in between that don’t seem like a big deal, but end up in something big,” Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin said.
The first half of the 2017 season has been up and down for the 3-2 Bruins. With defensive struggles and a still-developing run game, UCLA’s midterm grade is an incomplete. But Josh Rosen’s return to the college game has been a solid A, according to those who have tested him.
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