Trench Report: UCLA

The trench report gives an overview of the offensive line play during the most recent game. The top performer gets the Golden Sled, a fictitious award that I give with impunity. This award goes to the lineman that scores the best on my grading system. Because I have no idea what they are taught or what the goals of each play are, I base my grades on what they did and the result.  

UCLA Bruins

Week 10 - Saturday, November 5, 2016

Final: 38 - 24 (L)

Total Line Grade: 2.65 (D+)

Golden Sled Award Winner:

Fred Lauina: 2.41

Fred Lauina actually tied for the award, but I wanted to feature him a bit. He has had an up and down career, but the thing for me with Fred is that he is a great athlete and really does well getting to where he needs to be. In the past he has had troubles with bull rushes and sustaining blocks on the second level, but this weekend he did a much better job.  What was really good to see this week, were guys staying on blocks through the entire play. Fred did a really good job of getting his guys and staying on them.

The first play of the game, after the fumble return, he pancakes his guy and really got some drive in a goal line situation, it was a great start for him. His blocking a few plays later on a different drive, during a play that was ultimately a fail, Lauina did his best blocking. He stayed on his guy and kept blocking while two linebackers flew in to make the play.  While many times this year and in years past, Fred would have left his guy to take a shot at one of them, and end up not blocking anyone, he stayed strong on his man so at least one guy was taken care of instead of zero. That is hard for linemen who see someone flashing by to have to fight the urge to try and block everyone, and instead end up blocking no one.

Best Play Award Winner:

The Whole Line

This was a physical nightmare for the Beavers against the Bruins.  But on the second play of the game, a few yards between them and a 7-0 lead on the road, the Beaver line fired out and were able to create enough of a seam to get the back through for a touchdown. They didn’t blow UCLA off the ball, that never happened all game.  But what they did was their jobs, occupying guys and getting enough push to keep them up and away from the runner. On the road, after a big play, the Beavers needed to score and get some momentum and this play filled the bill.  We know it didn’t lead to a win, but that was a very well blocked play that OSU has had problems converting on this year. 

Overview

The last four weeks have felt like a broken record.  Too much athleticism on the other side of the ball for the Beavers.  I really feel like Blake Brandel has taken a few steps forward the last few weeks and am excited to see his progression next year.  Effort wise, he is leading the team in terms of finishing blocks. Unfortunately, there were far too many plays where the Oregon State linemen were getting blown up and were unable to get even the minimum blocks to spring a play.  

A good example was Gavin Andrews versus the Bruins defensive tackles.  The down block on pulls can be a tough block against explosive linemen, but it is also one where you have a great angle to get push on them and ride them away from the play. Unfortunately, the defensive tackles for UCLA are elite level athletes and in many cases Andrews block was on the back half of their body as they ran past him to blow up the play. In most cases, the blowing up of the play wasn’t the rushing defender making it, but rather them dragging the Beaver lineman with them and creating an easy lane for their linebackers to fill and make the play.

The thing is, even with some of the physical mismatches, the Beavers were able to do some good things.  The line moved with purpose and there were some good adjustments to battle some of those issues.  In the case above, the Beavers would periodically pull Andrews, which kept the players shaded by defensive tackles in their way and impeding their bullrushes a bit. This was the best blocked game all year in my opinion because the players were staying on their blocks and never quitting.  The problem was, they were outnumbered and the free released player by the Bruins was able to make the play in the backfield. Even if they took the Magellan route.

To be honest, I am not always sure what OSU is trying to do with their schemes.  They will leave front side linebackers unblocked on read option plays or pull seemingly random players to either confuse the defense or to leverage lateral blocking on teams that get upfield in a hurry. Those techniques are pretty standard in the line blocking world, but OSU is using them all the time and in a lot of different and unique situations. My guess is that this is to combat the difference in ability and talent, but it often (when defenses recognize the play) leads to free released, dead plays and out of position linemen.  There is also a degree of slowness in development that forces the line to hold their blocks for a very long time.  This leads to some holes being open initially, but closing rapidly as the defenders work through the blocks.

I am not sure that this is the way we will block forever. My guess is that much of it is to mask deficiencies.  But for now, I feel like our offensive line resembles the confusing backfields of the Chip Kelly era ducks. If teams recognize the play, they are not going to take the bait on the blocking schemes and offensive front misdirection.  Often this kills plays before they start. UCLA was going to be tough up front and I think many in Beaver Nation were overlooking their talent because of their issues on offense.  Oregon State will not play a defensive front that athletic for at least the next five games spanning into 2017.  I thought they played their guts out and it is not their fault that Bruin players who were left unblocked by design were making the plays.

Season Totals

Minnesota: 2.72 (D -)

Idaho State: 2.73 (D -)

Boise State: Coming Soon

Colorado: 2.69 (D +)

California: 2.46 (C )

Utah: 2.67 (D+ )

Washington: 2.77 (D-)

Washington State: 2.62 (D+)

Stanford: 2.65 (D)

Grading Criteria

Each player can get between a 1 - 4 grade:

1 - Huge play block.  
This block led directly to a score or a game-changing play. With that in mind, 1's are rare, but if they weren’t rare, then you would be winning championships, year in and out.

2 - Mission accomplished.
This block was solid; the block-ee was not part of the play and the technique looked good. This is a winning-level score. If a lineman averages close to, or better, than 2, they dominated.

3. Mission Barely Accomplished.  
This play was OK, but this block didn’t help, or in some cases, may have hurt the play — or not even been a block.  The closer to 3 a line averages, the less likely they had good game.

4. Fail.
This play led to a terrible turn of events: killed a drive, led to opponent points, or resulted in a penalty. Averages around 4 will most likely lead to losses.

Goal:
Players should be aiming for below a 2.25 grade.  That is a consistently high grade that tends to avoid terrible plays (4s). Because I don’t give individual grades for technique or start and finish, this is just a general feeling about each play. If I knew what play was called and what the goal of each position was, I would do a more accurate three-part grade.

Team Goals:

2 > : A

2.01 - 2.25: B

2.26 - 2.5: C

2.51 - 3.0: D

3.01 < : F

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