OFFENSIVE LINE: A
The UCLA offensive line, once again, was the best unit on the field Saturday. It's one thing to dominate the opposing defense in creating space to run, it's another when the opposing defense knows exactly what you're going to do and you dominate them anyway.
If left guard Darius Savage continues to play the way he has in the seasons' first four games he absolutely deserves post-season recognition, and a look from the NFL. He truly is dominating. On one play he sealed his man, and then went down field and laid a block on another. Playing against Texas-level recruits he made them look like Washington State-level guys.
Sean Sheller, too, is doing a stellar job, generally containing his man. He did miss on a block in the first quarter, which led to Kevin Prince's sack and fumble, but played very well a vast majority of the time.
You might notice – as I'm sure every future opponent has – UCLA is running over the left side of its line, which is Savage, Sheller and center Ryan Taylor, who also had an excellent game, despite fighting off cramps.
The right side of the line – guard Eddie Williams and right tackle Mike Harris – aren't getting near the same amount of action, and while they're playing well, they're not in the same league with the left side of the line. Williams had a mostly strong game in run blocking, while Harris whiffted on a few guys, which led to some tackles for loss.
The unit did better at run blocking (obviously), but didn't give Prince quite enough time against Texas in the pocket. On blitzes and stunts they seem to be struggling a bit on knowing their assignments. Despite some mistakes, there were just too many things they did right and were the driving force in UCLA winning the game, so they get a straight A.
It's difficult to grade their performance since they didn't have many balls thrown at them. But the wide receivers and the tight ends had good and bad moments in their other assignments on the day. F-back Anthony Barr laid a couple of nice blocks, Morrell Presley is active in his blocking assignments, and tight end Cory Harkey is practically working as a sixth offensive lineman, and doing a fantastic job. He often times seals his man on the left side of the line and helps create the seams for the running backs.
But their performance was also marred by a couple of bad blocks. Tight end Joseph Fauria made a poor effort in his matador block in the first quarter that led to a Prince sack.
Harkey dropped the pass. And there were a number of passing plays in which Prince had time to throw but looked down field and it appeared he had no one open. Now, Texas has perhaps one of the few best secondaries in the nation, and it was evident in UCLA's receivers struggling to get separation.
RUNNING BACKS: A-
If not for Johnathan Franklin's fumble, and a couple of missed blocks from the group, this would be a straight A.
Franklin is doing many great things in running the ball – particularly showing great vision and then breaking tackles after contact. It was perhaps Derrick Coleman's best display of running the ball since he's been a Bruin. He's always promoted as the "big back" but, up until this game, hasn't shown the ability to bull over anyone. He did in this game, however, breaking arm tackles and keeping his feet churning. Malcolm Jones got in for a series and looked a bit slow to hit the hole. It's probably understandable that he was a little stunned, coming off a two-fumble game and playing for the first time in a big-time college football environment on the road. He kept driving the pile, though.
It's a mixed bag for Kevin Prince. He did some things very well, but it's hard to give a good grade to a quarterback who throws for only 27 yards.
Now, on one hand, He didn't have many pass plays called for him. But on the other, he did miss a couple of throws, one easy one to Barr. He also held the ball a bit too long at times, and didn't see an obvious corner blitz that resulted in a sack.
On the plus side, he executed his zone reads very well and ran the ball very effectively, especially on his touchdown run.
Prince also gets a huge amount of credit for the now-famous way he threw off the trainer on the sideline to hop back in the game after the punt fumble recovery, and then toss a touchdown pass.
OFFENSIVE GAME PLAN, SCHEME AND COACHING: A-
As we said in the post-game story, the Pistol was the star of the game. Texas knew UCLA was going to run the ball and UCLA did it anyway, but running out of the Pistol formation creates so many little mysteries for the defense that it's tough to defend. And it creates the opportunity for the quarterback to tuck and run himself, which was highly effective against Texas.
The play-calling was entirely conservative, but it didn't need to be anything different. As we said in the game preview, UCLA was going to be pig-headed about trying to establish a running game, and it was – and it did. There were some head-scratching calls – like calling for a straight drop by Prince at the Texas 20-yard line, which led to an 11-yard sack, making a field goal far more difficult for Kai Forbath. And he subsequently missed the 49-yarder. To the offensive coaches' credit, in almost the same situation a few possessions later, they rolled out Prince and, not being able to find a receiver, he ran out of bounds for only a one-yard loss, keeping Forbath easily within range.
It will be interesting to see if the success on the ground – and the conservative play-calling – will only encourage more of the same, or if Norm Chow will use this as a stepping stone to continue to build, particularly a passing game.
DEFENSIVE LINE: B
The DL had its moments, but also had some poor moments.
When Akeem Ayers is lined up with his hand down as a defensive end, this is a good defensive line. When he's standing up as a linebacker, it's shaky.
Ayers was stellar on Saturday, and most of the bigger plays he made came when he started with his hand down. There were a number of pass rushes where he is practically past the tackle before the guy is even out of his stance. On one play in the second half, he was sliding along the line of scrimmage on a stretch run, and he literally played off three blockers before making a solo tackle.
Keenan Graham continues to get better, and he perhaps is one of the most exciting young players on the team right now. In the Texas game he put good pressure on Gilbert, and got one sack, on a stunt where he shot up the middle practically untouched. He's also, though, using his speed and quickness to be effective against the run, often times coming around the backside to be involved in the play, or sliding over into a hole with good lateral quickness. His tackling has improved, too.
Nate Chandler played most of the game at defensive tackle, and generally did okay. It appears he's trying to spin and swim around his blocker a bit too much, which takes him out of the play at times, but his quickness is an advantage to recover and be part of the play. David Carter had some of his best plays of the season so far, shedding blocks fairly well to make tackles on a couple of plays. He did, though, get blown off the line by double teams a couple of times and was called for offside once.
It's understandable that the starting DL needs to be subbed, but when it does, the level of play falls off. Freshman DT Cassius Marsh looks like he's still learning how to play, and lacks enough strength yet to really hold up his blocker. Give him credit for scooping up the fumble. Justin Edison, in for just a handful of plays, had perhaps his best showing, making a tackle on a pursuit and being in position to make another before the Texas running back fumbled.
Owamagbe Odighizuwa played some and looked a bit overwhelmed, but worked hard.
No matter if you judge the linebackers when they play with Ayers and have three, or just two, they played very well on the day.
It might have been Ayers' best day as a linebacker yet this season. He was disciplined and smart, which was very evident in his positioning to set up his interception (which was also a very athletic play).
Middle linebacker Patrick Larimore had a big assignment going into Austin, and generally did well. There were times when he got pushed, but he actively fought his way back, and there were other times he was slipping through the hole to make a tackle or help someone else make it. Pouncing on that fumble was quite a heads-up play.
Sean Westgate, at this point, has to be just about everyone's favorite Bruin. He was outstanding Saturday, leading the team in tackles with 11, while being all over the field. It's clear now that he's a big reason UCLA does so well in its nickel package, since it gives him a chance to roam in space, and slice by larger guys to make tackles. He was very good in the fourth quarter, where for a short stretch it looked like the Sean Westgate Show, with him making a succession of great open-field tackles.
Glenn Love got some time and showed flashes, again. He looked very athletic and quick in pursuit, and is a very good tackler. In pass coverage, he did drift out of his area, which created a hole for a Texas receiver to run into for a catch and gain.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: B
After watching the tape of the game, the secondary did better on second viewing than on the first. There were some blown coverages, and some missed tackles, but there were some other very heady, aggressive plays.
Coming away from the game the guy it seemed fans picked on was Aaron Hester. Yes, he did badly miss a tackle of a ball carrier going up a sideline, and got called for a penalty on a late chuck on a receiver. But his pass interference was flatly a mistake; the Texas receiver clearly tripped on his own feet. And there were other times away from the camera when Hester had his man covered.
Sheldon Price had a very good game, and is putting together a string of them now. It's funny that against Kansas State he looked like he hadn't gotten stronger and was getting blocked out of a running play, but against Texas's bigger, strong athletes, he played off blocks with strength and made tackles. He had a couple of open-field tackles that were textbook, and his break-up of the Hail Mary at the end of the half was perfect.
Rahim Moore had a solid game, with better tackling and some nice pursuit on running plays. His counterpart, Tony Dye, was exceptional again, making some of the biggest defensive plays of the day. He contained ball carriers to perfection, and made a couple of very good open-field tackles. His tip of the Gilbert pass in the endzone was excellent zone coverage and an athletic play. Then, in the fourth quarter, on fourth and four, he kept the Texas receiver a couple of yard short of the first-down marker and made the tackle.
Dalton Hilliard did much of the work as the nickel back Saturday and was good. He did break down in coverage a couple of times, being suckered by his aggressiveness, but you'd hate for him to scale it back because he is naturally an excellent run stopper. The addition of him to the defense through the nickel adds considerable quickness and athleticism, as it did with Andrew Abbott the week before. Hilliard got the call at the nickel Saturday because the thought was he had a better chance physically against Texas, and it proved to be a good move.
DEFENSIVE GAME PLAN, SCHEME AND COACHING: A-
It's funny, because you could probably make a case that the defensive coaches might have fallen into the formation and personnel use that is clearly making the defense effective. But you have to give them credit ultimately for recognizing it and making the changes.
UCLA's nickel package is their best defense, getting more athleticism on the field, and Defensive Coordinator Chuck Bullough is using it more than the base 4-3-4.
While he isn't necessarily blitzing more, he did throw more looks at Texas and Gilbert. He's stunting, zone blitzing, and moving Akeem Ayers all over the field, among other things, and it's clear that it kept Texas's offense guessing.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A-
The only thing keeping this from being a straight A was about three feet. That is, the three feet wide of Kai Forbath's first field-goal attempt. Other than than, the special teams were stellar.
First, with Texas's speedy return guys on punts and kick-offs, there was not even a slight hint that a Longhorn would break one. Then there is the excellent work that the coverage teams are doing in getting down field on punts, and the disruption they're causing. The obvious one was the excellent play by Westgate to cause the fumble and Hilliard to cover it. But there are so many little things, too. Damien Thigpen had perhaps one of the best plays of the game, streaking downfield as a the gunner on a punt, he was so fast he ran right by his potential blocker, who could only lunge at him and block him in the back. So, Thigpen draws that penalty, but then also makes the tackle!
It goes to prove that recruiting speed will help you. Even if you can't necessarily find a place for a guy on offense or defense, athletes can upgrade your special teams and your overall team speed.
There are other guys, too, like Derrick Coleman and Glenn Love, who were excellent in coverage on Saturday.
And there's even room for improvement. You could see from Josh Smith's 49-yard kick-off return that he could be a true weapon. On punt returns, he's struggling in practice to hang on to the ball, so hopefully he'll improve there and be utilized on punt returns also.
It's clear that Special Teams Coach Frank Gansz has instilled a real, unique sense of pride in special teams at UCLA because these guys are playing on the special teams unit with inspiration. It just appears that UCLA's special teams are on a different level than every other team it faces, in terms of its aggressiveness and discipline, but also in how much smarter it is. An example is Taylor Embree very effectively looking like he was going to field a punt at about the six-yard line, just long enough to delay the Texas coverage team so the ball would bounce into the endzone. While Texas was making bone-headed special teams plays all day long on Saturday, UCLA's special teams were on another level.
It helps, too, that you have the Lou Groza Award winner in Kai Forbath and a punter like Jeff Locke, who averaged 46.8 yards per punt against Texas.
Texas: Unit by Unit Analysis
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