OFFENSIVE LINE: A
For an offensive line that's having a phenomenal season, this was probably their most effective game so far. We don't want to call it their best effort or performance, since it was against Washington State, but the bottom-line effectiveness of the OL Saturday was unsurpassed by any other game. The OL opened huge holes, to allow its running backs to run for an astounding 437 yards, the most in a single game since 1979. But it also protected its quarterback better than it had in the previous four games, not allowing a sack, and very little pressure.
The big accomplishment here was that UCLA had been relying heavily on the left side of its offensive line in the first four games, mostly running over Sean Sheller, Darius Savage and center Ryan Taylor. Probably anticipating that WSU would be camping out on that side, UCLA clearly decided to exploit the other side of its OL, and right guard Eddie Wiliams and right tackle Mike Harris definitely held their own and dominated like their left-side counterparts.
Only one clear drop, by Ricky Marvray, even though there were a couple of other passes that might have been caught if the receiver, particularly Taylor Embree, would use his hands to catch the ball. Embree had a potential touchdown catch.
Embree did redeem himself a bit with his best catch of the season, going up high and being aggressive in catching the two-point conversion.
With Nelson Rosario out for most of the game with a sprained ankle, it gave guys like Randall Carroll and Jerry Johnson a chance, and they didn't disappoint. Both got the first reception of their careers, and Johnson was good in gaining 4 or 5 yards after the catch. Carroll was finally utilized deep and he drew a PI call. Josh Smith also got a couple more opportunities, with the end around, a reception and a another deep ball thrown his way.
The F-backs had a solid day, with Morrell Presley getting a catch and Anthony Barr running with the ball effectively on the first series, and providing generally good blocking throughout the game. Tight end Cory Harkey made a solid catch and, again, blocked well for the day.
RUNNING BACKS: A
The only thing that keeps it from being a A+ was Johnathan Franklin's fumble. But other than that, if you had to envision a great rushing performance in a single game, this would be it. The stats are ridiculous: 437 yards rushing, and Franklin running for 217 yards and 7.2 yards per carry, and Derrick Coleman amassing 185 yards for a 12.32 yards-per-carry average. It's the first time in UCLA history two UCLA tailbacks ran for more than 180 yards in one game.
There were more than just a couple of very memorable runs. Perhaps the best was Coleman's scamper in the first half when he got spun around and maintained his balance. Franklin has always run with power and broken tackles, but now Coleman is living up to that power-back label, breaking tackles and pushing the pile.
It was the first career start for Richard Brehaut and, all in all, it was a solid one. He went 12 for 23 for 128 yards and no interceptions, and was pretty efficient, completing a great majority of the short pitch-and-catches he had to in order to move the chains. There were a couple of errant passes in there, but a number of very good ones, particularly the one completion to Johnson on third-and-seven.
He stepped away from pressure well a couple of times, even though Washington State didn't put much on him, which made it a good game in which to have his first start.
He doesn't seem to do the zone read near as well as Kevin Prince, seemingly missing some opportunities to keep the ball himself and run. He did make the good read on his touchdown keeper.
Before the game I threw out the idea on the message board whether UCLA would have a quarterback controversy if Brehaut threw for 300 yards in this game. While he didn't do that, he did show some ability in completing the easy, have-to-make throws that Prince seems to sometimes struggle to complete. So, while there might not be a full-blown quarterback controversy, this game definitely puts the subject on the table of which guy is more effective. It's strange, because in practice it's clearly Prince, but it very well could be that Brehaut performs better in games.
OFFENSIVE GAME PLAN, SCHEME AND COACHING: A-
We probably have to take "scheme" out of this header since it's pretty clear by now the Pistol deserves a straight A. But it's good to emphasize one more time.
The game plan was a good one,perhaps the best this season, with just a few head-scratching play calls, but not too many. The biggest one: On 4th and 1, with one of the best running games in the country, you force your neophyte quarterback to make a play, and he gets sacked and fumbles.
The strategy obviously to start the game was to take WSU a bit by surprise and throw the ball, and UCLA did that, taking advantage of the big cushion WSU was giving them in pass coverage. But UCLA then resumed its power running, and that took over the game. Even when WSU had gone up 28-20, UCLA stayed calm and continued to run the ball, and it paid off. Give the coaches credit, too, for recognizing that they could run over the right side of their OL. And even with the running game working like it was, there were some pass attempts down the field, one to Josh Smith in the endzone, one to Carroll, and another to Embree (even though we still don't get, when you have Carroll on your roster, why you're throwing deep to Embree). It was, overall, a good game plan, running the ball about 60% of the time, and using the passing game to help move the chains and keep the defense honest. When you have a rushing attack like UCLA has that's all the passing game needs to do.
DEFENSIVE LINE: C+
Akeem Ayers was mostly a defensive end Saturday and, probably because of his various little injuries, wasn't near the impact player he usually is. He simply didn't get much pressure on the quarterback and, most importantly, didn't recover well. Once he was out of the play after rushing the passer, he was out of it, and that's not how Ayers usually operates.
The defensive ends, generally, didn't do particularly well. Keenan Graham struggled, getting sealed off a couple of times on the edge and not putting much pressure on the quarterback. True freshman Owagbe Odighizuwa, actually, was okay, showing that he's just too much of a pure athlete to contain at times, while others showing how raw he is. It was a shame he was called for a non-existent face mask on a running play in the second half that he blew up.
Defensive tackle Nate Chandler didn't have a great game. He has a tendency to run from his spot, rather than holding it, sometimes creating big running holes.
But DT David Carter was the defensive player of the game. He had three sacks and they weren'tthe flukey, the-guy-just-ran-into-my-arms kind of sacks. He beat his blocker all three times with swim moves, looking just too big and quick to contain. In one sequence, he sacked the quarterback, and on the very next play caught a running back from behind on a screen to make the tackle. If the rest of the UCLA defense had played with the intensity Carter did Saturday there wouldn't have been too many issues.
It was their worst performance since Kansas State. Middle linebacker Patrick Larimore seemed to fill the wrong gap quite often.
We had thought that maybe the size issue for Sean Westgate had been put behind him, but it reared its ugly head against Washington State. He got blocked out of many plays and couldn't recover. He missed a couple of tackles, too. He was the primary designed blitzer for most of the game and looked tentative in getting to Jeff Tuel.
This unit was getting some hype as the best in the Pac-10 last week, but this brings them back down to Earth.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: C
You might think this should be a worse grade, because there were clearly a number of breakdowns in coverage. But we're going to take some of the blame for Tuel throwing for 311 yards off the shoulders of the secondary since Tuel had just too much time to throw a great deal of the time.
All four starters made clear mistakes. Sheldon Price got blocked out of a play a couple of times, but his PI was questionable. Aaron Hester got burned on a deep ball to Jared Karstetter, and caught on the PI in the endzone. He did make a good tackle on a receiver to keep him from the first-down marker, and did contain the edge on Tuel's 4th-down keeper that turned him inside. Rahim Moore made probably the defensive play of the game, making that tackle on Tuel. Moore, though, looked like he was out of position in coverage a couple of times, particularly on the two touchdown passes. Tony Dye had a decent day. Nickel backs Andrew Abbott and Dalton Hilliard looked like they got caught out of position a couple of times. Freshman safety Dietrich Riley made the wrong decision on one of the biggest plays of the game. On third and 10, at the WSU 30, with 56 seconds left in the first half, Tuel threw the ball downfield and Riley went for the ball while being in a good position to pop the receiver at the point the ball arrived. That set up WSU's touchdown to make it 20-14 before the end of the half.
DEFENSIVE GAME PLAN AND COACHING: D
We now completely get the approach by Defensive Coordinator Chuck Bullough: go with a four-man rush and hope it gets enough pressure on the quarterback. Mix in some stunts and zone blitzes, and an occasional delayed blitz, but that's about it. If the four-man rush doesn't work, then you retreat back into a prevent defense.
What made WSU's offense and Tuel effective in this game was the lack of a consistent pass rush by UCLA. There were only a few blitzes called before the end of the third quarter, and most of the time that was Westgate in a type of containment blitz, where he's not going full-throttle at the quarterback.
Now, this might work when Ayers and Graham are playing well, but they weren't. And it's a bit understandable that Bullough would go with the four-man rush against Washington State initially to see if it could get enough pressure on the quarterback. But it was pretty clear by the second quarter it wasn't going to happen, but UCLA stayed with its same approach. So, give Tuel some time, suffer a few bad breaks on PIs, a couple of breakdowns in the secondary (which you're going to get when the quarterback has time to throw) and a forgiveable collision downfield on a big pass play, and UCLA's defense has quickly given up three straight touchdowns and has put itself in a hole, 28-20. It seemed that Bullough pulled out a little from that same mindset late in the third quarter, and UCLA blitzed a bit more. It was totally surprising when UCLA blitzed on third and goal in the fourth quarter and the blitzing Dye pressured Tuel into throwing the ball out of the endzone. That, perhaps, was the best defensive call of the day.
But then a few minutes later, on third and 14 with 8:24 left in the game, Bullough went with a three-man rush and Tuel, unpressured, stepped up and completed a nice first-down throw.
There were other things that Washington State did that UCLA's defense didn't adjust to well. Even though WSU only ran for 73 yards, it did find some vulnerability running to the weakside of UCLA's defense, particularly over Graham and Westgate.
The main issue, though, is the conservative approach to the defensive play-calling. Bullough has tried to throw in some deception – the stunts and zone blitzes – as a way to create some pressure on the quarterback without dedicating another pass rusher to the job. And that's worked so far this season to a degree. But Washington State had it scouted out very well. It picked up every stunt and it threw quickly into the holes created when you make the transition to the zone blitz coverage. Eventually opposing offense are going to have you scouted out and you can't substitute a little bit of deception for another pass rusher.
SPECIAL TEAM: C+
The coverage teams didn't give up a big play, but the kick-off coverage consistently gave the ball to WSU's offense at the 30-yard line or better. Jeff Locke is very inconsistent in his kick offs, on one kicking it out of the endzone and on the next landing it at the 10-yard line. In this game, the kick-off coverage, then seemed to play containment, and allowed the returner to get to about the 30-yard line before there was contact made. Giving the ball to Washington State at the 30 is essentially giving them one first down, which, if you're playing bend-and-not-break defense, cuts into your odds of closing down their offensive series.
The officiating was all over the board in this game. There were some lousy calls against UCLA, many that were very ticky-tack, like the holding call on Presley on a potential touchdown run by Franklin, or the face mask call on Owa. The PIs were questionable, even the one against Washington State. In fact, the WSU coaches were complaining about the officiating themselves all game, and rightfully so, since the officiating was an equal-opportunity offender in this one.
The refs would have gotten a straight F if they had actually missed the fact that Tuel's knee was down at the two-foot line.