OFFENSIVE LINE: F
So, this is what happens when the "Filthy Five" actually go up against a decent front seven. There were many breakdowns. We had known that the O-line's strong suit wasn't pass protection and that certainly was again evident here. But what was a bit surprising was just how poorly the line did in run blocking. Yes, Cal was stacking the box with eight guys quite a bit, but much of the time the Bear making the tackle was a defensive lineman that merely beat a UCLA offensive lineman. Sean Sheller had his poorest game this season, getting beat a number of times, as did center Ryan Taylor. The right side of the line – Eddie Williams and Mike Harris – had particularly poor games. Williams did a few head-scratchers – like on a pass play leaving a man he has blocked and contained to go help on a double team on someone else who's out of the play which then frees up his original man to get the sack. The holding calls on Harris, though, were ticky-tack and looked like no-calls, and those were critical penalties.
Offensive Coordinator Norm Chow, though, didn't necessarily put them in a position to succeed most of the day with the play calling. When you know your offensive line is pass-blocking challenged, why repeatedly use straight drops with your quarterback -- and off of slow-developing play-action?
There were a few solid catches, but for the most part the receivers had a pretty poor game. Without Nelson Rosario, you'd think that other guys like Jerry Johnson and Randall Carroll would get more chances, but all losing Rosario did is make Taylor Embree the go-to guy. And he's not a go-to guy. He had a couple of solid catches in the first half, but then he dropped two very catchable balls in the second half that would have been first downs. Ricky Marvray had the most catches on the day, and probably kept this grade from being an F. He probably could, though, have made a better play on the long throw near the endzone. Josh Smith missed what was probably a catchable ball on a slant at the endzone from Richard Brehaut. Cory Harkey made his requisite drop as did Morrell Presley.
F-back Christian Ramirez made a fantastic catch for the touchdown, but he missed a couple of key blocks in the running game. It was satisfying for see him get that touchdown, though, given everything he's been through.
On the interception thrown by Kevin Prince, Prince threw the ball like it was a come-backer but Carroll was streaking, and since coach Bob Palcic took Prince aside when he came off the field we're thinking it was Prince's mistake and not Carroll's.
Generally, though, too much Embree, not enough Johnson, Smith and Carroll.
RUNNING BACKS: F
The fumble by Johnathan Franklin was, perhaps, the biggest play of the game. UCLA was down 7-0 early in the first quarter and, actually, they looked like they'd be able to run some against Cal, finding a little room. Franklin actually had a nice gain when he coughed up the ball deep in UCLA's own territory. Cal quickly put up another touchdown to make it 14-0 and UCLA went immediately into a hole, both literally and mentally.
It might have also been a different game if Franklin hadn't tripped up on the only decent run of the day when he had found room up the sideline toward the end of the first quarter. He was on his way to a touchdown when a Bear, from behind, tripped him up after barely getting a touch on him. It's hard to fault him for getting tripped up, but it really didn't look like the tackler did enough to trip him. If Franklin scores there, it's 14-7 and UCLA is in the ball game.
It's also hard to determine if it was Derrick Coleman's fault in Prince's fumble on an exchange on the zone read. It looked like Prince was trying to take it back and keep it but Coleman held onto it.
The final stat of UCLA running for just 26 yards is not indicative since there were -34 yards on quarterback sacks. And really, if you look at the first two quarters closely, UCLA had some running room. Not like the running room it had against Houston, Texas or Washington State, but it was there, and the UCLA running backs couldn't take advantage early, especially after Franklin fumbled and gave away that possession, taking away one more chance to establish the rush early. If they had, and UCLA would have been able to establish a running game, the day could have been different.
Yes, a C. Sorry, fans, but after watching the game again and closely analyzing the play of Kevin Prince it wasn't nearly as bad as you might have thought after the initial viewing of the game.
The biggest criticism of Prince in this game – and probably overall this season – is his inability to recognize a blitz and adjust. There were even third-and-longs, obvious blitzing situations, that he seemed completely surprised by a blitz. There were also a couple of times in this game when he just didn't recognize the open receiver quick enough. In the first quarter, on a third-and-long, with a blitz coming, he got the throw off too late.
But if you look at every one of his throws, he was actually not horribly inaccurate for the day.
We're going to place the blame on him for the interception – at least for now, until we're told otherwise, so that goes in the minus column.
Brehaut, in his one series, was okay, too. He made a few accurate throws, one inaccurate one, and he showed a better feel in the pocket, ducking away from a would-be sack.
The overall limited effectiveness of the quarterback position, though, is completely laid at the feet of the coaching staff.
OFFENSIVE GAME PLAN AND COACHING: F
If you could administer a worse grade we'd do it. It was a poor game plan and a very poorly called game. The plays that were installed in the game plan for the week looked like Norm Chow had no idea what kind of defense he was facing in Cal. Cal's front seven puts good pressure on opposing quarterbacks, and Chow responded with little movement of the pocket, with Prince using a standard drop most of the time. So, there is already an issue there of Prince probably not having enough time to throw, but then there was a ridiculous amount of play-action, and in the Pistol, play-action tends to take a century. So, you have standard pocket drops and play-action, against a very aggressive defense. Wow, it's almost as if Chow intendedly was putting the quarterbacks in a position to not succeed. There were a number of third-and-longs, obvious blitzing downs, and Prince would take a standard drop and be under siege quickly.
We would even understand that you installed the game plan and, oops, it's not appropriate, once you see the pressure Cal is putting on you. So, you would then expect a change in game plan. But no, there were more standard drops and play-action.
There were a number of other issues, too. The zone read was called when Prince, who runs left out of it when he keeps it, had the offense on the left short-side of the field. So, when Prince kept the ball, he had only from the hash to the sideline to find running room. If you remember, all of his successful runs out of the zone read this season have come from the right hash, so he has room on the left to run. More poor recognition by the coaching staff.
Also, it seemed the offense attempted to run over the right side of the line, as opposed to the more dominant left side, which makes little sense.
Let's face it, since Chow has been at UCLA, there hasn't been much creativity or imagination. And beyond the conservative bent, there is some considerable head-scratchers in terms of play-calling that seem to go completely against common sense. It feels very much like an extension of Karl Dorrell's offensive game planning and play-calling.
It's definitely not the scheme, folks.
DEFENSIVE LINE: D-
They were only saved from an F by the four sacks, but even those were mostly caused from good coverage. But the decent pressure put on Kevin Rile for most of the day raises this to the D-.
It's pretty plain and simple what's wrong with UCLA's defensive line. After six games, we can now safely determine that there flat out isn't very much talent, particularly at defensive tackle. The two starters, David Carter and Nate Chandler, are marginal as starters in the Pac-10. Their ability to hold down the middle of the line of scrimmage against the run was atrocious against Cal. They were blown off all day, and Cal ran right up the middle and over them. Then when you use the back-ups at defensive tackle against a good offensive line like Cal's, it looks like they're on roller scates. We know he's a good kid and has worked hard, but Justin Edison can't get as many reps as he is.
What we have to lay at the feet of the coaches, though, is the DT's technique. They are trying to spin away from containment on obvious running downs. That creates huge holes for a good running back line Shane Vereen to exploit. To Carter's credit, he stopped spinning in the second half and held his up blocker, which either allowed him to play off the block and make the tackle or clog up the middle and enable a linebacker to make a tackle. Carter also made a nice play in pass coverage. Chandler, though, was a complete non-entity in this game, mostly because he took himself out of most plays.
True freshman Cassius Marsh is struggling, obviously lacking the strength just yet to be consistently effective. But many times he's at least trying to hold his ground and hold up his blocker instead of flying away from the play.
Even though he got only limited reps, and specifically at defensive tackle, Reginald Stokes is light years better than Edison at tackle. He actually has the strength to keep his blocker at the line. He also played off a blocker, slid over and made a tackle on a running play.
The defensive ends, for the most part, didn't play well. Yes, they got a decent amount of pressure on the quarterback, but their sacks were almost completely a matter of Riley not being able to find anyone downfield. Other than that, they played pretty poorly. Every one of them had an issue containing the edge. Owagbe Odighizuwa had two sacks and he showed flashes of being able to contain his edge. Keenan Graham struggled for the most part, even though he made a couple of decent plays. Like Edison, Damien Holmes simply shouldn't be on the field as much as he is. He is getting taken out of every play.
Akeem Ayers is now a mystery. He looked like an All-American for three games straight, and now, in the last two, hasn't. We know he's been a bit banged up and we want to attribute it to that. But regardless of what the reason is, he's not near the player he was against Houston or Texas. In the Cal game, he did single-handedly shut down a second-half Cal drive by batting down two passes. He made a couple of other nice plays. But other than that he was getting sealed on most plays. He's also fallen back into the bad habits of his last two seasons of making bad choices – hopping out wide or spinning out of the play. But he clearly looks worn down, not finishing plays or showing the energy he did earlier in the season When Ayers gets a one-on-one at the four-yard line with a not very shifty Riley and he can't contain him and allows him to score you know there's something wrong. He's mostly playing with his hand down at defensive end and he's not any more effective there. We thought it was a matter of offenses now going away from him and double-teaming him, but that really wasn't the case against Cal.
Sean Westgate led the team with 12 tackles, but he had a mediocre game. In the first half, he was getting sealed pretty easily. Cal clearly was trying to run to the weakside, to take advantage of him and Graham/Holmes, and it worked. Westgate recovered some in the second half. Why is he the primary blitzer on the team? He gets held up quite often blitzing because he doesn't have the size to match up. While it might have been his fault on the touchdown pass to Vereen on the wheel route, it looked like there was a clear penalty on what appeared to be #91, Deandre Coleman. Playing tight end, Coleman, on the snap, ran off the line of scrimmage and straight at Westgate, who was ack in coverage, and Coleman blatantly tried to block him, before the ball was ever thrown or caught. That disrupted Westgate enough that he lost Vereen on the wheel route. Westgate complained to the ref, but got a blank stare.
Patrick Larimore was solid. He was late and took poor angles in pursuit, but also made some nice plays and was generally filling his gap.
Overall, though, when you allow the opposing team to run for 304 yards, and the DL and the LBs get a D- and a D+ they're getting off easy.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: B-
It was clear that UCLA's sack came as a result of good coverage. Riley had enough time to find his primary receiver but obviously couldn't.
Cal only threw for 83 yards in the game. Of course, quite a bit of that can be attributed to Cal recognizing that it could run very effectively and didn't need to throw. But give the secondary some credit for not allowing the Cal passing game to get on track at all.
But, in run support, the UCLA DBs weren't great. Aaron Hester had a two particularly poor plays early on, getting juked in the open field and then straight-armed by Vereen for the touchdown. Sheldon Price was playing well, until he got hurt. Andrew Abbott, in his place, did well, making a nice tackle. Starting safeties Tony Dye and Rahim Moore appeared to play well, saving UCLA's butt a number of times once a ball carrier made it pass the line of scrimmage. Moore even had good coverage on the Cal TD pass, but just barely missed batting the ball away. Dietrich Riley had a nice stick on a run.
DEFENSIVE GAME PLAN AND COACHING: F
The UCLA defense generally looked ill-prepared for this game. It appeared that UCLA's defense had never seen a reverse before. The fundamentals and technique of the players was poor. There were so many defensive linemen spinning themselves or sliding out of a play. The defensive line, in particular, really looked very poorly coached in this game. And the tackling, for the most part, wasn't good.
If you watched Cal's defensive tackles, they first tried to physically hold up their blocker, to clog the middle. Comparatively, UCLA's DTs are moving sideways, spinning around and doing everything they can seemingly to avoid taking on their blocker head-to-head.
There were some fixes in the second half. Less defensive linemen taking themselves out of plays. More defenders staying home and holding their position. But it was too little, too late. The D had already given up enough points for Cal to win the game.
And talking more about subbing, why can't UCLA's starters play at least a couple of defensive series without getting subbed out? Holmes and Edison came into the game on the defense's fifth play. I know the coaches want to manage the stamina of the starters, but it was clear in this game that, in the first couple of series, when UCLA went to its subs on the DL, Cal took advantage of it, and that cost UCLA in a big way, getting them in that hole early.
Also, if you must sub in some guys that plainly shouldn't be playing much, why do they have to do it in hockey-line substitution style? Why does Holmes and Edison have to be on the field together so much? Isn't it possible to try to minimize their vulnerability by not playing them together and managing the subbing better?
UCLA was also scrambling at times to get set when Cal was about to snap the ball. Ironically, it resulted in a few plays where UCLA actually shut down Cal.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B
You know things aren't great when your player of the game is a punt coverage guy. Damien Thigpen was fantastic, first keeping a punt in play and down on the two-yard line. And then, coming from his gunner spot, blowing by a blocker, he made the tackle on the punt returner, jarring lose a ball for UCLA to recover the fumble.
We only throw in an officiating grade when we think it actually affected the course of the game. On first viewing of the game, we didn't think so, but in the second viewing there were clearly enough blown plays that did affect the game's course. We can't say it would have affected the outcome, but clearly the way the game was going. The holding calls on Harris were ticky-tack to non-existent. And we saw plenty of holds on Cal, right in front of officials, that weren't called. There were at least two PIs on Cal that weren't called that would have been critical: the Cal defensive back was hanging on Josh Smith on the under-thrown ball downfield. That was at 5 minutes left in the third quarter and would have put UCLA in very good field position. There was a seeming PI on a third and five in the first half that wasn't called. Then there was a PI committed against Marvray in the endzone on Brehaut's throw, the same play that the officials called an illegal man downfield on UCLA. So, that would have negated that penalty and UCLA would have kept its position. There was the missed call on the block downfield on Westgate that we previously mentioned.
MOMENTUM GRABBING: F
Overall, in watching the tape of the game, UCLA wasn't out of it as quickly as it seemed in first viewing. Except for Cal's interior OL dominating UCLA's defensive tackles, Cal wasn't nearly as dominant man-for-man as it initially appeared.
But a few little breaks went Cal's way between the first quarter and the end of the first half that really established the momentum of the game, many things that UCLA could have changed in their favor. The Franklin fumble was the biggest. But even so, down 14-0, UCLA still had a chance to seize control of the game to a degree. It was a combination of a few bad breaks, a few blown calls, and maybe a bit of luck, like in Rahim Moore actually being able to bat away that touchdown pass. In the second half, when UCLA responded with a touchdown on its first drive, it had another chance to get control of the game, but there were more unfortunate incidents, like dropped passes, and the error on the interception. And unfortunate bounces -- like a Cal fumble that, instead of UCLA recovering, it resulted in the ball bouncing past the first-down marker and recovered by Cal for a first down.
On first viewing, the game felt more like an entire beat down, but in second viewing it was clear that Cal's performance wasn't as dominating, with the Bears benefitted by some UCLA boneheadedness and its inability to take advantage, some luck and a few missed calls by the officials.
Cal Game: Unit by Unit Analysis
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