OFFENSIVE LINE: B
It was exactly what we know about this offensive line – good on run blocking, poor on pass protection. To their credit, it definitely is something when you can continue to create holes for your running game when the defense is keying on it and the offensive play calling is conservative, so the run blocking gets an A. The pass protection was a D, but since they didn't throw very much it ends up an overall B. Darius Savage and Ryan Taylor were particularly good in run blocking, as they've been most of the season. Sean Sheller clearly doesn't have the quickness or feet to stay with a defensive end that is rushing the edge. On the first sack, he was badly beaten. But even beyond just getting beat man to man, UCLA continually missed on picking up blitzes, and were fooled quite often by stunts. Many times two offensive linemen ended up blocking the same man while another Beaver ran free to the quarterback. At this point, this late in the season and this late in their collective careers, do they not know how to pick up a stunt, or compensate for a zone blitz?
There were a few big plays made by the receivers – Taylor Embree's catch on the long ball, Josh Smith's nice third-down route and catch for a first down in the fourth quarter, and, of course, Randall Carroll's big catch on the last offensive play of the night. It's been much discussed how Carroll almost blew it by attempting a time-eating juke before getting out of bounds, and that was definitely a brain freeze. But before the stupid juke, it was a great catch, with the ball thrown inside and over his shoulder. He also made a big third-down catch on the same drive earlier, and another much earlier in the game where he dove for a clutch third-down catch. With Nelson Rosario out, Carroll is stepping up and, besides the quickness, you have to like the energy that guys like Carroll and Smith bring to the field.
Tight end Cory Harkey got beat on that same sack that Sheller got beat on, and the blocking from the tight ends was inconsistent for the day. Joseph Fauria got called on a hold that nullified Brehaut's touchdown run. Morrell Presley had a couple of nice blocks from his f-back spot. Anthony Barr looked good on one run, and was sniffed out and shut down on another.
RUNNING BACKS: B
On the negative side, there was Johnathan Franklin's two mistakes – the fumble and, a few plays earlier, running into Brehaut on a pass play that Franklin clearly didn't know the play call. Also on the negative side was Derrick Coleman's general play, which lacked explosion. On the positive side, Franklin was very good, gaining an even 100 yards, and most of those being tough, inside yards that he gained pushing the pile forward. The coaches benching Franklin for the rest of the half after his fumble was a mistake; with Coleman in the game, UCLA's offense went stagnant. As soon as Franklin was re-inserted on the first drive of the second half, the offense came back to life. We understand you want to send him a message that he needs to hang onto the ball – and putting him in the doghouse for the second half of last season was probably justified. But what's, overall, more damaging to the offense: the possibility that Franklin could fumble or Coleman's slow, mechanical running that shuts down your offense that mostly only runs the ball? They should just go with Franklin and take the risk he could fumble. The coaches' reaction was another indication of their conservatism. On another positive note, Malcolm Jones looked like the guy we saw in high school when he exploded through a couple of holes and moved a pile five yards. It looked like the coaches opted for Jones over Coleman in the second half, so give them credit for that.
It was a gutsy game for Brehaut. Yes, he made a few mistakes – most noticeably taking the sack in the fourth quarter that moved UCLA out of field goal range (and got Rick Neuheisel to throw down his headset on the sideline in frustration). He fumbled once (which UCLA recovered), and threw the one interception, which was probably a bad decision, even though the ball was probably catchable. There were probably a few more times on the zone read where he should have pulled the ball back and ran it. But he more than made up for it with some of the plays he improvised, like the scramble and deep throw to Embree, which was made on the run, and the scramble and shovel pass to Harkey for a first down. The biggest factor in this game that decided it for UCLA was Brehaut's ability to run the ball, not only out of the zone read, but after the pocket broke down on a pass play and he had to scramble. It continually kept drives alive that looked like they were on their way to death. Another thing to note was the accuracy of many of his throws, especially those critical third-down conversions in the second half. Brehaut was clearly the game's MVP.
OFFENSIVE GAME PLAN AND COACHING: C
It's getting tiresome – complaining about UCLA's conservative approach to play-calling, but to do a thorough job of analyzing this game it's required that it's repeated here again. There are arguments raging on the BRO message board about whether the play-calling is appropriate, given UCLA's inability to pass protect. We fully recognize UCLA's poor pass protection, but there are plenty of adaptions to be made to work around it – moving the pocket more, shorter drops and quicker throws, screens, flairs out to your running backs, etc. The options are endless. UCLA's game plan doesn't seem to include much of that. When's the last time UCLA called a screen pass, which is even a pretty conservative counter in its own right to an aggressive pass rush? And it's just not the plays themselves, but the play-calling in terms of down and distance. So often, UCLA runs on first and second and then is forced to throw on third-and-long, an obvious passing down when opposing defenses will key on the pass or they'll blitz. As we've said, it's no wonder there is an "execution" problem when you're putting your players at such a deficit to succeed. Again, the offense has a natural advantage in football – having the element of surprise – and UCLA's offense does practically as much as it can to give back that advantage. Here's a simple and stark statistic: UCLA has thrown to its running backs six times this season (I got that stat from the official UCLA stat sheet, but I can't even remember the six), while Oregon State has done it 27 times.
If you look play by play at the snaps when UCLA called for a pass against Oregon State, it was overwhelmingly positive, and that's even when they're throwing mostly on obvious throwing downs. UCLA attempted 28 pass plays in this game (that includes pass plays that didn't result in a pass), and 18 of those plays resulted positively. Brehaut ran for positive yards and/or a first down on scrambles four times. He drew a late-hit call on another scramble. There's pretty decisive evidence from this game that good things happen quite a bit more often than not when UCLA calls a pass play. The 64% of positive results would undoubtedly go up if UCLA passed the ball on less-obvious passing downs, like first and ten, or second and five.
Plus, OSU has a pretty bad pass defense that has been burned by some pretty mediocre passing teams. The UCLA offensive brain trust can't devise a passing game plan to get its receivers open against those guys?
The same old argument has been made: "Hey, UCLA won the game, and the play-calling did what it had to do to win." But we don't buy that reasoning. What if they hadn't benched Franklin for a third of the game? What if they threw more often on second-and-five? What if the play-calling was more creative, utilizing the vast majority of the UCLA playbook that's gathering mothballs? What if they had used Carroll and Smith more often earlier in the season? This game, very well, might not have been as close as it was, and other games might have been different. We saw how much better UCLA's defense is when they're kept off the field because the offense is sustaining a drive; there's no way to tell how it might have changed the games against Cal or Stanford. It's really curious, too (and we've made this point before, sorry), that UCLA's offensive play-calling gets quite a bit more conservative as the game goes on. Even in the type of run plays that are called. The pervasive conservatism in the program tends to come a great deal from a conservative reaction to the game's proceedings. One interception here, a fumble there, a bad throw here, a blown route there, and UCLA's play-calling curls up into run-run-pass. Hate to break it to everyone, but other teams have poor pass protection, throw interceptions and fumble the ball, and they don't fold up into a conservative cocoon.
The play-calling has been conservative since Neuheisel and Norm Chow have been at UCLA, but this season it's hit new conservative heights (or lows). Last season, UCLA's pass protection wasn't much better than it is this season (probably a little bit better with Xavier Su'a-Filo, but worse at the other positions), and last year UCLA's passing game averaged 203 yards per game while this year it's averaging 120, fourth worst in the country. It's not the Pistol, because the coaches insist it employs the same passing game as last year's offense (in fact, the Pistol, with its quick snap, helps the passing game). It's mostly because this year there is an outlet for the conservatism – the running game. UCLA didn't have it last season, but this year it's an outlet to indulge the conservatism.
We'd hope at some point the coaches just finally throw caution to the wind, stop playing to not lose, and take the risk of calling an aggressive game. Just once, see how it goes. If UCLA continued to get a positive result 64% of the time out of its pass plays like it did in the Oregon State game, but called pass plays more – like in a balanced offense -- it could actually have a good offense – that then kept its defense off the field even more. But that's probably a pipe dream. We truly wonder if the offense will look that much different when UCLA actually gets an experienced quarterback and an offensive line that is good at pass protection. If it has a good running game, all it will take is one interception from the quarterback and it will probably go back to conventional run-run-pass. One fumble from its future potential All-American tailback and he'll still get benched for a third of the game.
DEFENSIVE LINE: B-
OSU was averaging 131 yards per game on the ground, and the UCLA defense held them to 103. It was the same Oregon State offense that ran for 195 yards against Cal the week before. OSU's star tailback Jaquizz Rodgers didn't seem to have his A game, especially after freshman safety Dietrich Riley leveled the best hit I've seen in college football this season on him in the second quarter (In fact, Rodgers had 47 yards before the Riley pop, and just 16 after it). The D-line definitely had something to do with it, and the play of true freshman defensive tackle Cassius Marsh was some of the difference. While he was credited with only one tackle, he holds his blocker consistently at the line of scrimmage and plugs up the middle, as opposed to others before him that get blown off or spin out of the way. Senior d-tackle David Carter wasn't credited with one tackle, but he did the same as Marsh, making a big impact. Carter did get the one penetration on the run play, and, on the negative side, was flagged for a facemask. The defensive ends were decent, with Damien Holmes getting the start over Keenan Graham, and playing the best he has all season. He still struggles at times against the run, but he was probably UCLA's most consistent pass rusher in this game. Owagbe Odighizuwa, the freshman at the other d-end spot, is improving, and making more of an impact. He also is holding up his blocker better and containing the edge more. He's getting better at shedding tackles and is close to making plays. The UCLA front four, though, failed to put much pressure on OSU quarterback Ryan Katz for most of the night, giving him far too much time to operate.
True freshman defensive tackle Seali'i Epenesa got in on a handful of snaps and looked solid. He actually got penetration and chased Katz into the arms of Akeem Ayers for a sack.
True freshman Jordan Zumwalt had his breakout game, leading the team with 9 tackles and looking like an elite talent on the field. He not only has a great instinct to fill gaps, but he's incredibly athletic, running stride for stride with Rodgers at one point. What's really exceptional – and refreshing – is Zumwalt's ability to shed a blocker and make a tackle. For a freshman who hasn't spent much time in a weight room he was truly uncanny at it in this game. His helmet-to-helmet penalty looked like a no-call, by the way. Folks, this is what a big-time, true future pro looks like.
Akeem Ayers returned to good form, to a degree. From his linebacker spot, he made a couple of nice tackles after slicing through the defense. He tackled Rodgers with certainty. He provided some solid pass coverage. He was, too, when he had his hand down, the most effective pass rusher.
Just to get it clear, we love Sean Westgate. If only more Bruins could do as much with the talent they have as he does. I know people hate the moniker, but he truly is "The Gutty Little Bruin." Let's be blunt: He doesn't have the size or talent to really play at this level. It's evident a few times throughout the course of the game, when he gets juked by the quarterback on a scramble for a first down, or he gets blocked back a few yards. But he is probably the defender who is best at fulfilling his assignments and being in position. Most of the time when he makes a play it's because he's in the spot he's supposed to be in, not because of his athleticism. You have to give him a great deal of credit.
Zumwalt, Westgate (8) and Ayers (6) led the team in tackles, and had all five of the team's sacks (Zumwalt 1, Westgate 2 and Ayers 2). There were just a few plays (like Westgate getting juked by Katz) that keeps this from being a straight A.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: A-
Let's make no mistake. The game wasn't won by Kai Forbath and his 52-yard, last-second field goal. It was won by UCLA's defensive secondary. They completely shut down Oregon State's passing game in the second half, holding the Beavers to just 49 yards through the air in the last two quarters. They were a big reason UCLA got those four sacks from its linebackers.
In the first half, it looked like the UCLA secondary was on its way again to a bad performance. There were blown assignments (Katz's touchdown pass to Joe Halahuni), and generally poor coverage, to go along with poor run support. OSU was picking on Andrew Abbott at the one corner spot, throwing and running at him. Their bread-and-butter was to split out a receiver on Abbott, and Abbott would provide a cushion, and OSU would do any number of things – run Rodgers to that edge, or throw quickly to a wide-open receiver, etc. Abbott didn't have a very good first half because of it. He's even partially responsible for Markus Wheaton's touchdown run on the fly sweep, with Abbott pushing him into the endzone. But Abbott performed better as the game went on, making a good stop on another fly sweep in the second half, and a couple of times shedding his blockers better to contain yardage.
But then UCLA's secondary came on in the second half. We can't directly attribute it to Riley's big hit on Rodgers, but something changed in the UCLA defense after that and, actually, in Oregon State. After Riley popped open Rodgers like a champagne bottle, not only was Rodgers stunned, but the OSU sideline looked so too. The offense came out with drive to start the second half (which was really made by the bad call on Zumwalt), and then they went into the tank. It definitely seemed like the OSU offense just wasn't the same after Riley's pop, and a play like that just can't be under-valued for the impact it can potentially make on a game.
Perhaps the thing that was most impressive about Riley's play wasn't necessarily the hit, but the way he sliced through blockers to make the hit.
In the second half, UCLA's defensive effectiveness was directly a result of UCLA's good pass coverage. There were a number of times that Katz had time to throw, looked down the field for what was seemingly eternity, but obviously couldn't find anyone open. While a couple of the sacks came on blitzes, the other two were coverage sacks.
Aaron Hester, who has struggled some this year, had a number of plays where he provided good coverage, particularly on the long ball to Wheaton in the second half.
DEFENSIVE COACHING AND PLAY-CALLING: B
On one hand, you have to give Chuck Bullough and his defensive coaches some credit for seemingly making the right personnel choices. The five true freshmen who played, and were actually in the game at the same time at one point -- Marsh, Zumwalt, Riley, Epenesa and Odighizuwa -- even though they're young, clearly bring another level of athleticism to the field for the defense. On the other hand, why has it taken the coaches so long to recognize this?
Quite clearly, Zumwalt's impact was a huge one, and he definitely has to be on the field. When Patrick Larimore returns, it gives Bullough a luxury of a problem – where to put these two. Perhaps Larimore returns to middle linebacker, Zumwalt plugs in at stronside linebacker and Ayers plays more with his hand down?
While many message board posters are giving credit to Bullough for blitzing more, there actually weren't more blitzing in this game. In fact, there were less. UCLA called very few blitzes – most of the time opting for a zone blitz (which doesn't get you an added man on the pass rush), or a stunt. It's why, most of the time, Katz had plenty of time to throw. It's just that Bullough did call a couple of blitzes toward the end of the game – real blitzes where UCLA is getting five or six guys rushing the passer – that resulted in sacks that made it seem there was more blitzing. In keeping track of what happens when UCLA blitzes, this game was overwhelming evidence of good things happening when you blitz. UCLA was caught on a screen on one blitz that went for good yardage. But other than that, blitzing literally every other time resulted in a sack or a hurried and incomplete throw from Katz. It was good to see Rahim Moore coming on a safety blitz untouched, hurrying Katz into an incompletion.
In terms of the improved pass coverage, it's impossible for us to know at this point if Bullough and his coaches made adjustments in the secondary in the second half. If they did, give them a huge amount of credit. If anything was done differently, let's stick with that the rest of the season.
The defense, though, is still firmly entrenched in its bend-and-not break philosophy. There were few true blitzes, and there were cornerbacks playing big cushions that OSU exploited. Again, it doesn't seem like there can be enough evidence that blitzing results in positive plays, but it's probably futile to think it will change the defensive play-calling or approach.
We just have to say: Zumwalt gets flagged for a helmet-to-helmet but OSU doesn't get called on it when their defender clearly goes helmet-to-helmet on UCLA's quarterback? Perhaps that late-hit call on Brehaut was a make-up call.
How about the officiating crew up in the booth, You really need the UCLA coach to challenge the last play? That wouldn't be one you would consider reviewing? You had to rush off to the bathroom before overtime, or what?