Going into the season the main worry was the offensive line, but that was perhaps the least of UCLA's worries in the Houston game. You have to take into consideration it was going up against an under-sized Houston DL, but was still very good.
The revelation was Greg Capella, who started his first game at weakside game and was stellar. He plowed his man many times, and he and Sean Sheller cleared out big holes. The running game went right through them for most of the day.
Center Kai Maiava probably brought this grade from a straight A to an A-, with a bad snap and two false starts due to double clutching the snap. Capella did have one false start also.
Pass protection, which was the biggest concern about this line, was good for the most part.
The receivers on the day were very good, except for a couple of miscues.
Joseph Fauria gets an A+ for his best day as a college player, leading the team with 6 receptions, 110 yards and a touchdown, and making some great, clutch catches. He proved to be what everyone had always thought he could be – a very tough match-up because of his height. He did miss one block at the line of scrimmage that led to a tackle for loss, but we're nitpicking.
Taylor Embree had a good day, catching five passes, one being a great diving catch and a couple of other clutch ones. You have to give Anthony Barr credit; he didn't touch the ball much but his two touches were important, snagging a one-handed touchdown pass and recovering the bad snap.
Nelson Rosario had a typical game for him. He had three lazy attempts, and then made a fantastic catch. As we said in the game analysis, it might be time to let him see some bench for motivation, with how much talent UCLA has among its receivers.
RUNNING BACKS: A-
Johnathan Franklin wasn't flashy, but very consistent and productive. A typical game for him, he ran for 128 yards on just 16 carries, meaning he didn't probably carry the ball enough.
Derrick Coleman needs to be a specialty back – for short yardage and other specific needs. He's just too slow hitting the hole to get an entire series. There are plays where, if Franklin had been in, it most likely would have resulted in more yards. We've been saying this now for four years and it's getting tiresome. Perhaps his best play of the game was picking up a blitz brilliantly to protect the quarterback.
Malcolm Jones got one series, and carried the ball one time, and looked quicker in the hole. It's time to give the new-and-improved Jones a shot at the #2 reps at tailback, and get Jordon James some more carries.
No question it was the best performance out of the UCLA quarteback position in quite a while. Brehaut and Kevin Prince combined to go 20 of 29 for 322 yards and two touchdowns. Of course, most of that was Brehaut, after Prince got hurt.
Brehaut was very good. He's always had the knack to be a playmaker, but he's now gotten better in the fundamentals, and both elements came together Saturday. He improvised a few plays when they needed to be improvised, stood in the pocket and made accurate throws, executed the zone read very well, running for 87 yards, and made some good checks. There were a couple of mis-steps, a hesitation on a check that burned a timeout, and a couple of questionable zone reads. But there were so many positives that out-weighed the few mistakes. A couple of the plays he made were bordering on spectacular – particularly the one where he was stripped of the ball, picked it up and threw for a long completion down the sideline to Fauria.
Prince barely made it into the second quarter before getting hurt again. You have to attribute it to him being a bit brittle and not being able to understand how not to get hurt. Before that he looked good, was 3 for 3 for 58 yards, including a nice throw where he stood in the pocket and found Fauria down the middle.
OFFENSIVE GAME PLAN, SCHEME AND COACHING: A-
For the most part, it was a well-conceived and well-called offensive game. Offensive Coordinator Mike Johnson and running game coordinator Jim Mastro did well in scheming against Houston's defense. It went just about the way any game in the last year had gone, with UCLA obviously able to run, and then the opposing defense stacking the box – but then UCLA's offense departed from what we've seen and actually showed some diversity and threw the ball. The plays were well designed, enabling the quarterbacks to have enough time to throw, and give them easy reads and checks to find the easy throw. There were foreign things like throws to running backs and tight ends. There were well-timed roll outs and short drops. If we had to nitpick, we'd say that, once Houston clearly dedicated 5 or 6 guys to the line of scrimmage and 8 in the box, the offense still ran the ball a few too many times. But we realize it was done to set up play action.
The game management was probably the one thing that made this an A-. The choice was made to not go to the two-minute offense in the second-to-last series of the game, when UCLA was down 10 points with about 7 minutes to go. It's where the zone read finally was sniffed out by Houston, and it ate up a huge amount of time. We realize UCLA opted to try for a long, sustained drive to keep Case Keenum and the Houston offense off the field, but it put far too much pressure on a place kicker who had been enormously suspect throughout fall.
DEFENSIVE LINE: F+
It was a horrendous day for a defensive line that was supposed to be the strength of the team. It was very clear that some things hadn't changed. No matter how often we had been told that some players had developed and improved, they clearly hadn't, and their techniques hadn't either.
We're going to have to be candid and name names. Justin Edison and Nate Chandler can't get a lot of time at defensive tackle, especially together. We had been told repeatedly that Edison had drastically improved, but he was just as bad as he was last season. He was blown out consistently, on crucial plays that led to big gains and touchdowns. Chandler isn't much better, looking soft, and he's still spinning and twisting around, basically taking himself out of the play. This isn't rocket science; defensive tackles are supposed to hold their position, clog up the interior and eliminate holes, not create them by dancing around. Cassius Marsh was okay, holding his own on the defensive line and being able to shed a block. He's good as a pass rusher, recording the one nice sack (and that sack was the only thing that made this an F+). Donovan Carter got limited reps, which was surprising since the few times he was in he looked immensely better than either Edison or Chandler.
The defensive ends weren't very good either. Datone Jones, who was supposed to be the difference maker, was doubled-teamed early on and that took him out of the game. Later, when Houston realized they didn't have to double-team him, he still didn't make an impact. Damien Holmes returned to his early 2010 form. He physically couldn't hold up and took some very bad angles on tackles and whiffed. He made one nice play and a tackle for loss when he dropped into coverage. Owamagbe Odighizuwa appeared to have a bit more ability to hold up his man at the line and shed tackles, but he clearly struggled in the fire blitz where he dropped into coverage. Iuta Tepa, really, was the one guy who played with a good motor and was physical.
This probably should be a straight F, but Patrick Larimore and Jordan Zumwalt did make a couple of plays. For the most part, though, Larimore didn't have a great day. He might be the only linebacker that can consistently shed blocks, but he's so busy trying to make up for all the open real estate created when the other linebackers are blown away that he's lunging and whiffing at tackles.
We really hate to say this – again – because we don't want to belabor it, and we respect Sean Westgate for the effort and heart, but it has to be said: Westgate just can't play at this level. And this was against Houston. He was on roller skates. There were a number of times he was cleared out about 10 yards down the field. To compound the issue, he missed many tackles. It's time to opt for redshirt freshman Eric Kendricks, let him make some mental mistakes, but bet on the fact that Kendricks' ability will pay off this season.
Glenn Love was injured and we don't know his status. Zumwalt filled in, but actually didn't get that much playing time since UCLA was in a nickel for a majority of the game. Zumwalt was the only guy, though, in the front seven who could make an open field tackle Saturday. The defensive coaches need to get his talent on the field, just like with Kendricks. If you're in the nickel, opt for Zumwalt over Westgate.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: B
It wasn't a consistent B throughout the defensive backs. It was Sheldon Price's A+ and then the rest of the secondary getting a C-.
Price locked down their big-time receiver Patrick Edwards (he had 1 catch for 16 yards), staying with him and tying him up on a number of post patterns. With how bad the defense was overall, it could have been a lot uglier if it hadn't been for Price's stellar play. He also was one of the few Bruins who could make an open-field tackle.
The other corner, Aaron Hester, didn't have the ball thrown at him much, but played solidly.
Tony Dye was practically taken out of the game since he was playing free safety and Houston threw everything short and underneath. In the notorious Michael Hayes touchdown run, Dye was one of the guys who did miss a tackle.
Dalton Hilliard, the new starter at strong safety, really struggled. He over-pursued and actually ran by a ball carrier in the flat on one play. Dietrich Riley, when he was in the game, seemed to fare better.
DEFENSIVE GAME PLAN, SCHEME AND COACHING: F
Wow. We said in the preview that UCLA could lose this game if it got out-coached, and it was badly on this side of the ball and that decided the game. It was a bad defensive game plan altogether, and one that seemed almost completely clueless about how to defend a spread. It's pretty basic stuff that you defend a spread by pressing receivers and pressuring the quarterback. If not, if you provide a cushion, the spread will just pick you apart all day. Now, the bend-and-don't-break approach might work if you were going up against an inexperienced quarterback that might struggle to execute and move his offense down the field. But Keenum is perhaps the most adept quarterback in the country at doing this. It was uncanny that UCLA sat back in a 7-yard cushion, that then further withdrew to 10 yards when the ball was snapped, and allowed Keenum to easily complete 5-yard throws. This is what Houston wants, to make the short throw and then hopefully it's playmaking receivers will get some YAC, which they did in abundance. Even when the Bruins started blitzing a bit more, Keenum just found a receiver crossing underneath, or scrambled for 15 when he found a wide open field.
Okay, so the biggest takeaway here: Defensive Coordinator Joe Tresey is going to struggle against the spread, something Bruin fans have heard about their DC going back, well, at least three DCs. Houston might be one of the best spread offenses in the country, so if you want to spin this positively, you could look at it that Tresey and Co. will be able to use the film of this game as a training tool on how not to defend against any spreads they face in the future.
SPECIAL TEAMS: F+
As we said in the game analysis, you can't blame kicker Kip Smith. The fact that Smith missed a field goal and a PAT that might have tied up the game is Rick Neuheisel's responsibility. Neuheisel said he basically went with a gut feeling in tapping Smith to do the place kicking, after a pretty disastrous fall, and it was clearly a mistake.
Also, you have to mention that the onside kick at the end of the game was a miserable attempt by Jeff Locke, especially after just watching Auburn's perfectly executed one against Utah State.
This is an F+ because, at the very least, UCLA's coverage teams didn't give up a big return to Houston's potent punt and kick-off returners.