Stanford: Unit-By-Unit Analysis

The grades improve for the Stanford game, but it stil doesn't add up to a good overall report card...


Richard Brehaut was 18 of 33 for 202 yards and two touchdowns. Not a bad stat line, but there were some read and decision-making issues. On his fumble, he simply held the ball too long in the pocket when he had a pretty clear chance to get rid of it. Throughout the day, there were a number of receivers open that he just plainly didn't recognize. He had an average day on the zone read. He also missed on some throws. Stanford only had one sack and really only a few hurries, so it wasn't as if Brehaut was under constant pressure.


Stanford was holding opponents to 36 yards per game and UCLA gained 141. But as we said in the Stanford preview, we thought UCLA would do just about that and do it fairly quietly, which it did. Johnathan Franklin had some good, explosive runs, gaining 96 yards on just 12 carries, but if we're going to be nit-picky, we're still waiting for Franklin to bust a long run and finish it with a touchdown (his longest touchdown run of the season is 29 yards). It's been a knock on him since he became UCLA's starting tailback – being able to finish -- and that means, once he's in the open field, having the speed and vision to get into the endzone. On one run against Stanford, he got into the secondary and seemingly had one man to beat, but it didn't seem like he even saw the oncoming tackler. If, perhaps, Franklin could finish one when he's in the open field it would take a great deal of pressure off UCLA's conservative offense having to execute all the way down the field. But, as we said, that's nit-picking a guy who had a good day running the ball. Derrick Coleman was used mostly for short-yardage and did generally okay.


One one hand, Joseph Fauria had two spectacular, Sports Center-worthy touchdown catches, one where he went up seemingly two feet above everyone else to make the catch in the back of the endzone, and on the second one hurdling a potential tackler like he was, well, a hurdle. On the other hand, Nelson Rosario led the team with 8 catches and didn't necessarily do anything wrong. Just about every one of those catches was a short throw in which Rosario caught the ball and then quickly went down. So he caught the ball and did everything within his capability. He's just not capable of gaining YAC, so while the grade has to be discounted here because of a Lack of YAC, some of that grade has to be the responsibility of the coaches for not utilizing other receivers in the same situation. There was only one dropped pass I can remember, by Cory Harkey.


Just look at it from the statistics standpoint: UCLA ran for 141 yards, gaining 4.9 yards per carry and allowed just one sack. Statistically, this easily is a strong B. It was a clean game, too, with no holding penalties or false starts. But in reality, there were some breakdowns on the OL. Albert Cid got beat on one critical third down in the fourth quarter, which led to Brehaut getting his arm hit while he was throwing. There were a few other times an OL got beat. And to rate better than a B-, the OL would have had to have dominated Stanford's DL, which it didn't. You could say it probably played them evenly. But take into consideration, going into the season, UCLA's offensive line was the primary concern and, given that, they're the one unit that has played beyond expectation just about every game.


While the play-calling improved this week from the last couple of weeks, if "C" is average, this was still a below average game in terms of offensive coaching and playcalling when compared to the rest of college football. As we said in the analysis, you want to give the coaching staff credit for utilizing some plays we hadn't seen before and getting a bit looser on down-and-distance, but on the other hand, it was still a very conservative game plan. And there were a number of times in certain situations you could feel the play-calling starting to shrivel up and go back into its shell. In the third quarter, there was a very good illustration of the difference dynamic play-calling makes. UCLA was down 24-7, but the Bruins had put together a solid drive, and were at the Stanford 22 yard-line. It's usually a spot on the field that you can feel UCLA's playcalling shriveling up. Brehaut executed a zone read with an option to hand off to the motioning F-back Jordon James from the slot. Creative, but still very conservative and Brehaut gains 5. On second down and 5, a throwing down, against a Stanford team that has been blitzing most of the game, wouldn't you guess Stanford would blitz? This time the Cardinal sends 7, Brehaut takes a conventional drop and comes under pressure, even with UCLA's OL and Fauria picking up the pressure decently, and Brehaut gains four yards with some good instinctual moves. Isn't that an easy down to call, and fairly easy to anticipate that Stanford was going to send pressure so, then, UCLA should counter the pressure with something in the flat, a flair or screen? No, the UCLA quarterback takes a conventional drop. So, now, since the last play should have been a sack, you can feel the playcalling shriveling more. UCLA goes to its zone read on the third and one, and Brehaut blows the read; the defensive end clearly goes inside but Brehaut gives the ball to Coleman. If he had pulled it down and ran, Brehaut had open field. There's so much strange about the call, though, if you think about it. First, again, the Pistol and the zone read are not a good for short yardage because running well out of the Pistol is based on deception, and the very subjective read by the quarterback. Then, if you do hand it to tailback, you're doing it on a delay out of the zone read, which is not ideal for short yardage. If Brehaut keeps it, you are, again, putting the responsibility of making a play on a poor-running quarterback's running ability. So, UCLA's drive is stopped, and it finds itself at the Stanford 13 with a fourth-and-1. Then, out of character, first, UCLA decides to go for it. The decision was probably based more on the lack of confidence in UCLA's field goal kicking than anything else, but we'll still give Neuheisel credit for going for it. Then, also out of character, UCLA makes a good play call; Brehaut finds a motioning Fauria in the flat – getting the ball away from Stanford's inside pressure (they rushed five and had two more linebackers in containment in the box) and it gives a playmaker, Fauria, a chance to make a play, which he does with considerable aplomb, hurdling the tackler on his way to the endzone. It's still conservative, but at least it's far more creative.


In grading the DL, we're presented with the same dilemma: Should we lay the blame on the ineffective play of certain players on themselves or on the coaches for continuing to play them? Probably a little bit of both. Once the more effective players got most of the plays, UCLA's defensive line settled down considerably. Defensive tackle Donovan Carter had 5 tackles, two unassisted, and Sealii Epenesa had three unassisted tackles. Eight tackles out of the nose tackle spot in one game is unprecedented in recent UCLA football history. Epenesa made some plays, running down some ball carriers when they got outside. But perhaps one of the most inexplicable situations continues – that being the ineffective play of defensive end Datone Jones. It wasn't all the reporters blowing smoke, Jones <i>was</i> plainly dominating in fall camp, but he's looked like a completely different player in the games so far this season. Overall, UCLA is getting very little pressure on the quarterback from its front four – and it's tough to really determine why. The DEs – Jones, Owamagbe Odighizuwa, and Keenan Graham – were considered among the best DE prospects in the country when in high school. Ultimately, in the Stanford game, while the DL play clearly improved, it still gave up 202 yards rushing, didn't get a sack and probably never touched Andrew Luck.


You have to give them some credit, when the three linebackers – Patrick Larimore, Jordan Zumwalt and Erick Kendricks – were the three leading tacklers for the game. That doesn't always mean the unit played well, since the linebackers should be among the tackling leaders. But in this case, it does at least reflect that the linebackers weren't bad. They weren't fantastic, by any means, but all three of them have continued to improve and all three made plays in this game. Zumwalt still relies too much on his hitting ability and doesn't wrap up as much as he should, but he and Kendricks are good in pursuit, taking effective angles, and don't get physically pushed around. There were high expectations for Larimore coming into this fall to have an all-conference type of season, and he started off the year out-of-sync, to an extent, but every game he's getting better. You could say he was actually pretty good in this game. It would have been interesting to see, if Zumwalt and Kendricks had had first-string reps after a couple of weeks of fall camp, where the unit would be right now. It, perhaps, is one of the most exciting aspects of this 2-3 team, to anticipate where this unit might be by the end of November.


You have to give them credit for at least not letting Luck and Co. completely cut them up when they were without their #1 cover corner, Sheldon Price. Aaron Hester had one of his typical good-and-bad games, in one moment he'll make an exceptional play, and then on the next he'll have a letdown. But the exceptional plays are starting to out-number the letdowns. Tevin McDonald, the redshirt freshman free safety, starting his second game, did pretty well; what's merely a welcome addition is that he's a sure tackler. Dietrich Riley is a bit like Hester – one good play followed by a bad one. He was burned a couple of times in coverage, and also needs to learn to wrap up and not rely on his hitting ability. Andrew Abbott, replacing Price, was good, in coverage and in run support and tackling. Stanford's passing attack was averaging 285 yards per game, and it gained only 240 against UCLA.


It's a well-worn complaint at this point: UCLA defensive coordinator Joe Tresey is conservative and won't pressure the quarterback. UCLA has just three sacks in five games, and hasn't had a sack in three weeks. In this game, however, there's a question of whether the UCLA defense would have fared better sending pressure against Luck or not, since he would be able to cut up an under-manned zone. Perhaps it would have been good to, at least, do it occasionally, because it's hard to find a down where UCLA blitzed. UCLA's defense was in very conventional looks for most of the game, moving between the 3-4 and a nickel, and with very little pressure, it was truly a bend-and-not break approach. Stanford was averaging 481 yards per game and UCLA "held them" to 442. And you have to throw in that, if not for the two turnovers, which gave Stanford's offense two very short fields, the Bruins might have held Stanford to just those three other touchdowns, or at least would have had a good shot at holding them to under 30 points (which would have been considered good, since it's an offense that was averaging 46 points per game). It is, though, the fault of the coaches for continuing to play ineffective players, and taking so long to recognize who they are.


The fumbled punt by Taylor Embree was a game changer. The game was in the late 3rd quarter, with the score 24-13. UCLA had shown it could move the ball on Stanford, and UCLA's defense was starting to get in a rhythm, having gotten its first two stops against Stanford's offense. And the Bruins would have started its drive at about midfield. If you count just the two missed PATs, and nothing spectacular on returns or coverage, it's a C, but the fumbled punt was so enormous it trumps all.

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