Now this was the pistol run to perfection. Kevin Prince had one of his best games as a Bruin, and is seemingly getting more comfortable with the offense by the day. The first drive of the game looked like a clip from last week's romp around Cal's defensive ends, but even once ASU adjusted to Prince keeping on the zone read, he still managed to make the right calls and get a few decisive runs at key junctures. More importantly, he was able to couple his ability to run the zone read with marked improvement in the passing attack. There were only a couple of passes that didn't look great, and one was the hitch to Nelson Rosario in the first series that was actually completed. His pass to Rosario on the 3rd-and-29 in the 4th quarter was a perfect throw, and demonstrated a growing chemistry between Prince and his receiving corps.
Running Backs: B-
Derrick Coleman played a fantastic game, and it was his big run down to the 20 in the 4th quarter that gave UCLA a real shot of stealing back the game. He's running stronger, and with a bigger burst, than he has at any time in his UCLA career. Unfortunately, though, the fumbling woes continued for Johnathan Franklin. The fumble, again, was one of those inexplicable ones, with the ball seemingly just bouncing free from Franklin's hand while he was making a cut. There was some generally poor blocking that caused the play to almost get broken up in the back field, but that's not much of an excuse for a non-contact fumble. Ball security has to be Franklin's priority at this point in his career, and it's clear that there's something missing in either his technique or his focus. Coleman also caught a little of the fumbling bugaboo, but managed to dive on his. In general, the running backs did a fairly nice job blocking, although Franklin did whiff on one in the backfield that led to a Prince hurry.
Offensive Line: C+
It wasn't a fantastic game for the offensive line. Although they again opened up some good holes in the running game, pass protection fell short. Since the Bruins spent so much of the game in two-tight end sets, I'm going to include the tight ends in this grade. Joseph Fauria, who didn't have a great game catching the ball, also didn't do well blocking, whiffing on a Prince sack in the 2nd quarter, and also whiffing on a block at the end of the quarter that would have sprung Prince for a touchdown. Jeff Baca was beaten pretty badly on one sack, and Greg Capella had a pretty rough overall game in pass protection. In the run game, though, the line did a much better job. Wade Yandall and Kai Maiava did a really nice job pulling, with Yandall looking particularly mobile.
Wide Receivers: B+
Nelson Rosario had one of the best and most focused games of his career, and it isn't a surprise that the two qualities are linked. When Rosario is locked into the game, he's a tough guy to defend. The 3rd-and-29 catch in the 4th quarter was a perfect example of the "good" Rosario. With the cornerback playing up on him, Rosario knew that Prince would have to throw back shoulder and adjusted his route accordingly. And then, once he caught the ball, he gained the extra eight yards after the catch to get the first down. Taylor Embree also had a couple of key catches for first downs, and Shaquelle Evans made a nice grab. The only thing dropping this grade are the two drops by Josh Smith, especially the one that hit him right in the chest.
Offensive Coaching, Scheme, and Game Plan: B+
It was another well-designed plan for accentuating Prince's strengths and hiding his weaknesses. Overall, it was a fairly conservative game plan, with a nearly 3:1 run/pass ratio, but with the way Prince is running the zone read, you can see how that's justified. The call for the deep play-action pass to Rosario to start the second half was fantastic, and well worth the eight and a half games of setting up for it. The only big nitpick is the use of Jordon James. James is one of the faster and most elusive guys on the team, and to use him almost solely running parallel to the line of scrimmage is a serious misuse of talent. But aside from that, it was a very effective game plan.
Defensive Line: B-
The defensive line came back to earth a little bit in this game, but there were some positive developments. First, Datone Jones spent the great majority of his time, once again, at defensive tackle. He wasn't nearly as effective in this game, but if you watch it again, he actually spent a large portion of the game being doubled by a guard and the center. On one play in the 3rd quarter, there were actually three guys blocking him. Second, Jones being doubled helped Damien Holmes have one of his most effective games as a Bruin. Holmes didn't exactly show the greatest tackling technique in this game, having to dance Cameron Marshall off the edge of the field at one point, but he was consistently in the Sun Devils backfield getting pressure on Brock Osweiler. Third, while Justin Edison and Nate Chandler started the game, Edison really didn't play much at all. Chandler looked slightly more effective, and there was a steady dose of Sealii Epenesa and Donovan Carter plugging the middle. Aramide Olaniyan again got some burn at defensive end in the quarter defense. He wasn't nearly as effective getting to the quarterback, but Joe Tresey showed another wrinkle, dropping Olaniyan into coverage on his first play. It'll be interesting to see what happens with the line once Cassius Marsh is back in the mix, and whether Jones stays at tackle.
The magical mystery tour at weakside linebacker continues on. Sean Westgate and Eric Kendricks again spent most of the game switching off series, but in this game, it was Westgate who actually played a little bit more. Kendricks didn't enter the game until the third ASU series, late in the first quarter. It's been hashed, rehashed, unhashed, and then hashed again, but Kendricks is improving at such a rapid pace that it's inexplicable that Westgate is still playing so much. Overall, it wasn't a great game for the linebackers. Patrick Larimore was taken out of the play too easily on ASU's second touchdown run, and just doesn‘t seem like the same player as last year. On ASU's first touchdown drive, the Sun Devils ran mostly to Westgate's side, and he was caught out of position on one of Marshall‘s runs. In the fourth quarter, Kendricks needed to come up with that interception that bounced off his hands, if only to further state his case for more playing time.
Defensive Backs: B
One could probably make the case at this point that UCLA had some insane depth at defensive back coming into this year. Dalton Hilliard in particular had a really good game, and seemingly has become a master of tackling guys by their feet. Tevin McDonald had another solid game, playing well in both pass coverage and run defense. Stan McKay played generally pretty well, but had a couple of issues in pass coverage, and had the one poor tackle attempt on ASU's third touchdown, where he went for the big hit instead of wrapping up. The only big issue in the game was Aaron Hester's pass interference calls. The first one was arguable, but the second one actually did look pretty clearly like interference. Again, he interfered with a receiver after beginning the play 10 yards off of him. He obviously needs to become more comfortable in space, but he'd also be better served by a game plan that allowed him to play up on receivers more. Andrew Abbott again had an excellent game, and has to be the defensive MVP this year. Also, Randall Carroll looked pretty good in limited time, and it'll be interesting to see if he sticks with it next year.
Defensive Coaching, Scheme, and Gameplan: B-
The last couple of weeks have been a sort of revelation for Bruin fans. Actual adjustments? At UCLA? Whether "borne out of necessity" or not, UCLA has looked much more effective on defense since the suspension of Marsh caused some shuffling on the defensive line. You have to credit the coaching staff for moving Jones inside, shuffling Olaniyan into the mix, and trying out a much heavier dose of Carter and Epenesa inside. There is still the issue of Westgate v. Kendricks, and there's still some back-breaking conservatism on third down that allows for long completions. But at least they're beginning to get the right personnel on the field to generate a pass rush without blitzing, which seems to be the ultimate (conservative) goal. The defensive line got some decent pressure on Osweiler, and a couple of well-timed blitzes from the edge played a crucial role in the victory.
Special Teams: B
Jeff Locke again had a phenomenal game. On the first kickoff, it looked like he was trying to not move his right arm too much, which is why that one went so short, but after that he looked very good. His punting has turned into a real weapon for Neuheisel, and has played a surprisingly large role in the last two wins. Josh Smith probably could have had a kickoff return for a touchdown, but Nate Chandler, trying to do the right thing by playing lead blocker, actually managed to cut off Smith's seam and forced him to reroute. Smith's fumble, though, could have proven extremely costly if that defense hadn't stonewalled ASU.
ASU's Coaching: F
Dennis Erickson really mismanaged this game. When ASU went up 27-23 with 7:20 to go, going for 2 was the right move. When the penalty would have made it an attempt from the 12-yard line, it was still the right move. Taking the extra point at that juncture did nothing for the Sun Devils, and was a particularly absurd call with a bad kicker. Then, the timeout usage once UCLA got within striking distance coming down the field was bizarre, with Erickson wasting 20 seconds before finally calling a timeout at just over a minute left.
ASU: Unit-By-Unit Analysis
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