Are we ready to call last week an aberration in the ongoing Kevin Prince renaissance? Prince played a nearly flawless game, completing his first 8 passes and running the zone read to perfection. His pass to Shaq Evans for the first touchdown, something the team worked on all week, was probably the best throw he's had all year, hitting Evans right in the hands. He seems to have shortened up his throwing motion a tad too, throwing with a lot more accuracy. The only poor decision he made in the game was on his ninth pass where he attempted to force one to his primary read, Joseph Fauria, down the sideline. On that play, Derrick Coleman was open underneath and Cory Harkey was wide open on a seam.
UCLA didn't run too much zone read to open the game, which seemed to contribute to some confusion in the Colorado defense since UCLA has started the last three games with a steady diet of zone read. In the second half, UCLA went a bit more conservative and Prince did his usual slicing and dicing. After running mostly up the middle with the running backs for the first half, Colorado's defensive ends cheated inside and Prince had easy 10-to-15-yard pick-ups for much of the second half. He has such a knack for making the right decision in the zone read. If he continues to make these kinds of strides as a passer, it'll almost be bittersweet if UCLA does have a new coaching staff next season and it doesn't incorporate a healthy amount of zone read.
Running Backs: B
Johnathan Franklin had one of his better games running the ball. Run blocking from the offensive line wasn't actually that great, but Franklin made them look very good. There was a play that was pretty indicative of this. On 1st-and-10 on the UCLA drive in the fourth to go up 38-6, Kai Maiava pulled ahead of Franklin on a run, but missed the block. Two guys actually made contact with Franklin in the back field, but he managed to break the tackles and gain 8 yards, which really isn't his usual modus operandi. The big negative with Franklin, though, reared its ugly head again with the big fumble. It didn't appear the ball was even hit by the defender. Really, it just looked like the defender hit Franklin's elbow and he was holding the ball too far away from his body. At this point, you almost have to accept that Franklin is going to have a pretty bad fumble every couple of games and plan accordingly.
Also, it's bizarre that he can't get a long touchdown. You get it when it's Chris Markey, who didn't have a great burst. But Franklin has better acceleration than most running backs. As far as I can tell, it's not a speed issue, but more an issue where he really doesn't have good vision in the open field. In the same way you'll see a safety take bad angles on a tackle, it almost seems like Franklin is consistently taking bad angles running away from safeties.
In other news, Anthony Barr must have an informal contest with Cory Harkey to see who can throw the most crippling, unheralded blocks on the team. Barr was personally responsible for three of Prince's runs, and seems to really take pleasure in blocking. It'll be interesting to see if the coaches bulk him up a little and move him strictly to tight end next year.
Wide Receivers: A-
For a unit that has been maligned for a lack of concentration and fire at times this year, this was a nice redemptive moment. Nelson Rosario put together a very good game, and once again fought for yards after the catch, which was a rarity up until a few weeks ago. His touchdown reception was probably the toughest he's ever run after a catch, and it's good to see that effort rewarded. He also was a factor in run blocking, helping on a couple of the zone reads. Then there's the interesting case of Joseph Fauria. Fauria has vanished in and out of the offense's consciousness this year, and it's really strange that he hasn't been getting at least 5 or 6 targets a game. This was one of those games where the coaches and Prince realized, again, that there's a 6'8 guy with great hands on the team and tried to get him the ball consistently. Fauria is not much of a practice player, but there are few guys on the team who fight for yards the way he does. His blocking, though, leaves much to be desired. Once again, he was responsible for a couple of tackles for loss thanks to just whiffing on blocks.
Shaquelle Evans ran right past the Buffaloes safeties on the first touchdown, which demonstrated not only his speed, but just how slow Colorado is. There is no speed in that defense. Taylor Embree also had a nice game, and fought really hard for a touchdown on the catch near the sideline.
Offensive Line: B
Stats would indicate this was a beat down from the UCLA offensive line, but it really wasn't. UCLA's offensive staff actually had a really nice scheme in place that accounted for some deficiencies along the line. That's not to say it was a bad game for the line, by any means, but there were still some issues. Albert Cid played most of the game at guard over Wade Yandall, and had a pretty fair game. He and Maiava did a great job pulling, but were actually pretty poor in interior blocking. Maiava especially was consistently neutralized inside and didn't get much push. Jeff Baca was his usual solid self. What really stands out is how good of a job he does sealing the edge, which is so important in this running offense. On the play before the touchdown pass to Fauria in the back of the end zone, Baca made a great block to spring Derrick Coleman on the 4th and 3. There were still some issues in pass blocking, but the scheme again had Prince releasing the ball quickly, rolling out, and moving the launch point pretty consistently to keep the defense from keying on him.
Offensive Coaching, Scheme and Play Calling: A.
This game was effectively over in the first quarter thanks to the play calling. This was an innovative, creative game plan, and, for once, made UCLA really look like an effective college offense. UCLA had been working on that deep play-action pass to Shaquelle Evans all week, but you'd be surprised (or not) how much interesting stuff gets worked on in practice that never makes it into games. But aside from that pass, there was just so much to like about what UCLA did. First, Colorado was expecting the run to start the game, so UCLA spent a good chunk of time throwing the ball on play action. Three of the first six plays in the game were play-action passes. Beyond that, on those passes, UCLA wasn't simply dropping Prince back. Instead, the staff rolled out Prince and kept the launch point mobile, keeping Colorado's defensive line from keying on Prince.
Instead of the play calling unfolding in a simple, conservative manner, UCLA actually layered the game plan. After Evans caught that first ball, Colorado's safeties started to cheat a little bit deeper. So, on UCLA's third drive, they ran a similar play out of the same formation, but instead of going deep, Nelson Rosario ran a stop route and caught an easy 20-yard pass. Then, once Colorado adjusted to the shorter throws that Prince was making with ease, UCLA tried Evans again on a deep bomb in the second quarter, which really should have been another touchdown.
It was probably UCLA's most effective, innovative game plan of the year. It's strange that they saved it for the worst team they've played this year. But perhaps that isn't coincidental.
Defensive Line: B
Colorado's offensive line had a miserable game, but UCLA's linemen helped contribute to that. UCLA did a lot of shifting along the line to overload Colorado. At one point, it almost looked like Damien Holmes was playing at the three-tech because UCLA's line was so shifted over. Datone Jones had a nice game, but he was helped by some clever scheming which left him basically unblocked on the play where he tackled Rodney Stewart for a loss in the backfield. Iuta Tepa again showed that he needs to be on the field more, spending much of his evening in Colorado's back field. Donovan Carter and Nate Chandler both played reasonably well inside, but Chandler is still prone to getting sealed out of the play. If there was one weak link, though, it was Cassius Marsh, who actually looked pretty bad. I didn't count a single play where he got a real push. He was pancaked twice and completely blown off the line a few times. He actually seemed a little out of it, and was pretty slow off the snap on most plays.
I've harped on this a little, but not one of these guys is a really effective blitzer. The only time they've had real success blitzing this year has been off the edge, which wasn't part of the scheme against Colorado. Up the middle, Patrick Larimore and Sean Westgate almost always tip off that they're going to blitz and are invariably picked up by offensive linemen or running backs. It almost makes you understand why UCLA doesn't blitz more. Almost. At any rate, Westgate actually had a pretty good game. He picked off the one pass, which showed some good awareness, and really only had one glaring issue, which was a few plays after that where he was trucked in the open field by Stewart. But aside from that, he made the plays he needed to make and wasn't completely pushed out of the action. Eric Kendricks also played well. With the way Kendricks plays, you could see him going on the Spencer Havner memorial tour next year and attempting to make every single tackle. For a redshirt freshman, he really seems like he's already playing instinctually, without having to think about where he's supposed to be.
Larimore had a really nice play in pass coverage, breaking up what would have been a first down pass when Colorado was driving down 31-6. He's struggled on passing downs this year, so it was nice to see him look good in that situation.
Defensive Backs: B+
What more can be said about Andrew Abbott? To go from a walk-on to probably the best defensive player on the team in a matter of a year is simply astonishing. He played a great game in pass coverage, obviously, but also looked good in run support. His one-handed interception was nice, and punched the final nail into Colorado's coffin, but the first one was almost more impressive. If you watch the replay, he didn't even start to look for the ball until extremely late, after he realized the receiver had given up on the play. Then he put on a nice burst of acceleration and looked like a pretty good wide receiver in his own right to make the catch.
Sheldon Price and Dalton Hilliard had largely forgettable games, but the pass interference call on Hilliard was a pretty bad call. Still, when you watch a guy like Abbott, whose awareness is off the charts, it makes it all the more striking when you see a guy like Hilliard (or Aaron Hester) who doesn't have that same instinct. If Hilliard had just turned his head a second earlier on that pass interference call, he might have had an interception instead of letting the ball bounce off his helmet.
Defensive Coaching, Scheme, and Play Calling: B
There was a lot to like about the defense. First off, the defensive line finally managed to get some good, consistent pressure on its own, which was helped by some creative movement along the line. UCLA consistently put five men at the line of scrimmage, but wouldn't always send all five, which seemed to confuse the Colorado blockers. Once again, Randall Carroll was used as a designated blitzer from the edge, and while he didn't get to the quarterback in this game, you have to figure that's going to be a significant weapon for UCLA in the future. After the success they had against Cal and ASU, I still would like to see more Aramide Olaniyan at rush end. And I'd like to see the linebackers play maybe an extra yard off the line of scrimmage to avoid getting beaten laterally so much, but that's a bit of a nitpick.
But still, it was nice to see UCLA do what it should do against a bad team like Colorado: win the line of scrimmage and consistently pressure the quarterback. If they were able to do that all year, it's fair to say there'd be a different feel to the program right now.
Special Teams: C-
I'm still not sure how you get called for a block in the back as the kicking team. Naturally, if any team could manage that, it would be UCLA. Jeff Locke had a pretty poor game for him, kicking a number of his kickoffs short, as well as the one out of bounds. His first punt was also a bit of a line drive. The coverage units were solid, though.
Tyler Gonzalez looked a little shaky, after having a pretty rough week at practice. He missed the one field goal, and his first extra point was scarier than it needed to be.
Josh Smith looked weirdly slow on his two kickoff returns. On the multiple cutback return, you wouldn't have been able to see it on TV, but he really should have been able to break that for a long return. Of course, it would have been called back for holding, but it's the thought that counts.
Colorado: Unit By Unit Analysis
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