In fairness to Kevin Prince, he didn't get a ton of help on Saturday. Joe Fauria and Nelson Rosario both dropped touchdown passes, and the offensive line had probably its worst game of the year across the board. The game plan, too, was not well suited to Prince's strength (running the ball).
But when the positive for the quarterback is that the rest of the offense didn't play well either, it probably doesn't mean great things. Prince had one of his bad days, taking several unnecessary sacks and showing poor pocket presence. The first sack he took, it looked like he fell down without much contact, and then on another sack in the 4th quarter, down 13-7, he rolled directly into a linebacker.
After the big hit he took in the second quarter, his throws lost some zip, which you could see pretty clearly on the interception. Prince really isn't capable of making that throw across the field in the best of times. While it probably wasn't a great play call to have Shaquelle Evans as the primary, Prince has to be aware of his own limitations, and understand that even if the cornerback is playing back in coverage (as it appeared he was), he doesn't have the zip to get the ball there before the corner adjusts.
Running backs: C-
UCLA designed to run the ball just 21 times, which was an interesting choice considering how this team is built. Johnathan Franklin didn't have much success on the first two drives, and it seemed that Mike Johnson elected to go away from the run after that. Against the pretty stout Illinois defense, you'd have liked to have seen more of Derrick Coleman early, considering he‘s a human wrecking ball, but it's hard to say he would have done much better. When Coleman was put in, he was actually pretty effective, gaining some big yards on UCLA's first draw. Franklin got going a little in the second quarter, hitting one nice run before the Embree touchdown.
Overall, the running backs weren't given enough to do as Johnson seemed to be trying to mold this team into a more potent passing attack.
Wide receivers: D
Nelson Rosario really is a feel good story. If you're a feeling, thinking human being, it has to tug at your heart strings to see a guy rise to prominence as a wide receiver at an FBS school while missing a hand.
Rosario and Joe Fauria's dropped touchdown passes were bone crushing considering the lack of success UCLA's offense was having moving the ball. Rosario really did look like he was attempting to catch his with just his left hand, while Fauria tripped on his way to a drop. Jordon James and Taylor Embree both contributed drops, although for James, it seemed more as if Prince threw an uncatchable ball.
Anthony Barr running into the snap on the motion was inexcusable given the amount of time UCLA spends practicing pre snap motion.
On the bright side, Josh Smith and Embree both made nice catches, with Embree in particular making a nice adjustment on the touchdown pass.
Offensive line: F
Downey vs. Mercilus is probably not going to find its way next to Ali vs. Frazier in the annals of epic matchups. The Illinois All American had his way with UCLA's former-walk-on offensive tackle for most of the game. The scheme didn't provide much extra help for Brett Downey, rarely sliding a tight end or running back to help, so he was forced to go one on one against Mercilus way too much.
The rest of the offensive line wasn't much better. Kai Maiava completed a forgettable senior season with a rough outing against Illinois. He was pushed back 3 to 4 yards pretty consistently, which forced Prince to roll out of his launch point several times. You'd also like to have seen him snap the ball when Illinois had at least a few plays where they jumped offsides pre snap.
In run blocking, the entire line was culpable in contributing to a rushing attack that generated just 18 yards. Maiava and Greg Capella both had a hard time generating any push.
Offensive coaching, scheme, and play calling: D+
This was a weird one, and might be held up as an example for future interim coaches about trying to change a scheme in three weeks. While UCLA still ran most of its offense out of the pistol formation (which is really just a short shotgun with a running back behind), the run scheme was much more conventional, and there was much more vertical passing than there has been at any other point this year. Largely, the changes were unsuccessful. Without the zone read (which really showed up for no more than three or four plays), the running attack was much easier to stop, with Illinois' linebackers able to key entirely on Coleman and Franklin. More to the point, without the zone read, Prince's one big strength as a quarterback is neutralized. A few of the nice wrinkles from the last couple of games (like the play action lateral pass option UCLA threw against Oregon and USC) were non existent.
It was not a great audition for Johnson, who's hoping to get a head coaching job at some point soon.
Defensive line: B-
Keenan Graham is a potential star on defense, showing great awareness and athleticism on the trick play where Illinois reversed the field with the wide receiver pass. He and Owamagbe Odighizuwa were the best players on the defensive line on Saturday. It'll be interesting to see next year if either one of them can vault Damien Holmes and crack the starting lineup (assuming UCLA stays with a 4 man front). Even Justin Edison had a fairly decent game, although he still spun himself out of the play a few times. He and Nate Chandler both had respectable games in their final game, which was nice to see.
Without Patrick Larimore and Sean Westgate, the linebacking corps managed to have probably its best game of the season on Saturday, perhaps not coincidentally. Jordan Zumwalt looks so much more comfortable playing in the middle, making plays all over the field. Also, although this is faint praise indeed, he's probably the best blitzing linebacker UCLA has, which, with UCLA's defensive scheme, is more useful when he's lined up in the middle.
Glenn Love also made some spectacular plays, including the big sack toward the end of the first half, dropping the Illinois quarterback for a 15 yard loss.
Despite a couple of plays where he was out of position, Eric Kendricks once again showed why he should have been getting much more playing time earlier in the year.
Defensive Backs: B+
The best player on the field for UCLA, either side of the ball, was Tevin McDonald. From the opening snap, McDonald was all over the field, shoring up run support and also playing well in coverage. He broke up at least two passes, and had two big tackles in the back field. While his three interception game will probably win primary place in his highlight reel for this year, he put together a much more complete game against Illinois. If anything good came out of the defensive back injuries this year, McDonald's emergence was it.
In what is hopefully a sign of good things to come, Aaron Hester actually had a pretty nice game in coverage, despite playing off of his man. Previously, our thinking was that Hester simply had to body up his man at the line of scrimmage to have much hope of guarding him, but he actually played well and kept his hands (mostly) to himself.
Sheldon Price must have used the last three weeks to give his knee some rest, because he looked like he was finally back to more or less his old self against the Illini.
While there are some definite question marks in the defensive front seven for next year, the returning secondary could be very good.
Defensive coaching, scheme, and play calling: B-
Joe Tresey, for all his many warts, called a relatively good game. Although the perpetual five to ten yard cushion (that will live on in our collective, well populated UCLA football nightmare) was present and accounted for, there was enough mixing and matching of coverages and bltizes to make the Illini offense fairly impotent. Also, Tresey rediscovered the safety position, pushing both Tevin McDonald and Stan McKay up in coverage to hammer the short passing and running from the Illinois back field.
Isn't it perfect poetic justice, though, that the one time the man blitzes on a 3rd and long, he gets burned for a long touchdown?
He was helped quite a bit by great individual games from McDonald, Love and Zumwalt, who tackled better in this game than any UCLA players have this year.
Special Teams: C
Andrew Abbott was a complete non factor at punt return, but, judging by the few times he returned punts in practice, he's a better option than Embree. Abbott has a little bit of shake, and is certainly faster than Embree, if not a burner. Still, it has to be frustrating that every time Embree is removed as punt returner, the replacement takes advantage by muffing a punt.
Jeff Locke had a mixed bag of a day, bombing a couple of punts and kicking a couple of stinkers, but the San Francisco wind is a fickle so and so. Tyler Gonzalez's missed field goal was big, simply because UCLA had so much trouble getting anything going offensively.
Illinois Unit by Unit Analysis
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