It was evident in the Oregon State game that Brett Hundley's ankle was still bothering him, after he injured it two weeks ago sliding against Nebraska. Scrambling, which clearly could have been a game changing weapon against Oregon State, was instead a limited diversion because Hundley really didn't have much cutting ability. There were a couple of scrambles that probably should have gone for first downs (at least) that were instead cut down three or four yards in because he just didn't have the ability to make a guy miss.
Of course, as a saying should go if one doesn't already, if you're counting on your quarterback to win a game with scrambling, you're probably going to lose. Against a team that was daring the Bruins to throw deep, Hundley spent most of the game doing just that, and he was largely hit or miss. He connected on a couple of very nice passes, including two late throws to Darius Bell to go along with the deep bomb to Shaquelle Evans, but between and around those passes, he was fairly inaccurate. The big throw to Evans in the first half, before the field goal, was essentially the same play as the Steven Manfro touchdown from Nebraska, but this time Hundley didn't lead him far enough, which kept the play from going for a touchdown. Then, on the similar throw to Kenny Walker in the second half, he led him a bit too far. If you factor in those two throws, and the one to Jerry Johnson down the sideline in the 4th, a little better touch on those three passes could have led to three touchdowns.
On the bright side, even when it was obvious that the running game couldn't get anything going and the game was going to rest on his shoulders, Hundley didn't get rattled. At this point, it's fair to say that he probably has the best pocket presence of any quarterback at UCLA in at least the last five years. Even with a slightly gimpy ankle, he was still able to sense and avoid the rush, for the most part. If his stat line from Saturday is indicative of how he plays as a redshirt freshman, with a bad ankle, against a tough defense, then there should be many better days ahead.
For what it's worth, which may be minimal, I've noticed that Hundley seems to track receivers much better coming from left to right than from right to left. Many of the slants he misses late on are receivers running to the left side of the field, while he's done a much better job hitting receivers on the deep balls that track from left to right. It might be the case that he's only reading half the field, or it might be simple coincidence, but it's worth watching.
Running Backs: C
It's probably unfair, once again, to blame the running backs for their failure to run the ball when they are forced to make cuts in the back field, but that hasn't stopped us before. Johnathan Franklin was stymied by, first, some of UCLA's fairly conservative run play calling, and second, by a stout Oregon State run defense that generally dominated the line of scrimmage. The few times he was able to get the ball in space, he looked pretty good, but running between the tackles wasn't a possibility on Saturday, and unfortunately, that's where Franklin got the bulk of his touches.
Jordon James got the next most reps and looked tentative in the face of the Beavers' stout run defense, which was understandable. On one play, which wasn't some kind of screen, an Oregon State defender made it three yards into the back field, forcing James to make his cut as soon as he got the ball from Hundley, which netted the play a two yard loss. He and Damien Thigpen both were bottled up effectively by the Beavers, and again, there wasn't much of an effort to get them the ball in space, as there had been against the previous three teams on the schedule. The swing pass, generally speaking, was not a big part of the offense on Saturday, and so the speedsters were generally left to try to make something happen up the middle.
Franklin had a couple of very nice plays pass blocking, and also looked good on punt coverage, so we'll throw that in here to help the grade.
Offensive Line: D+
On a day where running the ball between the tackles seemed to be such a huge part of the game plan, the fact that the offensive line got, effectively, no push all day against Oregon State's front is fairly damning. The Brett Downey/Albert Cid platoon at right guard was very ineffective, and the Beavers generally exploited the gap between them and Jake Brendel to stifle UCLA's running game. Brendel also had his worst game of the season, looking unclear a couple of times on exactly who he should be blocking. On a couple of plays, he and Cid looked like they were blocking for a screen pass, getting six or seven yards downfield while blocking no one as the run was getting blown up in the back field.
In terms of pass protection, the offensive line was better, but still not great. Simon Goines had a fairly rough day, struggling to get his hands on the Beavers' defensive linemen and linebackers, who lined up far enough away from him to keep him from getting his punch on them immediately after the snap. Torian White had a better day than last week, but still didn't look great, and got dinged for holding once again. The interior linemen were fairly stout in pass protection, but the Beavers actually didn't do a whole lot of blitzing.
Jeff Baca being out clearly hurts the running game considerably, especially if the Bruins continue to insist on running most of its running plays to the right side. With his and Greg Capella's status still up in the air, and Downey and Cid looking pretty ineffective against OSU, there should be some experimentation this week at that spot.
Shaquelle Evans had the game of his life, and looked like he was the one guy among the receivers who showed up focused and ready to play. His down field blocking has been a highlight of the season this year, but he hadn't caught many passes after being one of the leading receivers last season. Against OSU, he showed off two important things. First, he has a chance to be a legitimate deep threat in this offense, much like Devin Lucien, getting open down field and making some tough catches. Second, he's tenacious about fighting for yards after the catch, which is refreshing after watching UCLA's receivers the last few years. Considering the fact that he easily could have gone over 200 yards receiving if he hadn't stepped out of bounds on the first play in the first quarter, he had a pretty good day.
Unfortunately, no one else really did. Steven Manfro, the leading receiver coming into the game, dropped at least two passes, and some of that is probably due to the shoulder injury he suffered in the first half. He wore a big shoulder pad, and then was asked to catch at least one of those balls with his arms fully outstretched. There is some concern about his hands at this point, though. His hands in practice have been, by and large, unimpeachable, but he's quickly showing that nerves might be getting to him in games. On the first drop, on the dig over the middle, the ball hit him right in the hands, but it looked like he was looking for the tackler and dropped it. Then, on the big throw in the 3rd quarter, which absolutely needed to be completed, the ball bounced out of his hands after he leaped for it. He also had a critical missed block after the Fauria false start on the goal line, letting Damien Thigpen get hit in the back field on what could have been a touchdown.
Joe Fauria, again, had a poor game. His false start on the goal line was inexcusable, and led to him being benched for most of the next quarter, and used sparingly the rest of the game. He also had another drop. Darius Bell was up and down, catching two very important passes in the 4th quarter, but also having some focus issues, with a false start and a holding penalty.
Lucien was mostly absent from the game plan, despite getting open underneath a couple of times. Hundley missed him and some running backs on swing routes, electing instead to throw mostly deep, which was clearly part of the game plan. Jerry Johnson broke out a bit, and looked more like the playmaker he looked like in the spring and summer.
Offensive scheme, game plan, and play calling: C-
Really, this was kind of a weird game for the offensive staff. Noel Mazzone came into the game knowing that he would have to throw deep, and it seemed like he doubled down on that idea throughout the game, even changing Hundley's progression so that he was looking deep before coming down to the dump off for the swing pass. Then, in the running game, Mazzone mostly called conventional runs between the tackles, seemingly believing that his offensive line, which was down to its third string right guard, was capable of steam rolling a good front seven. After being an effective staple of the offense through the first three games, the swing pass was effectively non-existent on Saturday.
Generally speaking, also, the tempo on offense was just slow. Coach Mora said after the game that going three and out so many times makes the tempo look slow, but there might be a chicken/egg thing going on there. Many times when UCLA failed on first down, they changed out most of their skill personnel, which is naturally going to slow down tempo. In fact, UCLA substituted liberally throughout the game, which is always going to slow down the tempo. Against a good front seven, and with a bad offensive line, tempo is one of the more important things the offense has going for it, so it's weird that the coaching staff would sacrifice it. It's almost as if they started to think that their players are better than they are, especially on the offensive line.
On the goal line play in the first half, instead of going quick, UCLA attempted to substitute in its jumbo package, with the three defensive players, and it didn't look like any of them knew what exactly they were doing, with Datone Jones looking around as if he was wondering where he was supposed to line up. Of course, the Bruins then had to call a timeout, which led to the Joe Fauria false start.
There were a few other head scratchers, including the Thigpen run on 3rd and 1 down two scores late in the fourth quarter, and the almost fake field goal, but expecting every play call to be perfect probably isn't realistic. Generally, the scheme still has to get a good grade—players were open down field, and if Hundley were a little more accurate, the offense could have managed 30+ points. But the game plan and the play calling were both lacking. Mazzone acknowledged after the game that there should have been more swing passes, and probably fewer deep balls, in the game plan, so we'll chalk it up to a bad day.
Defensive Line: B-
Cassius Marsh finally broke out, after being hyped quite a bit by Mora during the preseason. He looked extremely active, and did a nice job shedding offensive linemen to make tackles on runs. He was too quick, largely, for Oregon State's offensive linemen, which was nice to see after he spent the first three games seemingly attempting to power past offensive linemen.
A large reason that he was able to make so many plays is that Datone Jones was double teamed for a lot of the game, keeping him from making as big of an impact as he was able to through the first three games. Jones didn't have much of an effect on the game, and after being doubled a fair amount in the first half, didn't do a great job of taking advantage when he was singled.
Seali'i Epenesa was mostly serviceable, but got sealed off of a couple of big runs by Storm Woods. This was the first time UCLA has had to face off against an offense that runs primarily up the gut, and generally, the defensive line didn't look awful. They occupied blockers, and most of the failure to deal with runners had more to do with the linebackers than the defensive line.
Ellis McCarthy had another pretty poor string of play, after looking lost against Nebraska. We said it last week, but it bears repeating that he could probably stand to lose 10 to 15 pounds, and maybe more than that. He's not fat, but he looks like he's carrying too much weight, and looks fairly slow. On Woods' two big 11 yard runs to open the fourth quarter, he was just unable to fill his gap, which allowed Woods to break free. McCarthy hasn't been able to make much of an impact this year, and at his current size, it might be difficult for him to make one this year.
At this point, it's not out of this world to say that Anthony Barr is the best player on the team. Not just defensive, but on the entire team. It's simply amazing how quickly he has taken to defense, after not only not playing defense since high school, but also after not getting really any work in the spring. He had three tackles for a loss against the Beavers, and once again, it felt like more. Despite being held up by blocking backs through the first half, he still found a way to make an impact. What's really been impressive is his pursuit. On the play where he forced the Sean Mannion fumble, he did a wide loop, beating the right tackle, and then coming at Mannion on the left side to hit him from behind to force the fumble. Aside from that, he's also been stout, off the edge, in the running game, getting one tackle for a loss after jumping in toward the middle for the tackle. He also had another play where he stunted, and came in as an inside linebacker, for a TFL, which was an interesting new wrinkle.
Jordan Zumwalt struggled more than Barr with the Beavers' blocking scheme, repeatedly getting blocked low and out of the play. Without a head of steam, Zumwalt was mostly a non-factor on defense, and was in that no man's land between pressuring the quarterback and doing something useful in coverage.
Damien Holmes played more than he did last week, and didn't have a good day. His personal foul on Mannion extended that third quarter drive, and was just kind of a silly, old UCLA play. He just put his arm out and pushed him after he had clearly gotten the ball off. When he moved to outside linebacker in the second half, he, like Zumwalt, had an issue getting past the running back blockers, repeatedly getting cut 10 yards from the quarterback.
Dalton Hilliard made a big impact with his speed, but did get worked a couple of time on big run plays. However, he and Stan McKay bring so much more speed to the field when they are in that you have to like the nickel, even against a non-spread formation. McKay's interception was just a product of the zone, but it was nice to see him make a play on the ball. Hilliard's sack of Mannion was impressive, and shows an added element from that inside linebacker spot.
Defensive Backs: D-
Sheldon Price had one of his worst games at UCLA, after having his best last week. He made some head scratching decisions, such as undercutting the slant route that went for a touchdown, but also just looked physically overmatched against the Beaver receivers. On the deep ball, where Markus Wheaton beat him for a touchdown, he was unable to press him at the line, and then was completely unable to keep up with him down field. Price, physically, does not look like he's able to play press coverage effectively, getting thrown aside by any bigger receiver. Additionally, when he's in press coverage, he gets blocked out of any runs to his side because he's not strong enough to shed a receiver.
Aaron Hester looked better in press coverage, as he generally does, but it would have been nice to turn around on the ball to Wheaton that went over his head. Generally, though, he was fairly sharp on Saturday, and it seemed like Riley's game plan called for more picking on Price than Hester. Mannion made it a very tough day for the defensive backs, what with throwing the deep ball with machine-like precision, but Price especially looked unable to compete with the Beavers high level receivers.
Andrew Abbott, again, had a mostly ineffective game, playing between 10 and 20 yards off the line of scrimmage. It's really strange to play him back there, given that he's the best cover guy on the team, and also probably the best defensive back in run support. Additionally, it's weird simply because that's not the way the strong safety in the Steelers defense is used anyway. Abbott is too good to be wasted that far off the line of scrimmage, and on Saturday, he really wasn't able to do much against the Beavers passing attack.
Tevin McDonald was out of position on a couple of plays, but on the slant past Price, he wasn't responsible for covering deep, so that's not his fault. His tackling is a worry. On the long run in the 4th quarter that went down to the goal line, his missed tackle was critical, as he failed to wrap up.
Defensive scheme, game plan, and play calling: C
So far this season, UCLA has generally been able to generate pressure with just the two outside linebackers. Most of the time, the defensive staff hasn't had to send multiple blitzers from different spots, so, understandably, they haven't. On Saturday, with Oregon State keeping so many blockers at home, it was strange to see Lou Spanos opt for the same conventional blitzing structure in the first half, with just the outside backers rushing in. They finally ran a few more unconventional blitzes toward the end of the first half, including the one where Barr stunted in through the middle for a TFL, but generally, the blitzing scheme was pretty vanilla. In this game, with the corners pressed up on the line, it was seemingly a good opportunity to try a corner blitz.
Generally, though, the main flaw in the game plan was just too much aggression. Pressing Price and Hester all game, against two receivers who are faster than they are, and then not giving them much help over the top, was a very risky gamble. Price, for one, is not good in press coverage because he's not strong enough, and then compounding that issue by putting him on an island will lead to big plays like the ones we saw on Saturday. When the Bruins finally started to go to more zone in the second half, they generated two turnovers, and looked much more effective.
On the personnel side, there continue to be a couple of head scratchers. The base defense hasn't been really effective this season, and it seems like the coaching staff even understands that, as their main adjustment in the second halves of games is to go to more of a nickel package that gets more speed on the field. At this point, you'd like to see them try their nickel personnel, with Hilliard and McKay in for Holmes, as more of their primary look on defense.
Second, Abbott looks mighty ineffective at the deep safety spot. Given that Price and Hester have had struggles this season, rotating Abbott in at corner during the game would be a nice touch.
Again, there are bright sides. We still like that the base mindset for the defense is aggression, and this defense will generate turnovers simply through that aggression. The main issue is that first halves have been killers, with seemingly the same game plan to start games and the same game plan in the second half every game. Some self-scouting should be done this week to see if perhaps there are some blitzing tendencies in the first half that need to be corrected or disguised.
Special Teams: A-
Man, Jeff Locke is good. He kept the game in hand for UCLA by forcing the Beavers, generally, to drive the length of the field after gaining possession. He's gotten so much better over the offseason, after being pretty stellar last year, that the whole "punting is winning" thing actually makes some weird kind of sense this season.
The return game was generally fine, but Thigpen once again got tripped up by a lead blocker, this time Holmes, on a kickoff return. Kick coverage was very good, bottling up Locke's punts nicely.
We liked the onside kick attempt by Locke, but the ball probably needs to be kicked a little bit harder.
Oregon State Unit by Unit Analysis
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