The ups and downs are expected for Brett Hundley. Unfortunately, the game against Cal was one of the downs. He certainly wasn't helped by a porous offensive line, but he didn't help himself against the pass rush either, oftentimes holding the ball too long, such as on the play where he was stripped of the ball. He has a good pocket presence, and he is very mobile, allowing him to avoid the rush a lot of the time, but he needs to develop a better understanding of when things have broken down entirely and he needs to tuck and run. His running game still needs work, as he's not taking advantage of his considerable agility. On Saturday, he left plenty of yards on the field by either not running the ball when he had the opportunity, or stepping out of bounds when he could have safely gotten several more yards. On a couple of occasions, it even looked like a near thing whether he'd even get the first down because it looked like he stepped out of bounds short of the marker.
Of course, his legs aren't the important part. He was a little more inaccurate than usual on Saturday, which was probably attributable to both the pass rush and the cold he was suffering through. His downfield throws, at this point, are a weakness. One throw, in particular, was pretty bad, when he missed both Jordon James and Damien Thigpen down the sideline on that double wheel route. James would have easily had a touchdown if they would have been able to connect, but the ball fell in no man's land between the two players. Hundley also missed a couple of slants, and mistimed a few swing passes, including the fateful one to Devin Fuller that really turned the tide of the game.
His interceptions were obviously an issue, but we'll attribute those to him forcing the ball due to the score and coaches calling too many pass plays. The final interception into triple coverage, though, was a really bad decision.
Running Backs: B+
The running backs not getting more carries on Saturday was probably the strangest part of the game plan against Cal. In just 15 carries, Johnathan Franklin managed over 100 yards and it looked like the potential was there for some truly big plays. Jordon James also had a number of nice runs, and swing passes, and looked more explosive than he has all year. The issue, of course, is that they, and Damien Thigpen, did not get nearly enough carries.
James actually had a couple of nice blocks in pass protection, where players blew by Torian White, that helped keep Hundley from getting killed. Unfortunately, on one big play in the 4th quarter, David Allen completely whiffed on a defensive end, not even getting a hand on him, which allowed Hundley to take a pretty devastating sack. Allen, whose primary role in the offense is blocking, needs to make that play, since he's really only in the game for a handful of plays anyway.
One thing with the running backs: there doesn't appear to be much emphasis on cut blocks. Against defensive ends, that's really one of the best ways to keep them from getting to the quarterback, and it seems like the backs in general are being trained to block straight up. It's a harder block to execute effectively, especially against stronger players. For a good example of how cut blocking can work, Oregon State's game plan against Anthony Barr and Jordan Zumwalt is a good example.
The receiving corps is starting to get a little depleted, and on Saturday it showed. With Devin Lucien out, Darius Bell getting hurt, and Jerry Johnson limited by a rib cartilage issue, Jordan Payton, Jerry Rice Jr., and Ricky Marvray got increased time. Payton looked very good, and obviously seems poised for more playing time in the absence of Lucien. Marvray looked OK, but did have one really awful drop on a slant in the 3rd quarter that seemed to bounce right off his hands. Rice showed some good catching skills, but missed a couple of blocks. With Payton showing well, we'd expect his time to increase over Rice.
Shaquelle Evans did not have one of his better days, stopping one route short of the end zone, looking pretty out of sync with Hundley on the interception in the end zone and on the slant thrown six yards behind him, and also having one of the dumber personal fouls of the year when he took a swing at one of the Cal defensive backs. With Lucien out, Evans has to shoulder the load as the downfield threat, and on Saturday, he really wasn't successful doing that.
Joseph Fauria is clearly trying harder to block, but you can see the physical limitations. On a couple of swing passes, he was the primary blocker downfield, and he'd initially put his hands on a guy but then wasn't quick enough laterally to maintain the block without holding. On one play in the first quarter, driving into the Cal red zone, you can see him put his hands on a guy to block him, but then quickly pull his hands up so as not to be called for a hold. He had the nice touchdown catch, as well as a first down catch, though, and with Bell potentially out this week, Fauria should be featured a bit more in the offense.
Bell, it should be said, made one of the better catches of the year on the one the knocked him out, getting hit very hard but managing to hold onto the ball. While he's been a tad injury prone so far this year, Bell has been one of the biggest surprises on the team. When you think about it, it's actually kind of amazing: a 5'10 former quarterback with no real plus athleticism has been winning time from the 6'8 specimen who was thought to be one of the better NFL prospects on the team. It's really a testament to Bell's work ethic, so you have to root for him to come back quickly.
Offensive Line: F
To be fair, when we pictured this season, we pictured a lot more games looking like the Cal game. So, kudos to Adrian Klemm that this has been a rarity. But, wow, that was awful. Torian White had a very bad game, repeatedly letting defenders blow by him untouched, and looking confused on who to block. In the run game he was slightly better, but in pass protection he struggled mightily. The other two freshmen did not fare much better. Simon Goines spent the first pass play of the game on his back, and struggled to block his side of the line as well. Once again, though, it seemed like the defense targeted the left side of the line, so he was left mostly unscathed.
Jake Brendel, as against Oregon State, was left with no one to block at various points and seemed confused on where to go. Jeff Baca didn't have a great game, either, and was one of several offensive linemen who struggled on Hundley's fumble.
Xavier Su'a-Filo still looked good, even with the breakdowns around him, and it's amazing how athletic he is. He somehow got about 20 yards downfield ahead of Franklin on one of his first quarter runs. Once he switched over to tackle, he looked good there as well, and helped to shore up the line.
Ben Wysocki really struggled at guard, and his hold was indicative of a player who probably isn't ready for significant playing time at this point.
Offensive scheme, game plan, and play calling: D
We mentioned it above, but it bears repeating: it's extremely strange that UCLA threw the ball so much against Cal. Cal's rush defense heading into the game was mediocre at best, and it would seem, based off any film study, that running on them is not a difficult proposition. Then, with UCLA obviously struggling in pass protection, it would make even more sense to try to run the ball more. And then, even if the coaching staff didn't see either of those things the same way we do, Hundley struggled for much of the game, and it would have made sense in that respect to run the ball more.
To nitpick a few other things, the decision to kick the field goal, down 15 in the 4th quarter, still doesn't make any sense after two days of reflection. Before the field goal, the team was down two touchdowns and after the field goal…the team was down two touchdowns. Even before that, when UCLA scored the touchdown in the third quarter to get within 10, you could make the argument that going for two there is the smart play, since, with the way the game was going, scoring enough to make one point matter was unlikely. The field goal was more of a concern, because it was completely illogical, but not going for two there seems to be a continuation of the same conservative philosophy.
The scheme itself is still fine, but the play calling puts UCLA in longer third downs than necessary. With such a good running game on Saturday, you would have liked to see many, many more runs on second down to keep third downs manageable, especially with Hundley's struggles to throw the ball down field.
However, on one bright note, we're enjoying the increased use of the dig route for first downs. It shows that the team is trying to take advantage of cushions whenever they can find them.
Defensive Line: B+
Cassius Marsh continues to excel after struggling through the first three games. Once again on Saturday he was one of the impact players on defense, which is actually very difficult to be out of this 3-4 front. He's using his quickness to his advantage, getting off blocks and making tackles at the line of scrimmage. Datone Jones also had a good game, holding up blockers well and making plays in pursuit.
Owamagbe Odighizuwa used Anthony Barr to his advantage on his sack, letting Barr occupy the tackle while he dove in for the sack, which was probably a nice switch for the defensive line as a whole. Seali'i Epenesa played pretty well, occupying the inside of Cal's offensive line. Really, outside of C.J. Anderson's long run in garbage time, UCLA's defensive line did a nice job taking care of its assignments and occupying blockers. Most of the failures in the run defense came from the unit standing behind them.
Of course, we have to mention the two offsides penalties by the linemen. For experienced players, that kind of thing can't happen, so we'd imagine there will be some time spent this week correcting those issues.
After spending last year tackling offensive players all over the field, we were expecting Eric Kendricks to really come into his own this season. However, through six games, it's obvious that he is really struggling in this new defense. He didn't tackle well on Saturday, wasn't in position to make several tackles, and seemed lost in pass coverage, frequently ending up on the wrong side of the field from the play. He looks like he might be a step slower than last year as well, which could be due to some added muscle. In any case, he really struggled on Saturday, despite his twelve tackles, and was a large part of the reason why the middle of the defense was so open for Cal.
Ryan Hofmeister was better, and generally was in better position. We still would like to see more of Stan McKay and Dalton Hilliard in that role, since they add so much more speed to the field, but they seem to be striking a pretty decent balance in terms of personnel at this point.
Damien Holmes and Anthony Barr both looked good again at outside linebacker. Given the struggles on the inside, both with Holmes and without him there, you have to expect that Jordan Zumwalt, who played sparingly on Saturday, is going to get a look inside this week in practice. Zumwalt played middle linebacker two years ago, and looked good doing it, so a change like that could go a long way toward improving the interior of the defense.
Defensive Backs: D-
Andrew Abbott is the only reason this grade isn't an F. Aaron Hester had one of the worst games from a DB that we can remember, getting penalized at least three times, missing tackles, and getting himself out of position. It really seemed like it snowballed for him right up to the facemask penalty, which was just wildly unnecessary, as it came behind the line of scrimmage with plenty of defenders behind him to help. His personal foul early could have been called on either he and Sheldon Price, and it was really obvious, with both pushing Bryce Treggs to the ground out of bounds. It seemed like every time UCLA had a breakdown defensively or suffered a penalty in the first half, Hester was involved.
Price also wasn't good, although his struggles weren't as noticeable as Hester's. Keenan Allen blew by him on the seam pass, but that's more of a failure of the scheme and play call than Price; odds are, Allen would blow by most defensive backs. Price still tries to undercut slant routes, though, as if he thinks he's fast enough to get completely underneath the defender for the interception. On one pass, it cost UCLA an extra twenty yards or so. Price can play well in a zone, but so far this defensive scheme has really exposed his poor man coverage skills.
Abbott's interception in the first half was one of two bright spots for the secondary, with the other being his nice pass defense in the end zone in the second quarter. If it wasn't clear before, it should be clear now that Abbott needs to play cornerback, or at least closer to the line of scrimmage, because his skills are too valuable to be wasted twenty yards from the line of scrimmage. With the struggles from Hester and Price, and how good Randall Goforth has looked thus far this year, it seems like a switch could be made without much, if any, dropoff. This will be interesting to watch.
Tevin McDonald was bad in run support, and really hasn't tackled well all year. However, the two touchdowns thrown underneath him really weren't due to his play as much as the play call. It would have taken a very athletic play to get underneath either of those routes.
Defensive scheme, game plan, and play calling: D
Despite saying during the week that they were scheming for Allen, it really didn't seem like the coaching staff had much in place to stop him. The seam route for the touchdown late in the game, where Price had no help over the top, was just a scheme failure. After watching Price and Hester get dissected by Sean Mannion and Oregon State's speedy receivers, it should be apparent that these two corners need help when faced with fast receivers.
Cal generally took advantage every time UCLA blitzed in the game as well, scoring their first two touchdowns on UCLA blitzes. Right now, the Bruins are not a good blitzing team. The inside linebackers take too long to get to the quarterback, leaving the middle wide open for slants, and the defensive backs are not good enough to cover guys long enough to allow the pressure to work its magic.
With UCLA's nickel coverage the strength of the defense at this point, it'll be interesting to see whether UCLA opts to go for more coverage as opposed to blitzing.
Special Teams: F
Jeff Locke is mortal, apparently. His punts were pretty short on Saturday. Even though Allen is a good return man, we doubt it was by design. In any case, he's allowed a bad game once in a career.
Ka'imi Fairbairn, on the other hand, continues to struggle, and you have to wonder how long Mora's going to let this last. His miss was, as far as misses go, a good one, but it still puts his percentage right around 65%, which is bad for a college kicker, and very bad for a UCLA kicker.
The fumble on the punt return was obviously bad, and it's a disturbing reoccurrence of something that happened in the Nebraska game, with a blocker running into the punt returner. Kenny Orjioke was the culprit this time, as opposed to Dalton Hilliard, but you probably have to put some of the blame on Steven Manfro, who should be calling out, loudly, when fair catching the ball..