Any great quarterback has a few defining moments. Brett Hundley started his career with a 72 yard rushing touchdown, so that has to count as one. Saturday's game winning drive, against a good defense with 1:33 on the clock, has to count as another. Something we've talked about quite a bit this year is Hundley's poise, and it was on full display through the entirety of that final drive. On the first pass to Steven Manfro, he moved back and forth in the pocket, using his offensive line perfectly, to allow Manfro time to get open near the sideline. Later, he did much the same thing on his pass to Joseph Fauria, which stopped the clock at 19 seconds. On every play, he looked perfectly composed, and had the proper amount of urgency. So many times in those situations, with even older quarterbacks, you'll find they either move too fast, trying to score as quickly as possible, or too slow, trying to look calm and collected. Hundley (along with a big assist from Mora) managed the clock perfectly.
Just talking about that last series shouldn't detract from the rest of the game Hundley had. Considering the environment, the defense he was facing, and relative importance of the game, this might have been one of his best performances of the season. He hit his swing passes well, the two wheel routes to Damien Thigpen were things of beauty, and did a good job making plays with his legs, as once again he had to scramble frequently.
If we have one gripe at this point, it's that he still hasn't shown a propensity for knowing when to throw the ball away. There was one play where he scrambled beautifully, buying time for receivers to get open (who never did) and then ran out of bounds for a three yard loss. Like Mora said after the game, it's one piece that he hasn't quite mastered yet.
Running Backs: A+
After being banged up in the last couple of games before the bye, Johnathan Franklin looked very fresh on Saturday. What you might not have realized on Saturday, considering how easily Franklin was able to beat the Sun Devils to the edge, is that Arizona State actually has a very fast defense; they're undersized at almost every position, in fact, to maximize speed. The stiff arm he has added to his arsenal this year is extremely impressive, not just because it's been very effective, but because it shows impressive confidence in his ability not to fumble. He now has over 1000 yards rushing on the year, with four regular season and potentially two postseason games left to play.
It's so bizarre, because after you're done watching the game, you might say "Franklin should have gotten the ball more" and yet he got 26 carries. Given how fresh he was in the 4th quarter, though, you have to like how the coaching staff managed his carries.
After a quiet few weeks, Damien Thigpen broke out in the passing game on Saturday, catching two wheel routes out of the back field for touchdowns. The wheel route has been open frequently this season, but Hundley hasn't hit it or seen it enough. Teams are going to have to scheme much more effectively against that when Thigpen is in the game now, because a middle linebacker has no chance of covering Thigpen down field.
Jordon James got the bulk of the backup carries for Franklin, and was instrumental on the beginning of the 98 yard drive for the second touchdown, carrying the ball to the five yard to give Hundley some breathing room, and then catching a swing pass for a nice 15 yard gain down the sideline. Obviously, his running style still needs work, as he still tends to dance behind the line of scrimmage instead of hitting the hole, but, like Thigpen, he can be a weapon in the passing game out of the back field.
All three of the running backs generally did a good job in pass protection, although Thigpen did have a bad matchup with a defensive end at one point that led to Hundley scrambling across the field.
At this point, you almost have to cut the number of plays Jerry Johnson is playing. Simply put, he's not giving a great effort from play to play, and it shows even—heck, especially—on the plays where he's not featured. Sure, on the flea flicker he gave up on the ball, and on the second pass play of the game he stopped running almost as soon as the overthrown ball left Hundley's hand, but the one that really stood out was where Hundley scrambled out of bounds for a three yard loss. Hundley tried to keep the play alive for about five seconds, and during that time, Johnson basically stood right next to his man and made only the most half-hearted effort to get open. He's made very little impact this year, which is perplexing considering how good he looked through the spring and fall in practice. In any case, with the emergence of some younger talent (Jordan Payton and Devin Fuller) and the return of Darius Bell as soon as next week, it could be a good idea to start lessening Johnson's load.
Shaquelle Evans continues to do the dirty work for the receiving corps, catching a couple of key first downs as well as blocking really well on runs to the edge. Although he's leading the team in receiving, his blocking has been similarly important to the team's offensive production. On two of Franklin's big rushes down the sideline, he made key blocks helping to spring him.
Fuller's touchdown post was an impressive show of both route running skills and hands. It's a weird thing to say about a converted quarterback, but he gives this receiving corps a dynamic threat that they might not have had, with his speed and change of direction. He also made a key first down catch on a drag route, which came at an important time when Arizona State had started to have some success pressuring Hundley.
Manfro, who obviously had his struggles on special teams, made a couple of key catches out of the F spot. Although he clearly should no longer return punts, he does have value at the F, and given the struggles this receiving corps has had getting open at times, the fact that he's been open enough for 26 catches on the year is, as they say, not nothing.
Joseph Fauria had a very impressive touchdown catch, but the first down catch on the final drive was arguably more impressive, since he not only caught a tough ball, but had the wherewithal to fall down out of bounds, stopping the clock at 19 seconds. He also had one of his better blocking games, sealing the edge on one of Franklin's runs in the red zone on the first touchdown drive.
Offensive Line: B
Considering this was, if not the best defensive front UCLA will face this year, at least the most exotic, UCLA's offensive line actually acquitted itself fairly well. Arizona State likes to blitz frequently, and, with a lot of undersized players on defense, tends to move players around frequently into different positions, which can cause confusion. Generally, the offensive line was pretty clean, and for that you have to give some credit to Jake Brendel, for making effective line calls. There was one noticeable play where Xavier Su'a-Filo pulled from his spot to double Brendel's man, allowing a linebacker to shoot right by him for a sack, but other than that, there weren't many really egregious breakdowns.
Torian White and Simon Goines combined for a very nice game in pass protection. After returning from a heart procedure last week, White had one of his better games of the season, generally holding his own against the right side of ASU's defense. He and Goines both did a good job sealing the edge on Franklin's runs to the outside.
Exactly how fast is Xavier Su'a-Filo? Because it's crazy how far down field he's able to get ahead of Franklin. He pulls better than any guard UCLA has had in a while, and his feel for exactly how much he needs to block a guy to get him out of the way is possibly his best quality, since it allows him to block two or three guys on many of those runs.
When Goines went down, Jeff Baca did a nice job filling in at right tackle in the fourth quarter, and Alberto Cid had no noticeable issues at right guard.
Offensive game plan, scheme, and play calling: B+
This is the kind of offensive play calling we came to expect through the first few games of the season: dynamic, hitting the defense where it's weak, and taking what's available. After an admittedly strange first possession, where Noel Mazzone called three straight pass plays, the play calling settled into a rhythm that was more or less unstoppable the rest of the evening. Arizona State clearly had weaknesses in run defense last week, so UCLA exploited those, running more on the edge than they did two weeks ago against Utah.
Despite some joking about Mazzone's propensity to use swing passes, he was fairly judicious in his use of those plays on Saturday, with only four that I can recall, all of which went for decent gains.
I didn't hate the flea flicker call, although I think with the way UCLA was running the ball, it wasn't necessary. But, honestly, after years of run-run-pass-punt, any kind of creativity is welcome, even if it isn't successful.
The 4th down punt from the 50, with about a yard to go in the 4th quarter with the score 35-33, was a pretty poor decision in a risk/reward sense, but it paid off. ASU's front isn't exactly designed for short yardage stands in the best of times, and certainly not without Will Sutton.
Defensive line: B+
Owamagbe Odighizuwa had one of his better games as a Bruin on Saturday, holding his own at the line of scrimmage while getting off his blocks to make tackles. He's had a pretty good junior season so far, and, as with Datone Jones and Cassius Marsh, he seems to have found a niche as a 3-4 defensive end. Marsh also had another good game, despite the silly late hit on Taylor Kelly. What really stands out, and it's something Coach McClure harps on in practice, is how disciplined they are holding up their blockers. On Arizona State's first drive, Kelly effectively sacked himself because UCLA's defensive line was so stout against ASU's front, and didn't try to spin around them, that it gave Kelly no room to move in the pocket. For three guys who've grown up at UCLA as pass rushers, primarily, their development in this defense has been a very pleasant surprise.
Ellis McCarthy got his first extended time in a long while, and looked pretty good. If you needed an indication of how freakishly strong he is, you needn't look further than the play where he caught ASU's running back, bear hugged him at the line of scrimmage for no gain, and then tossed him back toward the referee, knocking the referee over. He played quite a bit as a nickel defensive tackle, alongside Donovan Carter, and they both had some nice plays.
UCLA had trouble with screen passes, and some of that has to fall on the defensive line, but since it's generally linebackers who play on the edge in this defense, that grade will fall mostly on the next unit.
UCLA tried a new wrinkle with its linebackers in this game, with Jordan Zumwalt splitting reps as one of the nickel defensive ends/outside linebackers along with Damien Holmes. Unfortunately, neither showed any ability to defend a screen pass effectively on Saturday. Both Holmes and Zumwalt were frequently caught in that no man's land between pass rushing and covering the running back, and ended up doing neither. They didn't get much backside help from anyone in the defensive secondary, but much of the responsibility has to fall on them. The screen pass killed UCLA for most of the second half, and the only real wonder is why ASU didn't screen more.
Anthony Barr had what I suppose is an off day for him. He still had one series where he completely took over the game, getting a sack on first down, contributing to a tackle on second down, and then disrupting a pass to force an incompletion on third down. But the consistency wasn't there, and he did make a few poor reads on zone reads that led to big gains. ASU, though, seemingly did decide to go away from him for much of the day.
In a bit of good news, Eric Kendricks had his first very good game of the year. Early on, ASU ran right at him, and he actually looked like he was getting bulldozed a bit, but as the game wore on, you could start to see flashes of the player he was a season ago. He tackled better than he has this entire year, and generally, he was in the right spots, which has been difficult for him this year. He made a few tackles in the 4th quarter that were potential game savers.
Dalton Hilliard also had a very nice game, obviously catching the interception, but also with the big tackle for a loss on the swing pass.
Defensive backs: C
Tevin McDonald continues to have a disappointing season. Last year, he was certainly undisciplined at times (if you watch that three interception game, at least two of those picks came when he was totally out of position) but he also made plays, and, though my mind might be failing, was a better tackler. This year, he's still out of position, but he has also diminished as a tackler. Even when he knocks a guy out of bounds, it looks like he's just using his shoulder pads to bump him. On the touchdown down the sideline, he had a chance to tackle the ASU player at the 2, but instead he actually propelled him into the end zone by attempting to push him down. On the play where Marsh got the late hit, it wouldn't have happened but for a McDonald missed tackle about 4 yards short of that. Heck, as they showed on replay, on the attempted wide receiver pass for ASU, McDonald had completely lost the Sun Devils receiver down field and that play could have easily been a touchdown.
Sheldon Price had what turned out to be one of the most important plays of the game, batting away the two point conversion attempt. Neither he nor Aaron Hester were challenged much in this game, as most of the passing was done within about ten yards of the line of scrimmage.
Randall Goforth isn't a sure tackler yet, at this stage, and it bit him on a crossing pattern in the first half, where he probably should have had the ASU player stopped for about a ten yard gain, but instead it went for 25+.
Broken record alert, but Andrew Abbott is very good in run support. He had the big hit on third down that forced a punt, where he rocketed the player back a good five yards, but he also just has good instincts, knowing whether a play is a run or pass and adjusting immediately. We'll keep harping on this, but it would be nice to see him playing at or near the line of scrimmage at all times, to take advantage of his skillset.
Defensive game plan, scheme, and play calling: C-
UCLA had some huge issues with the run on the first long touchdown drive for ASU, and it looked like it was because they were, first, in nickel for most of the drive, and second, because they were trying some new wrinkles with the nickel. Obviously television isn't ideal for depth perception, but it looked like UCLA was shading its two down linemen so that one would be over center and the other would be between the guard and the tackle. ASU ran, frequently, through the empty side, and the defensive line didn't get much help from the linebackers.
Actually, it looked like ASU went to that really fast tempo mostly when UCLA was in its nickel set, so there might have been something they saw on film there that they thought they could exploit. In any case, UCLA seemingly adjusted, because for the rest of the game, the linemen looked more evenly spaced out along the front, which funneled more of the runs up the middle rather than on the edge, which is when ASU started to go to the screen pass.
UCLA had no answer for the screen pass, and it might simply be the case that it's a weakness of this scheme. So much emphasis is on a pass rush from the outside linebacker spot that it's only natural that the player in that position is going to think about hitting the quarterback first. Defending a screen effectively requires player awareness that UCLA might simply not have at this point.
Generally speaking, I was expecting UCLA to blitz more than they did, after the struggles ASU had last week and UCLA's own predilections for the blitz, so it was surprising to see mostly a four man rush.
Special Teams: D
You might think that's a brutal grade considering a field goal from a freshman kicker won the game, but Manfro's muffed punt was just awful. It was awful for so many reasons, too: first, it happened just two weeks ago in much the same way; second, one of the first things you're taught as a punt returner is not to field anything over your head; and three, it doesn't speak well of the personnel evaluation going on. Manfro hasn't looked great on punt return all year. He's muffed these two punts badly, but he has to also share the blame for blockers running into him on the two others this year, since he should be calling out loudly at that point. The fact that he's still returning punts is a worry. More to the point, the fact that Devin Fuller is cited as the immediate next option, when he, too, muffed a punt, is an additional concern. Other options to consider: Andrew Abbott looked good returning punts at the end of last year and throughout camp. He has a little bit of shake, and can actually catch the ball pretty consistently. He's not Taylor Embree. Damien Thigpen doesn't have the greatest catching technique in the world, but also probably has the best chance on the team of breaking a long return at some point, so he'd probably be a better risk/reward play than Manfro. Considering the amount of points and possessions that have been given up on what should be a free chance to GAIN points or yards, this is an area that needs to be addressed quickly.
The coin toss fiasco isn't even worth discussing, which is why we'll spend the next several sentences discussing it. First, it's kind of a jerk move by the referees to think that Jeff Locke, out there by his lonesome, actually wanted to kick off in both halves, but the whole situation was kind of silly. If you watch the replay of the coin toss, it looks as if the refs are asking Locke for confirmation of his choice, so it's really baffling that it didn't get conveyed correctly. Second, we all learned a valuable lesson that there are actually five freaking options on a kickoff: kick, receive, defer, defend endzone a, defend endzone b. No one in modern football has ever chosen anything besides receive or defer, but big ups to the refs for knowing the rule book. Third, Mora probably should have had the regular captains out there earlier. Whoops.
Other than wanting to kick off more, Locke was back to normal this week, booming punts or pooching them as Mora required. His kickoffs were deep enough to warrant touchbacks each time.
Thigpen had one huge return to the 40, but otherwise was pretty quiet.
Oh, and that Ka'imi Fairbairn kid had a nice kick. That was really good to see, and hopefully it removes the mid-sized simian that's made a home for itself between his shoulder blades. Mora actually isn't blowing smoke; Fairbairn kicks well in practice, and has shown good range. This isn't really a Kip Smith situation. Once he gets the mental side of it figured out, he'll probably be a very good kicker.
ASU Unit by Unit Analysis
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