If you just looked at a stat sheet, no matter who the player was, and you hadn't watched the game, and you see that the quarterback went 23 for 28 for 288 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions, you'd probably give him a A. But then if you actually watch Brett Hundley's performance there's no question. Every week we say it, and it's becoming a cliche: Hundley took another big step in his development. Perhaps his biggest step forward in this game was his ability to read the pressure and get rid of the ball quickly to a secondary receiver. It accounted for the long gain to Jerry Johnson when, with Arizona blitzing, Hundley found Johson wide open on a drag route for a big gain that set up a touchdown. Hundley actualy did it the play before, too, finding Johnathan Franklin on a flair when he was under pressure (even though Franklin dropped the pass and there was a penalty). He did it on the nice throw to Steven Manfro on the wheel route that set up another touchdown. In terms of his throws, he started off inaccurate, missing an open Shaquelle Evans on a crossing route and overthrew Joseph Fauria, which is difficult to do. But then, he went on a very impressive tear of completions, throwing 16 in a row at one point. By the middle of the third quarter he was 19 of 22. He made some, well, pretty perfect throws: the fade for a touchdown to Fauria, the post for a touchdown to Fauria, the post for a touchdown to Jordan Payton, the deep out to Evans, etc, etc. He didn't have to take to his wheels much, but was impressive in scrambling for a touchdown where he had to switch the entire field and dive for the pylon. Since we are keeping track, there were a couple of other miscues -- like the two fumbles on the zone read handoffs, that luckily bounced back into his hands, and making the bad decision of still trying to throw the swing pass after he had collected the fumble. But there were so few, and they are forgotten in light of the beauty of his overall play Saturday.
Running Backs: A+
It would be blasphemy in any week to not give an A to the running back who just set the UCLA all-time career rushing record. But even if this were Franklin's first game of his college career, he individually deserves an A. He ran 24 times for 162 yards, for a 6.8 yard-per-carry average, and scored two touchdowns. He also had three catches for 28 yards. Yes, there were some considerable holes to run through, that even Brandon Huffman would have been able to exploit to gain some good yards, but there were a handful, at least, of some eye-openers that showcased what kind of ball carrier Franklin has become. There was one run where he was caught behind the line of scrimmage but broke four tackles to gain 2 yards. His first touchdown to break the record was as if you wanted to capture what kind of tailback Franklin is in one highlight, changing direction, breaking tackles, exploding for the end zone. As we said before, he is now UCLA royalty, and just not because he broke the record.
This was perhaps UCLA's best overall performance from its running backs. Damien Thigpen had six carries and exploded through holes, and perhaps the most promising element Satuday was Jordon James running north and south. He had 6 carries for 37 yards. You know they're running well when, when they're handed the ball you're not sure if it's Franklin or not. Steven Manfro also had a few nice runs in mop-up duty, with a great touchdown run.
And it wasn't just the ball carrying. The running backs were good catching the ball (Manfro's wheel route to set up a touchdown), and were very good in picking up blitzes in pass protection. Fullback David Allen had a very good day blocking.
You also have to add that walk-on freshman Melvin Emesibe also looked the most effective we had ever seen him in mop-up.
Joseph Fauria had his second-best day as a Bruin, catching 5 passes for 81 yards and two touchdowns, and couple of other key grabs. As we wrote in the preview, Arizona has struggled against big receivers all season, and UCLA exploited Fauria the most in any game yet this season. What makes Fauria such a good target is just not his height, but his hands. Fauria, too, actually had a couple of decent downfield blocks.
As it seems to be the motif of receivers in this offense this season, the ball was spread around to a few different guys. Everyone did their job well, with no dropped balls, routes run well, and some solid YAC. Jordan Payton had a great touchdown reception, when he literally threw Arizona cornerback Shaquelle Richardson out of his way, then streaked down the sideline and caught the ball in the endzone, doing a great job of keeping his feet in bounds. Jerry Johnson looked aggressive in trying to get to the goal line on his drag route and catch that set up a touchdown, getting the biggest gainer of his UCLA career (46 yarder). Shaquelle Evans had perhaps one of the best catches of his career, going up very high to bring the ball down as he was going out of bounds.
Perhaps the overall receiver performance was only marred by Ricky Marvray's foolish personal foul in the second half. Mora quickly pulled him.
Offensive Line: A-
Overall, if you take the performance as a whole, it was a very good one. There are some things to consider, however. Arizona's defensive line is small and not very good. Running their 3-3-5 isn't exactly conducive to run defense, at least with the personnel they have. Many times, going up against a three-man line, UCLA's offensive line had an easy time of creating any number of holes for the UCLA running back to choose from. The 3-3-5 wasn't exactly a great launching point for blitzing, either, and the UCLA offensive line picked it up well for most of the game.
The interior of UCLA's OL was very good. Center Jake Brendel might have been consistently the best, plowing his man back a few yards or sealing him off on just about every run. Xavier Su'a-Filo and Jeff Baca, for the most part, dominated, in doing the same. UCLA is now pulling its guard quite often, so that adds one of these guys to the other side of the line, and when you have Brendel, Su'a-Filo and Baca all clearing out space for you in basically one gap there's probably a very good bet there's room to run. Because it was pretty evident UCLA could create running room early on, they stopped pulling and just zone blocked, and that was good enough. Su'a-Filo and Baca, though, did have a few lapses. Baca allowed a defensive lineman to have a straight shot at Hundley in the first quarter, and Baca missed one or two assignments. Hundley was actually yelling at his OL at one point in the second half (when he shouldn't have been on the field anyway) when they completely missed a blitz and he almost got clocked.
The two freshman tackles, Simon Goines and Torian White, also had good days, in just different ways than the interior guys. Of course they're not nearly as quick, so they use their size and length to push their man out of the play, and they were effective for most of the day.
Goines had a couple of breathers because of his knee, so Baca slid over to right tackle and Albert Cid filled in at right guard, and was solid.
Offensive Game Plan, Scheme, Play-Calling:
We get it now: In the game's first possession, Offensive Coordinator Noel Mazzone does the opposite of what he obviously should do. It was pretty obvious against Arizona that UCLA should run, but Mazzone predominantly passed in the first series. After the first series, he then got into his game plan, which was to run the ball 66% of the time, and it was a near perfect one in this game.
There were so many things that clearly the UCLA mind trust had seen of Arizona's defense on film and it simply tried to exploit it. Yeah, running the ball is a pretty easy one. But Arizona's cornerbacks were, for the most part, providing a huge cushion. And, in what is a revolutionary tactic in UCLA football history, UCLA's offense simply took the nine yards or so with simple dig patterns. In watching Arizona, it was pretty clear, too, that when they blitz their secondary is left mostly in confusion (that's why they don't blitz much), and it looked like Hundley was clued in and ready for it. That tactic created UCLA's biggest gainers of the game.
Probably the two offensive tactical elements of the game that had the biggest impact were tempo and play-action. UCLA, as it did against Arizona, played fast, often times getting its play off within 18 seconds. Arizona's defense was clearly on its heels. UCLA, of course, when it was up 42-3 at halftime, wisely took its foot off the throttle to try to milk the clock (wise, especially, when you're facing an offense like Arizona's that has proven it could put points on the board quickly), but that early quick tempo was devastating to Arizona. Then play-action had almost as much impact. Arizona was clearly geared to stop UCLA's run game, so when Hundley used play-action it froze the Arizona rush, giving him an extra beat to get off the pass.
There, of course, had to be a few head-scratchers. The heavy formation in the red zone isn't worth its trickiness, with Cassius Marsh getting called for an illegal formation when he turned up field in motion before the snap. It kind of doesn't make sense to use Su'a-Filo in a lineman-eligible situation, because the last thing you need is a tackler cutting your NFL-prospect OL at the knees.
The only real worry that came from a coaching decision in this game was keeping the starters in for so long. Hundley played into the fourth quarter of a complete blow- out, and it would have been devastating if he had been injured during that time.
Give Mora a huge amount of credit points for calling timeout after Franklin set the all-time rushing record and giving him the spotlight for a moment. It was a classy move.
Defensive Line: A
UCLA's defensive linemen are looking more comfortable and instinctual than at any time at UCLA in about ten years. And they definitely looked that way against Arizona.
Take Datone Jones. Last year, for the most part, he looked overwhelmed and slow to react. This year he looks like lightning. On a couple of plays, in one receiver screen in particular, he flew to the ball looking like a linebacker. Cassius Marsh, too, has looked this way all season, and especially in this game.
What's really fun about it all is the depth that defensive line coach Angus McClure has to work with, and the mixing and matching of personnel and positions with how often UCLA switches between its base defense and nickel. For instance, Owamagbe Odighizuwa easily got as many reps at nose tackle in this game in the nickel as he did at defensive end. Donovan Carter, who is thought to be a back-up nose tackle, played mostly end. And, in what could be an indication of the future, freshman Ellis McCarthy played mostly nose, and did fairly well. But again, in this defense, you almost can't pigeonhole anyone into one position.
What was really the most impressive is that UCLA operated mostly out of the nickel for the entire game, and Arizona's running game still couldn't get on track. It gained 120 yards on 40 carries (that would be 3 yards per carry). In the nickel, UCLA most of the time only has two linemen with their hand down, but whomever those two were they did an excellent job of clogging up the middle and holding up three Arizona blockers. That, then, is exactly how you draw it up, so it frees up your linebackers to make the tackle.
What was also very impressive was the DL's pass rush. While UCLA got a moderate four sacks, Arizona quarterback Matt Scott was almost immediately under pressure from a collapsing pocket, mostly because UCLA's interior linemen weren't containable after just a beat.
It appears that the linebacker personnel have found their individual roles and niches. With UCLA predominantly using a nickel in this game (and a dime, if you want to call Dalton Hilliard or Stan McKay a safety), it was refreshing to see the personnel plugged into their best spots and used in a way to take advantage of their contributions. Hilliard and McKay took most of the reps at the inside linebacker/safety spot, and were a force because of their quickness. Jordan Zumwalt and Damien Holmes played mostly outside linebacker, and split time there, which was good for both of them. Holmes, when he got a series in the second half, looked like he was the freshest guy on the field, running around with his hair on fire.
Then there is Anthony Barr. He officially had just 3.5 tackles, but he was such a disruptive force in this game. On one play, he quickly went around the offensive tackle, literally dodged the halfback who whiffed at trying to block him and got a tackle for a loss. But even when he's not making the tackle, he was chasing Scott into throwing on the run, forcing a running back back into defensive pressure, or running down a ball carrier from behind so he has to go out of bounds.
Eric Kendricks followed up his career game against ASU with another very good game, leading the team with 11 tackles and two sacks. He was very good at fending off blockers in Arizona's running game and solid in his tackling. He also was the man designated for shadowing Scott if he scrambled, which resulted in the two sacks. Kendricks has settled down compared to the beginning of the season, is in position the majority of the time and, most importantly, is making the tackle.
Defensive Backs: A
This was perhaps the biggest surprise of the game. Arizona had the fourth-best passing offense in the nation heading into this game, and UCLA's secondary hadn't been stellar most of the season. But UCLA's secondary almost entirely shut down Arizona's potent passing attack, with Arizona passing for just 136 yards, when it was averaging 354 per game. That right there might be the best performance by a defensive unit yet this season.
How'd they do it? Give a great deal of the credit to UCLA's cornerbacks, Sheldon Price and Aaron Hester. The two have received their fair share of criticism, and we have to emphasize that it's fair, this season. But this was a great match-up for them. Price and Hester are big corners, and they matched-up well against Arizona's big receivers, Austin Hill and Dan Buckner. So, Price and Hester mostly pressed, since Hill and Buckner are bigger than they are quick and there wasn't much worry that they'd beat them deep, and Price and Hester, for the most part, took the two Wildcat receivers out of the game. The two PI calls, too, were questionable, and looked like good, solid coverage.
Give credit to Andrew Abbott, too. He has been moved up to guard the slot receiver now in the nickel, and he blanketed that receiver for most of this game.
Tevin McDonald, playing the role of the deep safety, had perhaps his best game of the season, having a couple of spectacular pass break-ups, one in which he leaped over receiver to knock down the pass. Randall Goforth, up to this game, had shown some freshman vulnerability, but he looked like an experienced veteran in this one, and set the tone for the game with a nice hit on a short Arizona pass on the first play of the game.
Give the secondary credit for at least a couple of the sacks, too, with Scott getting taken down after clearly having no one open.
Defensive Game Plan, Scheme, Play-Calling: A
It must feel really good when you devise a game plan after watching film of an offense, and everything you presumed the offense would do -- and what you planned to do to counter it -- worked. And worked beautifully.
That's pretty much what happened in UCLA shutting down Arizona's offense. Give UCLA Defensive Coordinator Lou Spanos a huge amount of credit. He used his big corners to press Arizona's big, slower receivers. He recognized that he could use a four-man rush, too, and get enough pressure on Scott. That combo right there, if it works, if your cornerbacks can remove the two two receivers from the equation and you have enough pressure on the quarterback to hurry him, will more often than not give you a good defensive result. It enabled Spanos to utilize five defenders in coverage in the middle of the field, two linebackers and three safeties, and that gave UCLA a man advantage.
If only UCLA could play against bigger, slower receivers every week.
Give Spanos and Mora credit, too, for evaluating their own talent and putting them in the best positions for them to succeed. Moving McDonald to play more free safety and center fielder was a good move, especially when it moves Abbott closer to the line of scrimmage. The use of the linebackers -- Zumwalt, Holmes, Hilliard and McKay -- too is optimizing their strengths and minimizing their weaknesses.
Also, it has to be mentioned that the war paint worn by the coaches on their faces was a good move. A few of them looked a little silly, but overall it showed solidarity, and you'd have to think that it was inspiring to the players.
Special Teams: A
We don't want to ruin the straight 4.0 report card, and actually the UCLA special teams didn't do anything glaringly wrong, and many things right. Hey, just from the standpoint that there wasn't a muffed punt is enough to give the special teams an A.
UCLA recovered a fumbled Arizona punt, Goforth looked explosive and dangerous in returning a punt 48 yards, Ka'imi Fairbairn hit a 25-yard field goal, and Jeff Locke boomed a 64-yard punt. Locke didn't though, put all his kick-offs in the endzone for touchbacks, but it was perhaps because he was getting tired of kicking off after UCLA's five or six touchdowns. An issue we'll take.
Alternate Uniforms: A+
There might be some traditionalists out there that didn't like them, but the uniforms were gorgeous. Elegant but intimidating. I was a bit worried that it might impact the team's peformance, not having experience playing in such a dark uniform, or looking out from behind a gold face mask. But that clearly wasn't an issue. I think, too, it might have changed the mindset of the team, that they looked so bad-ass and that made them play more bad-ass. It definitely contributed to the entire atmosphere of this being a different team. Actually, the 81,000 people at the Rose Bowl seemed a bit subdued for the game, and it was almost as if they were stunned, not being able to recognize the Bruins in those uniforms, combining with not being able to recognize the team that put up 66 points and shut down the Arizona offense.