It's pretty safe to say that, if any of UCLA's other quarterbacks had played significantly in this game, the Bruins would likely have lost. Hundley was excellent, once again, aside from a couple of unnecessary sacks and the one poor throw into double coverage that was picked off. Going into the game, you would have expected UCLA to run the ball constantly, given the temperature, but with UCLA's offensive line generating next to no push, Hundley really carried most of the game on his shoulders. He made a number of excellent throws, including key first down strikes to Jordan Payton and Joseph Fauria, in addition to the touchdown passes to Fauria and Devin Fuller.
Obviously, he still needs to work on throwing the ball away a bit more, rather than taking sacks. There were a couple of times where the offensive line actually blocked pretty well for a few seconds, and Hundley just held onto the ball too long. He has progressed in that regard this year, and, as Mora says, those are mistakes of aggression that you can live with—wanting to make a play rather than throwing the ball away.
His last two games have probably been his most consistently accurate of the season, and, looking at his statistics, it's pretty clear that the bye week a few weeks ago came at a very opportune time for him, as he's had his three best games since, throwing for ten touchdowns against just two interceptions.
Running Backs: C+
Johnathan Franklin looked like one of the players who was really adversely affected by the cold. He looked very tentative trying to find holes, which, certainly, wasn't helped by a poor offensive line performance. He looked a little slower-footed, and looked a bit more like the Franklin of yesteryear, complete with a fumble. It's a little wild, then, to consider that he actually had a pretty OK game. He had a number of catches in the passing game that were particularly key, and, although he was stopped for losses a couple of times, he did have a few nice first down runs.
Franklin also had to shoulder a bit more of the offensive load than he would normally, with Damien Thigpen out, Steven Manfro banged up, and Jordon James probably not at 100%. James had the one touchdown run that was nice, but even on that, he didn't look like he had the same explosion that he normally has. Otherwise, he looked very tentative.
In general, the unit (including David Allen) actually blocked really well, which was noticeable because the blocking from the offensive line was so noticeably terrible. Franklin, in particular, had a couple of extremely necessary blocks of defensive linemen.
Who isn't excited about the potential of a receiving corps of Jordan Payton, Devin Lucien, and Shaquelle Evans next year? Payton has looked very good over the last couple of games. We knew, going into the year, that he was the most physically ready of the freshman receivers, but, more than that, he's shown great hands, excellent route running, and a surprising amount of explosion. While you wouldn't have projected him as a potential deep threat, his route running has been crisp enough that, even though he doesn't have great top end speed, he's able to get separation down field.
Joseph Fauria had a very nice game in his own right, and, not to cast aspersions, but if you would have expected a guy to not deal with the cold well, Fauria would have been it, right? He was excellent, and, increasingly over the last few weeks, has been a much more consistent player. It's to the point, honestly, where you'd like to see him targeted even more. He's such an obvious mismatch, and with his increased level of consistency, he's a near sure thing in the red zone. Even the poorly thrown fade by Hundley into the end zone drew a (legitimate) pass interference call because Fauria is such a mismatch.
Devin Fuller once again caught a touchdown pass, on a similar play to his first touchdown two weeks ago. His body control is exceptional—just one small move on the play sent the Washington State defensive back in the completely wrong direction. Somehow, I can't imagine his return to quarterback in the spring will be long lived.
Jerry Johnson had the one very exceptional play, where he broke through several defenders on his 25 yard reception, but also did not do a good job blocking. He completely whiffed on a defender on one of the swing passes to Franklin. If it's a trade off thing, where he'll continue to make catches and plays like the 25 yard catch (or the long reception last week), then you might be able to live with it. If he reverts to the low effort, low intensity of the first half of the season, though, then you really have to wonder why he's playing at all.
Offensive Line: D
Count Simon Goines among those who really stiffened up in the cold. He looked like he couldn't bend his knees at all the entire game. He and Torian White had, combined, probably their worst games of the season, whiffing repeatedly on blocks. At this point, you have to chalk it up to the cold, and not regression.
Xavier Su'a-Filo, being a machine, was not noticeably affected by the cold, and actually, with other mere humans defending against him, looked even weirdly quicker than normal. His blocking on Franklin's touchdown catch would, in most states, qualify as assault. He had a couple of issues in pass protection, but with the breakdowns at the tackle spot, he was occasionally overwhelmed by multiple pass rushers.
Jake Brendel wasn't able to generate much of a push inside, and had a few breakdowns in pass protection as well. He's struggled, generally, over the last few games, and it's becoming a bit of a concern. We know that early on in the season he had a nagging shoulder injury, which could be causing some issues, but too often, he misses blocks and then gets taken out of the play.
Jeff Baca played pretty well and, like Su'a-Filo, pulled out a couple of times and blocked well on outside runs.
Offensive scheme, play calling, and game plan: B-
Honestly, the overall offensive game plan wasn't bad, but Washington State did a nice job adjusting to UCLA's plan. UCLA really struggled generating a push up front, and if you are going to lay the blame somewhere, this is the kind of game where it falls more on the players than the coaches. While the yardage totals don't look great, UCLA was often gifted short fields, and, when you consider that the offense only had the ball for 59 plays, the yardage totals look a lot better.
Given the lack of healthy running backs, the initial game plan still leaned heavily on the running game, which is reasonable, given the conditions. Then, when Franklin wasn't obviously bowling over the Cougars as expected, UCLA went more to play action and the passing game, which was much more effective.
Also, the coaching staff utilized the screen pass a couple of times, including on Franklin's touchdown. It was a good wrinkle, all things considered, especially against a team that sells out on the blitz the way the Cougars do. Do we wish that UCLA had a screen pass in the arsenal earlier in the year? Sure. But better late than never.
Defensive Line: A-
The unblockable Datone Jones continues to play with just exceptional intensity. He actually played a little nose tackle on Saturday in that interesting dime formation that UCLA tried, where he was the only down lineman. He's such a freakish mismatch inside, with his combination of speed and strength, that you could see him playing some three technique at the next level. If you're keeping track, he was also not affected by the cold. The announcers (who weren't great) actually noted one of his really impressive plays, where he came off his block, ran to the boundary, and nearly picked off a swing pass. It was a crazily athletic, Anthony Barr-esque play. He also had the early field goal block that was just a very impressive play.
Cassius Marsh, again, continued his impressive play this season. After taking the first few games to get used to the new defense, he's become one of the best playmakers on the entire defense. He had one of the many blocks on special teams, in addition to the two and a half sacks and the forced fumble. As expected, the defensive line as a whole tended to manhandle Washington State's offensive line.
Seali'i Epenesa did a nice job plugging the middle. He actually has one of the more thankless jobs on the entire team, because he'll rarely show up in the stats much, but generally has done a very good job this year holding up blockers.
Ellis McCarthy played a little nose tackle on Saturday, as he did a couple of times in the last two weeks. He's been getting more and more time over the past few weeks, and seems to be rounding into game shape after coming into camp this season at 350 pounds. He looks like he's shed about 20 pounds since his arrival, and once he sheds another 20, there's a good chance that he ends up the monster we all expected him to be.
Owamagbe Odighizuwa only showed up in the stat line for a semi-nonsense penalty call, but he didn't play poorly. That penalty was ridiculous because, first, it looked like he hit the quarterback with his chest, not his head, and second, he was pulling up when he barely nudged him.
Eric Kendricks continued his recent surge, and made up for a lot of errors in the secondary by pursuing receivers and making downfield tackles. He has gone from being a really significant liability through the first six games to one of the better players on the team through the last three. He's clearly gotten a better hang of the scheme, and is playing, now, much more like he did last year. Even being banged up on Saturday, he had probably one of the more impactful games for the defense.
Anthony Barr now has 11 sacks this season, and has an outside shot of challenging Dave Ball's single season record of 16. He's an athletic freak, sure, but it's been impressive to watch Barr not give up on plays. Like Kendricks, he was a boon to the secondary on Saturday, repeatedly running down receivers down field. On a day where even the usual sure things in the secondary were pretty bad, Barr and Kendricks effectively saved the day. The penalties on Barr, though, were silly, and helped to extend drives.
Damien Holmes was hit and miss. He misplayed a couple of passes to the outside, but also made a few nice plays in run support. He and Jordan Zumwalt again split time at outside linebacker, and Zumwalt looked like he played more. Zumwalt looked a little slower than normal, and might have been one of those not used to the cold.
Dalton Hilliard and Stan McKay both played well. McKay got called for some very questionable penalties, including one where he was pushed into a defender by Gabe Marks and was then called for a personal foul. Hilliard, too, had a questionable penalty called against him, when he made what looked like a perfect form tackle and was called for helmet to helmet contact. UCLA is using that nickel formation more and more, and it'll be interesting to see whether the Bruins will be able to use it much this weekend against USC's pro-style offense.
Defensive Backs: D-
The defensive secondary, as a whole, really struggled against Washington State's smaller, quicker receivers, as you'd expect looking at how UCLA has performed this season against those types of receivers. Obviously, the cold didn't help, and a few questionable pass interference calls probably put the secondary on its heels, but even allowing for that, it was a pretty poor day for the defensive backs.
Andrew Abbott had one of his worst games as a Bruin, and was, again, probably affected by the temperature. He looked slow and tentative, and did a very poor job of tackling. Two of the Cougars' longest plays were due to missed tackles by Abbott, and were only saved thanks to amazing pursuit by Kendricks and Barr, respectively.
Tevin McDonald, conversely, had one of his better games, but still missed a few assignments. His tackling, though, was much, much better than it has been all season, and he saved a couple of first downs with timely tackles.
Aaron Hester had a very poor game, not just because of the PI calls, but also just with being beaten by fairly routine moves. There was a play in the third quarter where he was beaten at the line of scrimmage by a simple slant move, where the receiver stuttered one foot to the left, and then cut inside, which gave him about ten yards of room. Sheldon Price was better, and got called for at least one very questionable pass interference call.
Randall Goforth got the start, and also played a fairly poor game. He, too, missed some tackles, and got juked a few times by receivers. The secondary, as a whole, looked like it struggled the most with the cold.
Once Goforth went down, Anthony Jefferson got some significant time, and looked a little slow. The fade for the touchdown that was thrown over him was just a very nice throw, but he didn't have much of a chance guarding the receiver. He still isn't fully back from the back injury last season, and it's probably an open question whether he's going to fully regain his wheels this year.
Defensive scheme, play calling, and game plan: D
The game plan, pretty clearly, called for three and four man rushes and, mostly, seven or eight dropping back in coverage. The first half score was actually a little deceptive, because Washington State's offense was able to move at will, and it seemed like UCLA's coaching staff actually doubled down on the somewhat ineffective game plan in the second half, going mostly to a pretty passive dime formation.
Make no mistake, the Cougars have a terrible offense, and Connor Halliday is not a particularly good quarterback. While the UCLA coaching staff wasn't helped by a secondary that played, collectively, one of its worst games of the year, the adjustments weren't there, and it seemed like the team and coaching staff as a whole went into a shell in the second half, hoping to just finish the game without any more injuries.
One fun wrinkle was the one down lineman dime formation. It worked really well the two times I noticed it, resulting in a sack and a tackle for a loss on each of the plays. One time, they really did rush only three, with Datone Jones and the two standup defensive ends, but the other time, they rushed five. It's, potentially, a very deceptive formation because there are five or six players who can blitz pretty effectively out of the formation, and with only one of them with a hand in the ground, the offensive line has a hard time accounting for it. I can't remember seeing that formation earlier in the year, so it'll be interesting if that was a test for its use against USC this weekend.
Also, not all of the penalties were legitimate, but there are just so many now that it's becoming a very serious problem. That has to fall on the coaches.
Special Teams: A+
What can you say besides UCLA's much maligned special teams won the game on Saturday? Without those blocked kicks, there's a very good chance that the Bruins are closer to tied in the first half than ahead by 30, and then it's a completely different game in the second half. Marsh, Jones, Zumwalt, and Barr all had blocked kicks, which is just insane, and freakish.
Ka'imi Fairbairn made all of his kicks, and is becoming fairly reliable, to the point where your sphincter doesn't clench every time he lines up for one.
Jeff Locke wasn't perfect, hitting one squib-type punt, but his long punt inside the five in the 4th quarter was huge. One thing that was strange was the kickoff from Washington State's 35 yard line where UCLA didn't actually onside it. If that was a coaching decision, it's strange, because there's almost no downside. If Locke just missed the kick, then that's more understandable.
Goforth looks like much more of a weapon from the punt return spot than anyone UCLA has had there this season. Kenneth Walker looks like he has a chance to be a very good kick returner, and showed some nice wheels. Even his fumble can't knock down this grade today.
WSU Unit by Unit Analysis
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