It was an unfortunate time for Brett Hundley to have probably his worst performance of the season: on a national stage, in the final game. His inability to consistently deal with a pass rush caught up with him, as Baylor spent the majority of the game blitzing him with a minimum of five rushers. True, he wasn't helped by a game plan that limited him to standard drops, which Baylor seemed to key on, but he also showed a poor feel for the rush, which has hurt him several times this season. Generally, even when he was able to get a throw off, he didn't have a great deal of accuracy, consistently throwing high on deeper throws. The month off between games clearly didn't help him, as he looked fairly rusty. Much like in the first Stanford game, he didn't look to run when he had the opportunity, and even when he did run, he looked tentative doing so.
Even though Hundley was very ineffective, he really wasn't helped by the play calling or the in-game depletion of the offensive line. The play calling seemed geared toward longer developing pass plays, and effectively eliminated the use of swing or screen passes. The offensive line, which has been pretty bad at protecting Hundley in the best of times, mostly crumbled with Simon Goines, Torian White, and Jake Brendel all missing considerable time. Still, Hundley didn't do much to help himself, and, like the majority of the team, he didn't look like he was prepared for what Baylor threw at him. Although the stats may not indicate, there's little doubt that this was probably Hundley's worst game of the year.
Running Backs: D
Much like with Hundley, it's extremely unfortunate that Johnathan Franklin's worst game of the season came in this, his last collegiate game. Even moreso than Hundley, he wasn't helped by the offensive line issues, or the play calling. Many of his runs, especially early in the game, involved running him laterally along the line of scrimmage, or, worse, developed very slowly, whether due to design or a poor snap. Then, of course, the offensive line was unable to create any holes for him. Even still, he looked tentative against Baylor's front, and based off his play this year, we've come to expect a certain amount of Franklin making plays from nothing.
Jordon James only got two carries, and didn't do much with them. It was a very strange game plan early, with very little running involved, and once it became a blowout, UCLA effectively abandoned the run entirely.
Somewhat surprisingly, the receivers actually played very well. They got open most of the game, as you might expect with Baylor blitzing most of the game. Hundley was unable to hit them very well, but that shouldn't impact the grade for the receivers; generally, they did their jobs.
If there is a negative, it's that there were some drops. Shaquelle Evans dropped a couple of passes, and James, when he was involved in the passing game, also dropped a swing. Still, most of the receivers played well. Joseph Fauria had a very good game, as did Jerry Johnson, both frequently getting open down field. Fauria easily could have had another 50 yards, or so, if Hundley had managed to hit him. Johnson had easily his best game of the year, looking much more like the dynamic receiving threat we all saw in the spring.
Evans, even with the drops, was his usual threat down field. If there was one weird aspect of the game, it was that Devin Lucien didn't see more time. As indicated by Coach Mora, Lucien was healthy for most of the month of December, and he certainly would have provided an additional downfield threat. Of course, that basically didn't matter given how little time Hundley had to make any kind of downfield throws.
It was nice to see Logan Sweet get the touchdown catch, even though it probably should have been overturned. Sweet and Tyler Scott are both pretty decent for walkons, and it wouldn't be a surprise for either to get some meaningful plays at some point in their UCLA careers. Scott, if you'll remember, was really impressive during the spring game.
Kenny Walker just isn't very effective yet on those kinds of swing passes he's gotten in the last few games. He's obviously very explosive, but he doesn't have great vision, at least not yet. If there was one thing that really hurt UCLA in the last few games, it was Damien Thigpen going down with the ACL tear. Between Walker, Devin Fuller, and James, UCLA was unable to replace the production that Thigpen provided as a receiving threat out of the back field.
Offensive Line: F
This grade is based to a large extent on circumstances, but not entirely. Even when the line was more or less healthy near the very beginning of the game, they did not do a good job of protecting Hundley. Once players went down, though, the offensive line completely crumbled. Simon Goines, playing on one leg for most of the game, wasn't able to deal with Baylor's smaller, quicker players, and was blown by more times than are worth counting. Albert Cid wasn't much better, and looked like he was stuck in mud at times, not moving his feet effectively to pick up blitzers.
Credit should go to Jeff Baca for filling in admirably at three positions on Thursday. It's hard to imagine another player who'd be able to do what he did—playing every type of position on the line with some level of competence. He was plagued, once again, by penalty issues, but for a guy who really hasn't snapped much this year, he wasn't awful. Several of his snaps floated, but aside from one that Hundley seemed to mishandle, he didn't do a bad job.
Xavier Su'a-Filo never has a really bad game, but he was clearly out of his element in this one. Not playing left tackle for such a long period of time might have made him a little rusty on the position, as he struggled with a couple of blitz pickups. Really, though, with the way Baylor was able to pin its ears back and rush, there wasn't a lot the offensive linemen could do, aside from somehow blocking seven guys with five.
Offensive scheme, game plan, and play calling: F
The scheme is not the problem—we've seen several times this year that the UCLA offensive scheme, when utilized optimally, has the potential to be explosive. Even a month ago, in the second Stanford game, UCLA's offensive staff called such a masterful game that they were able to generate 200 yards rushing against the vaunted Stanford front. Thursday, though, marked one of the poorest showings from the offense all season, and much of the blame has to go on the game plan and the play calling. UCLA did not adjust to Baylor's aggressive defense at all throughout the game, taking standard drops and using far too many slow developing run and pass plays, when it was clear that the offensive line couldn't stand up to Baylor's rush. Say UCLA still wanted to call longer developing plays, it's bizarre that the coaches didn't choose to put more blockers in the back field or do much of anything to drastically change the blocking numbers.
You give UCLA's coaches a pass for the first quarter or so, because, to be honest, Baylor didn't blitz much at all prior to this game. Anticipating that a team will do what it has done all year is completely understandable. The issue is that UCLA didn't adjust.
Then, in the first quarter when UCLA chose to take the delay of game and punt from Baylor's side of the field was an awful decision. Even if you take away the fact that it's almost always a bad idea to punt from the opponent's side of the field unless you're in an extreme down and distance situation, in this game in particular, it was an almost indefensible decision. Baylor has the best offense in the country, by the numbers. Whether the Bears get the ball on the 40 or the 15, their chances of getting the end zone are not going to be drastically different.
We've pointed several times to what Hundley needs to clean up in the offseason, but if this coaching staff is going to go from good to great, a huge thing to point to is the strategic decisions on 4th down. So many times this year, UCLA has made bad mathematical decisions on 4th down, whether to punt or kick a field goal. Sometimes, the coaching staff has been saved by the fact that Jeff Locke is one of the best punters in the country. Next year, though, with Locke gone, those decisions are going to start to look a lot worse, and you have to hope the coaching staff will make the proper adjustments.
Defensive Line: B-
Just generally, the majority of the blame for UCLA's struggles on Thursday should fall on the offense. With the offense's inability to sustain drives, UCLA's defense was left on the field too long against Baylor's tempo, and, as you'd expect, started to tire pretty quickly. The defensive line, though, was actually the strong suit for the entire team on Thursday, as it has been for much of the year.
Datone Jones had a decent day, getting into the back field frequently and operating as a destructive force. Baylor did run at him a few times, but there was only so much he could do, as several times he was fighting double teams against the run. Cassius Marsh didn't have the same kind of impact he's had through the last six games or so, but Baylor didn't run at his side much, and simply didn't pass the ball enough for him to use his pass rush skills to any great effect.
Owamagbe Odighizuwa continued his audition for the starting job opposite Marsh next season. Odighizuwa has been one of the best players on the defense through the last half of the season, and it's a testament to the quality of the defensive line that he hasn't been able to crack the starting lineup. He had another impressive sack on Thursday, while looking decent against Baylor's running game.
This was probably the worst day from the linebackers in quite some time, with each of the linebackers taking turns missing tackles or making poor reads. Even the indomitable Anthony Barr struggled at times, getting fooled on play action badly in the first half which allowed Nick Florence to complete an easy pass in the seam for 20+ yards. One thing for Barr, though—I'm pretty sure I counted at least one sack for him in this game, yet he was credited with none on the official box score. That's the second time this year that's happened.
Eric Kendricks and Jordan Zumwalt both pursued well sideline to sideline, looking a little Stanford-esque, actually. Their tackling up the middle, though, was pretty poor. Poor tackling, after a year of actually looking fairly decent tackling, is a worrying sign, and speaks to rustiness or a lack of focus.
Dalton Hilliard spent most of the game in coverage, with Baylor running a lot of spread formations, so he wasn't able to impact in the running game as much. He had a few tackles, and also pursued well. He did get burned in coverage on an early touchdown pass, but, in single coverage, that sort of thing is going to happen, especially against players as fast as Baylor's.
Kendricks did force two fumbles which could have helped turn the tide of the game if the offense had shown up in any real way. Kendricks has shown a knack for that this year, and you have to think that after a year of learning the 3-4 defense, he's poised for a big season next year.
Defensive Backs: D
Going into the game, we thought that the loss of Tevin McDonald wouldn't affect UCLA all that much, considering that Randall Goforth has looked decent this year and McDonald has been very underwhelming. This game, though, made it clear that Goforth is still probably a year away from being a starting-caliber safety. He was overmatched many times, making poor reads, getting out of position, and then being unable to tackle. He was not strong in run support, and struggled the few times Baylor passed to his area. It's hard to say McDonald would have had much better luck, but Goforth had a very rough game.
Andrew Abbott didn't impact much in the passing game, since Baylor simply didn't throw the ball very much. He did have plenty of saving tackles on Lache Seastrunk's long runs, as he was often the last line of defense.
It's a shame for Aaron Hester that the last game of his college career was marked by another questionable pass interference call (down near the end zone). It didn't look like he made much contact with the receiver, and it looked very much like one of those reputation calls that Hester has drawn throughout his career. While Hester has been handsy at times, he's actually been improved this year in that regard, and it's clear that he's drawn many calls because of his long and storied career of being penalized. He didn't distinguish himself against Baylor's receivers, obviously, but this game was not lost because of him (or Sheldon Price for that matter).
Defensive scheme, game plan, and play calling: C
We hate to sound like Karl Dorrell, but the ugliness in this game for the defense came from failures of execution, not so much from the game plan. UCLA's defense would have looked a lot better with fewer penalties, better tackling, and a better offense. UCLA mostly ran its nickel and dime, which have been effective this year, and it looked like most of the time UCLA's defenders were in position to make tackles on running plays and just failed to do so.
If there was one negative, it's that once again the coaching staff was unable to scheme against a mobile quarterback, frequently allowing Florence to scramble for chunks of yards with few defenders in sight. Going into next year, UCLA will face off against Cody Fajardo, Taylor Martinez, Marcus Mariota, Kevin Hogan, and Taylor Kelly, all of whom are serious threats with their legs as well as their arms. Scheming against players of that caliber will be a big point of concern for next season.
Additionally, the team just didn't look ready to play, which has to fall squarely on the shoulders of the coaching staff, both defensive and offensive. With four weeks between games, and 15 practices allotted to the team, it's strange that UCLA looked so unprepared and so unfocused. You have to hope that this bowl game was a learning experience for the entire coaching staff, and that they'll have a better idea of how to attack the preparation for the game next time around.
Special Teams: B-
That fake punt was pretty cool, wasn't it? Jeff Locke has some wheels.
Credit should go to Ka'imi Fairbairn for finishing the year strong with a pair of field goals, even if they were probably the least pressured kicks of his football career. Fairbairn, after the initial warts, looks like he'll be a solid kicker next year, and mostly automatic within 40 yards. For a true freshman, he didn't end up having a bad season.
Shaquelle Evans had one very nice return from the punt return spot, and if the offense can right the ship and become a bit more consistent next season, we wouldn't mind seeing him there permanently. He has sure hands, and has more ability than Taylor Embree. With the way this offense can score when the coaches call a good game, you don't need much more than someone who's sure handed.
Steven Manfro had a very nice return, even if it did end with him nearly coughing the ball up. I like him a lot more on kickoff returns than punt returns, but even still, he hasn't shown enough of an ability to hold onto the ball to really warrant much confidence in either role. Not to sound like Rick Neuheisel, but the number one priority on returns, especially for this team with a powerful offense, is to hold onto the ball. Manfro has coughed it up too many times this year.
Baylor Unit by Unit Analysis
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