Spring Game Review

UCLA had its Spring Showcase on Saturday night at the Rose Bowl, and ended the night with a long scrimmage period that reinforced what we knew from practice this month...

UCLA's spring game on Saturday really was more properly termed a showcase. Through the first hour and a half or so, UCLA actually went through many of the individual and team drills that are typical for the average practice: 1on1 periods, situational team periods, and various individual drills.

The first hour and a half, actually, was a little dull, and it's unfortunate for fans that most of that is what ended up on the Pac-12 Network. The latter half of the day, featuring a scrimmage, was more interesting, and featured much more traditional tackling and contact.

The halftime entertainment, watching college students attempt to kick field goals, return kickoffs and punts, and catch passes, was pretty entertaining for a stretch, but probably dragged on a bit too long. It's a nice idea, but next time it might be better a simpler event (perhaps just a punt returning contest, since that was hilarious).

The game itself was pretty indicative of how practice have been so far, so if you've been reading along, not much of that should have come as a surprise.

Brett Hundley was up and down during most of the day. He hit a number of pretty passes up the middle, including one to Darius Bell on his first downfield throw of the scrimmage portion, but some of his sideline outs were uncharacteristically overthrown. He did, however, continue to show off an increased explosion on his runs. He's noticeably faster and more explosive than he was a year ago, which could give an added dimension to the already pretty dynamic offensive scheme.

T.J. Millweard probably had the second most impressive drive of the quarterbacks, hitting a number of crossing throws over the middle. In the intermediate range, he can hit most throws, but anything beyond 15 yards, or so, and he tends to struggle a bit more. Jerry Neuheisel also had his moments, but, again, you could see where his lack of arm strength presents problems. Each of his swing passes were a beat late getting to their destination, and on timing routes, the ball seems to arrive just a second late. There's really no clarity in the backup competition at this point.

Paul Perkins had his moments on Saturday at the tailback spot, but Jordon James was clearly the superior back on the day. James caught one swing pass for 39 yards from Neuheisel, and made a number of other decisive runs between the tackles. If he really has made strides in his decisiveness, he already has the athletic tools to be a productive running back. It'll be interesting to see where the competition stands in the fall, and if one or the other starts out in August as the clear number one back.

Defensively, Aaron Wallace and Taylor Lagace were both clear standouts. Wallace was extremely disruptive on the left side, no matter who he was matched up against. If the coaches and referees had judged sacks fairly, Wallace easily could have had three or four. He played with strength and quickness against offensive tackles, and when tasked with ranging out to cover receivers in the flat, he also did his part, making a nice tackle on a short pass to Darius Bell for minimal gain. Kenny Orjioke also looked good, and is a physical mismatch with his combination of size, speed, and strength at that spot. Between the two of them, UCLA should be able to get more than adequate production from that spot this season.

Lagace, playing a considerable amount of inside linebacker, was a really tough cover for the offensive line on blitzes. He knifed in a couple of times for near sacks and at least one tackle for a loss. He also was stout against the run, tackling Malcolm Jones a couple of times with perfect form tackles. Coach Mora has mentioned it a couple of times, but it bears repeating that Lagace could really grow into a solid inside linebacker, rather than the part-time linebacker he is now at the mini-linebacker position.

Eli Ankou was another obvious standout on the defensive side of the ball. He made one extremely athletic play during the scrimmage where, on a screen pass, he recovered from rushing after the quarterback and completely changed his momentum to reverse field and tackle Paul Perkins before Perkins could get going. At nose tackle, Ankou could potentially be a real contributor this season, with an intriguing combination of strength and athleticism.

The secondary didn't look particularly good during the scrimmage portion, which was funny because during the one on ones, the defensive backs were generally very good. Brandon Sermons, in particular, had a dominant session of one on ones, using his strength to body up receivers and then his length to knock balls away. Ishmael Adams also made a few nice plays, as did Dietrich Riley, who had two near interceptions.

During the scrimmage, though, the secondary really struggled to cover in space, and it shows the difference between covering as part of a defensive scheme and covering in a pure one on one situation. It's funny, Mora referred to the defense as pretty vanilla, but if you compare the play calling to that of a few years ago, UCLA probably had more blitzes in this spring game than it had in all the ones under Dorrell and Neuheisel combined.

Devin Fuller was the best receiver on the field on Saturday. His gift is the ability to get open downfield—he runs such good routes, has such good explosion, and is so strong that he's a very difficult cover for any cornerback or safety. Throw in the fact that his hands, which were already good, have improved with every practice, and Fuller might very well be Hundley's go to receiver this season. He could still work on his ability to make guys miss at the line of scrimmage (since the flat pass is such a big staple of the offense), but his upside, given that he had never really played receiver prior to last season, is huge.

The offensive line struggled at times, but when you factor in that UCLA has about seven bodies to work with, and some of them are really just not very good, they didn't do too badly. Ben Wysocki, at times, actually looked pretty decent, picking up a couple of Jordan Zumwalt blitzes in the early going. It's just a tough situation when guys who probably aren't ready to see the field are thrust into playing with the ones. Simon Goines and Torian White started off manning the tackle spots during the practice portion, but once the scrimmage hit, Xavier Su'a-Filo spent more time at left tackle and Goines and White rotated at the other tackle spot.

Jake Brendel really struggled with his snaps, throwing a few into the dirt for both Mike Fafaul and Brett Hundley. This was an issue last season during practice as well that fortunately didn't crop up much during games, but it's something to watch.

There were dozens of recruits in attendance, which we've detailed in many posts on the message board. It should be noted that River Ridge (La.) John Curtis Christian linebacker Kenny Young probably drew the most attention of anyone from the coaching staff before, during, and after the game. Eric Kendricks took him aside during individual drills and talked to him for about five minutes, and Jeff Ulbrich was at his side during the autograph session afterward.

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