As we suspected coming out of fall camp, the 2013 version of Brett Hundley is a considerably better version of the 2012 model. He made good decisions throwing the ball away, didn't throw into coverage much, and his arm is noticeably stronger. Nevada was playing the pass almost exclusively, but Hundley was still able to generate significant yards through the air, making some difficult passes look pretty easy.
Others have pointed out that his deep passes still need work, and from this game, that seems true. He looked much better hitting deep passes in camp, so we have to suspect that there was some element of nerves that was making him launch the ball past his receivers downfield. With two weeks to prepare for Nebraska, we'd have to guess he'll look a bit better in that department.
His first rushing touchdown was an excellent zone read, and you could see that Hundley has significantly better burst, and overall speed, than last year, which will make that an ever better weapon. His draw for a touchdown was also a solid run, but probably his best run of the night was the 2nd and 11 in the 3rd quarter where he juked his way for 10 yards. You actually have to feel for Hundley a bit. He has such excellent agility that it must seem almost antithetical to do something like sliding when he thinks he can make everyone miss.
Hundley didn't take a sack, threw the ball away when he should have, hit slants and crossing patterns perfectly, and looked weirdly like Anthony Barr with the black arm sleeve on. All in all, a good night.
Running Backs: A+
That performance was all UCLA could have hoped for in the first game of the post-Johnathan Franklin era. Jordon James had almost certainly his best game as a Bruin, rushing for 155 yards. James seemed to be a little tentative to start out the game, and had a few runs where he arguably could have gotten up field a little faster, but, by and large, he was a more dedicated North-South runner than at any point in his UCLA career. In the open field, he's always been good (arguably better than Franklin), but it was difficult for him to get there since he would oftentimes get bottled up at the line of scrimmage due to indecision. He was much better about hitting the hole quickly off the handoff against Nevada, and if he can continue that style of running against stronger defenses, UCLA will likely have its starting running back for the next two years.
Paul Perkins and Steven Manfro looked about as good as James when their numbers were called, which, as with James, is in large part a credit to the blocking up front. Perkins' 45 yard run showed off a great deal of the speed and shiftiness we wrote about in fall camp last year, and it'll be interesting to see how he progresses throughout the season. Manfro had our favorite run of the day, hitting the hole hard and shifting his hips to beat a few tacklers en route to a 20 yard gain in the 3rd quarter. He's clearly much more comfortable as a running back than as a receiver.
Malcolm Jones, who just recently earned his scholarship back after returning to the team this spring, received some time during the 4th quarter and looked better than he has in years. He's clearly quicker than he was in September of last year, and, as we talked about in camp, looks as if he's running with more purpose. The screen for a touchdown was just simply not a play he could have made a year or two ago. Again, there's a massive caveat, in that Jones was not simply going against the bad defense that James, Manfro, and Perkins ran against, but against the backups to that bad defense. Regardless, though, UCLA might have the makings of a good enough running back corps to disguise the effects of losing Franklin.
Even Roosevelt Davis, the diminutive walkon, got in on the action, flashing some good quickness in the waning moments of the game.
Offensive Line: A
Not to keep providing caveats, but before everyone gets too high about this performance, remember two things: first, Nevada's defense was just not very good. The defensive line was the most experienced unit on the team, but it was awful last year. The linebackers and secondary were almost entirely new starters. Second, schematically, Nevada's defense very rarely blitzed, and mostly dropped its linebackers into zone coverage, allowing for pretty easy running lanes.
All that said, given that UCLA offensive lines of years past have been susceptible to three man pass rushes at points, this performance was a very good one. UCLA rushed for over 300 yards and didn't allow a sack, which are two shocking statistics, since it seems like every year the offensive line is good at either one or neither, but certainly not both.
Perhaps the most shocking development was that Alex Redmond, the true freshman who started at right guard a week after returning to practice, was possibly UCLA's best offensive lineman. He repeatedly mauled whoever was lined up against him in run blocking, and when asked to pass block, moved his feet well and didn't appear to lose many matchups. On Xavier Su'a-Filo's pull to spring Brett Hundley's second touchdown run, Redmond completely buried the defensive tackle he was lined up against. Even though pulling isn't his game as much as it is Su'a-Filo's, he even got downfield pretty well on Jones' screen pass late in the game, although there wasn't anyone to block at that point.
Speaking of Su'a-Filo, he was back at work doing his usual Su'a-Filo things. On both Hundley's second touchdown run and James' long touchdown run in the third quarter, he was the lead blocker, getting downfield and blocking the one player who had a chance to blow up the play. He's in better condition than he was a year ago, so he also didn't look as gassed at the end of the game as he typically did throughout the year last year.
Jake Brendel was solid as well. The first penalty on him, for being an ineligible receiver down field, should actually be pinned on Hundley, for making an incorrect read to throw the ball on that triple option play UCLA likes. The other was simply an error of aggression, where he blocked the defensive lineman so hard that they both went about 10 yards past the line of scrimmage. Those kinds of things, generally, football coaches will accept.
So much of UCLA's running went behind Redmond and Su'a-Filo that the tackles didn't have as much to do. Both Torian White and Simon Goines handled Nevada's defensive ends fairly well, though Goines had a bit more trouble with Brock Hekking (understandably, as Hekking is one of Nevada's best players). Not allowing a sack falls mostly on the shoulders of the tackles in this game, since the defensive ends were the only real threats to record one.
We were a little surprised that the coaching staff opted to use Caleb Benenoch in junk time at the end of the game, but we suppose it makes sense if they consider Benenoch their sixth best lineman (as we suspect they do). He can also play guard and tackle, which is a bonus. Considering how rare it is that any team gets through a full season with five healthy offensive linemen, it probably makes a certain amount of sense to get him work in an actual game.
This was about the performance we expected from UCLA's receivers, given what we had seen throughout fall camp. Shaquelle Evans picked up right where he left off last year, leading the way for UCLA's receivers with six catches, including a difficult one in traffic and a leaning/diving touchdown in the first half. UCLA lined him up both in the slot and outside, much like last year, and he was effective from both spots. He also blocked well.
Devin Fuller, as we've been saying since spring, has gotten to the point where he's nearly impossible to cover on crossing patterns, and Saturday night provided some evidence of that fact. He had four catches for 39 yards, but he should have had 5 for 69 yards and a touchdown, with his most electric play of the night called back because of a silly offensive pass interference penalty on Grayson Mazzone. Early in the game, too, he was open near the end zone, but Hundley led him a bit too much. In a more difficult game, we'd expect him to be an even more pronounced part of the offense.
Devin Lucien has the rare ability to make catches even when he's not open, but the dropped touchdown pass was even a little difficult for him—it's not easy to make a catch when you're falling backwards in double coverage on an underthrown ball. As promised, he and Jordan Payton got similar amounts of playing time, and both had their moments. Between those top four, we still think UCLA has a legitimately good receiving corps, and Saturday did nothing to disprove that.
Mazzone got the start at Y, which we were a little stunned by, but after the first series, he really didn't play much again until the 3rd quarter. He had a couple of good catches on his one drive in the second half, but we'd be shocked if his role increases throughout the year, with Nate Iese, Thomas Duarte, Devin Lucien, Darius Bell, Jalen Ortiz, and Darren Andrews all deserving of playing time and capable of delivering more in the offense. Speaking of, Ortiz and Andrews looked good in limited time, with Ortiz flashing some nice quickness to get open near the sideline after Fuller's touchdown was called back.
Offensive Scheme, Coaching, and Game Plan: A
As Tracy noted in his recap, it seemed that UCLA was using each offensive series, and, really, the whole game, to work on various aspects of the offense. At times, it seemed they were completely dedicated to the run, and then on other drives, particularly later in the game, they'd pass the ball almost exclusively. Against an awful Nevada defense, UCLA could really do whatever it wanted, so using this as an extra practice certainly made some sense.
Some have said that not going for the 4th down on Ka'imi Fairbairn's first field goal attempt was a poor decision, but I didn't have much problem with it. Fairbairn has added some consistent range this offseason, and using that as a test against a mediocre opponent seemed fine. At some point this year, Fairbairn may have to hit a 45+ yard field goal, so the coaching staff may as well see if he can do it now.
The coaching decisions in general seemed pretty clean, and the red zone offense that was a bugaboo early in the season last year fired on all cylinders against Nevada. Obviously, UCLA has a sterner test in a couple of weeks in Nebraska, but as first games go, this was a very good one for the offense.
Defensive Line: B+
One of the most fun aspects of the evening was the fourth quarter, when UCLA went to an all-freshman defensive line for most of junk time: Eddie Vanderdoes and Kylie Fitts at both end spots, and Kenny Clark at nose tackle. As glimpses of the future go, it was a pretty exciting one. Vanderdoes had a huge impact in the game almost every time he was in the game, frequently generating push up front and getting into the backfield. You have to love the way he finishes tackles, not only getting his arms around a player, but driving him into the ground. His bull rush and rip move seem particularly well developed already.
Clark was impressive as well, playing primarily nose tackle throughout the game. As many players said throughout camp, he might have been one of the most difficult players to block of any of the defensive linemen, let alone the freshmen. With Ellis McCarthy splitting time between nose tackle and defensive end, there's going to be ample time for Clark.
Keenan Graham had one of the biggest plays of the night, ripping past his blocker for a big sack of Cody Fajardo, setting up Kenny Orjioke's blocked punt near the goal line. Graham had another sack later in the night where his man foolishly cheated away from him. We've always been high on Graham's potential and ability, and he showed that he has the ability to have a big impact as a pass rusher, even in a 3-4.
Cassius Marsh had a disappointing night, looking a little out of it to start the game and then sitting for the remaining chunk of the night after getting tagged with a personal foul, which was a disconcerting return to the immature version of Marsh from two years ago. He had a very good fall camp, so if he can come untracked, he could have a big year.
Both live and on the replay, it was apparent that Jordan Zumwalt, Eric Kendricks, and Myles Jack were probably the three most important players on the defense on Saturday. Zumwalt and Kendricks, in particular, used their ability to range sideline to sideline to provide extra security against the zone read, and frequently keep Fajardo and the running backs from going untouched into the secondary. Zumwalt had a couple of very key plays, including a big shoestring stop of Fajardo in the third quarter.
Jack, though, was the revelation for anyone who didn't get to see fall camp. Whether you want to point to his play in the third quarter where he used one hand to fend off an offensive tackle while he used the other to pull down a 200+ pound running back, or the play when he covered a receiver downfield and broke up a pass when both were fully sprinting, there's simply no other way to put it than this: Myles Jack is a freak. And it's been a long time since UCLA has had someone this freaky. On the negative side, it seems a virtual certainty that he's going to be ejected from a game at some point this year, because he came very close to what could have been targeting calls at least twice.
On live viewing, Anthony Barr seemed a little underwhelming, but he looked better watching the game again on TV. He had one bad misread of the zone read that allowed Fajardo a long gain in the first half, but other than that, he was pretty solid against the read. He also made at least two tackles for a loss, and was in on another one. Because Nevada was so focused on the short passing game, there wasn't much opportunity for big sacks.
In general, UCLA didn't do a great job with the zone read in the first half, and there are a couple of theories as to why. Deon Hollins, who we honestly didn't expect to play as much as he did, got significant reps as a rush end against the zone read. Nevada ran mostly to his side of the field, and, while watching live, it looked like he had very little awareness of where the zone read was going, tackling the running back at virtually every opportunity and allowing Fajardo to scamper around the backside. So, first theory: Hollins, being a true freshman, didn't know where to be, and struggled against the read. The other theory is that Hollins was tackling the running back by design, and he was supposed to get help from one of the middle linebackers/safeties over the back to stop the quarterback. This actually looked more likely from watching the game again.
It's interesting, too, because it looked like the switch the coaching staff made in the second half was to have Zumwalt play more, especially on those downs where Hollins was in the game providing the rush end versus the zone read. Zumwalt did a much better job of cleaning up the quarterback on those plays.
That said, not many teams defend the zone read particularly well, so, in limiting a potent Nevada offense to under 400 yards, UCLA's linebackers did a pretty credible job.
Defensive Backs: B
Fabian Moreau looked like the best of the cornerbacks in fall camp, and he looked like he justified that description through the first game of the year. After years of Sheldon Price not looking particularly stout in run support, it was nice to see a cornerback strong enough to make a tackle on his own.
The secondary didn't get tested particularly heavily, but it did seem as if Nevada made an effort to pick on Ishmael Adams at times. We've said before that we think Adams can compensate for his height disadvantage because he's so strong, but when he's not able to press a receiver, he has more difficulties.
Randall Goforth looked good in run support, frequently playing up in the box. Nevada didn't challenge deep very often, so Goforth and Anthony Jefferson didn't have much to do in terms of deep coverage. Tahaan Goodman had a good opening game, getting a nice pass breakup in the first half.
Brandon Sermons, aside from the one penalty, looked good in coverage. With Priest Willis not suited up for the game, UCLA was certainly shallow in the secondary, but Nevada didn't take advantage.
Defensive Scheme, Coaching, and Game Plan: B
Last year, UCLA made a habit of giving up big chunks of yardage in the first half, making adjustments at the half, and then doing a much better job in the second half. With the year of experience for most of the front seven and more talent on the defensive side of the ball, we were expecting a more dominant performance from the opening snap, but instead, the game conformed more to the habits of last year. That's not to say that it isn't understandable, given that UCLA really didn't know exactly what Nevada was going to run heading into the game, but it's clear that it's a habit now.
Saturday, it didn't seem as if the scheme were entirely the problem, with personnel being more the question. Hollins played significantly more than we thought he would, given that he's a pure pass rusher who isn't as good when he has to move in space. It seemed, though, that it was the design to have their best pass rusher in against the zone read to nail the running back every time, allowing one of the inside backers to clean up the quarterback on the other side. It didn't work as well in the first half, to our eyes because Zumwalt didn't play as much. When he was in with Hollins in the second half, UCLA was much more effective against the zone read.
In general, actually, it looked like UCLA did better against the zone read when the coaching staff opted for closer to a base defense look, since the linebackers have enough speed to the edge that they don't need to be perfect at the line of scrimmage to stop the run. As with the offense, though, it might simply have been the case that the coaches were trying to experiment with different looks they might try against more talented opponents down the road.
Special Teams: B
Orjioke had likely the biggest play of the night on the blocked punt, firing around the edge to get a full block of the kick. At this point, it has to be said that Jeff Ulbrich is doing something right to ensure blocked kicks, because there were several last year as well. That play changed the complexion of the game, taking what was a back and forth battle and turning it into a bit of a rout.
The return game was adequate, although Steven Manfro did muff his first kickoff return. We'll reiterate what we said at the end of last year: until Damien Thigpen returns, UCLA should just accept 25 yards every time the ball goes into the end zone. The risk/reward is just not in the Bruins' favor when the best realistic case scenario is Manfro bringing it out to the 30 or 35, especially considering how potent the offense could be this year.
Sean Covington and Fairbairn split kickoff duties, and both looked good. Covington has a stronger leg, but Fairbairn does a better job of getting hang time. We could see both split duties this year, since there are situations where you'd want each.
Fairbairn missed from 48 yards, but it wasn't too bad of a miss, so we have to figure it's not the same sort of situation as last year. He looked good to about 42 or 43 throughout fall camp, so we have to figure that'll be his automatic range.
Nevada Unit by Unit Analysis
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