As Tracy went over in the game review, this was a very gutty performance from Brett Hundley. Consider the combination of factors working against him (losing his left tackle early in the game, losing his starting running back a little bit later, and then losing a contact, or complete control of his faculties, a little after that), Hundley's performance was one of his better ones, even when you factor in the interception for a touchdown. Given that he was, by his own admission, unable to see perfectly at the time, his touchdown run was one of the more impressive plays of his career.
Through the first half, Hundley was as sharp as he's been all year, connecting on 12 of 15 passes and looking good doing it. His best throw of the night might have been the third down toss to Devin Fuller for a first down in the first half, with a man coming free on a blitz ready to hammer him. We say "might have been" because he made at least two other similar throws throughout the night. On zone reads, he was effective, making better reads than he's made all year. His touchdown draw to put UCLA up by 10 was a huge play, and by all accounts, it was a play more or less called by Hundley.
Of course, he did throw the pick six, and it was one of those decisions that's pretty inexcusable (much like Taylor Kelly's blind toss out of his endzone in the ASU game last year). Given the amount of pressure Utah was sending, though, and the, at times, odd playcalling, it's a credit to Hundley that he only threw one interception and was only sacked three times.
In the end, he passed for a touchdown, ran for a touchdown, and caught a touchdown. The dude's pretty good.
Running Backs: C
Running-wise, the grade would be higher, but the passblocking, especially after Jordon James went down, was poor. Steven Manfro, Paul Perkins, and Philip Ruhl all whiffed on blocks at various points, which allowed defenders to run free at Hundley. Yes, Utah would overload a side and send more players than could be blocked, but all too often, the running back would be standing there not blocking anyone. It's easy to say that teams now have a blueprint to disrupt UCLA's offense—send pressure, almost always—and if the Bruins are going to be able to deal with it effectively, the running backs need to become much better blockers soon.
On the positive side of things, Perkins had his breakout game, looking like the runner we all raved about last fall. He has much more of a one-cut-and-go running style than any of the running backs on the roster, and his acceleration is good. He's also been excellent on swing passes so far this year, catching a few against New Mexico State and then catching a big one for a near touchdown against Utah. He clearly needs to work on his blocking, but as a pure runner, he might be the best of the four running backs.
Manfro looked tentative after having his own breakout game against New Mexico State, and his blocking was worse than Perkins'. He also had a drop on a swing pass. It's going to be interesting to see how the allocation of playing time goes with the potential loss of Jordon James and the potential addition of Damien Thigpen. We only saw Thigpen for one play Thursday, and we'd have to imagine the coaches had some trepidation about throwing him out there on what was likely a slick surface.
Malcolm Jones didn't play, and we would still like to see more of him. His powerful running style is something the offense could clearly use when it's attempting to win with ball control, as the Bruins attempted in the second half.
After a quiet start to the season, Jordan Payton showed on Thursday why he's been able to hold off Devin Lucien in the starting lineup. First, like Devin Fuller, he just gets open, whether underneath or over the top. Second, he has such a strong running style that he can break through the arm tackles of virtually any player. What's surprising about Payton is that, for a guy who's a possession receiver, he has pretty good straight ahead speed. His acceleration on his touchdown catch was very impressive.
Fuller also had a nice game, catching a couple very important dumpoff passes from Hundley. We'd still like to see him used more, and in this game in particular, it seemed as if the middle of the field was open quite a bit with the blitzes Utah was sending at UCLA.
Lucien, as many have said, had a critical drop down the sideline on a beautiful throw from Hundley, who was once again throwing in the face of pressure. Lucien actually seemed to alligator arm the ball, taking too long to get his arms extended to keep the defensive back from making a play on him. He made a couple of good catches, including the oddly-reviewed first down catch late in the game, but as a self-professed big play threat, he needs to make those big catches that hit him in the hands.
Once again, UCLA spread the ball around quite a bit. Again, we'd like to see more of Jalen Ortiz, Thomas Duarte, and Nate Iese in the passing game, since those interior lanes seemed to be open and they have the talent to exploit them. Darren Andrews was likely unavailable for the game after injuring his shoulder last week.
Offensive Line: C-
Obviously, the story of the offensive line was Jake Brendel's miserable night snapping the ball. He had a lot on his plate, true—silent counts, two true freshmen to his right, a defensive front that was mixing and matching pressure schemes all night—but there's little to explain snapping the ball poorly on at least half of his snaps. It's rare that an offensive lineman can so obviously impact a game in such a critical way, but Brendel's snaps really made it difficult for the offense to get moving. It's a credit to Jerry Neuheisel that he was once again able to field an errant snap that easily could have been a touchdown for Utah. The hope is that the snaps were a one time issue, but it bears watching.
Torian White going down with a broken ankle obviously did nothing good for the offensive line, but on second viewing, the line actually bore up under the blitzing by Utah fairly well. When Utah broke through, it was mostly because they were simply blitzing more players than UCLA could block (or a running back would completely whiff on a block). Caleb Benenoch had two missed blocks, including what looked like a miss on Hundley's pick six, but overall didn't play poorly after being thrown into the fire. Alex Redmond had his first non-dominant game of the season, but still played well at times. Simon Goines filled in OK at left tackle after White went down, although you can tell the knee is ailing him.
Really, Brendel's snaps were a huge issue for the offensive line, and then he also had the critical holding call late in the game. He's been solid and steady through much of last year and this year, though, so, at this point, you have to chalk it up to one bad game.
Offensive scheme, playcalling, and game plan: C
Even before Hundley went down with whatever he went down with, UCLA's playcalling was a touch bizarre. Like last year's Utah game, the Bruins focused on pounding the ball on the ground, with very conservative playcalling on first and second down. After Hundley went down, the playcalling was understandable, since clearly Hundley was struggling with his vision, but before that, it was strange. With the amount of blitzing that Utah sent, the situation seemed perfect for either several screen passes or short dumpoffs over the middle to Fuller or Payton. Aside from a couple of such plays, UCLA largely used slow developing pass plays, which had about the result you'd expect.
Once it was clear that Utah was blitzing the house on about half of all possessions, it was odd that UCLA didn't adjust by getting more players in the game to protect Hundley, especially after he had his vision obstructed. If you're not going to adjust the playcalling, it stands to reason that you should at least adjust the protection.
The pooch punt from the 35 yard line on 4th down was a poor decision, as are most punts on 4th down from inside the 50. Simply because a play doesn't end in disaster doesn't make it a good decision. Gaining 25 yards of field position is very rarely worth giving up an offensive down and the opportunity to keep possession.
Credit should go to the offensive staff, and Hundley, for calling the quarterback draw after recognizing man coverage on the outside. That touchdown run was obviously critical, given that Utah would have tied the game and would have had the opportunity to win it without that UCLA score.
We do have to mention the penalties, for both sides of the ball. There were simply too many holding, false start, and offsides penalties for one game. Yes, there were some bad calls by the refs (and by "some" we mean "many"), but at least a few of those showed serious lapses for UCLA's players. It's become a habit under Jim Mora, this lack of concentration, or discipline, or whatever. Against Stanford or Oregon later this month, it could prove very costly.
Defensive Line: B
It's really a mixed grade, because in the second half, UCLA's defensive line played much better. Early on, though, the Bruins struggled, and you can attribute some amount of the struggles to Ellis McCarthy. McCarthy has had trouble lowering his pad level all season, and on Thursday it seemed that Utah's offensive line was able to generate a push against him just by virtue of getting lower. Utah had some success running the ball up the middle early, and much of that was due to the push the Utes were getting on McCarthy.
Eddie Vanderdoes, on the other hand, had one of his best games of the young season, using his incredible strength and leverage to generate positive movement of the offensive line. He punishes offensive players when he tackles them, which is a quality that shouldn't be downplayed. Right now, we'd have to expect he'll be starting soon, since he's at least one of the top three defensive linemen on the team.
Keenan Graham once again had a big, momentum-changing sack, although he was helped by Anthony Barr occupying two blockers. Graham, though, has been impressive this year, with four sacks through four games. As we suspected prior to the year, he's best used in specific situations, but he's shown surprising strength, with an ability to occasionally bull rush an interior lineman.
Cassius Marsh had one of the biggest plays of the night, tracking the back side of a running play to limit Utah to no gain on third down late in the fourth quarter. Marsh played a little standup end in nickel early on in the game, and it'll be interesting if we see that more against passing attacks.
It should be said that the game plan seemed to be concerned with creating a pocket and forcing Travis Wilson to throw, which may explain some of the lack of penetration for UCLA's defensive linemen. But so far this season, the defensive line hasn't been quite as dominant as many were expecting heading into the year. It might simply be the case that replacing players the caliber of Datone Jones and Owamagbe Odighizuwa is just not easy.
It might sound a bit hyperbolic, especially considering he's a true freshman, but Myles Jack might be the best defensive player on the team through four games. His ability to cover in space, rush the passer, range sideline to sideline, and do the little things, like block on interception returns, makes him easily the most versatile player on the team. On the interception return to end the game, he looked like the fastest player on the field—and gave you a look at how he might look as a kickoff returner. He's an impressive athlete, obviously, but what sets him apart is his already advanced feel for the college game. He had one bad play on Thursday, looking for the interception on a pass to the sideline rather than just focusing on the tackle, but the fact that you can count the number of bad plays on, quite literally, one finger says all that needs to be said.
If there's a competitor for Jack's title as best defensive player through four games, it's obviously Anthony Barr. Barr hasn't been quite the do-everything, whirling dervish he was last year, but he's been close. He's quicker around the edge of an offensive tackle than anyone I've seen this year in college football. Like Marsh, he made an incredible backside tackle of a running back on Utah's field goal drive in the fourth quarter. Even on the plays he doesn't make, he has a knack of making things happen, like on Graham's sack where he occupied two blockers. Barr has clearly shown himself deserving of the accolades he's received this offseason and through the early season.
Eric Kendricks had a so-so first half, getting caught flat-footed on a couple of runs, but he was much improved in the second half. You have to wonder if the ankle is bothering him, since his lateral movement seems to be hindered some. When he can turn his hips and run straight ahead, he doesn't seem to have the same issues. Jordan Zumwalt didn't play much of the second half, but made some big plays in the first half, including his tipped ball that went for an interception. It's interesting that Zumwalt is the first player to hit the bench of the starting linebackers.
Defensive Backs: A
Obviously, any game where there are six interceptions, the defensive backs are doing something right. Really, though, even without the interceptions, this was a very encouraging performance for UCLA's secondary. This was likely the best passing offense that UCLA has faced this year, and this was clearly the best performance for the secondary this season. Obviously, Anthony Jefferson had an impressive game. After taking a bad angle on the opening touchdown pass for Utah, Jefferson was almost flawless, snagging two interceptions, and also playing very well in run support. We questioned the move to safety for a variety of reasons, namely that he looked better at corner in the spring, but he provided a steadying presence there.
Randall Goforth had an interception that could have gone for a touchdown without a not-really block in the back, and had another near-interception on Utah's second touchdown that could have been a pick six. Goforth has had a very impressive season already, and it's astounding that UCLA easily could have had seven interceptions in this game if he closes his hands a millisecond sooner.
Fabian Moreau played well, blanketing receivers even when they'd catch the ball. Ishmael Adams had one of the better interceptions you'll see, using his body well to keep the ball in play. In general, the secondary, on the night where it was tested the most, stepped up to the challenge, which has to be a good sign for the future, especially against a passing attack like Cal's next week.
Defensive scheme, playcalling, and game plan: B+
Once again, the vaunted second half adjustments came into play, with UCLA going more to a nickel/zone scheme with Myles Jack playing a coverage role in the second half. Jack's versatility made it difficult for Wilson to find open windows to throw. When Wilson did throw, UCLA's secondary was able to disrupt the passing lanes enough to throw off the receivers and force many of the tipped balls for interceptions.
Of course, we'd love to see UCLA come out with a great game plan to start the game, and against teams like Oregon and Stanford, it's going to be very important that UCLA not take a full half to adjust to what the opposing team is doing. That being said, it's gotten to the point where if UCLA is in at least a close game at halftime, you feel good about the coaching staff's ability to pull it out thanks to their defensive adjustments.
Special Teams: B-
Ka'imi Fairbairn was solid and steady, nailing two key field goals so I could hit my score prediction. It had to be a good confidence boost for Fairbairn to hit that long second field goal, especially given the weather conditions and the point of the game (tied 24-24 in the fourth). It'll be interesting to see if this gives Mora more confidence in him going forward.
Sean Covington had his first bad shank of the year, but it didn't prove too costly. Coverage teams weren't excellent, but UCLA was helped by some questionable calls on Utah's return teams. UCLA had its own excellent return by Steven Manfro called back by an even more questionable call, so at least Glasses Ref is incompetent in an unbiased way.
Utah Unit by Unit Analysis
Bruin Report Online Top Stories
Josh Rosen on Loss to StanfordSept. 24 -- UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen spoke following the frustrating loss to Stanford and evaluated his own play...
Bruin Report OnlineYesterday at 9:39 PM
Kennedy Polamalu Talks Offense After StanfordSept. 24 -- UCLA offensive coordinator Kennedy Polamalu spoke following the loss to Stanford about the running game, play calls and more...
Bruin Report OnlineYesterday at 9:34 PM
Jim Mora After Stanford GameSep. 24 -- UCLA coach Jim Mora talked after the Stanford game...
Bruin Report OnlineYesterday at 7:42 PM
UCLA Drops Heartbreaker to StanfordSep. 24 -- UCLA lost a 22-13 heartbreaker to Stanford, as the Bruins had a 13-9 lead with 2:00 to play...
Bruin Report OnlineYesterday at 9:16 PM
BROCast: Recapping the UCLA Loss to StanfordSep. 24 -- We recap the brutal loss to Stanford at home, and what it means for the team going forward...
Bruin Report OnlineYesterday at 8:58 PM