It'd been an odd season for Brett Hundley. Statistically, you'd say he's nearly in line with where he was last year, with about a 2 to 1 touchdown to interception ratio plus a mid-60's completion percentage. In actually watching the games, though, he hasn't played as well as his statistics might indicate. On Saturday, for the first time, his statistics did a fair job of indicating how well he played, and it's probably no coincidence that Stanford has the best defense UCLA has faced this year.
Hundley was erratic throwing the ball, slow on his decision making, and, on the first interception, threw a back foot lob when he needed to throw a bullet. You have to give him a bit of a pass because of the injuries to the offensive line (which we'll get to), the bad snaps from Jake Brendel (which we'll get to), and the strange playcalling from Noel Mazzone (which we'll get to), but, ultimately, a player with the amount of accolades that Hundley has earned shouldn't look as shaky as he did.
Hundley has now put together two relatively poor games in a row for just about the first time in his career. Looking at the first six games of the season as a whole, objectively, you'd have to say that he's really put together two exceptional halves of football (second half Nebraska and first half Utah), with everything else ranging from poor to decent. Given the issues that UCLA now clearly has with the running game, Hundley is going to have to quickly right himself if the Bruins are to play up to their expectations the rest of the way.
Running Backs: C
Until further notice, we'll probably be giving the running backs a C unless they manage to fumble the ball or do something else disastrous. With the offensive line mostly a patchwork front, it's difficult to grade the running backs too harshly. Generally, they ran hard, but much of the time, they were hit no more than a yard beyond the line of scrimmage.
Much has been made of Malcolm Jones not getting many carries after his initial three play explosion to start the game, but watching the game again, you could see a rationale for UCLA going a different way. On the second play, Jones bounced the run outside and showed a nice burst, but didn't have the top end speed to elude the safety, who ended what could have been a touchdown run. At that point, you could see UCLA's coaches maybe thinking they'd want more of a home run there. Still, after the rest of the first quarter proved that running would be nowhere near that easy for the rest of the game, it was odd that Jones didn't see more time.
Damien Thigpen took considerably more snaps a week after returning to action, and looked OK. Again, the offensive line really struggled to block, so he was tackled for a loss on two runs. His speed, though, seems to be nearly intact after returning from the ACL tear.
Offensive Line: D-
Since I'm pretty sure Tracy was playing left tackle at one point for UCLA on Saturday, I'm going to pass on giving the offensive line an F. That said, it was clearly a miserable game for the big guys up front, especially Jake Brendel. Brendel, clearly, has a case of the yips when it comes to his snaps. Not only were the majority of his snaps low on Saturday, he also had two snap infractions where he stuttered the snaps, both of which ended up being drive killers. In an offense that is predicated so much on timing, snapping the ball the way he has is an absolute killer. We said above that Hundley needs to play better, but you can easily ask the question of what came first? Brendel's snaps or Hundley's struggles? Even limiting it to those two factors would probably be foolish, since injuries to the front and the offensive play calling have also played a role in the ineptitude.
The injuries were clearly devastating. Through the first quarter and change, UCLA's offensive line was doing a fair job in pass protection, but once Simon Goines went down and Conor McDermott followed, UCLA's line was mostly a disaster. Xavier Su'a-Filo had some struggles switching over to left tackle, Ben Wysocki wasn't particularly strong up front, and both of the freshmen on the right side had some issues.
It remains to be seen whether Goines and McDermott will return this week. We like McDermott quite a bit, and he did a fairly good job through his three or four plays. If either of those two return, you can see a scenario where UCLA's line is serviceable next Saturday. If not, we could be looking at another disaster scenario.
Wide Receivers: B-
The receivers actually played pretty well. Watching the game live, it was clear that there were open receivers downfield at times that were just missed due to timing issues and Hundley's own problems seeing downfield. Jordan Payton was excellent on UCLA's one touchdown drive, matching Stanford's physicality well.
On the deep ball to Shaquelle Evans, it looked live as if he was trying to track back to Hundley since he saw that Hundley was scrambling. Then, Hundley threw the ball deep, rather than leading Evans to the sideline. Still, Evans didn't have great body language at times throughout the day, which is not what you want from your lead receiver. On one play in particular, Hundley short armed a throw that hit Evans in the feet, and you could see some visible frustration from Evans.
Offensive game plan, scheme, and play calling: D-
There were some real head scratchers among the play calls on Saturday, but probably the biggest worrying sign this season has been the apparent inability to call anything in the middle of the field. We don't know if the offensive coaching staff is trying to limit the offense to keep Hundley or the line comfortable, but the inability to use the field between the hash marks severely limited the team on Saturday. On the first third down throw in the first quarter, having Hundley throw a two yard out to Steven Manfro on third and 7 was simply bizarre, and that looked like the designed primary read.
Coming out running wasn't a bad choice, but, after putting in that new inside give wrinkle, the offensive staff went to that well about a dozen times throughout the rest of the game, and after the first three runs, Stanford mostly ate it up.
The previous week against Utah, the Utes mostly killed Stanford by running swing passes on first and second down, forcing Stanford to cover the perimeter better, which opened up the inside run. UCLA didn't run its first swing pass until 30 seconds were left in the first quarter, instead opting to pound the ball up the middle for much of the first quarter. With an offensive line that can't effectively run block against a mostly stacked box, that was a little strange. UCLA did use a three back wrinkle a couple of times, so there was a small adjustment to the pressure Stanford applied.
It also has to be said at this point—UCLA doesn't make good decisions on 4th down. Most coaches don't, but you can definitely include UCLA's in that category now. Punting on 4th down and six from Stanford's 36 yard line was just not a good decision, and there really isn't a way to rationalize it into one. If you don't trust your offense to gain six yards (just about its average play), then why would you trust it to cross midfield again later in the game? Also, if you don't trust your defense to successfully stop Stanford's offense at some point in 64 yards, why would an additional 25 or 30 matter (and that's if you can successfully down the punt)? It's a simple risk/reward calculation that almost every football coach fails to accurately evaluate.
Defensive Line: B
The future is certainly bright along the defensive line, with Eddie Vanderdoes already looking like a seasoned veteran in just his sixth collegiate game. Vanderdoes was UCLA's best defensive lineman Saturday, showing an ability to play with the physical Stanford offensive line. Among the freshmen, Kenneth Clark also had some nice moments, and was actually getting into the backfield along with Barr on his big play in the third quarter.
The line did have issues at times, which is to be expected going against the power front of Stanford. Mostly, though, UCLA's line did a good enough job slowing down Stanford's running attack to give the linebackers and secondary time enough to make a play. The 171 yards for Tyler Gaffney is a bit deceptive, with much of it coming in the second half after the defense had been on the field for 20 minutes in the first half.
Interesting note: through the first few series, Cassius Marsh sat on the sideline, likely as some kind of disciplinary measure after the ejection against California. Then, Kevin Hogan had his first big scramble of the day, beating a scrambling Eddie Vanderdoes in the backfield and then easily roping around Ellis McCarthy for a long gain. If Marsh had been in instead of McCarthy, Hogan likely would have been dropped for a five yard loss. Naturally, Marsh was in on the next series.
UCLA's linebackers were good on Saturday, even with the loss of Eric Kendricks midway through the game. Anthony Barr made two exceptional plays, including the big tackle for loss in the third quarter that temporarily stalled Stanford's drive. Barr's stats would have looked even better if Stanford's left tackle hadn't been able to false start a half dozen times during the game with no call.
Myles Jack wasn't quite as good as he usually is, though, as he struggled early on in pass coverage. He was better throughout the second half. This was an atypical matchup for Jack, and probably the first time he's ever matched up against a team as big and physical as Stanford, so it'll probably act as a good learning experience for him.
Isaac Savaiinaea had a few missed plays replacing Kendricks, but was overall pretty good. Stanford actually tried to run at him a few times and he held up pretty well. It looked like Jordan Zumwalt actually took over the Mike duties for a stretch, but it might have just been a slightly different formation.
Defensive Backs: B+
You really can't blame UCLA's defensive backs for the two deep catches Stanford was able to connect on. On the touchdown reception by Kodi Whitfield, UCLA had perfect coverage. The only thing you might have changed is have Anthony Jefferson hit Whitfield instead of going for the interception, but there's no guarantee Whitfield wouldn't have caught the ball anyway.
On the pass down the sideline to Devon Cajuste, Fabian Moreau had him well covered, but Cajuste was able to give Moreau a little push and adjust to the ball in the air. While you'd love to have had Moreau pick up the ball quicker than the receiver and catch it himself, that really only happens in video games. Moreau has been burned by a couple of exceptional catches this year, but has been excellent in coverage for much of the season.
Really, since we're grading this based on their play and not statistics, the main reason this grade got dinged a bit is the first deep pass from Stanford that went incomplete to Ty Montgomery. Anthony Jefferson bit towards the line of scrimmage, which allowed Montgomery to get behind the defense. The ball bounced off Montgomery's hands, but otherwise, he would have had a touchdown, with three UCLA defensive backs about five yards away.
As Mora pointed out on Saturday, though, the defensive backs did a great job in run support, coming up and adding hits to Tyler Gaffney to keep him from breaking big ones.
Defensive game plan, scheme, and play calling: B
There were a few random play calls you'd like to have back—rushing only three on Hogan's touchdown pass to Whitfield being primarily among them—but as a whole, the game was well called by Lou Spanos. UCLA blitzed when it needed to, but mostly tried to contain Hogan to the pocket and force him to throw. Against the power runs, UCLA did a good job of adjusting by shifting the defensive line a bit in the second half and bringing the linebackers closer to the line of scrimmage.
UCLA really just was limited by the sheer amount of time the defense spent on the field. By the end of the game, the entire defensive front was beat up from the amount of time on the field. Given, though, that UCLA limited Stanford to three points in the first half, it's clear that the Bruins had a game plan to win on defense. In the second half, Stanford scored more, but two of those touchdowns came after turnovers by Hundley.
Stanford actually showed an interesting wrinkle on their first scoring drive by going hurry-up, no huddle spread. It was the first time they've shown a real hurry-up this season, and it seemed to throw off the defensive coaches a bit. Interestingly, Stanford really didn't go to it again the rest of the game, which was one of many baffling calls from Stanford's offensive coaching staff.
Special Teams: B
UCLA's one big mission on special teams Saturday was to limit Ty Montgomery as a kickoff returner, and the Bruins did a nice job of it. Of course, a big reason that UCLA was able to limit Montgomery is that it only kicked off three times in the game, but hey, we'll take it.
Ka'imi Fairbairn nailed his one field goal, and Sean Covington was excellent as a punter, generally pinning Stanford deep in its own territory even after UCLA's offense had its usual poor drive. Even on UCLA's poor decision to punt on Stanford's 36 yard line, Covington rewarded the coaches with a beautiful kick down inside the 10.
UCLA's return game wasn't strong, with Shaquelle Evans looking a bit out of sorts as the punt returner. This was probably the surest tackling team that UCLA has faced this year, so Evans trying to run backwards to get something going was probably a mistake.
Stanford Unit by Unit Analysis
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