We here at BRO had written this week that there was something amiss with quarterback Brett Hundley. We got some flak from our own readers, and then some from some radio sports guys.
This game pretty much confirmed it.
I don't know if those radio guys are going to be calling up Dave Woods this week for a follow-up appearance.
UCLA's defense played well. They actually played well enough to win. They got enough stops against Oregon's offense in the first half, and they had the Ducks completely out of their rhythm offensively. It appeared that Oregon just hadn't faced as much defensive speed as UCLA's, and it was off-setting their usual ability to out-quick opposing defenses. UCLA's linebackers were excellent in the first half. It'd be tough to pick who was the linebacker MVP among Eric Kendricks, Jordan Zumwalt, Anthony Barr and Myles Jack. The defense was the driving force behind UCLA being tied with Oregon at half, 14-14, and having perhaps the game's momentum going into the second half.
But there is no defense in the country that's going to be able to shut down the Oregon offense for four quarters when its own offense is completely ineffective. UCLA's defense eventually wore down and the flood gates burst toward the end of the third quarter.
So, really, UCLA has a Pac-12-champion caliber defense.
But the offense is clearly not holding up its end of the deal.
What's happened? UCLA's offense was among the top five offenses in the country through the first third of the season.
It's not that difficult to figure out, but it definitely has been a combination of a few different factors that have contributed. First, the opponents that UCLA ran up those big offensive stats through the first third of the season had pretty poor defenses. But these are the primary factors:
-- Hundley, as we've said, doesn't have great natural feel, vision or decision-making.
-- He had only had a couple of good halves so far this season (second half against Nebraska, first half against Utah), but something happened to him that has greatly impacted his effectiveness even more. The timing could be completely coincidental, but it turned for him in the Utah game after he had his vision blurred. It might not be that he's physically or visually impaired, but his confidence definitely looks shaken.
-- Offensive Coordinator Noel Mazzone hasn't shown that he's a great play-caller. We've said it before – good scheme, mediocre play-calling.
-- Mazzone is now clearly trying to compensate for a struggling Hundley, and that has made it Dorheiselian conservative and predictable. The UCLA offense is limited to almost exclusively read option and swing passes. Mazzone won't call plays in which Hundley needs to make too many reads or, especially, read the middle of the field. There aren't even simple 7-yard digs.
And even if the play-calling has curled up into its conservative shell, you have to question some of the choices within that conservative strategy. A swing pass to Thomas Duarte, who is a sure-handed Y without a great deal of shake, isn't exactly putting Duarte in a position to succeed. In fact, it almost got his head taken off. A read option on every second-and-three isn't putting the offense in a position to succeed.
And you can't excuse the scheme completely. UCLA has no short-yardage power run. It never rolls out the quarterback and changes his launch point. It uses very little mis-direction. Now, whether you want to blame that on the scheme or the play-calling, your choice.
But bottom line: the offense, as the plays are being called in the last two weeks, is clearly trying to eke by without a majority of its playbook.
Could it be that UCLA just doesn't have wide receivers who can get open? That could be a small contributing factor. But we've seen enough times where there are receivers open and Hundley is just clearly not seeing them. He obviously doesn't see all the defensive backs in zone coverage either, especially down the middle of the field.
You can't blame it on losing Jordon James, because the play-calling in the run game has been so vanilla it isn't exactly putting Paul Perkins in a position to succeed. You can't really blame it on the decimated offensive line; after just a first viewing, the OL, made up of three true freshmen, didn't appear to perform too badly against Oregon (big props to OL coach Adrian Klemm). Hundley, for the most part, had time to throw.
Combine it all and this where the Bruins are at this point in the season. Like we said last week, it's "A Season on the Brink." If UCLA can't solve its offensive problems, every game for the rest of the season will be an adventure. With its formidable defense, and perhaps one of the best linebacking groups in the country, and enough talent on offense, it could very well have enough to get by the majority of the teams left on its schedule. But there is no way, at this point, you can safely assert they clearly will.
This is, perhaps, the biggest challenge of Jim Mora's two-season career at UCLA. To fix the offense. To fix the play-calling. To fix Brett Hundley.