It's obvious, at this point, that Brett Hundley is struggling to throw the ball downfield. You had but to look at the gameplan, which involved a variety of swing passes, draws, and zone reads to realize that the offensive coaching staff does not have a great deal of confidence in the current ability of the offense to complete passes downfield. While much of that has to do with the offensive line injuries and the inability of the receivers to consistently get open downfield, more has to do with Hundley.
Hundley hasn't had a really sharp game yet this year, and he's had, depending on how generous of a grader you are, at least three, if not four, below average games. These last two weeks, Hundley's gone against two very good defenses, in Stanford and Oregon, but neither played so well that UCLA should have been forced to just 14 points in each game, or such an anemic offensive output. Hundley is missing open receivers downfield and struggling with the zone read game. When he takes a shot downfield, as he did at one point in the first half down the sideline to Shaquelle Evans, he lacks touch and accuracy.
The question is where he goes from here. With Colorado coming up this week, Hundley has, essentially, a bye week to get himself right before the team heads into the all-important final four games of the year. UCLA still controls its own destiny in the Pac-12 south, and can assure itself a rematch with likely Oregon or Stanford in the Pac-12 title game in December. To get through the next five games, though, the Bruins will need a much improved Hundley.
Running Backs: B
The running backs were overall pretty good. Damien Thigpen not playing hurts the offense because he's the one big game breaker UCLA has at running back. Paul Perkins had a nice game, and showed good vision at the line of scrimmage. He hasn't shown high end speed so far this year, but he's been good at generating consistent yards. Malcolm Jones, when he was given the ball, did well. It seems he's developed a more pronounced role as the season has worn on, so we have to imagine that will continue going forward.
It's clear, though, that UCLA needs a real playmaker at running back. There's an expectation that Craig Lee could provide that element once he's had a year in the program, since he has very good top end speed. Jordon James, when healthy, can provide more of that, although it's an open question how well either would do with the state of the offensive line.
Offensive Line: C+
Given the degree of difficulty, and the amount of true freshmen in the starting lineup, you almost want to make this grade higher. The fact that UCLA was even able to be somewhere in the vicinity of average along the offensive front is a credit to the coaching (and recruiting) from Adrian Klemm and the development of the true freshmen.
Scott Quessenberry, for a true freshman starting in his first game, played very well. He missed some blocks, sure, but overall he did very well. You could tell watching the game that he was able to provide some of the leadership qualities that you wouldn't typically expect from a true freshman, particularly in reading the defense. As Jake Brendel said after the game, having another center on the line with him had a steadying influence on the whole group. Brendel only had one poor snap that I counted, which is a real credit to him.
At tackle, UCLA had more difficulties. Xavier Su'a-Filo missed a key block on a huge sack of Brett Hundley and missed a few blocks otherwise throughout the game. It's a lot to ask of Su'a-Filo to flip back to left tackle after three years away from the position, and it seems as if he's still shaking off some rust. Caleb Benenoch had some issues in run blocking on the right side, but didn't get burned too badly in pass protection that I saw.
Even though the offensive line wasn't miserably bad against Oregon, it's going to be very important to get one of Conor McDermott or Simon Goines healthy for the final four games of the year so that Su'a-Filo can move back inside. With McDermott or Goines, the offensive line isn't a huge limiting factor for the offense. Without them, UCLA will likely continue to struggle to move the ball.
Wide Receivers: C-
Going against elite-level corners for one of the first times this year, UCLA's receivers largely showed their limitations. Evans, in particular, struggled to get open downfield, and given that he's Hundley's primary downfield option much of the time, that really hurt the rhythm of the offense. Devin Fuller was open a handful of times, but dropped a drag he should have caught and had some issues as a blocker downfield. As we've said a few times, we don't think catching swing passes out of the backfield is really his game, since it requires a little more change of direction and sudden quickness than he has in his arsenal. He does much better when he can catch the ball at a full run on either slants or drags.
Thomas Duarte, it should be noted, is rapidly becoming a real asset for the offense. He was open often, in situations where Hundley didn't see him. But he's also another guy who really shouldn't be catching swing passes out of the backfield, since he has very little wiggle.
Offensive Scheme, Coaching, and Game Plan: F
That was just a bizarre offensive performance for UCLA. Even if you take the chicken side of the chicken or egg argument and say that the offensive coaching staff is limiting the offense because Brett Hundley is struggling, you have to question that game plan. UCLA went to some version of a run—either swing pass or run—on an astounding percentage of plays. Through the first half, it even worked, sort of, for a while, which was mostly due to a somewhat impressive performance from the offensive line and some good scrambles from Hundley.
Of course, in the second half, Oregon clamped down on the run much more, and UCLA's offense continued to do much the same stuff it had done all game. This is the second week in a row where the scheme has been astonishingly conservative. On Saturday, it really seemed as if UCLA were using variations of only three or four offensive concepts. What happened to the digs we saw all year last year, the deep outs to the sideline, the drags we saw all fall camp?
You have to question the offensive staff's evaluation of personnel as well. Having Thomas Duarte catch a swing pass, at any point, is probably not a really great idea, since quickness and wiggle are not his strengths. Grayson Mazzone should rarely, if ever, catch the ball in a situation where he'll have to make a few guys miss to generate significant positive yardage, and, if he does, it should be the primary read on the play. Fuller, as we wrote about above and have written since last year, does better when he can catch the ball on the full run, not when he's having to change direction on a swing pass.
There were quite a few baffling moments through the game, probably none stranger than the sequence where Mazzone caught a two yard out to the sideline on 2nd and 8, and then UCL A called a run for Steven Manfro on 3rd and 6 on their own side of the field. There was also another 4th and short-ish punt on the opponent's side of the field, but those kinds of moves are becoming so commonplace that it hardly bears mentioning.
Defensive Line: A
UCLA went primarily to a look that featured two down linemen on Saturday, but whichever two linemen played for most of the game did an exceptional job. Kenny Clark got his first start as a Bruin, and did very well when he was in the game, occasionally being a bit of a disrupter by pushing Oregon's center into the backfield.
Ellis McCarthy had easily his best game as a Bruin Saturday. He was disruptive and overpowering at times, and, when you factor in that he was doing it all on a banged up knee that sidelined him for periods throughout the game, it was just a very impressive overall performance. You have to wonder if this will be the kind of game that lights his fire a bit.
Eddie Vanderdoes and Cassius Marsh were also both effective on the edge, setting it well to keep Marcus Mariota contained. Marsh had another one of those tackles that are becoming a signature for him, where he trails the play behind the line of scrimmage and makes the tackle from behind.
As Jim Mora talked about yesterday on the conference call, UCLA switched things up a bit among the linebackers this week, putting Myles Jack at inside backer, Jordan Zumwalt at outside backer, and Anthony Barr at, basically, rush defensive end. The move worked so well we wish we would have suggested it. Jack, in a season full of really fantastic moments for the freshman, was his best on Saturday matching up against the speed of Oregon. He really only had one poor play, where he misjudged the speed of Mariota, which allowed the quarterback to get the edge and the first down. Other than that, he was exceptionally good.
Zumwalt was equally good playing on the outside, and it seemed to allow him to play a bit more freely than he normally does. He was all over the place, playing both in the backfield and in coverage. It almost seemed as if Zumwalt's physicality shocked the Ducks a bit to start the game, with De'Anthony Thomas actually not returning to the game after a punishing hit from Zumwalt in the backfield. UCLA's going to miss Anthony Barr considerably after the year, obviously, but there'll be a considerable hole left in the defense with Zumwalt's departure as well.
Barr was his usual self and showed the kind of performance worthy of a top 10 pick in the NFL Draft. He has shown versatility this year, playing significant time as both a real outside linebacker and as a rush end, which would make him valuable for both 4-3 and 3-4 systems at the next level.
There were really only two bad plays that knocked this grade down: the long 30 yard touchdown for Oregon where Fabian Moreau took a bad angle at the ball carrier and the pass interference Anthony Jefferson was forced to commit after not adjusting quickly enough to Oregon. You could make an argument that the pass interference was actually a good play by Jefferson, since it saved a sure touchdown, but you'd rather he not be in that position.
Otherwise, the secondary did a nice job in coverage, and had Oregon blanketed enough that there really wasn't much for the Ducks downfield. It's so strange, after the last dozen years, to see a secondary that can match up athletically against teams that have the kind of speed that Oregon has.
Defensive Scheme, Coaching, and Game Plan: A+
Don't get fooled by the final point and yardage totals for Oregon: this was a fantastic defensive performance for UCLA. In many ways, it was shocking, actually. Few teams have been able to hang with Oregon over the last five years, but those that have played them close have done so with pounding front sevens that can push plays back into the backfield. While UCLA was able to do that to a certain extent at points, the main defensive game plan seemed to be geared on matching Oregon's speed. The shocking part is that, to a large extent, UCLA was successful in doing so.
Oftentimes dropping eight into coverage, UCLA had very few of those classic UCLA breakdowns where a quarterback surveys the three man rush, stands in the pocket for a few minutes, and then scampers for a 25 yard gain with no defender in sight. Instead, UCLA's three or four were generally able to get enough pressure to force Mariota into quick decisions, and the linebackers and secondary contained well enough to keep Oregon from big plays—at least in the first half.
In the second half, particularly the fourth quarter, you have to figure that the defense was simply deflated and tired after the first three quarters. With the offense going three and out on most possessions, it was simply too much to ask to have the defense continue to stop an attack as potent as Oregon's.
As we said prior to the game, UCLA's defense is good enough and fast enough to play with Oregon, but unless the offense could get going, the game would still end up being a blowout by the end. Unfortunately for the defense, which really played a very good game, that proved to be the case.
Special Teams: C+
The fake punt in the first quarter was a bit of an early momentum changer for the Ducks. The UCLA defense had just stopped Oregon immediately after the Bruins scored to make the game 7-0. While you can never expect a team to fake punt on 4th and 14 from their own 26 yard line, there was something in previous games that allowed Oregon to scout that punt look and have an effective counter built into their own punt game. It'll be important for special teams coordinator Jeff Ulbrich to build a little more deception into how he sets up punt returns, or vary his tendencies a bit more going forward.
Steven Manfro did a nice enough job as the kick returner, but there were some holes in Oregon's return coverage that might have been hit with a little more force by a more explosive returner. Still, Manfro has been competent this year, and if the offense were close to as good as it was at the beginning of the year, it wouldn't be necessary to have a playmaker at the return spot.
Coverage was generally very good against the Ducks' very speedy return men.
Oregon Unit by Unit Analysis
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