I got a text from a friend right after Jack's 66-yard touchdown run in the second half, which proved to be the decisive play in the game, and the text read. "Complete. Freak. Show."
In a good way, of course.
The defensive-player-offensive set that UCLA employed in this game that featured Jack at tailback was probably the most dynamic aspect of any UCLA football game since Maurice Jones-Drew.
And UCLA might have found its true future Heisman Trophy candidate.
Yeah, I know, we discouraged all the Heisman hyperbole about Brett Hundley earlier in the season. But right now, with Jack's performance so fresh in our minds, and without any subsequent analysis to diminish it, it's just too fun. And you could, really, hypothetically make a future case for it. When was the last time in college football there has there been a player (projecting out Myles Jack as a junior, let's say) that was a potential All-American on both sides of the ball? You'd have to go back to the Leatherhead days.
Jack had 120 yards rushing on 6 carries and, as we said, the game-winning touchdown. On defense, he had eight tackles, one for loss, and recovered the Ka'Deem Carey fumble in the endzone.
All in a day's work.
For a freak.
I don't know what was more stunning, that first 29-yard run when you first realized that it was Jack running with the ball, or the 66-yard touchdown.
Without Jack, UCLA loses this game. He was directly responsible for two touchdowns (the 66-yard run and the touchdown drive at the end of the half). He was vital, for an offense that had lost its effectiveness in the second half. You take him off the defense, Arizona probably moves the ball more effectively and puts it in the endzone at least one more time. A Jack-less UCLA loses to Arizona, 34-17.
Heck, if Sean Covington hadn't blown the throw on the fake punt (and they didn't get called for an ineligible receiver), which featured a pass out in the flat to Jack, he would have impacted the game even more.
There were, of course, some negatives to this game, and some continued worries. So, let's get those out of the way.
Hundley was executing well. He started the game 8 for 8, and had a very good first quarter. He didn't seem to falter. But the playcalling seemingly went conservative in the second half, and the offense shut down. Now, again, it's a difficult chicken-or-the-egg situation. On one hand you could assert that Offensive Coordinator Noel Mazzone was putting Hundley in a situation to succeed, without giving him too many plays that he has shown to struggle to execute. That's why Hundley was looking so efficient. On the other hand, the offense looked ready to expand a bit. All week long in practice the game plan was clearly to look and throw the ball down the field. But it continued to dink and dunk horizontally. It continued to run into an Arizona defense that was cheating up defenders into the box. Here's our theory on this: If Hundley has enough time, and it appeared like he did for the most part in this game, why not call more vertical pass plays? He might not be able to see downfield that well, and will potentially not see receivers, but Hundley also gives you the possibility of using his legs on those same stretch plays to scramble for big yards. It seems, all in all, even with the risk of not reading defenses well and throwing interceptions, Hundley's ability to scramble makes it a pretty decent bet.
The typical series of throw-run-throw is so highly predictable. If UCLA doesn't have a good first down, it then is so conservative to run on second and long. That call, that second-down run play, is what's killing drives. This offense, with the running game struggling (I'm not figuring in how Jack might impact it going forward), needs to be a throwing offense that sets up its run. Even with Hundley being who he is right now, it simply has to be if it wants to be effective the rest of November.
There is one clear criticism of the scheme and play-calling. Why the heck can't this offense roll out its quarterback? Wouldn't you be giving Hundley so much more opportunity to succeed if you moved his launch point occasionally? From what we know, most of his jitters have to do with uncertainty over the offensive line protecting him (real or not real), so wouldn't it, psychologically, be something to try – to see if moving his pocket helps him mentally and, thus, in his execution? Doesn't it just make sense simply to keep defenses honest? We've seen far too many times this season that UCLA has conservatively set itself up into an obvious passing down and Hundley takes a conventional drop, the defense sends perhaps a fifth rusher and Hundley has no time to throw (in the Arizona game, the third-and-10 in the second quarter with UCLA ahead 14-10 and trying to further establish an offensive foothold comes to mind). If you're trying to put a quarterback who is a bit skittish about a pass rush in a position to succeed, wouldn't this not be part of it?
If we could narrow this down to what was the one development in this game that won it was UCLA making the aggressive and creative move to stay with the heavy formation on offense that featured all of the defensive players. Whichever coach made that call, and if it was Mazzone, major kudos (even though it appeared that it was Jack who compelled them to do it). That drive at the end of the first half was critical, and the best the UCLA offense looked all night. Arizona's defense was back on its heels, with Hundley throwing out of the formation to linebacker-turned-fullback Jordan Zumwalt, and Jack showing that burst through the line. It blew through Arizona's D for three critical first downs in a dominating way that this offense hasn't shown since the second half of Nebraska.
The worry on the defensive side of the ball was that the UCLA D seemed to wear down. Carey is a load, and he was gashing UCLA's defense in the second half. You have to concede Arizona's offensive scheme, too, is a good one. UCLA lost Eric Kendricks again, and he clearly is a linchpin. It all contributed to a second half where UCLA was on its defensive heels and just trying to hang on. Give them credit for keeping Arizona out of the endzone enough to win the game. But the worry is: Is this defense, having really carried this team for over a month, wearing down?
The preeminent question, though, coming out of this game is: What do you do with Jack now? He was used exclusively in the heavy formation (which was a positive development since UCLA didn't have a short-yardage play), but now, you have to get him legitimately involved in the tailback rotation, don't you? We're not expecting Jack to run for 66 yards whenever he touches the ball, but he clearly showed that this offense is missing talent at tailback, and he would be the guy to potentially fill the void. He showed a combination of size, strength and explosion that no one else on the team has, and not too many other tailbacks in college football have, for that matter. He can't really go both ways, so if you use him extensively at tailback, you have to relieve him of some duty on defense, and for a linebacking crew that is lacking a full-go Kendricks, is that something you want to do to a defense that might be wearing down? Do you incorporate him into the conventional offense, or do you go Stanford-style and keep merely utilizing him in the heavy formation? Defenses, now, will be prepared for it and it's questionable whether it will be as effective when it loses the element of surprise. Is his future at tailback or linebacker?
That's the question: What do you now do with the Freak?
Overall, even though there are questions and worries, you have to give the team a huge amount of credit for getting the win in Arizona. Put it in perspective. UCLA hadn't won in Tucson in 10 years. And this was against a pretty good Arizona team. UCLA has gone into that town with better teams facing worse Arizona teams and traditionally came away embarrassed.
You could say that this is another sign that the program has turned the corner. It obviously still has somewhere to go, but it has turned the corner.
In terms of the season, it might not be a case where this UCLA team is flexing its dominance in its march through the second half of the season. It could be a case where it just lightly steps through and ekes out wins. But at this point, we can't be too worried about style points. Getting it done in Arizona was a big accomplishment, even if it wasn't a dominating performance and there are still clear worries. It kept UCLA in serious contention for the Pac-12 South title, and almost assuredly knocked out Arizona, on their home field. In UCLA's mini four-game season in November, which is so hugely important for the program, we'll take it.