Saturday was easily Brett Hundley's best performance since the Utah game, and showed that his improved play against Colorado was no mirage. As we said leading up to the game, Hundley had his best week of practice in a long time this past week, and his touch on deep passes was greatly improved. His opening throw to Shaquelle Evans was one of the better deep throws he's ever thrown in a game, and his narrow window throw to Thomas Duarte and seam pass to Darius Bell were both excellent throws as well.
His first quarter was nearly flawless, but the offense started to slow down when Arizona started to sell out and send more pass rushers. To Hundley's credit, though, he did a good job of keeping his eyes up in this game, especially when compared to the Stanford and Oregon games. The Bell throw, in particular, was a throw he just simply wouldn't have been able to make two or three weeks ago. His scrambles were also key, and it's clear, as it has been all year, that he's improved as a runner from a year ago. He's stronger, faster, and has better vision.
Honestly, where before it was much more of a chicken or egg argument, in this game it looked like Hundley had a nice game, but was let down to a certain extent by poor offensive line play and some occasional conservatism on first and second down. It'll be interesting if this game from Hundley gives Noel Mazzone more confidence to pass on a higher percentage of early downs to give UCLA more manageable situations on 2nd and 3rd.
Running Backs: A
Honestly, if Myles Jack hadn't played his handful of snaps on Saturday, this grade would probably be closer to the B-/C+ range. But Jack DID play, and he showed that, if he ever decided he doesn't like hitting people for a living, he could probably be an All-Conference running back. Is that too big of a statement after six carries in one game? It's actually hard to say. Jack clearly has great acceleration, good top end speed, and, at 6'1 or 6'2 and 225 pounds, runs with very good power. He also showed some pretty good vision in his six runs. After a few days of thinking about it, and watching the game again, we'd say that, just based on raw talent, he's probably the best running back on the team.
The question that UCLA is faced with is an interesting one. I'm usually not one to over-emphasize the importance of any particular running back, since so much of a good running game is dependent on the offensive line, but Jack seems like the rare runner who can generate offense even without a particularly good set of blockers up front, thanks to his combination of power and speed. With a good running game, our guess is that the passing game could start to look much better, and Noel Mazzone could open things up a bit. Jack could be the key piece in getting the offense back to a point near where it was before it started to lose offensive lineman after offensive lineman to injury.
The flip side, of course, is that Jack is also, at the very least, a key piece in the defense, if not THE key piece. His ability to play against both the run and the pass is something that no other player on the team has, and it allows UCLA to play much more nickel than it otherwise would be able to play. Taking Jack out of the equation likely changes how well UCLA can match up against spread-happy teams.
Perhaps the answer is to split his time between both positions, giving him 5 to 10 carries on offense in that diamond formation and, say, 50 or 60% of the snaps on defense. It's a delicate situation, and not one that is easily solved. It hinges on the difference between how effective the running game would be without Jack and how effective the defense would be without Jack. If the coaches make the calculation that the dropoff on defense is minimal compared to the impact Jack can make on offense, then it, of course, makes sense to devote some of Jack's energies to offense, at least for the remaining few games of the season. Not to put a damper on things, but there's also much more that goes into the running back position, like footwork, blocking, and real knowledge of the offense, that would prevent him from being much more than a single-package player at this point.
In other news, Damien Thigpen was good in spurts, but he doesn't have the power to really be effective without a solid offensive line. Paul Perkins was a shoestring tackle away from breaking two long runs, but couldn't consistently generate yards between the tackles. Malcolm Jones didn't play much, inexplicably.
Shaquelle Evans had a generally good game, catching a deep touchdown bomb on the first play, and then making a second, even more impressive touchdown catch for his second of the day, performing a tip drill in the back of the end zone and getting his toes in bounds. The body control it took to make that catch was a little uncanny. He also had a miserable drop on the 3rd and 14 play where Hundley threw a strike (the drop still matters, even though the play would have been negated by offensive pass interference, because it would have meant UCLA had another play). Reportedly, he also threw a punch during the first half that likely should have been flagged if the refs saw it.
Devin Lucien was the most active he's been in quite a long time, but it was a mixed bag as far as performance goes. He had two catches, but also had a big drop, and nearly fumbled away the possession at one point on his second, long catch. Devin Fuller, who had shown signs of potentially being Hundley's new go-to receiver, was non-existent in this game, partially because he was back to running many horizontal routes rather than vertical routes.
Thomas Duarte continues to make big plays, and it'll be interesting to see if he gets more and more time as the season goes on. He had great hands, good body control, and good strength that allows him to generate yards after the catch. Also, Jordan Zumwalt looked good at tight end/fullback.
Offensive Line: C-
This was clearly a poor performance for the offensive line. Caleb Benenoch and Scott Quessenberry both really struggled in pass protection, and neither generated a consistent push in the running game. Benenoch, in particular, struggled to move his feet well enough to stay in front of Arizona's defensive line and linebackers. Many of their struggles came in the second half, when Arizona went more to a blitz-heavy scheme, but even early on, the line wasn't great.
It's becoming obvious that when Simon Goines and Conor McDermott come back, or whenever one of them comes back, UCLA will probably need to slot one of them into the lineup simply to get Xavier Su'a-Filo back at left guard. First, it'll help UCLA's running game, obviously, opening up runs to the right side again with Su'a-Filo's ability to pull. Second, Su'a-Filo looked much more comfortable at guard than he currently does at tackle.
Alex Redmond looked OK. Jake Brendel had a few breakdowns, but otherwise was pretty solid, and, it should be said, again didn't have many snap issues.
Offensive Scheme, Play Calling, and Game Plan: B
There was a good deal to like about the offensive game plan, since it was clear that UCLA came into the game with a mindset of wanting to try many different things to get the offense jumpstarted. First, the defensive players package with Myles Jack and a variety of other defensive linemen and linebackers was a stroke of genius by Noel Mazzone. Jack is a great runner, obviously, but having those defensive linemen mauling up front was a big help as well.
We also liked that there was a bit more variance on play calls. UCLA did try to pass more out of first and second downs, and there were more attempts to get vertical. As the game wore on, it seemed that the playcalling did get a bit more conservative though, with the running game (sans Jack) once again stymied once Arizona began stacking the box. We also liked the creativity on short yardage to motion Darius Bell under center to take the snap. First, he's familiar with being under center and second, he's squatter than Hundley and has a better chance of generating yards on a sneak.
As we said above, it'll be interesting to see if Mazzone opens up the offense even more now that Hundley has had two consecutive good games.
Defensive Line: B-
UCLA spent most of the game with just two down linemen so it's hard to give the defensive linemen much of a grade. Cassius Marsh had a few moments where he got into the backfield to get an initial hit on Ka'Deem Carey, but struggled to wrap him up (as did most of UCLA's players). The defensive line looked as if it were asked mostly to create a pocket to force B.J. Denker to throw, and he actually did a much better job from the pocket than he has at most other times this year.
It was fun to see Kenny Clark, Keenan Graham, and Eddie Vanderdoes all playing offense during the surge with Myles Jack. Vanderdoes could probably work on his route-running.
This is a tough one to grade as well because if Anthony Barr hadn't been held for most of the game, the linebackers might have put together a spectacular performance Saturday. We don't typically like to complain about officiating, but the referees were atrocious on Saturday, missing several blatant holds on Barr.
Barr didn't make much of an impact, obviously, and Arizona was able to roll out to his side thanks to the lack of calls, so that impacts the grade. Jack was impressive on the defensive side of the ball as well, and probably could have had a defensive touchdown if he had held onto the near interception. He had a relatively poor game against Colorado, but bounced back in a big way Saturday.
Jordan Zumwalt had a huge stop on B.J. Denker in the red zone to force a field goal. Zumwalt made a perfect read on the zone read, guessing right and picking up Denker for a big loss. Eric Kendricks, despite being nicked up, played really well early on, and might have been the key piece in keeping Arizona out of the end zone on their first two drives. Not having him in the game drastically changes the effectiveness of the defense.
Ishmael Adams generally played really well in probably his best game of the season. He more or less sealed the game on the last drive, pressuring Denker on first down and then picking the ball off on fourth down. His pick was a beautiful one, taking advantage of a lazy route by Nate Phillips to jump in front of the route right at the first down marker. The pass interference call on him was a pretty poor one, as well.
Randall Goforth, aside from the touchdown catch that sailed just over his head, had a very good game as well. He played well in run support and was also effective in coverage. Anthony Jefferson had the one bad penalty, but otherwise looked good in coverage. Fabian Moreau was moving a bit gingerly, but he didn't get attacked too often in the passing game.
Defensive Scheme, Play Calling, and Game Plan: B
The scheme was fairly vanilla, without much blitzing, which makes sense, given how ineffective many of UCLA's blitzes were the previous week. The Bruins went primarily to a nickel scheme, which was geared toward keeping Denker contained to the pocket, which was only marginally successful. Again, we can't be too harsh, though, because Arizona blatantly held Barr on so many plays that it's difficult to say how effective UCLA would have been otherwise.
The scheme didn't do a great job of accounting for Carey on his dives and other runs between the tackles, mostly because UCLA just didn't have a ton of meat up the middle. It didn't help that Kendricks was not 100%, and sat for portions of the game.
On the semi-controversial decision to accept the penalty on what would have been a 4th and 2: we wholeheartedly agree with Mora. Arizona likely would have gone for the 4th and short, and UCLA hasn't been great on short yardage defense this year. Pushing a quarterback like Denker into a 3rd and long situation is much more advantageous, because he's likely to make a poor decision/throw that could lead to a big play that potentially seals the game. It's not as if they were accepting the penalty against Marcus Mariota. That UCLA got stuck with a horrible pass interference call on the 3rd down play is mostly immaterial to the discussion, although I guess you could make the argument that coaches in the Pac-12 should always take capricious referees into account when making tactical decisions.
Special Teams: B
To talk about another controversial call, we also really, really liked the fake punt call. The execution was horrendous, but that kind of thing happens. For a coach who has shown himself to lean toward being more conservative over the last year and a half, it was refreshing to see Mora call for something so audacious. If the pass had been completed (and Sean Covington, it should be noted, has shown a very good arm for a punter in practice), and half the line hadn't decided to rush downfield, Myles Jack could have had a 40+ yard gain. You can't fault good scouting, which is what allowed Mora to make that call.
Kickoff and punt coverage were both excellent, as they have been for much of this year. Covington is rapidly turning into a very good punter. Ka'imi Faibairn nailed his lone field goal, from 34 yards.
In the return game for UCLA, Devin Fuller once again showed some good acceleration as the return man. He looks much better than he did last year from that position. Shaquelle Evans once again made one poor decision as the punt returner, fielding a ball that probably should have been allowed to go into the end zone. He's had a pretty poor stretch of games as the return man, and you'd like to see better decision making from a senior.
Arizona Unit by Unit Analysis
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