At this point, you have to say that sophomore year Brett Hundley is a known quantity. He is extremely agile, with much improved running ability from a year ago. His arm is strong, with the ability to rifle passes downfield. When his primary is open, and he has time to throw, he'll hit the throws perfectly. On swing passes, he's nearly automatic. Against ASU on Saturday, when he was taking short drops and was in rhythm in the third quarter, he was as dynamic as he was at any point last year.
Those are the positives, obviously. The negatives, too, have become more apparent, and many of them crystalized on Saturday. The Sun Devils brought a considerable amount of pressure on Hundley, and he struggled in the face of it. He took nine sacks, and, watching the game again, you could say that, conservatively, he was partially at fault for at least six of them.
The interception was one of those absurdities that will happen only very rarely, and, while it was an awful decision, you can essentially chalk it up to a simple mistake. The worry, though, is on the ensuing drive, when Hundley, on his first throw, sailed a ball about five feet over a wide open Devin Lucien. Hundley is still pretty early on in his development as a quarterback, so the hope is that going forward he won't carry a bad play into the next play.
We're not sure if it's a product of the scheme or a product of Hundley's lack of confidence in his blocking, but the five and seven step drops out of the shotgun are really inhibiting the quick play potential of the offense. There were a few times during the game where Hundley didn't actually end his drop until he was about 12 or 13 yards behind the line of scrimmage. It doesn't take a mathematician to figure out that by doing that, the offense is turning a three yard drag into a 15 yard pass. Perhaps more importantly, when the quarterback drops back that far, the offensive line can only do so much to protect against edge rushers, which leads to more holding.
It should be said, though, that Hundley has had his three most difficult games this year against the three best defense he's faced, and in this one, he rebounded pretty well through most of the third quarter. The hope is that this weekend, against another good to very good defense, Hundley will be able to make even more strides, and put together a more complete game.
Running Backs: B
Here's our contention: if you're going to make the move to play Myles Jack at running back exclusively, he simply has to touch the ball more than 16 times. In effect, based off how much he played against Washington, UCLA sacrificed every single one of Jack's defensive snaps for three additional carries. That's not a good tradeoff.
With that out of the way, Jack was once again very good as a running back. The issue with starting him and using him as a running back is that he simply doesn't know a lot of the offense yet, so teams can key on the run when he's in the game. UCLA tried to counter that with a couple of well-designed plays that went away from Jack (the first of the game, which was deep play action to Devin Lucien, and the 4th down pass to Eddie Vanderdoes), but still, the Sun Devils were able to key on Jack to a large degree. Even still, largely running into stacked boxes, Jack was able to generate significant positive yardage on a few runs that probably would have had little chance with many other running backs. He was stifled a bit more in the second half, but he really just didn't get many carries. As a blocker, he was really just OK, whiffing on a couple of blocks.
Paul Perkins has to be given a great deal of credit for giving UCLA a credible option outside of Jack. Perkins was very good in the second half, and was a big part of UCLA's massive comeback. He ran under control, got downfield quickly, and didn't spend much time dancing. The offense seemed geared, as well, to getting the ball into the running backs' hands quicker so they could explode, rather than with slow-developing read plays.
This week, we'd have to anticipate that Jack will again be given some time at running back, just considering that we still don't know the statuses of Damien Thigpen, Jordon James, Malcolm Jones, and Steven Manfro. James, for his part, got a couple of snaps, but didn't get any carries against the Sun Devils.
Wide receivers: B+
You absolutely have to feel for Shaquelle Evans, who clearly had a very good game and was playing with some real passion. On his touchdown catch, he showed arguably more explosion than I've ever seen out of him, outrunning a couple of ASU defenders to the endzone. The 4th down catch in the 4th quarter was also a really huge play, even if it did get negated by several subsequent holding penalties. On the 3rd and goal throw to the end zone, we learned later that Evans had told the coaches that he was probably going to have to play underneath on most of his routes rather than try to go up top, but he didn't think the message got relayed to Hundley.
Kudos have to go to Devin Lucien as well, who got the second touchdown of his career a week after he got his first. With Lucien, so much of his game is dependent on his confidence level, and it seems like he's peaking at the moment. On the ball that sailed over Lucien's head in the second quarter, Lucien had a lot of grass in front of him, and likely would have been able to break off a good amount of yards after the catch.
Thomas Duarte looked as if he lost that final heave from Hundley a bit, looking over his right shoulder running downfield before realizing the ball was actually coming in over his left. He probably didn't have much of a chance on the ball anyway, but that would have been a huge play for the freshman and, obviously, the team.
Jordan Payton and Grayson Mazzone also had big catches in the midst of UCLA's comeback.
Offensive Line: C-
Really, the final three quarters went about how you'd expect with Simon Goines out. Xavier Su'a-Filo moved to left tackle and Will Sutton spent the final three quarters feasting on Scott Quessenberry. It's a complete mismatch, with Sutton just having too much mass and strength for Quessenberry to handle. There were at least a couple of times where Sutton was able to shuck aside Quessenberry immediately after the snap.
Alex Redmond had some issues as well, and in general, the interior of the line really struggled against ASU's pressure and defensive front. The tackles probably did a better job, with Xavier Su'a-Filo looking more comfortable at left tackle than he's looked this year. Caleb Benenoch also wasn't bad, especially considering both of the tackles are being asked to block edge rushers for a considerable amount of time, given how long Hundley's drops were.
With Goines now out for likely the rest of the year, there is no wild hope on the horizon for this Saturday's game. UCLA will go into the game with the lineup they've had for most of the last four weeks, and the hope is that Hundley is still comfortable enough behind them to make plays.
Offensive coaching, scheme, and game plan: C
This might be long, and a little disorganized, so we're going to number the points, organized in order of relative importance.
1. Moving Myles Jack to offense is not a bad move. We actually think it was a pretty good move, and one we would have made, given the absolute need for a running game to offset some of the pressure on Hundley, especially with no other healthy running backs besides Perkins. The issue is only putting the ball in Jack's hands 16 times when you finally do move him to offense, and many times in conventional ways. With a weapon like Jack, you'd ideally like to not only use him as a battering ram inside, but also get him in space on the edge, via the swing pass or toss or whichever. To the offensive staff's credit, they did have Hundley go under center for a couple of toss plays to Jack, but the second was easily diagnosed by the Sun Devils because the quarterback in UCLA's offense literally only ever goes under center for a quarterback sneak and, now, a toss. So, long story short, it's not a bad move only if you're planning on getting him the ball 25+ times.
2. The last drive of the first half showed some poor clock/game management. With under two minutes to go, and first and goal, UCLA went to a virtual hurry up on first and second down, and then threw on third down (understandably), which left close to a minute on the clock for ASU to drive down the field. At that point in the game, it's crucial to not leave enough time on the clock to let the other team get the ball back with a realistic chance of scoring. UCLA had four downs with over a minute of time left—there was no danger of the Bruins running out of time. It was just odd to hurry up there, and led ASU to another score before halftime.
3. Red zone play calling on the second-to-last drive was questionable. A quarterback draw isn't necessarily a horrible call, but against a tired defense that had just been dragged down the field, and which Perkins had been gashing, it's an odd way to go, especially with Jack in the game. The third down call, with a long drop and slow developing routes, was also questionable. At that point, ASU was blitzing on virtually any passing down, so a quick route that got, say, three or four yards would have been fine, considering that's almost certainly four down territory anyway.
4. Hundley's drops are too long. Against a defense that is blitzing on, again, virtually any passing down, and doesn't even need to blitz to get free up the middle, having Hundley take long drops just diminishes the chances of successfully completing a pass. In the third quarter, when UCLA began making its comeback, Hundley's drops were shorter and he got the ball out much quicker.
Defensive Line: B-
Early on, UCLA's linebackers were having difficulty defending the zone read, but UCLA's defensive line, particularly the left side, was having difficulty even holding its ground against ASU's offensive line. Cassius Marsh was pushed back significantly on ASU's first drive, which led to some solid medium gains for ASU's running attack. Ellis McCarthy also didn't have his best game, but it looked again like the defensive line was trying to play containment on Taylor Kelly rather than rushing into the back field, which could create running lanes behind them. Much of the difficulty, also, was due to the sheer amount of nickel UCLA played in the first half.
The defensive line did a much better job in the second half, as UCLA went away from its nickel a bit more, which brought a little more beef into the game. Kenny Clark and Eddie Vanderdoes both played pretty well, with Clark in particular being able to generate push up the middle. Vanderdoes, of course, also had the excellent catch on fourth down, which shows you the kind of agility he has for a 300+ pounder. That was no easy catch, by any stretch of the imagination. I think the entire coaching staff would prefer it if he didn't end his run by trying to leapfrog a defender, though.
As a group, the linebackers probably played their worst game of the year on Saturday, and you'd have to say that some of it was due to the loss of Jack. In the first half, the ASU did a good deal of running to Jack's side of the defense, and generally did a nice job of attacking his absence, whether intentionally or not. Their zone read game was clearly much more effective than it probably would have been with Jack in the game. In the first half, UCLA compensated for Jack by bring in an extra defensive back, which really wasn't that successful.
In the second half, UCLA went much more to its base defense personnel in passing situations, which led to Jordan Zumwalt and Eric Kendricks having to cover in space a good deal. Neither held up very well, and it actually looked like ASU was attacking whichever one was in pass coverage at points, particularly on ASU's lone scoring drive in the second half. If the Sun Devils hadn't gone so predominantly to the run in the second half, they probably could have exploited those mismatches much more.
In defending the zone read, it looked like UCLA was mixing and matching strategies. When Kenny Orjioke was in the game, it looked like they were trying the scrape exchange, with the outside backer tackling the running back and then an inside backer or safety assigned to the quarterback. Generally, though, the backside defender wasn't there to pick up the quarterback. It looked, from the T.V. view, that Jordan Zumwalt was primarily assigned to pick up the quarterback, and he was generally too slow to the play, and got blocked out of quite a few times. Zumwalt had a relatively poor game, looking like he wasn't playing his assignments well.
Anthony Barr had a poor first half, looking indecisive against the zone read, but was much better in the second half, and was a big part of the defense being able to shut down ASU's running game. Orjioke, also, was a huge help in that regard.
Defensive Backs: B-
We give the secondary a B-, but if you were grading by degree of difficulty, this would be a clear A. Having Fabian Moreau go down almost before the game had even begun, UCLA mixed and matched corners and safeties all night, trying to find a combination that worked. It's a credit to Randall Goforth and Anthony Jefferson that both were able to slide down from safety to corner and effectively not miss a beat. Goforth, in particularly, looked very natural at corner, and could be a candidate to play either position if corner or safety depth becomes much better in the coming years.
Ishmael Adams, who had an exceptional game in so many facets, was equally excellent as a defensive back. He had a huge pass breakup on Jaelen Strong early, which was tremendous given how much height he gives up to Strong, and then had a big tackle for loss later in the second half. Despite some struggles early in the season, Adams, you'd have to say, has had a pretty good season in his first full year of playing.
The downside for UCLA on Saturday was the play of Priest Willis. As those clamoring for Willis could see on Saturday, he probably just isn't ready for primetime. He struggled to keep up with Strong, and probably could have been called for pass interference on both of the plays where they were matched up. Just prior to the actual play where he was called for P.I., Willis got badly out of position, leading to a huge gap that Strong was able to exploit for a long gain. On the bright side, Tahaan Goodman looked like he is developing nicely at safety, and came within about two inches of having a game-changing interception on the touchdown to end the first half.
Defensive scheme, coaching, and game plan: C
UCLA's strategy for defending the zone read is probably going to need some overhauling after the season. Early on, UCLA seemed to have a clear idea that they wanted to use Deon Hollins as a designed edge rusher against zone read schemes, with Hollins tackling the running back and then one of the inside linebackers handling the quarterback. Since then, though, the strategy has gotten a bit muddied, and against ASU, the Bruins had numerous breakdowns in where they needed to position themselves from play to play. Some credit has to go to ASU for calling a great first half, but it didn't look as if UCLA was particularly prepared for much that the Sun Devils ended up trying.
The lack of pressure on running quarterbacks this year has been a strategy for UCLA, with the goal of forcing them to throw rather than run, so we can't necessarily fault the coaching staff for opting for a similar strategy to start the game. The issue is that once they realized that Kelly was gashing them anyway on the zone read, it still took til the second half before there were considerable adjustments. Obviously, the Sun Devils have a very good offensive scheme, and it's probably one of the best zone read exchanges that UCLA has faced, but UCLA was able to stop it to a considerable extent in the second half. Credit UCLA's coaches for making the necessary adjustments in the second half, obviously, and limiting ASU to only three points.
Special Teams: B
If UCLA had scored a touchdown on one of those returns, what are the odds that a headline in some newspaper would have been "Call Him Ishmael"? Clearly, UCLA has its kick and punt returner for the foreseeable future in Ishmael Adams. He has good speed, but his combination of vision, acceleration, and ability to take a hit is unmatched among the other contenders for either job. He was within a hair and Stan McKay holding a block of breaking off two touchdown returns on Saturday, either of which could have been the difference in the game.
While it worked out, having two players on punt returns with the same number is one of those blunders that you really just can't have. Or you can, I guess, if you can count on the team fumbling the snap on the repeated punt try.
You can pin the loss on Ka'imi Fairbairn, I suppose, if you're particularly cruel, but there were so many points in the game where UCLA could have scored an additional six points, or limited ASU, that pointing to Fairbairn's kicks is overly simplistic. Yes, both were relatively makeable kicks, but he, like Hundley, is a bit of a known quantity at this point. There's an argument that the first kick shouldn't have even been tried, rather that UCLA should have tried to go for it on 4th down.
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