It's a tricky thing to grade Brett Hundley's performances sometimes, because it's difficult to weigh the intent of a play versus the result of a play. In many instances against Virginia Tech, Hundley made slow reads, missed opportunities to check out of plays, or didn't see open receivers, but, to a larger extent than in any game this season, he made up for those errors—and then some—with his tremendous athletic gifts. Hundley's incredible agility, combined with his frame and strength, has turned him into one of the best scramblers in college football. On his first touchdown run, he didn't see the blitz coming pre-snap, actually became aware of it with the linebacker only about two yards from him, and still managed to make him miss and scamper into the endzone.
His 86 yard touchdown run was a key moment, and it demonstrated how good his open field vision can be. To Hundley's credit, after some struggles in the second quarter and into the third, he threw two very pretty throws to Thomas Duarte and Shaquelle Evans for touchdowns to end the game.
Monday, the plan is for Brett Hundley to announce that he's returning to school, and we'd have to say it's a good move. Looking at Hundley, it's obvious that there is still some work to be done, particularly in his ability to make pre-snap reads of the defense. Once he begins to develop a better understanding of defenses pre-snap, it's going to be very interesting to see if all of the other apparent flaws in his game magically disappear.
Running Backs: C
It's true that Virginia Tech has a very good run defense, Hundley's scrambles notwithstanding, and it's true, as well, that UCLA's run game was not exactly innovative against the Hokies. That said, UCLA's running backs combined for just 48 yards on 22 carries, and if it hadn't been for Steven Manfro's 37 yards on five carries, that statistic would look significantly worse.
Credit has to go to Manfro, who played a very good game after sitting out much of the last half of the year with an injury. We're not sure if he'll ever be a starter at UCLA, but he clearly has value as both a runner and a pass catcher out of the backfield. Speaking of, although Jordon James reverted a bit to a tentative style of running, he was effective on passes out of the backfield, catching a couple of swing passes for long gains.
Paul Perkins didn't do much of anything with his eight carries, and, in a bit of a downer, Damien Thigpen only got one carry in his final game as a Bruin. Not to put too much weight on a single player, but it would have been interesting to see if having Thigpen for the entire year would have improved the offensive production this season.
I don't feel strongly one way or the other about running up the score at the end of a game, but in a situation where a redshirt senior receiver is playing his last game and is actually playing one of his worst games of the season, I'd generally opt for letting him go ahead and catch a 59 yard pass for a touchdown. Shaquelle Evans was having a mostly poor game up to that point, dropping the first pass of the game down the sideline and also muffing a punt that led to one of the Hokies' few scores. For him to get a highlight from what could have been a real downer of a game was a nice moment.
Devin Fuller didn't make much of an impact in the receiving game, but, as if trying to pay tribute to Evans, he made the block of the game, springing Hundley on his 86 yard touchdown run. While it's an obvious thing to say that UCLA's receivers are much more fundamentally sound under Eric Yarber than they were under any previous regime, it's particularly impressive how all of them seem to have bought into the importance of downfield blocking. Jordan Payton, Devin Lucien, Fuller, and Evans all consistently make good blocks downfield.
It seems clear that Thomas Duarte is going to be a significant red zone weapon next year, right? Duarte has great hands and body control, and, despite not being a burner, can get a little separation too, so he's not just fighting for jump balls. With an offseason of strength training, he'll most likely be a much stronger player next year, with more ability to maintain his routes in the face of pressure. His third touchdown tied a school record for freshmen at UCLA.
Offensive Line: B+
Considering that Virginia Tech's front four were supposed to be very good, UCLA's offensive line really did an excellent job of containing them and keeping Hundley relatively unscathed. Yes, the line struggled to generate much of a push in the run game, but much of that seemed to be due to the line, like much of this year, facing off against a stacked defense running cover 1 or cover 0.
It's a shame that it was Xavier Su'a-Filo's last game and he didn't get an opportunity to play left guard, because it would have been nice to see one of his patented pulling-guard plays where he ends up flattening three guys as a lead blocker. That kooky play that ended up being negated by an offsides on UCLA's first drive was intended to be a lateral pass to Su'a-Filo, who was then going to throw a pass into the end zone. We saw it completed about one time in the four or five times they ran the play in practice, but anything that crazy is probably worth a shot.
The interior of UCLA's line generally did a nice job against the stout defensive tackles for Virginia Tech. Jake Brendel struggled with his snaps at times, but did a pretty good job blocking.
Offensive scheme, play calling, and game plan: B
After the first drive, we were pretty well convinced that UCLA would steamroll Virginia Tech under a deluge of short passes and scrambles, looking like the offense that took on USC, rather than the one that went mostly limp against Oregon and Stanford. After that first drive, and for the next five or so, though, UCLA lost a good deal of that rhythm. Hundley, either by design or by choice, went after longer pass patterns that he wasn't able to complete, and the running game became very unimaginative, with several wasted-down dive plays into the stacked Hokies box.
As if a light switch came on, UCLA's offense again went quicker tempo to end the third quarter, again emphasized short passes, and again started to have a good deal of success. We can devolve into all of the classic chicken or egg arguments about the offense—whether it's execution or play calling—but it does seem obvious that the offense clicks much better when it is running a faster tempo. Given that a quick tempo requires completed passes and runs that generate positive yards, it stands to reason that the offense should largely be predicated on short, quick passes out of quick drops.
Against a good defense like Virginia Tech, you can't be too critical, though. The Bruins won by 30, and the offense scored 35 points (with a big assist to a Jordan Zumwalt interception on 7 of them).
Defensive Line: A-
Kenny Clark, by the end of the year, may have been the best defensive lineman in a unit that includes a senior who figures to be an NFL draft pick in Cassius Marsh and two more heavily touted prospects in sophomore Ellis McCarthy and freshman Eddie Vanderdoes. Clark played a huge role in forcing the interception for a touchdown, and has become so good at generating penetration from the nose. A bigger, stronger, faster Clark next year is a scary thought.
The rest of the defensive line generally did a good job of stopping the Hokies' running game, holding Virginia Tech to under 4 yards per rush. Keenan Graham made his requisite sack during the game, giving him a fairly absurd six sacks this season on just 21 total tackles. It remains one of life's great mysteries that he didn't get significantly more playing time prior to the Mora regime.
By the end of the year, the only senior playing a really significant role for the defensive line was Cassius Marsh. With Owamagbe Odighizuwa returning next season, and a year of experience under the belts of Vanderdoes and Clark, the defensive line should be in good shape going forward.
Jordan Zumwalt said after the game that his strategy for tackling Logan Thomas was to either hit him as hard as he could, or fly right past him, since there was no point in arm-tackling a guy who's about as big as Poasi Moala. Myles Jack later echoed that sentiment. Early on in the game, you could actually see that strategy backfire a bit, with UCLA's linebackers tending to overpursue while trying to make bigger hits on Thomas or the other Virginia Tech ball carriers. Jack actually attempted an arm tackle at one point and got shucked by Thomas.
Then, of course, Zumwalt laid one of the biggest hits of his career on Thomas, a hit which knocked Thomas out of the game and earned Zumwalt a 15 yard penalty. Looking at the hit both live and on replay, it really did look like a clean hit, but it was also one of the hardest tackles I've seen this season, so you can forgive the ref calling what was effectively a 15 yard penalty for a loud noise.
Jack had a huge interception in the fourth quarter that really seemed to change the momentum of the game, taking what was a two score game and blowing it open to the tune of 28-10. At that point, it appeared that there was no way for Virginia Tech to make a comeback, not with that bad offense and shaky quarterback.
Isaac Savaiinaea didn't play all that much in Eric Kendricks' absence, with Jack and Zumwalt taking over the primary duties as inside linebackers. Anthony Barr had a relatively quiet game, mostly because he was held, uncalled, on an easy half-dozen plays. Kenny Orjioke, though, showed he has the potential to fill at least one of Barr's shoes next year, getting a nice sack off of a bull rush around the left tackle.
Defensive Backs: A-
With Kendricks out, UCLA opted for much more nickel, seemingly to keep from having to put too much of the onus on Savaiinaea to replace all of Kendricks' contributions to the defense. By virtue of that decision, Brandon Sermons got significantly more time than he usually does, which actually didn't go badly. Sermons got picked on a couple of times, particularly on a long gain for the Hokies where he was screened out of the play, but overall, he played well enough.
Fabian Moreau did well in his return to the starting lineup after going through some leg injuries in November. He and Ishmael Adams both completed the season without too many obvious blemishes on their resume. You could actually see a scenario where Moreau still improves a good deal, too, since he has spent all of two seasons as a cornerback.
Anthony Jefferson and Randall Goforth both played well in run support as well as the passing game. To be honest, the secondary wasn't threatened all that much thanks to some erratic passing from Thomas and his backup Mark Leal.
Defensive scheme, play calling, and game plan: A-
Given that UCLA was without the leader of the defense, Eric Kendricks, for the game, you have to say that the coaching staff schemed around the issue well, opting for more nickel and putting less pressure on Savaiinaea. There did seem to be a few issues, though. After struggling against many of the jet sweeps and quick lateral runs against Arizona State in the penultimate game of the regular season, UCLA once again got gashed by several against Virginia Tech. If the Hokies had better personnel, particularly at running back and on the offensive line, those runs could have been devastating.
Even with some mild complaints, though, UCLA held the Hokies to just 319 yards and an average of 4.3 yards per play. Yes, Virginia Tech doesn't have a good offense, and it would have been nice for the Bruins to put up that truly dominant performance that they really haven't shown over the last two seasons. But without Kendricks, and in the final game of the year when motivation can sometimes be difficult to find, you have to give the defensive staff credit for putting together a good game plan.
Special Teams: C-
Ka'imi Fairbairn missed his one field goal attempt, Ishmael Adams didn't generate much on his returns, Shaquelle Evans muffed a punt that turned into a score for Virginia Tech, and Sean Covington stepped out of the endzone for a safety. On the flip side, coverage teams were good as always, and Covington continues to demonstrate that he should be the next great UCLA punter.
Virginia Tech Unit by Unit Analysis
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