Bad news first: the offense was absolutely abysmal. Our goals for the season were for UCLA to be top ten in the Report Card categories, though we would admittedly be pleased if the Bruins were at least in the top 20% or so. Against Virginia, the offense did not come close to meeting those goals. It only managed 34.4 Yards per Stop, an efficiency rating that would have put the Bruins near the bottom of all offenses in 2013. Yards per Play was not much better; the 4.9 yard average would have been good for 108th last year. Point per Drive, however, was the grisliest stat. The offense managed only .64 Points per Drive, which would have been dead last in 2013.
UCLA’s offense was inefficient, not explosive, and couldn’t score. We really tried to find a silver lining stat, but there really isn’t one—the only thing we have to stay positive is that the offense has never really been this awful in the Mora era. Outliers exist, and hopefully this game was just a really terrible outlier that the Bruins were able to overcome due to a Herculean defensive effort. A reminder: the last time UCLA played a really bad game against an inferior opponent, they lost by 26 to Cal, so it could have been worse. Pierson was also at that game, so maybe he should think twice about going to Jerryworld.
Even before we talk about the fact that they outscored Virginia all by themselves, the defense was elite across all of our metrics. It hit two of our three goals, with the third number still being very respectable. 29.7 yards per stop would have been good for the eighth-best mark in 2013, while 4.6 yards per play would have been good for seventh in the country. The points allowed per drive was not quite as impressive as the other stats that we are tracking and missed our goal, but would still have been a very respectable 23rd in 2013. Still though, a very successful start for the defense according to our report card
On the boards, someone brought up that the total yardage allowed was not particularly impressive. We would caution against ever trying to draw conclusions with total stats rather than rate stats, as rate stats have been shown to be far superior predictors of future performance, but the fact remains that Virginia did score 20 points on UCLA even despite the defense’s sparkling rate stats. This may have partially been due to the defense allowing Virginia a 39% success rate on third down, a pretty middling number and something the defense is going to have to improve upon as the season continues.
The turnovers were keys to the game, and the Bruins weren’t overly lucky with them either. Out of six total fumbles in the game, UCLA recovered three, just in line with the national expected fumble recovery rate of 51% for the offense. While at first glance it seems that UCLA got a little luckier on the interceptions, picking off 40% of the balls that defenders got their hands on rather than the national average of 22%, the interceptions came off of easily caught balls due to QB pressure, and we would expect the average defender to make those plays most of the time (we won’t make too much fun of Ishmael Adams for getting hit in the face with his pick six).
The field position margin of -4 was weak on the surface—it would have been 101st in the country last year—but if any of the interceptions resulted in the player simply taking a knee instead of taking it to the house, the field position margin would have looked much better. In special teams, even without the Helmetgate touchdown that wasn’t the punt returns averaged 12.8 yards per return, which would have been good for 12th in the country last year.
It was a tale of two sides of the ball, as a fantastic effort by the defense overcame one of the worst offensive efforts in recent memory. This Saturday at the Rose Bowl, we hope to see a marked improvement by the offense coupled with continued elite play by the defense. This is the time where we remind everybody that small sample size means that we shouldn’t take too much from the first game of the season.