With a little bit of protection on Saturday, Brett Hundley had a mostly very good day. His deep balls have become much more accurate over the last two years, and his throw to Kenny Walker was an absolute beauty, catching him fully in stride for the touchdown. His bombs to Thomas Duarte were both excellent, and the ball Devin Fuller dropped in the endzone might have been Hundley’s best throw, considering how long he had to sit in the pocket to make it happen. He looked good on most of the short stuff too, and when UCLA blew its protection (which did happen more than a few times) he was often able to use his strength and physicality to fight for positive yardage.
On the flip side, his interception came at just about the least opportune moment of the game, deep in UCLA’s territory in the 4th quarter with the Bruins hanging on to a 7-point lead. Memphis did a nice job of sitting on the route, but Hundley has to see the defensive back there. In the end, it didn’t kill UCLA, but it made the last 12 minutes of the game far more interesting than they needed to be.
UCLA’s receivers had six drops on the day, and still Hundley was 33 for 44. No matter how you dissect it, that’s a pretty good day.
Running Backs: B+
The running back rotation is quickly turning into the Paul Perkins show. Perkins had 23 carries on Saturday, and looked the part of a workhorse back, gaining tough yards up the middle several times when the blocking was somewhat suspect. He got dropped for a loss a few times, but we’d put most of that on blocking. Perkins has very good vision and balance, to go along with some good quickness, which makes up for his lack of elite burst. At this point, barring injury, we’d be pretty shocked if he relinquished his hold on the starting job.
If he did, one contender might be Nate Starks. It was just one carry, but that first run by Starks was an eye-opener. He hit the hole hard, and then ran with great power. Jordon James didn’t look good in his two carries, running very tentatively. He did have an excellent block to spring Hundley on a run to the outside early, so it’s good to see him return to form in that respect.
Myles Jack got his first carries of the year, and he didn’t disappoint on the touchdown run, as he carried the body parts of several Memphis defenders into the endzone with him.
Wide Receivers: B-
Again, it’s a split grade. Jordan Payton, Thomas Duarte, and, to a somewhat lesser extent, Devin Fuller were all excellent, with Payton now putting together back-to-back performances that should solidify his status as the go-to receiver on the team. Duarte is clearly a weapon, and though it’s still a bit inexplicable that he wasn’t used more last year, he made his presence felt on Saturday, presenting a very difficult mismatch for Memphis with his combination of size and speed. Fuller did a good job of finding the soft spots in the Tigers’ defense, and was an early target of Hundley’s when the offense was going very up tempo early.
It was nice to see Kenny Walker catch the deep touchdown pass from Hundley, but it was peculiar that he didn’t get much, if any, time after that. Equally peculiar was the sheer number of snaps Logan Sweet and Tyler Scott played. While we have written several times that they are both better than typical walk-ons, and that each would play this year, we’re a little surprised that they’re apparently playing extensively at the expense of Walker and Mossi Johnson, who we’ve yet to see do much of anything this year.
Offensive Line: C
It was much, much better than last week, but there’s still a pretty long way to go for this unit. It’s clear that Jake Brendel’s presence helped immensely; rather than whiffing on every defensive line wrinkle, the Bruins picked up most blitzes and played as if they had some idea what was coming on nearly every down. Hundley had enough time to hit several deep passes, which was not the case last week.
While UCLA did handle its assignments better, the play on an individual basis wasn’t great. Alex Redmond and Scott Quessenberry had some struggles again, struggling at times in both run blocking and pass protection. On the edge, Malcolm Bunche did pretty well in pass protection, but seemingly had some trouble getting low enough on run plays to really drive his man. Caleb Benenoch was up and down, but generally did a good job of playing his assignments.
The Tigers’ defensive front wasn’t great without Martin Ifedi, so that probably played a role, but it was still a step in the right direction for the offensive line.
Offensive coaching, scheme, and game plan: B-
Having watched the game over again, and the scheme and game plan, at least in the first half, looked better than it did live. UCLA clearly was trying to pick up the tempo on several drives, with the emphasis on short passing. Hundley was clearly sharper, and the receivers caught the ball a bit better early on, so perhaps it was simply a function of that, but, whatever the case, the offense was improved Saturday.
It’s clear, though, that UCLA’s run design is limited. So many of the inside zone runs end up being wasted downs because the plays take far too long to develop. UCLA used plenty of pistol on Saturday to have the runs develop quicker, but still there were several that got blown up nearly in the backfield because the play developed so slowly. It’s as simple as this: against a team with the overall quality of Memphis, UCLA shouldn’t need to turn to Jack to convert on 3rd or 4th and short.
The second half was a bit of a slog after the solid first half, which was likely due to a lack of adjustments on UCLA’s end. Memphis did a better job of recognizing UCLA’s tendencies, particularly knowing when the Bruins were going to drop Hundley deep, and started to key on it with the pass rush. We only saw one semi-rollout in the game, which went for a long gain down the sideline to Duarte, but in that second half, even a couple more rollouts would have kept the defense more honest.
Defensive Line: C-
It’s a mixed grade here, too, because there’s no way that Kenneth Clark deserves anything close to a C. He was all over the field, sometimes literally, chasing down the quarterback from the back end and putting plenty of pressure on him from the nose. It was again the case where every time we isolated on him, he was in the backfield, having blown up some poor fellow on the interior of the Memphis line.
Eddie Vanderdoes also had a decent game, though he still looks like he’s working back into shape. Owamagbe Odighizuwa put some pressure on the quarterback late that helped to stall a couple of Memphis drives, and his awareness to pick up the quarterback on the Memphis trick play was really impressive for a guy who has been out for the last year.
Clearly, UCLA wanted to get some work for its younger guys in this game to keep the wear and tear off Odighizuwa, Clark, and Vanderdoes, but there’s a pretty significant drop-off between them and the second unit. Mixing and matching a bit more between the groups might be something UCLA moves toward until at least the freshmen get more game experience.
Memphis did a great job of attacking UCLA’s speed and aggression, using some misdirection and tricky motion to put Eric Kendricks and Myles Jack in the wrong position to start the play. As Kendricks said after the game, UCLA had prepared for power runs for Memphis, and the Tigers, who clearly self-scouted as well as they scouted UCLA, built a screen off those runs that left the Bruins consistently confused for nearly the entire game.
Kenny Orjioke played pretty well when we isolated on him. His combination of strength and athleticism is rare, and if he can put together a couple of good performances in a row, there’s not much keeping him from playing significantly. Aaron Wallace also did a pretty good job, using his strength to put some pressure on the quarterback a few times from the edge.
Generally, though, Memphis did a great job of taking away UCLA’s major asset on defense, the speed of its linebackers, and didn’t have to work all that hard to do it, which is a worrying sign. The lack of discipline from the unit is a concern going forward, particularly as the Bruins get into Pac-12 play against Arizona State, which will surely use this game to build an offensive game plan.
Defensive Backs: D-
OK, fine, we lied about Fabian Moreau. Everything we and every other publication wrote was part of an elaborate ruse to build up the young man’s confidence. We’re sorry. It won’t happen again.
But seriously, he doesn’t look anything like the player we saw all of spring and fall camp, and it’s not just that UCLA’s receivers aren’t great (unless you think Memphis and Virginia have great receivers, that argument doesn’t hold water). He’s playing very passively, allowing receivers off the line and then covering them as if his sole goal is to not get beaten deep. It’s really strange to watch, because he was excellent in press coverage through spring and San Bernardino. He had a miserable game against Memphis, and actually looked like he was being consistently targeted whenever UCLA was in man coverage.
Ishmael Adams was mostly good, but it looked like he again got targeted when matched up against significantly bigger receivers. It’s something he’ll have to contend with his whole career. Anthony Jefferson also played pretty passively, both at safety and at corner, and was one of the major culprits with the poor tackling. Randall Goforth played pretty well until he got hurt, and then Tahaan Goodman had some struggles in the back.
Priest Willis played arguably the best of any of the defensive backs, and it’s still up in the air whether he can be a consistent, effective corner. The pass interference was questionable, but he again had a couple of blown coverages aside from that. He did play very well in run support, and had a couple of good coverages to make up for the blown ones. He’s still a work in progress, at any rate, but there were some signs of progress Saturday.
Defensive coaching, scheme, and game plan: D
UCLA tackled poorly, played very passively on the outside, over-pursued consistently, and wasn’t able to generate much of a pass rush against a team that went 3-9 last year with one of the worst offenses in college football. When all of those factors are combined in a single game, it usually means the team also wasn’t prepared as well as it needed to be, which left the players reacting slowly to the Tigers’ misdirection.
Memphis clearly attacked UCLA’s man coverage on the outside. On one play in particular, recognizing that Moreau was in man coverage in the slot with Priest Willis in man on the outside of Moreau, the quarterback moved the offense into a pick play on the outside, having the receiver Willis was covering nearly run into Moreau, forcing Moreau back even further, which allowed the quarterback to complete the pass to Moreau’s man underneath the coverage and get a first down. Memphis used motion throughout the game to get UCLA’s corners on the move sideline to sideline off the line of scrimmage, and then either threw a screen to their vacated spots or got the ball out to the motion man quicker than the corner could react.
It was just Jeff Ulbrich’s second game as a defensive coordinator, so there were always going to be some growing pains, and he said all the right things after the game about most of the issues being scheme-related, so it’ll be interesting to see what the defense looks like against Texas. After a very good game against Virginia, this was a very poor showing, so the hope is that it was an aberration.
Special Teams: D+
Even the safe bastion of special teams has been beset by whatever is plaguing UCLA through the first two games. Ka’imi Fairbairn missed an extra point, Matt Mengel averaged about 34 yard per punt, and there were penalties galore throughout the game.
On the bright side, kick coverage units were still pretty good, and Ishmael Adams still looked very dangerous as a kick returner (even though he uncharacteristically coughed the ball out of bounds on one kick return). We’re going to stick to our prediction that he’ll break one for a touchdown this year.