Brett Hundley appeared poised for a big game prior to his elbow injury, going 4-4 for 48 yards, and with one 50 yard pass called back due to a questionable penalty. He also ran a draw perfectly for a big gain. It was just a snapshot, obviously, since Hundley went down toward the end of the first quarter, but he looked as if he were continuing to build on the success he had against Memphis.
But on Saturday, it was clearly Jerry Neuheisel’s day, and he delivered in a huge way. In relief of Hundley, Neuheisel effectively managed the game, consistently putting the Bruins in good down-and-distance situations. He isn’t able to get much on throws downfield, as you might have seen with a couple of near-interceptions, but he was really accurate Saturday and nailed most of his swing passes, slants, and quick throws over the middle. His ball to Jordan Payton was one of the most perfectly thrown balls of the season for the Bruins, landing softly in Payton’s hands just before he crossed into the endzone.
Running Backs: A-
Paul Perkins had an exceptional day running and catching the ball. As Tracy wrote, the more time passes, the more he reminds us of Johnathan Franklin, specifically in his balance and ability to get upfield. He clearly is his own runner, though, and on Saturday, probably the most significant quality on display was his power. There were several times where he clearly pushed the pile forward an extra two or three yards on runs up the middle, grinding out several five or six yards.
He has a natural ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, looking like UCLA’s best option on passes in the flat. While he doesn’t have great top end speed, he gets up to full speed quickly, which allows him to catch the ball running to his left or right and then accelerate straight up field without much pause.
Jordon James had a good game as well, and it’s unfortunate that just as he seemed to be building some confidence again, he fumbled in the 4th quarter. Still, this was the first time all year that he ran with some of that same force and conviction he showed at the beginning of last year. If he can keep it up, he and Perkins could be a good 1-2 tandem.
Nate Starks didn’t get much to work with, but he ran with some power. Myles Jack wasn’t very effective and actually looked a little more lost than usual on offense, with both Hundley and Neuheisel having to tell him exactly what the play call was before each play. His first down run on 4th and 1, though, was excellent.
It does look as if UCLA has found a legitimate running back combination, with Perkins shouldering most of the load, James earning the No. 2 reps, and Starks providing some extra power off the bench.
Nate Iese was finally used to a much fuller extent, and he delivered from the first play of the game. If Jerry Neuheisel has to start against Arizona State, it’s a fair bet that Iese and his underneath routes are going to be a significant aspect of the offense.
Wide Receivers: B
Jordan Payton has pretty obviously become the No. 1 receiver for UCLA. That double move he put on the Texas corner to free himself for the touchdown was probably the best route he’s run at UCLA. His stat line was perhaps a bit modest, but he should have had another 50 yard catch in there as well, since it was called back for a questionable illegal formation. He’s been the most consistent receiver for UCLA in terms of catching the ball.
The rest of the receiving corps simply didn’t have much to do. Neuheisel, as we said up top, doesn’t have the strongest arm, so most of his passes were swings or quick slants over the middle. Devin Lucien caught the ball a lot better than he did in the first two games, so the hope is that he’s broken out of his funk a bit. Devin Fuller also had plenty of catches.
Offensive Line: B-
There were still some issues in pass protection, but that was a dominant second half effort from the line in terms of run blocking. The left side of the line started road-grading in the second half, consistently getting enough push to give Perkins and company some real room to work with. Make no mistake, too — that was probably the best defensive line UCLA has faced this year, so it was a really encouraging effort.
Scott Quessenberry again had some issues in both pass protection and run blocking, and it’s a real shame that he wasn’t able to redshirt this year to get stronger. The bye week probably comes at a good time for him, since he looks a little lost out there mentally, in addition to being overmatched physically.
It was good to see Conor McDermott playing in the big package, even if he didn’t get a whole lot of time. Hopefully it boosts his confidence in his shoulder and allows him to get a bigger role going forward.
Offensive coaching, scheme, and game plan: A
Given what he had to work with, that second half might have been the most well-called half by Noel Mazzone in his time at UCLA. Texas was never truly able to tee off on Neuheisel because Mazzone nicely distributed the short passing game, mixing in an intermediate throw over the middle for every three or four runs or swing passes. The final touchdown play was beautifully executed, and was dependent on UCLA knowing that Texas would likely be in man coverage.
Even from the beginning of the game, it was obvious that the game plan was more diverse and dynamic than it had been in either game one or two. The opening play of the game involved a) play action, b) a roll out, and c) a pass to Nate Iese, and we’d have been happy with any one of those, let alone all three. Then, there was a great draw call for Hundley in the middle of the field, rather than in the red zone, which caught Texas by surprise. And then there was a very well-designed third-down screen pass to Paul Perkins for a huge gain on third and forever.
Defensive Line: A-
Eddie Vanderdoes had some of the best moments of his UCLA career on Saturday, with his sack being one of the more impressive plays for any UCLA player all year. He swam past the guard lined up over him and bull-rushed the center all in about a second and a half, and was into the backfield to sack Tyrone Swoopes before he had a chance to do much of anything. He also did well in pursuit, looking freakily quick toward the sideline on one Swoopes scramble. The bye week will be good for him to continue to get in better shape, but that was a big game for him.
It’s a little boring to say it again, but Kenneth Clark is a dominant force on the inside, and Saturday was no different. He consistently got push up the middle and was excellent in the run game.
Owamagbe Odighizuwa’s sack toward the end of the game was critical, and he too had a nice game, consistently getting a good amount of pressure on Swoopes. UCLA had three sacks, but the Bruins were able to get a good amount of pressure on Swoopes most of the game, which forced him out of the pocket.
Eric Kendricks came up big in containment of Swoopes, often meeting him right at the line of scrimmage for big tackles in space. It really prevented Swoopes from ever getting going as a runner, which limited the Texas offense. Kendricks was much better, and much more disciplined, than he was against Memphis.
Deon Hollins played well, putting significant pressure on Swoopes from the edge and also looking good in pursuit. Kenny Orjioke also played generally pretty well. Kenny Young mostly struggled again. It’s funny — in fall camp, we made the point that a freshman starting at inside linebacker in this defense would have a very difficult time, since it takes a while to adjust to the demands of the position, as we saw with Kendricks and Jordan Zumwalt in 2012. Naturally, we then pretty much ignored that statement in saying that Young looked different from normal freshmen. It’s pretty fair to say, though, that he’s going through those same kinds of struggles, looking tentative and like he’s thinking too much about where he needs to be rather than just reacting to the play. If Kendricks and Zumwalt are any indication, Young should look like a completely different player by the beginning of November.
Defensive Backs: B
That was a truly impressive game for UCLA’s secondary, again for degree of difficulty. UCLA had neither of its starting safeties, and Fabian Moreau was down for a significant stretch of the game, yet the Bruins never had any truly significant breakdowns in coverage. Sure, Jalen Ortiz shouldn’t have backed up halfway through the endzone on the touchdown pass, but he played so well up to that point in relief that you’ll give him a break for playing that pass as if it were at the 50-yard line rather than the goal line.
Jaleel Wadood had probably the most impressive game for a defensive back this season (with an honorable mention to Randall Goforth in game one). Wadood was excellent in run support and was seemingly all over the field in the passing game. He’s about 5’9, maybe, and 170 pounds, maybe, but some of those tackles he made looked like they hurt. Whether it’s at nickel or safety, it seems pretty clear that he’s going to have to see the field more.
Tahaan Goodman was the best he’s been, and it was a good sign that he played his best when he was most needed. There were a couple of plays where he wasn’t positioned perfectly, but generally he played pretty well. Priest Willis and Ishmael Adams both played well again, and it’s encouraging that Willis has played two generally good games in a row.
Defensive coaching, scheme, and game plan: B-
The first half was pretty vanilla again, with the most vanilla play call being the 4th-and-8, three-man rush that ended with a long completion by Swoopes. To the defensive staff’s credit, though, the second half was much more aggressive, with a variety of pressures coming from multiple spots, which kept Swoopes guessing. Texas also had a nice offensive game plan, using some of the Memphis playbook to roll out Swoopes and keep him out of the pocket, which limited the pass-rush impact of the defensive line.
We’d like to see the same dynamic play calling that UCLA showed in the second half for a full game against Arizona State, which will likely be starting a new quarterback. It’s a theme of this piece, but the bye week will be good for the defensive staff as they can sit down and think about what’s worked and what hasn’t through the first three games, and develop some more diverse strategies for dealing with Pac-12 offenses.
Still, the second half was encouraging, and gives the Bruins something to build on.
Special Teams: B+
The final punt return by Ishmael Adams might have been, aside from the Payton catch, the most critical play of the game. Adams obviously ran well, but Cameron Judge’s block on the play was just beautiful. Even if Judge never plays significantly on defense, through two years he has completely earned his scholarship just based on special teams play.
Ka’imi Fairbairn nailed both of his kicks, with the 47-yarder looking like it could have been good from 55. That was very good to see, particularly given that Hundley was down at that point, and Fairbairn had to know the field goal could be critical.
UCLA’s punting game is still a big question mark, and with Matt Mengel going down on Saturday, it’s an even bigger one. Adam Searl punted about as well as Mengel did, but neither kicked the ball really well. If Neuheisel has to start against Arizona State, and the Bruins have to go ball-control on offense again, it’s going to be imperative to have a good punting game. We haven’t seen that this year, and it’s one of the bigger things to figure out through the bye week.