If you need a quick refresher on the stats we’re using, please take a look at the first article in this series. In a nutshell: Yards Per Stop measures efficiency, Yards Per Play measures explosiveness, Points Per Drive measures how well you score, Field Position Margin measures how well you win the field position game, and Turnover Margin measures how well you win the turnover battle.
In the preview, we wrote that Texas’s defense actually had looked alright despite the BYU blowout, allowing an elite-level 3.53 Yards Per Play that included a top-25 level 4.9 Yards Per Play against the Cougars. Given that and the whole Jerry Neuheisel in real game action for the first time since he had to sprint 20 yards backwards to pick up a terrible snap against Utah thing, we’re gonna go ahead and call this game an offensive success. Obviously the Bruins aren’t going to be playing in January playing like this consistently, but they did the job in Dallas.
As one might expect, the offense showed best in the efficiency measure Yards Per Stop, as the team used short passes and very good run blocking to stay on schedule. The Bruins actually had better Yards Per Stop numbers than the BYU team that scored 41 points on Texas last week, with 49.2 vs. 47.7. Additionally the Bruins averaged a pretty healthy 4 points per trip inside the Texas 40, well above the 3.4 points per trip that Texas had been allowing and only coming away empty after the Jordon James fumble.
The defense bounced back from a bad Memphis game to be ok against Texas, though it was not as dominant as we believe it had the opportunity to be. Granted Texas backup quarterback Tyrone Swoopes looked much more comfortable and accurate than he had in his previous action (possibly due to the return of Jaxon Shipley) and former blue-chippers Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown ran with power and vision, but this was an offense that the Bruin defense had the ability to dominate.
The numbers aren’t bad, but they aren’t great either, with every statistic falling in the 26-50 tier of the rankings. The defense did manage to force three three-and-outs and a turnover on downs, but it allowed Texas three scoring drives of double digit plays and over 60 yards. Texas only managed three real explosive plays (none of which was a touchdown), so the defensive secondary deserves some credit for forcing the Longhorns to rely pretty exclusively on short plays move the ball. After Hundley went down and it became apparent Neuheisel was the QB for the rest of the game, we were talking about the Bruin defense having to turn in a dominant performance to give the Bruins a shot at winning. As it turns out, the defense wasn’t overwhelming, but it was good enough on this day to get the win despite being given only 20 points to work with.
We were frankly pretty shocked when we looked back and saw how well UCLA won the field position battle. Texas punter William Russ was belting absolute moonshots, while Matt Mengel and Adam Searl…were not. And yet, the offense was doing just well enough to flip field position, the defense was doing just good enough to preserve that field position, and the special teams coverage teams were playing well. In the end, Ishmael Adams was the difference.
The Bruins and the Longhorns scored three times apiece on drives that began within their own territory, but Adams’ brilliant punt return gave UCLA the only starting field position in the opponent’s half of the game, and one pump-and-go later it resulted in the deciding touchdown. Remember the offseason message board post wondering whether the Bruins should take Adams off special teams to allow him to focus on defense? He just saved the game with one return.
The James fumble was a shame and was the only turnover of the game, but we’re gonna go ahead and call the Texas captain momentarily being taken over by the spirit of Jeff Locke a turnover. In that sense, the Bruins did more than Texas with their turnover, as Texas, despite being a huddling team (Unrelated: it is seriously jarring to watch a team go with a full huddle in this day and age, especially a team located in a state where every high school runs the spread), gained negative five yards and only ran 1:11 off the clock before booming the fateful punt. Meanwhile, the Bruins scored a touchdown after receiving their second half-starting kickoff in a row.
The nonconference season is out of the way, and the Bruins played well enough to go 3-0 (how bout them Hoos, Coach Petrino?), and each win came in a different fashion. One win came courtesy of a dominant defense, one win rewarded a great offensive performance, and one win came down to tough, adequate (in the best sense of the word) play on both sides of the ball that turned on a late field-flipping punt return. Up next, a fantastically-timed bye week followed by what has been the most exciting rivalry in the Pac-12 South’s short existence.
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