Utah Unit by Unit Analysis

OCT. 6 -- From top to bottom, UCLA had issues in nearly every unit against the Utes on Saturday night...

All photos by Steve Cheng

Quarterback: D+

A week after putting together his best performance as a Bruin, Brett Hundley struggled to find any sort of rhythm for much of the game against Utah. He took 10 total sacks, and at least half of them were, by some measure, his fault, either for holding onto the ball too long or for not seeing the blitz coming off the edge. The interception he threw in the first quarter was a strange decision. It was clearly intended to be a screen pass, but Hundley never looked toward that side before throwing the ball, and didn’t see any of the coverage beyond Paul Perkins or that Perkins had been held up on his way out of the backfield. The throw itself was odd, more of a lob than anything, and it ended up being one of the easiest pick-sixes we’ve seen.

Brett Hundley (photo by Steve Cheng).
The three-sack sequence in the 4th quarter was devastating, and, watching it again, it looked like that sequence was almost entirely due to protection issues/play-calling rather than poor recognition from Hundley (you could make a case that he should have seen the last blitz pre-snap, but that’d be a bit nit-picky). What was impressive, though, is that Hundley responded after that three-sack period with a very good touchdown drive, followed by a near-field goal drive. The really bad announcers said it a few times, but Hundley put together a pretty impressive 4th quarter after such a miserable first three quarters, which is a good sign. After getting sacked five times in the first half and throwing that miserable pick-six, it wouldn’t have been shocking to see any quarterback rattled for the rest of the game.

Running Backs: B-

Paul Perkins looked like he was going to have a 200+ yard game before he went down at the end of the first half with some sort of illness. Perkins was impressive running the ball, showing excellent balance especially on the run where he was face-masked. His power between the tackles has been the most surprising aspect of his game, and as he gets more reps, he seems to be growing more confident in his ability to push the pile up the middle. He’s been one of the big bright spots of the team so far this year.

Jordon James did a credible job replacing Perkins. He did a nice job of creating some runs where there weren’t huge gaps, and then hitting gaps when they were presented to him. There were a couple of times where it looked like he could have turned up field harder to generate more positive yardage, but generally he did a pretty good job running. As a pass blocker, he had some issues, but the one sack he sort of gave up (the 7th, if you were keeping track) required that he hold the block for 5+ seconds, which is a lot to ask of a running back.

Nate Starks had one impressive run, but was stacked on his others. He didn’t get his first carry until the second half, and by then Utah was keying massively on the run, so there’s not much to glean from his runs.

Nate Iese once again looked good catching the ball out of the backfield and also blocked pretty well. We’re still waiting to see a bit more of him in the pass game, because he looked like a huge weapon in both spring and fall.

Wide Receivers: C

The receivers didn’t do a great job, as a group, of getting open for Hundley when it was clear he wasn’t going to have a great deal of time in the pocket. Yes, there were a few times that Hundley missed open guys over the middle, including Thomas Duarte, but there were also too many times where receivers just weren’t able to get enough separation. You can’t blame Jordan Payton too much, because it seemed as if he was drawing the attention of two defensive backs for most of the game.

One thing about Payton though: on the pass play that brought the clock down to 16 seconds, he pretty clearly had a lane in the middle of the field that would have given him a first down and more, but it seemed as if he didn’t have great awareness of where the first down marker was. If he’d kept his momentum, he looked like he would have had another five yards, easily, and potentially a much longer gain with his ability to break tackles. Instead, the move to the sideline wasted a little time en route to stopping the clock, and set UCLA up for those unfortunate attempts at field goals.

Eldridge Massington had a nice game, catching the one pass down the sideline while covered pretty closely by a Utah defender in the first half, and then catching the go-ahead touchdown pass in the 4th quarter from Hundley.

Devin Lucien looked good on his catches, and hopefully this game will provide a boost to his confidence. Devin Fuller finally got a chance to show off his deep speed on the wheel route and made the most of it.

Offensive Line: D-

Never have Malcolm Bunche and Caleb Benenoch looked more like guards playing tackle than they did on Saturday night. Bunche in particular seemed to have no answer for Nate Orchard, with the star defensive end looping around and underneath him with ease. There was one sack where he made the simplest of moves to the inside and Bunche couldn’t even get a hand on him, leaving the tackle watching on from 7 yards away as Hundley took the blindside hit. Utah frequently overloaded Bunche’s side, and he seemed flummoxed by it. Finally in the second half, UCLA compensated by leaving a running back in to block on that side fairly often, but even that didn’t help much.

Benenoch was also poor in pass protection, but it didn’t seem like Utah attacked him as much as it attacked Bunche, or maybe Hunter Dimick just isn’t anywhere near the caliber of Orchard as a pass rusher. In any case, he didn’t give up as many sacks, but he wasn’t able to lock up Dimick, which put pressure on Hundley and forced him into rushed decision or sacks by other players.

The interior was actually halfway decent. The zone blitz for the tenth sack wasn’t good, but other than that, they didn’t play that poorly. Kenny Lacy again looked like one of the better players out there. He did well in run blocking, and then did a credible enough job in pass protection, given the amount of pressure Utah was bringing. Scott Quessenberry even managed to get to the second level a few times on early runs in the first quarter, so that was a good sign.

All-in-all, though, it was a poor performance, and especially disconcerting after UCLA did such a nice job in pass protection last week against Arizona State. UCLA will have to have some better answers the next time it goes up against such talented edge rushers.

Offensive scheme, coaching, and game plan: D

Tracy wrote about the offensive scheme extensively in his write up, so there’s little need to rehash the whole thing. The offensive game plan was pretty similar to the game plan we saw last year against Utah, the year before against Utah, against Stanford last year, and against Oregon last year. It was very run-heavy, with little imagination in those run calls, and extremely conservative on first down. The pass plays frequently involved slow-developing downfield routes and deeper drops from Hundley. It’s the same old song: when UCLA has success offensively, it’s generally dependent on short-to-intermediate passing and quick drops to set up the run, rather than vice versa. By the second half, Utah pretty much knew that UCLA was going to run on virtually every first down, and those ended up being mostly wasted downs for the Bruins because of it.

Defensive Line: D

We should stipulate: we’re including Deon Hollins in this grade, as we have all year, because he’s playing what is effectively a rush end position. And, unfortunately, in this game, he was the culprit for much of the success Utah had running the ball. Throughout the first half, and into the second half, Hollins was completely undisciplined in edge containment, frequently trying to run up field to tackle Kendal Thompson, which left a wide open lane behind him. When he wasn’t actively moving out of position, he was beaten up by Utah’s right tackle, as the Utes seemed to attack his side whenever he was in the game. At 215 pounds, or so, it’s going to be very difficult for him to hold the edge against any team making a concerted effort to run to his side. Aaron Wallace played a little bit in relief of Hollins, and didn’t do a fantastic job, but also wasn’t as noticeably out of position.

Deon Hollins (photo by Steve Cheng).
The rest of the starting line actually played pretty well. Kenneth Clark got double-teamed a lot up the middle, but even still found a way to make an impact. Owamagbe Odighizuwa had his best game as a pass rusher since returning from injury, getting into the backfield for four tackles for loss. When Ellis McCarthy came in, he got pushed around, mostly because he just doesn’t get low enough to play with much leverage. It seemed like when he or Eli Ankou were in, Utah sped up the tempo considerably to try to keep them in the game, though it could have just been coincidence.

Linebackers: D

Eric Kendricks did a good job pursuing the sideline, but both Kendricks and Myles Jack all too frequently were out of position to contain Utah’s running game. Watching the game, it began to look like UCLA would have been better suited to have Jack playing where Hollins played, since at least he has the athletic gifts to recover quickly when he overpursues, whereas Hollins just doesn’t have the flexibility and lateral quickness to make up for mistakes. It also didn’t help that it took much too long for UCLA to adjust out of its nickel defense to running more base. When UCLA finally did in the second half, it did a better, although not perfect, job of stopping the run.

Kenny Young played considerably in the second half, and also struggled a bit filling the space vacated by Hollins on the edge.

Defensive Backs: C

Fabian Moreau’s pass interference was pretty crippling, and his coverage on the touchdown pass to Dres Anderson was a little strange. He was running right with Anderson the whole way down the sideline, but inexplicably slowed up about 15 yards from the end zone while Anderson never broke stride. He was able to recover and get in the frame for the touchdown catch, but it was strange to watch live and even stranger to watch on television. Again, I don’t have a good explanation as to what is going on there.

The rest of the secondary really wasn’t in position to make much of an impact in the passing game, since Utah didn’t pass all that much. In run defense, the secondary was mostly pretty good, but with two high safeties for a lot of the game, it was difficult for them to make much of an impact there either. We will say that Moreau, when pressed up to the line of scrimmage, was able to make a couple of plays in the backfield, using his strength to knife in past a blocker on one play to get a tackle for loss.

Marcus Rios was a big highlight from the game. It was great to see him get the start and make an impact, especially with the early blitz opportunity that seemed to rattle Wilson early. Hopefully this is the start of good things for him.

Defensive scheme, coaching, and game plan: D

It’s unfortunate that Utah got so creative, because the defensive game plan looked like it was geared perfectly to shutting down a Travis Wilson-led offense. You have to give some credit to the defensive coaching staff for devising a game plan with a few creative blitzes to rattle Wilson early, and there was even a little disguise built-in. After nailing a couple of corner blitzes early, UCLA showed blitz and backed off on a third down, which seemed to confuse Wilson.

The issue is that Utah saw how unsuccessful it was with Wilson and immediately adjusted to the other game plan it had prepared, the one based entirely on the run with Kendal Thompson, and UCLA never made significant adjustments. Sure, UCLA went with more base defense in the second half, but still UCLA’s ends were charging up field to pass rush as if Thompson were a real passing threat. And then, even going with the base defense more, UCLA still played with two high safeties for much too long, leaving only seven guys in the box when it was pretty clear that Utah was just going to run or throw short the vast majority of the game.

But the one big issue we saw was with some personnel evaluation. Hollins has real value as a pass rusher, but against a running offense where he has to play containment, he really doesn’t have the lateral quickness or the strength to hold up. Putting in Wallace more frequently, or even going to a bigger look with another true defensive end would have possibly been a better option, especially in the second half after it was abundantly clear that Hollins wasn’t getting it done.

Special Teams: C+

I don’t really put the missed kick on Ka’imi Fairbairn, for the simple fact that I wouldn’t blame Brett Hundley for not hitting a 50-yard Hail Mary, or Paul Perkins for not running in a touchdown on 4th and goal from the 15-yard line, or Matt Mengel for not hitting a coffin corner, 55+ yard punt. UCLA initially lined him up to hit a 55-yarder, which would have been an iffy proposition in an empty stadium three hours before the game, let alone in front of a huge crowd to win a critical game. That he actually had the presence of mind to really sell the penalty was a nice thing to see, because his heart must have been racing at that point. Then, after the five-yard penalty, UCLA lined up for the 50-yarder, which had at least some chance of going in, and he just pushed it wide. If he’d really shanked that one, we might have graded it more harshly, but he didn’t — it was close, and a minute difference in his approach probably puts it between the goal posts. It still was probably out of his effective range (given what we’ve seen in games, not in practice), and we’re still not sure if UCLA wouldn’t have been better suited to chuck it deep with 7 seconds to go rather than play for the field goal (might have caught Utah napping a bit), but it was a tough situation to be in.

Kickoff and punt return coverage were uniformly excellent, as those units typically are. Kaelin Clay was mostly bottled up all game. UCLA’s punting game was on point, aside from one punt from the end zone where Matt Mengel really didn’t have much room to get into his kick. Fairbairn did his typically good job on kickoffs. The onside kick was ugly, but it looked like the call on the field was probably wrong, just without enough evidence to overturn it.

Ishmael Adams didn’t get much to work with, and a penalty negated the one really significant opportunity he had.

Bruin Report Online Top Stories