Oregon Unit-by-Unit Analysis

OCT. 13 -- The offense, surprisingly, grades out better than you might think, but the defense isn't pretty...


Brett Hundley
Brett Hundley’s performance against Oregon holds up quite a bit better after watching it a second time on tape. First, it has to be said again: If UCLA didn’t benefit from Hundley’s running ability the UCLA offense would be almost completely stagnant. We’ve come to take for granted the pretty amazing plays Hundley can do with his feet, gaining a huge 118 yards on the ground against the Ducks. The two big scrambles, including the one for the touchdown, on the last drive of the first half were Herculean. The one nitpick we can make with Hundley’s running game, and we’ve brought this up before – the zone option. Or, at this point, is it just a zone option fake? It doesn’t appear that Hundley is making a decision on whether to give the ball off or pull it back in the zone option, and there were a few inside zone option runs where, if Hundley had indeed read the defense and pulled it back he had some considerable space in front of him.

Regardless, when Hundley has a game plan tailored for him he’s a very good college quarterback, and that was generally the result against Oregon. He made some critical mistakes; not seeing the outside linebacker blitzing – on his non-blindside – which led to his fumble and Oregon’s first touchdown, was a significant one. He didn’t see a number of receivers, like Tyler Scott streaking down the middle of the field wide open, or tucking and running when Paul Perkins was wide open in the flat. It’s tough to blame him for the underthrown ball to Devin Fuller at the two-yard line since the ball was tipped. Even though Jim Mora absolved Hundley from blame on the Ifo Ekpre-Olomu pick, citing that Logan Sweet stumbled, it was pretty clear Ekpre-Olomu was sitting on the route and Hundley threw a weak ball. It comes down to this with Hundley: If you recognize his strengths and weaknesses and call a game that minimizes weaknesses and exploits his strengths he should be a very good college quarterback consistently every week.

Running Backs: A

There wasn’t much we could find wrong with the performance of the running backs as a group. There were a couple of missed blocks in pass protection but, actually, the vast majority of the time the running backs, particularly Paul Perkins, did a very good job of picking up pass rushers.

One of the best runs from scrimmage on the day was by true freshman Nathan Starks, who turned the corner on a stretch and trucked Ekpre-Olomu. He put his head into Ekpre-Olomu’s chest and drove him, and then a few more Ducks, for ten more yards after the initial hit, for a 19-yard gain.

The day, though, belonged to Paul Perkins. He had a career-high game, gaining 191 yards on 22 carries, for an average of 8.6 yards per carry. He was absolutely spectacular. It was one of the best days turned in by a UCLA running back since 2012 and, really, the biggest silver lining of the day. He did have some good holes created by the offensive line, but he exploited them perfectly, being very tough on his feet, exhibiting some considerable shiftiness when need be, and then, his best quality: phenomenal durability. In the second half, on a hot day, when UCLA was down by 32 points, he kept running at the same pace and intensity. It’s easy to understand why the UCLA offensive brain trust has decided to hand him the ball more and more – because he’s truly the one element of the offense that is achieving consistently at a high level. Looking down the road of UCLA football, it’s probably the best takeaway from the 2014 season – that UCLA will have Paul Perkins for two more years after this one.

The running game (including Hundley) racked up 328 total yards on the ground. Anytime you do that you usually win the game.

Wide Receivers: C+

With UCLA running the ball 54 times and completing just 26 passes the receivers didn’t necessarily get as many opportunities in this one. Jordan Payton was his usual solid self, and Eldridge Massington continues to emerge. There wasn’t anything spectacular here, with the Oregon secondary more or less keeping UCLA from going deep and limiting the UCLA receivers to minimal yards after the catch. Massington showed some inexperience – not having the field awareness and running out of bounds without knowing where the first-down marker was (he still luckily got a good mark for a first down), getting called for a critical block in the back and dropping one ball. As I said, it was partially Sweet’s fault for the interception, but not entirely. Sweet didn’t see the field after that, and true freshman Mossi Johnson got some of the most significant time so far this season, looking good in his one reception for 27 yards.

The two Devins, Devin Lucien and Devin Fuller, had 3 and 5 catches between the two of them – again, nothing spectacular but solid.

Nothing spectacular – but UCLA on Saturday really could have used something spectacular.

Offensive Line: A-

Whenever you clear enough room for your team to run for 328 yards you get an A of some kind. The offensive line had probably its best day in run blocking, consistently opening big holes for Perkins to flash through.

Kenny Lacy, the left guard who was just inserted into the starting lineup when Alex Redmond went down two weeks ago, might have had the best day against Oregon. In run blocking, he’s very good at sealing his man and turning him away from the developing hole, and it looks like the offensive coaches are realizing that and running over him. The interior offensive linemen generally did pretty well in run blocking, with Scott Quessenberry winning most of his battles and Jake Brendel effectively blocking up field to spring Perkins for more yards. The tackles were pretty good, too, in run blocking, with left tackle Malcolm Bunche getting a couple of pancakes and Caleb Benenoch containing his man well enough.

Of course, pass protection has been the bugaboo of the UCLA offensive line for a while, and this season. Last week UCLA gave up 10 sacks, and much of the blame was placed on the OL. This week against Oregon, only two sacks, while there were also some hurries that don’t show up in the stat sheet because Hundley turned them into positive gains. The offensive line was, though, considerably better – mostly because Oregon’s pass rush isn’t close to Utah’s. But still, give the UCLA offensive line credit for improving in pass protection from last week.

Pass pro, though, is still a bit of an adventure. Just about every offensive lineman got beat or missed an assignment sometime throughout the game. Brendel missed an assignment and did that thing where an OL stands there in his stance while a pass rusher flies by him, thinking someone else will pick him up. Quessenberry got blown by a couple of times. The two starting tackles had some poor moments protecting the quarterback, too. They both whiffed on the sack in the third quarter. In fact, Bunche looked so bad and lackadaisical on that play that UCLA Offensive Line coach quickly pulled him for Connor McDermott. Benenoch had his requisite penalty, a face mask. There did look to be some times when both Bunche and Benenoch were taking a moment off.

McDermott entered the game in the second half, and even though you have to concede he had the advantage of being fresh, looked very good at left tackle. He showed great feet in containing pass rushers, and was very active in finishing his block in run blocking. We know there is an issue with some instability in his shoulder, but it makes sense, at this point, that McDermott should at least be platooned at left tackle. There is the possibility it could dramatically improve pass protection, there doesn’t seem to be any continuity issues and it would only make a fresher Bunche that much more effective.

Offensive Scheme, Coaching, and Game Plan: B

We’re past wondering about why Noel Mazzone’s playbook doesn’t include a larger variety of run plays and more imaginative pass plays that move the launch point, and why the playcalling can’t blend a diversity of plays well into a series. We’ve come to terms with the fact that this is the scheme, and the style of playcalling.

Given that, a well-called game in the context of Mazzone’s scheme and playcalling is almost completely dependent on how much he uses the short passing game, and in how many series. Sometimes in a series the short passing game is very prevalent, in other series it’s non-existent, and it’s not coincidental that UCLA moves the ball better in the former scenario.

There’s also one more criteria that determines whether it’s a well-called game – whether Mazzone more often than not exploits the strengths of Hundley and minimizes his weaknesses.

For the most part, the playcalling in the Oregon game both more consistently utilized the short passing game and minimized Hundley’s weaknesses.

It’s pretty bewildering when UCLA isn’t in max protection and sends four receivers down the field with no option short or underneath, knowing that it doesn’t have an offensive line whose forte is pass protection and a quarterback that doesn’t have a great pocket sense and doesn’t make downfield reads well. Against Oregon, there were less of these. It might be a reaction to last week when this all failed miserably and led to 10 sacks. It also could be a result of Mazzone understanding going into the game that Oregon likes to utilize Cover 2 and Cover 3 to take away an opponent’s downfield passing game.

In the second quarter, UCLA went with a different, new look, one that used Myles Jack at running back and lined up its offensive linemen with considerably bigger splits between them. Spreading out the defensive line on the line of scrimmage naturally created big holes to run through, and it succeeded. It probably wasn’t used enough, actually.

There were a few times when the playcalling got conservative – particularly on 2nd-and-shorts. Instead of seeing that as an opportunity to perhaps attempt a riskier call, the calls were predictable inside zone runs, which Oregon anticipated, with one resulted in UCLA not getting a first down.

Mazzone’s diversity is to install a couple of trick plays every week – this week against Oregon that was a flea flicker that failed, with two receivers running into the same part of the zone, and Fuller, from the Wildcat, making a quick throw to Hundley who had essentially gone in motion to the sideline.

All in all, in the context of Mazzone’s scheme and playcalling, it was a well-conceived game. The question now, though: After a game when they allowed just two sacks, will hubris return next week for the Cal game and the gameplan forget about who Hundley is and the UCLA offensive line is, and again feature deep drops and longer-developing pass plays?

Defensive Line: D+

It wasn’t a great day for the UCLA DL.

Let’s first start with the guys who have been the mainstays so far this season, the two tackles, Kenneth Clark and Eddie Vanderdoes. Clark drew a good amount of second teams, and that did a very good job of removing him from many plays. Vanderdoes might have had his worst game of the season overall, getting blocked away too many times. The whole theme of the week in practice, what you heard the players repeat over and over, was gap control, and Vanderdoes didn’t do well in his. Oregon consistently gashed the interior for big runs. In previous games the interior of UCLA’s DL would get gashed when it had to opt for the second string, Ellis McCarthy and Eli Ankou, but this time even the first string got gashed. That’s not to say that McCarthy and Ankou didn’t, but they didn’t get nearly as much playing time as they usually do – but that didn’t do much good.

McCarthy, at this point, seems to have regressed from last season – and even last season he was just decent. He’s so big he allows shorter offensive linemen to get up under him and attain leverage, and there doesn’t seem to be much of a fight to him. Ankou is generally putting in a good effort, but he's just not on the level of many of the players he’s facing. Interior defensive line depth, then, is clearly an issue going forward, because you’d have to think that, perhaps, Clark, fending off so many double teams, might get fatigued in the second half of the season and Vanderdoes is too undisciplined at this point to be consistent.

Then there was the personal foul on Vanderdoes, when he threw a jab at an Oregon offrensive lineman. It was a typical incident of being undisciplined and getting caught for the retaliation. Vanderdoes was lucky he wasn’t tossed from the game.

Owamagbe Odighizuwa
The outside defensive linemen fared worse than the interior. Owamagbe Odighizuwa was a non-factor for the most part, and looks like he’s lost some explosion from being nicked up. We’re going to count Deon Hollins as a defensive end, since 90% of the time that’s essentially what he’s playing, with his hand down. We wrote about the fact that using him so extensively, in the same manner, last week against Utah might have been the one, lone factor you could point to that allowed UCLA’s defense to concede to Utah. It was more of the same this week against Oregon. Critiquing him here harshly isn’t really fair to him, because he’s getting used as a defensive end, and he just plainly isn’t. He’s a situational pass rusher that probably shouldn’t put his hand down. But he is, and he’s getting eaten up by offensive tackles. Not only is he not providing much pass rush (which should be why he’s in the game), he’s getting the majority of his playing time at that defensive end/linebacker spot, and he’s getting absorbed pretty consistently on the edge in run defense. He was fooled a number of times on read options that were devastating.

Takkarist McKinley was in for a number of plays and it appears he doesn’t know much of what he’s doing, but he looks to be the only guy on the outside right now that has any kind of explosion against offensive tackles. He got called for the face mask once on the read option, but at least he was in the right place to defend it, which is about all we’re looking for at this point.

UCLA absolutely didn’t get much pressure on the quarterback in this game. It might have been tactical, that you don’t necessarily want to flush out Mariota but make him beat you with his arm. But during the course of game you’d almost think they’d get at least some inadvertent pressure on a quarterback, but really there was almost nothing.

The youngsters, Matt Dickerson and Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, looked over-matched in the limited number of plays they were in.

We had thought previously that UCLA was using its second- and third-string guys probably too much, that those were the drives when opposing rushing attacks just slashed through UCLA’s DL. Against Oregon, they used the non-starters less, which was good, and probably minimized how bad it might have been, and it was bad as it was.

Linebackers: C-

The linebackers only avoided getting a D because Myles Jack made a few good plays. He had a great sequence when he contained the edge and had great pursuit on a stretch play. Then, on the next play, made a phenomenal break-up on a quick slant. He had a couple of other plays, too, where he could exploit his speed and pursuit ability to contain the edge, and that was holding up pretty well for most of the first half.

But Jack, also, made some particular mistakes, over-pursuing, losing containment and some bad decisions, particularly on the fake bubble screen that he bit on. Even with the good plays he made, overall, Jack didn’t have a good performance.

It was also one of the worst performances by Eric Kendricks, at least that we can remember. Over-pursuit, bad decisions and poor gap control were how you’d describe it. There were many times Kendricks would dip into a gap to be swallowed up by the Oregon OL, while the play went elsewhere for a big gain through a big hole. There were times that Kendricks looked like he was supposed to be shadowing Mariota and really failed to do so, again mostly over-pursuing. On Mariota’s touchdown run, Kendricks got sucked inside and then stuck, and then was too slow to recover as Mariota went around the edge and Kendricks on his way to the endzone. Kendricks was used a number of times to blitz, and he isn’t good at it, merely running into the interior of the Oregon OL to get picked up easily.

It might be time to experiment with some other young linebackers, too. Kenny Young is getting the most time when UCLA goes to the 4-3, but he’s swimming right now. Perhaps it’s time for Isaako Savaiinaea – a guy probably with less natural talent than Young but a year of experience under his belt – to see the field more. Right now, with Hollins and Aaron Wallace essentially being used as defensive ends, almost all of the linebacking duties are falling on Kendricks and Jack, and that’s tough when you’re the guys in the 4-2-5 and the responsibility for cleaning up the intermediate area of the field falls on just you. In the nickel, UCLA uses a defensive back as a mini-linebacker at times, but regardless of who it is, he’s generally getting physically pushed around in the box. So much of this is scheme and we’ll get to it below.

Defensive Backs: C

The secondary probably fared the best among the defensive units, only because they didn’t get burned as badly as the defensive line and linebackers. They didn’t necessarily make big plays, but they didn’t get burned.

Anthony Jefferson played pretty well, providing generally good coverage and making some plays in run support. Fabian Moreau made a very nice tackle on a third-down bubble screen that looked like it had the potential for big yardage, and he was solid in his play for most of the day. Jaleel Wadood was active, being around the ball and generally pretty reliable as a tackler. Tahaan Goodman was good for a few good hits. Ishmael Adams’ PI was costly, keeping the second Oregon drive alive that led to a touchdown.

Defensive Scheme, Coaching, and Game Plan: D

First, let’s get the Mora/Jeff Ulbrich incident out of the way. So much is being made of it, mostly by the media that like to stir up controversy. The point is being made that it was unprecedented, that a defensive coordinator would go off on his head coach during the game.

Well, this all seems to be getting viewed through a lens of the media and fans that don’t have an understanding of what goes on with a football coaching staff. These aren’t corporate executives, they’re football coaches. They get demonstrative, they yell, they throw tantrums. This kind of stuff goes on all the time between coaches. All the time. This one just happened to be caught on camera. So, really, if something was wrong here it was that Ulbrich lost his composure on the sideline in front of the camera. Okay, let’s slap him on the wrist, slap his butt and send him back out there. But trying to make something out of this, asserting that it is indicative of something wrong, you’d pretty much be concluding that there is something wrong with every coaching staff in the country.

The defensive scheme and gameplan against Oregon, however, EW what should be getting the scrutiny. It started off pretty well, doing a few things that worked against Oregon’s offense. But the wheels came off the horse, or something like that. The gameplan was conservative, as it’s been for most of the season – and conservative in a couple of different ways: tactically, and then how long it takes to make a move to correct an issue. Against Oregon, a big thing the defense needs to do is contain the line of scrimmage. Get some bodies up in the gaps and on the edge, limit the running game, don’t allow them free reign around the edge, and make Mariota have to throw down the field. It’s what an aggressive Arizona defense did last week, and very effectively. UCLA, seemingly, did a few things that reflected that but, in that conservative style, not enough. It used a four-man front more often, which was a good idea. It brought up Jack to one edge, which put him in a position to make more plays, which was also a good idea. As I said, this worked decently in the first half. But if you do that in a nickel, with just two true linebackers and then position your defensive backs pretty deep (the free safety is a good 25 yards off the line of scrimmage consistently), it opens up some big spaces in the intermediary area of the field. Oregon’s offense naturally exploited it, with short passes into those areas, and then running plays that, once they got into the second level of UCLA’s defense, there just weren’t enough bodies there to contain and limit the damage.

It’s taking a long time for the defensive staff to realize that Hollins can’t be a standard-down defensive end. He’s a situational guy, and probably pretty good at that. But so much of what UCLA was attempting to do against Oregon was dependent on the defensive end, Hollins, having some containment on the edge against the run, and he’s just not capable of that at 6-1 and 215 pounds. Opposing offenses can exploit that, and UCLA’s defense will break down from there. Aaron Wallace subbed for Hollins, and did better against the run at times.

There also is a fundamental conservatism that’s limiting the defense’s effectiveness, and it did against Oregon. UCLA seems to be afraid of getting its secondary burned. It plays that deep safety, and also too much of the time provides a decent cushion for receivers. So far that has succeeded in not allowing offenses to burn UCLA over the top. But it has also failed in defending the first ten yards and the flats. Most of the time, in a Cover 2, your corners are supposed to be pressing, but many times UCLA’s aren’t. And that’s really what they’re good at, particularly Fabian Moreau (you could make a case that it’s contributed to him not living up to his capability so far this season).

Going forward with UCLA’s defense, the standard mantra you conventionally hear from college coaches mid-season of just practicing and getting better probably isn’t going to resolve the issues. In fact, if that’s going to be the extent of any adjustments, we could see a spiraling happening. At this point, UCLA’s defense needs to be re-conceived, at least a bit. We think it needs to generally get more aggressive, attack the line of scrimmage, press the receivers, perhaps risk getting burned deep, and do a better job of evaluating its own players and optimizing its personnel. But any pronounced adjustment that emphasizes aggressiveness would be welcomed. Right now, it’s death through bleeding out. We’d rather risk a gunshot to the head then the slow death. What it’s doing now, like Ulbrich admitted in the post-game interview, is an NFL style of defense. See, though, in college, with college players, they’re just too young, inexperienced and undisciplined to be able to sustain some of the tactics throughout a game. If you keep Myles Jack, one of the most talented players on any field on any given day, on the field long enough, he will eventually make some mental mistakes. Either get a quick stop or, heck, allow the opposing offense to burn you over the top. But wearing down your own defense, who aren’t professionals and just college players, doesn’t seem to be an effective theory.

Special Teams: C+

Opposing teams have now effectively removed Ishmael Adams from being a return threat, and that has dramatically changed the game. UCLA’s offense doesn’t have a shorter field to work with a few times per game – the key to winning a few games over the last two seasons. Perhaps there needs to be an adjustment here to force punters to kick more to UCLA’s returners – like perhaps two returners?

Punt and kick-off coverage are still excellent. In fact, it’s the one element of the program over the last few years that has been absolutely and consistently excellent.

There is the issue of field goal kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn. In fall camp he looked quite a bit improved, in his leg strength and consistency, but it’s not translating to the field, missing another field goal against Oregon, a 41-yarder that was a key contributor to momentum building in Oregon’s direction. It was a week after missing two, including the game-winner, against Utah. There’s no one else on the roster who would be better, so the issue is now whether UCLA should start going for it more often on fourth down between the opposing team’s 20 and 35.

Punter Matt Mengel, after understandably starting off the season a bit shaky, has settled down in the last few games, and was solid against Oregon.

Penalties: D

We added a special feature this week to address the ongoing penalty issue. After getting a bit of a reprieve from the penalty bugaboo against Utah, it came back to haunt against Oregon. When you’re now not getting the advantage of good field position because of Adams’s returns, it really kills you when you get penalized on special teams (like Carl Hulick’s personal foul on a punt, and Jaylen Brown’s hold on a kickoff). The personal fouls shouldn’t be tolerated at this point (three of the five penalties in the first half were personal fouls). The five first-half penalties definitely contributed to UCLA only scoring 10 first-half points, when the offense was moving the ball pretty well. The penalty problem is now far past the threshold of acceptability, and if UCLA is going to re-boot itself for the second half of the season, resolving the penalty issue would be a good place to start.

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