To the untrained eye or an outsider, you’d think we were crazy to give a C to a quarterback who threw for 330 yards and completed 31 of 42 passes. But when UCLA’s offensive scheme is being utilized the way it should, it can be very forgiving – and it forgave Brett Hundley quite a bit Saturday.
It was pretty plain that it wasn’t Hundley’s day. Not only did he throw a pretty bad interception at a truly inopportune time, he fumbled, too. Actually, he fumbled twice, but only lost it once (thanks to offensive lineman Caleb Benenoch recovering the second fumble in the air). And besides the turnovers, Hundley was off on some key throws: the third-down screen to Devin Fuller that was well-blocked particularly comes to mind, and a few others. The receivers weren’t great at getting open, especially after Thomas Duarte left the game, but Hundley also contributed by not seeing some open receivers.
The interception was pretty bad. Hundley had plenty of time and didn’t need to throw the ball – threw it late, behind the receiver and weakly. Between the fumble and the interception, Hundley was responsible for setting up Cal in two touchdowns.
Hundley did, of course, do his thing on the ground, being UCLA’s leading rusher on the day, gaining 94 yards, and he did have some very good scrambles. He did complete 31 passes, and for the most part, executed the short-passing game efficiently. But the mistakes were devastating.
Running Backs: B
Paul Perkins is a stud, plain and simple. The screen pass for a touchdown to end the first half was one of the best plays of the season, if not the best. He had 68 yards rushing at the half and looked like he was on his way to another near-200 yard game, but he injured his wrist and sat out the fourth quarter. Running out of the backfield, the two back-ups, Jordon James and Nathan Starks, just didn’t have the same toughness and explosion consistently, and UCLA then lacked its yards after the initial hit. James did have a great touchdown run, where he dragged a tackler five yards into the endzone, and had a very good gain on a swing pass in the second half. But UCLA lost its rushing game when it lost Perkins, getting just 21 yards from its tailbacks not named Perkins in the second half.
Myles Jack flashed his ball-carrying talent in the first half, throwing tacklers aside with an iron stiff arm, and breaking seven tackles on one run.
Perhaps when Perkins went down it was time to go to back to Jack in the second half?
Fullback Nate Iese made a couple of nice plays on catches in the first half, and then wasn’t seen again. It’s the same Iese story – go to him a couple of times and then forget about him.
The running back group did pass block really well, particularly Perkins picking up some loose rushers a number of times that had clear looks at Hundley.
Wide Receivers: C+
Early on it looked like Thomas Duarte was going to have a career day, getting wide open and catching three passes for 47 yards, with a long of 29. But then Duarte went out early with an unspecified injury and UCLA seemed to lose its big-play potential.
Jordan Payton was his solid self, and Devin Lucien looked more aggressive getting upfield on his two catches.
So much of what the UCLA receivers were asked to do Saturday was block on receiver screens and the results were mixed. There was a holding call on Payton, and a complete whiff by Tyler Scott, both nullifying what would have been big gains. The walk-on (or former walk-on since he has a scholarship this season) Scott has to be able to at least be effective on a block if he's worthy of seeing the field.
Mossi Johnson had a slight coming-out party (also in part because of his kick-off return), catching four balls and looking pretty elusive in doing it. Johnson has looked like this since spring so he needs to definitely see more playing time. And when you’re talking about playing time, where is Alex Van Dyke? He had his redshirt burned a few games ago and now doesn’t see the field. And yes, we know Kenny Walker dropped a couple of passes a few games ago, and we know that Cal was playing its secondary deep, but might there have been just a couple of instances, with the time the OL was giving Hundley, to try to stretch the field – with a speedy guy like Walker?
Offensive Line: A-
It was the offensive line’s best performance of the season. We know that Cal’s defense, and in particular their front seven, aren’t particularly good, but even conceding that it was a stellar performance by UCLA’s offensive line.
A great deal of that can be attributed to Connor McDermott now being the first-string left tackle. He was exceptional against Cal; he got beat once, when his man spun on him, but we didn’t notice any other times he was beat. Having a left tackle that can protect the quarterback makes a world of difference, and you saw how it impacted UCLA’s passing game. He was also very good in run blocking, getting up field and taking away a second-level tackler consistently.
Malcolm Bunche moved inside to left guard and did well. We actually think that Kenny Lacy might be better, and was perhaps UCLA's best offensive line in the previous two weeks playing at left guard.
The offensive line gave up one sack, and they didn’t get a great push on the key fourth-and-one sneak by Hundley, so it can’t be a straight A. But they were the best at pass protection yet this season, and opened holes for the running game to put up 237 yards on the ground.
Offensive Scheme, Coaching, and Game Plan: B
We’ve seen Noel Mazzone’s offense work the way it seemingly is supposed to sporadically in the last three seasons, and this was a game where it was being utilized well with generally good play-calling. Any time when Hundley’s strength in the short passing game is exploited UCLA generally has had a very good offensive day. Not only was the receiver screens used, but UCLA is now starting to go back to throwing to its running backs, on swings and screens, and it was probably the best production for those type of plays in a game in recent memory.
We can definitely nitpick. Like we said above, even though Cal’s secondary was setting up deep to take away UCLA’s deep game, Hundley was getting plenty of time and it might have been good to try to stretch the field at least a couple of times. We don’t like the gimmick of throwing to defensive tackles out of the heavy formation, especially at such a critical time of the game. Kenneth Clark dropped a tough catch – but why were he and Eddie Vanderdoes in the same area anyway? That’s what happens when you have defensive tackles running routes.
We do, though, very much admire the decision to be aggressive and go for a score at the end of the second half with just a little over a minute left and the ball at the one-yard line.
We also noticed that tempo was definitely emphasized, with UCLA definitely making an effort to play quickly.
All in all, it was how Mazzone’s offense is supposed to work -- utilizing the short pass and tempo, and it shows when the offense puts up 567 total yards with a quarterback having an off day.
Defensive Line: A-
|Ellis McCarthy, Takkarist McKinley|
UCLA as a result got its best pass rush of the season, with a steady amount of pressure on the quarterback from the DL, even when they rushed just four. It certainly was the play of McKinley that helped the pass rush, but it was also a new – and probably more healthy – Odighizuwa who made the particular impact on pressuring the quarterback. Odighizuwa was too quick when he matched up against inside guys on passing downs, but he also looked far more explosive against Cal on the edge than he had in recent games. He had a sack and hit Jared Goff’s arm on another big rush to force an incomplete pass. McKiinley might be the key to all of this. He's so quick and able to get around the edge better than anyone on the team, and when you have him and Odighizuwa rushing the passer at the same time it creates match-up dilemmas for opposing OLs.
The inside guys, Kenneth Clark and Eddie Vanderdoes, have perhaps their best game combined as a duo. They were shedding blocks like crazy while holding their gaps. Clark had 8 tackles and was a constant presence that Cal running backs ran into repeatedly. Vanderdoes, too, while, he only got one tackle, was much better in holding down his gaps.
A critical contribution, too, came from Ellis McCarthy. The big defensive lineman has looked uninspired for most of the season, but he played with intensity Saturday, getting a sack and forcing a fumble when knocking the ball out of Goff’s arm, and really supplying consistent pressure.
Eli Ankou, too, subbed in, but the freshmen didn’t. The DL, as a result, was far more staunch in holding their gaps and didn’t allow the break downs and big holes that we’ve seen at times when the back-ups are in.
It’s tough to judge the linebackers because, for a big portion of the time, UCLA utilizes just two of them, and they’re asked to do so much that they are bound to make some mistakes. So, when a very savvy veteran like Eric Kendricks makes a mistake it can really be exploited by the offense, and that’s tough for him.
Against Cal, Kendricks and Myles Jack, the two primary guys in UCLA’s scheme when it utilizes two linebackers, fared well, with just a couple of mistakes that Cal did, indeed, exploit. On the first pass play for a big gain Jack bit and then slipped, leading to a wide-open Steven Anderson. Kendricks had a few moments where he appeared to be floating out of his coverage and it left some considerable open space. Other than that, though, the two of them had strong games. Jack has strung together two games in a row in which he’s making some plays as a linebacker, particularly when he’s lined up on the edge against run plays or matches up against receivers out of the backfield on short passes.
Hollins has to be judged a bit as a linebacker in this one, since UCLA is now using him often enough essentially an inside ‘backer, mostly on passing downs. UCLA also used what functioned essentially like a zone blitz, where Kendricks and Hollins start a play on the line of scrimmage but then drop back into coverage. We still don’t get the staff’s preference for Hollins, because even in this emerging role as a real linebacker he looks lost in coverage, and he still isn’t making the impact the defense needs on the edge.
Aaron Wallace and Kenny Young had their packages, and both played pretty well; it appears that Young is starting to get the hang of it, picking the right gaps to fill more consistently.
Defensive Backs: B
It might be too lenient of a grade, but if you take the macro view of the performance it actually is pretty impressive. Cal’s offense was averaging 380 yards through the air per game, and UCLA limited it to 310. There were some breakdowns and mistakes, but you have to expect that when matching up against Cal’s explosive passing attack and dangerous receivers. Cal’s best receiver, Bryce Treggs, was limited to 41 yards on 4 catches, and the secondary only allowed a couple of plays behind them, which is good compared to how other secondaries have fared against Cal.
Anthony Jefferson has emerged as an All-Pac-12-level player in his senior season, and despite one or two mistakes, had a very good game against Cal. He was great on run defense, and had a couple of big hits. He got burned on the one fade for a touchdown in the second half, but leading up to that had a number of great moments in coverage. He was forced into playing corner after Fabian Moreau went down, and it looked pretty clear that Cal would be able to exploit Priest Willis. Moreau, before he was hurt, was having one of his best games of the season, so it’s too bad he missed most of the second half.
With starting veteran safety Randall Goforth out for the season, UCLA has had to rely on true freshman Jaleel Wadood, and Wadood has flashed some potential star-type moments this season. Against Cal, he was very good in run support, making some big stops and some good assists, but in coverage he’s a little uncertain. A couple of those big gainers for Cal over the middle looked like they were Wadood’s fault, mostly because he was out of position in the zone just long enough for Goff to exploit it.
It has to be said, too, that the UCLA secondary got a raw deal on some highly questionable pass interference calls. The phantom call against Moreau, when his coverage looked textbook, was on a big third down late in the third quarter that kept alive a Cal drive. And a few moments later there was another phantom PI called on Jefferson.
There can’t be enough said about Marcos Rios. It was a Hollywood script, with Rios, just a year ago being in the UCLA Medical Center uncertain if he might live, Saturday making the interception that preserved the win, in front of his friends and family. From a Xs and Os standpoint, he played the receiver and the ball perfectly, too. And yeah, he was out of bounds before he secured possession, but it was all about the story.
Defensive Scheme, Coaching, and Game Plan: B
The defensive game plan got far more complex and diversified, particularly in its pass rush calls. UCLA showed some surprising looks and blitzed some players from different spots – including Wadood blitzing on the weak side from his safety spot without showing it. There were more stunts, and Odighizuwa had different points of attack, which enabled him to match up against different linemen and be far more effective.
UCLA stacked the box at times on running downs, and it worked well. It moved between a 4-2-5, a 4-3-4, and what is essentially a 5-2-4 pretty seamlessly depending on down and distance and didn’t generally get caught in a bad package. It was probably, overall, the best job UCLA has done of scouting and prepping a game plan for an opponent all year, with UCLA’s defense knowing quite often what the Cal offense was going to do in certain looks.
It wasn’t a perfectly called defensive game. There were some poor match-ups at times. We could call attention to Cal’s last drive and UCLA going to more or less a prevent defense. When there’s about 3 minutes remaining in the game, going to prevent allowed Cal to drive down the field on short throws and eat up the clock. You’d prefer a more aggressive approach – either get a negative play and stop down the drive quickly, or even allow Cal to score quickly so UCLA can get the ball back with time remaining.
The personnel moves up front really made a big impact on the quarterback pressure. Give the coaches credit for not hesitating to use McKinley more extensively, since not only his talent but his presence changes the entire outlook of UCLA’s pass rush. Making some moves, too, to get Odighizuwa freed up was perhaps just as impactful.
Special Teams: B
It was the one game I can remember in which UCLA allowed a good-sized kick-off return. Other than that, coverage was solid.
Punting was serviceable, with Matt Mengel averaging 37 yards per punt.
Kicker Kai’mi Fairbairn came through, nailing three big field goals on the day.
The special teams play of the day was easily Mossi Johnson’s return, which was a great deal of fun to watch. You also have to give Ishmael Adams some points as a returner, even though he didn’t have one in the game; Cal had to kick it to Johnson to get it away from Adams, and for most of the day were squibbing kick-offs, opting to give UCLA’s offense starts from beyond the 40-yard line rather than risk Adams getting a return. Adams is a weapon as a return man without even touching the ball.