There were at least two points in the first half where Brett Hundley missed open receivers for would-be touchdowns, once to Mossi Johnson down the sideline and the other over the middle to Nate Iese in the seam. There were several more times throughout the game where he just sailed balls too long, whether fades in the end zone or outs down the sideline. Generally, he was just far from sharp as a passer, which was the main issue in keeping the game from becoming a blowout in the first half. He also seemed to get a bit rattled at times, throwing quite a few passes off of his back foot during the game, despite Colorado not actually getting that much pressure on him. He certainly was put in some bad situations by penalties and a couple of significant drops by receivers, but he missed a lot of throws that he’s been good about making this year. He also had another fumble inside UCLA’s territory toward the end of the first half, but luckily, Colorado’s clock management was very poor, which kept the Buffaloes from scoring in the red zone.
Running Backs: A-
Paul Perkins has fully emerged as a high-level Pac-12 running back, and he showed off his usual excellent vision, balance, and strength on several runs against Colorado. His 92-yard run, though, came as a shock even to us, since we thought for sure he’d get caught from behind. But he showed good enough speed on that run, and showed his trademark vision on several other cutback runs throughout the day. It looked like UCLA tried to limit him a bit, given that he had to sit out most of the second half against Cal with a wrist injury, but even still he had nearly 200 yards on his 19 carries.
Jordon James looked generally pretty good in his few carries. He got stuffed on the 3rd and 1 in the second half, but that was equal parts blocking, play-calling, and uninspired running that caused that. Nate Starks didn’t get any carries, though he was in on a few snaps as a decoy.
Myles Jack looked very strong on his touchdown run. It’s still a bit baffling that he didn’t get the call on both 3rd and 1 and 4th and 1 in the second half when UCLA desperately needed a conversion.
Offensive Line: B-
We’ll say it again: the addition of Conor McDermott to the offensive line has drastically improved UCLA’s pass protection. He was once again very good in pass pro against Colorado, giving Hundley plenty of time to look downfield with very little backside pressure. McDermott moves his feet so well and has such a great reach with his 6’8 frame. It’s going to be fun to watch him against some of the better pass-rushers over the last four games.
The interior of the line had more issues on Saturday. Jake Brendel and Malcolm Bunche in particular seemed to struggle with their run blocking at times. Brendel was beaten a few times which led directly to tackles for loss. To his credit, Scott Quessenberry looked like he played pretty well at the other guard spot.
The penalties are a little bit silly at this point, but we’ve come around to the idea that some of it is not necessarily the fault of the offensive line. First, Jake Brendel’s hold wasn’t really a hold of any kind, but even if it were, it stemmed more from Hundley taking a good deal of time in the pocket and then running at the last second, which can turn a good pass-blocking technique into a hold in a split second. The same thing happened with Caleb Benenoch in the game as well.
Wide Receivers: C+
It wasn’t an excellent day for the receiving corps. Mossi Johnson dropped a pass on what would have been a first down in the first half, and Devin Lucien made a somewhat inexplicable decision to not dive ahead for the first down on a play in the first half that led to another punt. Both plays showed a lack of headiness, and we’ve actually seen a habit this year of receivers not knowing exactly where the first down marker is (Jordan Payton against Utah was another example). You could make an argument that those two plays were also significant, along with the penalties and Hundley’s play, in keeping the game from being a first-half blowout.
The receivers did get open more than the stats would indicate, though. There were a few instances where Mossi Johnson was running more or less free over the middle of the field but Hundley didn’t see him. Devin Fuller seemed to be a huge part of the game plan in Duarte’s absence, catching a variety of underneath routes but not doing a great deal with them.
We had our first Ahmaad Harris sighting as well, when he caught a short pass on a very long 3rd down play. It appears he really is the next guy up in the slot behind Devin Fuller, Thomas Duarte, and Mossi Johnson.
Offensive Scheme, Coaching, Game Plan: B
We actually thought the scheme was pretty good, especially when the coaching staff realized that Hundley was having some struggles. The last touchdown drive of the first half was a great example of scheming to your personnel and the actual game situation: knowing that Colorado was stacking the box against the interior run, but also recognizing that Hundley wasn’t sharp to start the game, Mazzone opted for a variety of outside runs, which allowed UCLA to use McDermott’s athleticism on the edge to seal blocks for Perkins.
In the second half, though, the play-calling was a touch more conservative, but it’s somewhat understandable given the game Hundley was having. We do think, though, that the handoffs to Eddie Vanderdoes in the goal line package probably need to go; if memory serves, even the time or two he’s converted on those have not been pretty. We also would have rather seen Myles Jack get two consecutive, up-tempo handoffs on 3rd and 1 and 4th and 1 rather than the zone handoff to Jordon James followed by the Vanderdoes carry. Calling a timeout before the 4th and 1 also likely didn’t help.
That’s a bit nit-picky though. The play-calling and scheme really didn’t seem to be the issue on Saturday.
Defensive Line: B-
The starting interior linemen were once again the strength of the defensive line Saturday. Eddie Vanderdoes continues to look good after taking four games or so to get into a rhythm this season. He and Kenneth Clark both did a very good job being disruptive and holding the line. Their play in just the first quarter alone, with some offensive support, could have turned the game into a blowout because they were doing such a great job of stuffing the run.
The issue for UCLA, as it has been all year, was edge containment and the drop-off between the starters and the backups. Eli Ankou, who has been serviceable this year, had a pretty poor game against Colorado, looking like he was having issues holding up against the Colorado interior linemen. Deon Hollins was once again exposed on the edge on several reverses where he turned inside against the initial run way too early and got burned. Colorado was able to run at him directly in the second half a few times as well.
Isaako Savaiinaea actually got some work again in that Hollins spot, and he also had some struggles. It’s a little peculiar that he’s gone from heir apparent at inside linebacker to a backup outside linebacker/defensive end. Takkarist McKinley, who got plenty of work against California, did not play as much against Colorado. From what we saw, he had two impactful plays, one good and one bad. The good was a backside pressure of Sefo Liufau that led to an incompletion. The bad was a play where he jumped offsides, got back onside before the snap, and then cut inside on an outside run which led to a 30+ yard gain. Still, we would have liked to see more of him.
Eric Kendricks played an excellent game, and was a huge part of that early stretch of dominance for UCLA’s defense. You have to remember, we watched a mostly hurt Kendricks both of the last two years, with a variety of ankle ailments. This year, he looks much closer to full health, and it shows. His pursuit to the sideline has never been this good. He’s had an excellent year thus far, and should be in line for All Pac-12 honors.
The penalties alone keep this grade from being anything above a C. Though you can easily make a case that the second interception in that sequence toward the end of the first half should have counted, because the penalty away from the play could easily have constituted blocking (since it was naturally assumed to be a running play due to the reverse). But aside from that, many of the calls looked legitimate. Ishmael Adams did push off a bit before his interception (and it wasn’t really necessary); Fabian Moreau did hold Nelson Spruce on that double move.
Aside from that, the secondary was decent. They did, as a group, noticeably blow a coverage on the 38 yard touchdown throw to Bryce Bobo in the fourth quarter, where the pre-snap motion by Colorado’s outside receiver seemed to confuse the entire secondary, leaving Anthony Jefferson sitting on an island in the middle of the formation.
But other than that, it wasn’t a horrible performance. Fabian Moreau had his best two-play sequence of the year, making an excellent stop behind the line of scrimmage on the first play and then breaking up what would have been a first down pass on the next play. Marcus Rios got his second pick in as many days, and, if the offense had been a bit better, it should have been the play to seal the game for the second consecutive week.
Defensive Scheme, Coaching, and Game Plan: C+
If we were only grading the first half (and especially the first quarter) this would easily have been an A. UCLA went with a good deal of pressure to start the game, with some safety blitzes and a variety of stunts on the defensive line. Sefo Liufau did not look comfortable in the pocket for the entire first quarter, which is in large part a credit to the defensive staff, which had a game plan in place designed to confuse him. Again, if the offense had been able to score on a few more great opportunities in the first half, it would have pushed the game into blowout territory.
After that first half, though, it did seem as though the play-calling got a bit more conservative, with fewer blitzes and less pressure. We can speculate that this happened for a variety of reasons — fatigue due to the many three-and-outs for the offense would make sense as a rationale — but UCLA’s defense has clearly been its most effective this year when it pressures from a variety of spots and confuses the offense. As we said, it was also more than a little surprising that McKinley got so little time a week after he looked like a game-changer against California.
Still, we don’t judge the second half too harshly, and the final sequence in overtime was an excellent showing for the defense, limiting the Colorado offense to two field goals.
Special Teams: B
Ishmael Adams was mostly bottled up in the return game, but UCLA did a generally good job of dealing with Colorado’s return guys, so that’s a wash. Ka’imi Fairbairn was able to make his two chip-shot field goals, and nailed all four extra points (all of which turned out to be critical, since the game did go to overtime).
In the punting game, both Adam Searl and Matt Mengel got work, and each looked pretty good, though Searl was able to boot it a bit longer. All-in-all, it was a fine, if unspectacular, day for special teams.