For a quarterback it’s near-impossible to pull off a perfect game. The position creates too many opportunities for miscues. Brett Hundley on Saturday in Husky Stadium didn’t have a perfect game, and he, indeed, had a few miscues. In fact, early on he made a bad throw on an easy dump-off to Paul Perkins, and at that point we were anticipating perhaps we’d get not-so-good Brett for the day. But by the end there weren’t many miscues, and they weren’t particularly significant. On the other side of the equation, Hundley did some things in this game that we seldom have seen him accomplish – like staying in the pocket, keeping his eyes up when he feels pressure, stepping up while the pocket begins to deteriorate and then looking and finding a receiver down the middle of the field. He clearly went through his progressions better, finding open secondary receivers. And overall, his general feel for the pocket was much improved, being better at judging how much time he had to get off the ball in relation to receiver windows and separation.
Now, we have to acknowledge that there might be some other factors here that contributed – like Washington’s makeshift secondary being young and inexperienced, and the UCLA receivers being open sometimes as if they were going up against the UCLA defensive scout team in practice. In Hundley’s pre-read, the receiver he designated as the primary was open often. There’s the factor that Hundley got back perhaps his best middle-of-the-field threat in Thomas Duarte for this game. And there’s the factor that Washington’s ace pass rusher, Hau'oli Kikaha, who leads the nation in sacks, was out for the majority of this game and the Huskies just couldn’t replace his ability to pressure the quarterback.
But we’re still willing to give Hundley most of the credit for his performance. While all of these factors contributed, he showed a difference in approach and mindset. It wasn’t just a matter of him having more time to throw, because he has had more time in recent weeks with the improvement of the pass protection from the offensive line. It was that he did something differently with the time he had – mostly keeping his eyes up to read the field. When you do that often times good things happen, like you get a PI call on your receiver (Kenny Walker) streaking deep. The one slant to Duarte for the first down was one of Hundley’s best plays, because it appeared Duarte was indeed a secondary target. Perhaps it’s a matter that, with Hundley being under fire for so long, it took about four games of getting good pass protection for him to be able to trust it and execute how he should.
Hundley didn’t run much, but when he did he made them count. He had two touchdown runs, both were exceptional; on the first one, Washington actually played the read option well but Hundley just beat his man one-on-one.
Improvement in players doesn’t happen on a linear basis – but more, if you were looking at it on a graph, in a jagged fashion. This game, for Hundley, was a jagged cliff upward on his development graph. Now, we’re not naïve to think this means it’s not conceivable for him to fall off a cliff with any upcoming game, but a performance on this level does instill a great deal more confidence that, perhaps, the proverbial light has turned on for the UCLA quarterback. Or at least it was a big flicker.
Overall it was probably Hundley’s best performance of the season, and one of the handful best of his college career. It was amazingly appropriate and fitting that Hundley should then set the new all-time UCLA career record for touchdown passes (70), surpassing Cade McNown, on such a fantastic performance.
Running Backs A-
It’s tempting to give this group a straight A because there was very little wrong here. Perhaps it needed one more spectacular moment for that straight A. But in terms of execution and effectiveness the running backs clearly deserve an A.
Perkins was very good again. In this case, in this game, he did what was needed to get some critical, tough yards. He dragged tacklers for first downs. His first cut is one of the best of any UCLA running back we can remember.
Jordon James had one of his best games of the season. When he subbed in for Perkins he added an explosive spark, against a Washington defense that was clearly getting fatigued. He caught two passes and got up field quickly.
Nate Starks dinged what looked like an ankle and only got one carry.
Isaako Savaiinaea filled in at the fullback spot for the nicked-up Nate Iese, and did very well in his blocking.
Then there was, indeed, the spectacular with Myles Jack. His 28-yard touchdown run epitomized what a Sports Center highlight is, showing speed, incredible balance and feet. The stiff arm of his friend and former high school teammate, Budda Baker, had to feel good. We feel, at some point down the road, Jack is going to have to make a choice about whether he wants to be a full-time running back. Perhaps it doesn’t happen while he’s in college, but it’s almost certainly going to happen.
Offensive Line: A-
So much has been made about the offensive line’s improvement in pass coverage, and that’s valid. But in this game, where the UCLA OL really earned its praise was in the second half, in run blocking. When UCLA needed to run off some clock with an effective running game, the offensive line did a tremendous job in creating holes to do just that. When everyone in the building knew UCLA was going to try to run the ball, and Washington even snuck some players up into the box, UCLA pounded out 73 yards on the ground.
The pass protection was good, too, with the OL giving up just one sack and generally keeping the pressure off Hundley.
The most noticeable difference in the OL in this game was an upgrade in the overall play of the interior offensive line. Alex Redmond maybe missed one block, but other than that played very well, in both run and pass blocking. The UCLA running game ran through him quite a bit. Center Jake Brendel had one of his best games of the season, even despite the one bad snap. Right guard Scott Quessenberry also was near-flawless.
Poasi Moala played as an extra lineman and did his job.
One of the most-anticipated match-ups for this game was UCLA’s tackle, Conor McDermott, against Washington’s edge rusher, Kikaha, but it never materialized because Kikaha went out early. McDermott, nonetheless, continued to have his transformative effect on the OL. Since McDermott has plugged in as the starter at left tackle, the offensive line has been altogether transformed. It can’t be said enough, or emphatically enough, that the difference in the offense in the last month is greatly attributed to the improvement of the offensive line’s ability to protect its quarterback. We now see how the offense is supposed to work, and now you see how critical it is to this offense for the offensive line to be effective in pass pro. McDermott not only is good, but plugging in a good left tackle works like a ripple effect, enabling the other OLs to perform at a higher level.
Wide Receivers: A-
Again, really, the only reason we aren’t giving out straight As is because these units didn’t quite do enough of the spectacular. But like its offensive brethren, the wide receiver group had a very efficient, effective game against Washington.
With Hundley spreading around the ball to many different receivers (nine receivers caught passes, and that’s not including the running backs), it’s quite an accomplishment that there was only one dropped ball (Devin Fuller dropped a screen). It was also very clear that the receivers were open quite a bit on the day, and many times multiple receivers were open on the same play. Again, we perhaps shouldn’t get too used to this since a good portion of it has to be attributed to Washington’s inexperienced secondary.
It was, perhaps, the first game when UCLA did actually use its full contingent of receivers. It used the possession guys, along with the deep threats and the over-the-middle threats. And all of the guys came through to perform their roles well. The quicker, faster guys – Kenny Walker and Mossi Johnson – had the two touchdown passes (even though you could argue that Devin Lucien had one, too). While the Walker touchdown was due more to a Washington secondary breakdown, Walker did establish a milestone – catching a pass (a curl) other than a streak. It was clear in practice last week that Walker figured in more prominently to the gameplan and you can only hope it continues, because he gives UCLA the ability to stretch the field like no one else on the roster.
Duarte returned and gave UCLA that over-the-middle dimension, and enough can’t be said about it. Even beyond the two slants he caught, when he’s in the pattern it makes opposing defenses have to honor him, and it opens up other receivers. The circus catch on the tip, too, was a thing of beauty.
If we had to quibble, we’d say that Jordan Payton wasn’t exploited enough. Early on you could see he was drooling over his match-up with true freshman DB Naijiel Hale, and while he caught 5 passes, we think he could have been used more extensively – and to more effect. While we’re quibbling, we still don’t get the emphasis on Devin Fuller, especially on receiver screens. Yes, he got some first downs in this game, but he almost never can break a tackle. Fuller had 6 catches in the game, but we’d really like to see Payton get a couple of Fuller’s catches, especially on receiver screens when you need just a couple of yards and perhaps the ability to break a tackle to get a first down.
Johnson was open for most of the game over the middle, and the touchdown catch showed some considerable explosion.
Eldridge Massington contributed a few important catches. After the ASU game when he caught the hitch and turned it into a touchdown, the offensive coaches keep going back to it to try to hit the jackpot again. He looked really strong on a slant for a first down.
The group generally had a solid day blocking, except for a Duarte whiff on a James swing pass.
Lucien was robbed.
Overall, this is how the complete group of receivers is supposed to look, with the ability to stretch the field vertically with speed, go over the middle and also make the possession reception in traffic.
Offensive Scheme, Coaching and Game Plan: A
It was perhaps the best-called game of the last three years. It mixed the run and the pass really well, especially in regard to down and distance; it was unpredictable and creative, and it tactically did some things that clearly had Washington’s defense off-balance.
Pretty much you could say it did everything you could want schematically out of your offense.
It might not be coincidental that it’s the same game when Hundley’s light was on. It’s clear that Offensive Coordinator Noel Mazzone gets in his groove when he has pass protection and a quarterback that can read the field.
We’ve already said it, but we’ll say it again, and probably say it more: This is how the offense is supposed to look.
The gameplan included all of the dimensions of the playbook, just not the horizontal but the vertical passing game, and it blended it nicely within each possession. Sometimes it seems, in the past, a possession could over-emphasize one aspect of the gameplan, but in this game there was a great balance in the play-calling. Not only was the passing game using all its dimensions, but the offense was very well-balanced between the run and the pass, with 40 runs and 37 passes on the day.
Also, even though Mora denies it, UCLA clearly tried to exploit the absence of Washington’s elite cover corner, Marcus Peters, and then took advantage of Kekaha missing most of the game. If this had been the same gameplan with both of those guys able to play it might have been highly questionable, in fact. But without them, it worked very well.
There were many things to like. Of course, the return of UCLA’s vertical and over-the-middle passing game being probably the most relished. There were probably more balls thrown over the middle in this game than any in recent memory. But the horizontal game wasn’t abandoned, with Mazzone using the swing pass effectively, but not excessively. With the run game working, too, there were some possessions that mixed the run and the pass better than we can ever remember. One of best called drives of season was mid-third quarter, which led to a touchdown to put up UCLA, 38-13. It blended the short and intermediate passing game, along with a nice underneath route to Perkins, a curl, some devastating runs, all done with tempo -- and then the play-action slant to Johnson, with Hundley from under center, which we think we have never seen before, to cap it off for a touchdown.
Mazzone likes to install some things during the week, mostly just little tweaks, to keep a defense off-balance, just perhaps for a set of downs, and just about every tweak he installed this week worked. The offensive line varied its splits, starting the game in wider splits, and it did it for a couple of first downs. A great deal of motion was utilized, and it effectively cleared out space in the middle of the field, which obviously helped Hundley. Myles Jack was used as a running back in a conventional formation, not just the heavy formation. There was quite a bit of empty backfield, with five receivers lined up. There were times when Washington was clearly confused and, one time, called timeout when it saw UCLA’s look.
If we had to nitpick, just to acknowledge that it wasn’t perfect, you could point to the mismanagement of the clock at the end of the first half.
But if there was a performance among all the offensive units that came the closest to being spectacular, it was the scheme and playcalling. Thus, the straight A.
Defensive Line: B
The defensive line performance was inconsistent – at times, and in certain Washington possessions, being good, but then in others not so.
On the outside, Owamagbe Odighizuwa started the game on fire, and ended the game on fire. He had a total of eight tackles, and should have had a couple of sacks but Washington quarterback Cyler Miles eked out a yard before Owa brought him down. Deon Hollins, too, played pretty well, looking like he’s improving in his pass-rushing technique, exploiting his quickness advantage better. He had two sacks, one when he was unblocked on a stunt. Aaron Wallace wasn’t in much, but he blew up a fake reverse. Freshman Matt Dickerson and Jacob Tuioti-Mariner got some run later in the game, and bringing in the “fresh” legs was a good move, with the two being active with energy compared to the fatigued UW offensive line.
We have to reiterate again: Takkarist McKinley needs to play more. His ability to rush the quarterback is elite. We saw him for two plays, and in those two plays he exploded by his blocker and flushed out Miles. McKinley was injured on the second one, looking like he injured his groin. This bye week is big for him, not only to get healthy but getting better versed on the defense, because he’s just too good to keep off the field, and gives UCLA the explosive pass rusher it doesn’t really have.
If you isolate on Eric Kendricks, it’s truly amazing how much he’s asked to do in UCLA’s defense. And, like with the quarterback position, he has to do so much that it creates many chances for miscues. When he does make a mistake, too, it’s very noticeable. It’s then even more amazing how few mistakes Kendricks makes. Against Washington, he was, again, very good, really ranging from sideline to sideline with what appears to be more quickness than he’s had in the past. He finished with a game-high 13 tackles.
Myles Jack also had a good day as a linebacker, being more consistent in his gap control, but also using his athleticism and strength to make plays. Quite a few times in this game, with his quickness he would get to a spot first and then with his strength easily cast away a would-be blocker. On a sweep, he cut off the play and then threw down a blocker like a rag doll. With Jack there’s a question of whether he’s going to stay composed or over-heat and possibly get called for a personal foul. That looked to be what happened on the facemask call; he was getting held and facemasked himself and he reacted by yanking on the OL’s facemask.
Freshman Kenny Young had more of a presence in this game, being in the right place at the right time quite often.
The UCLA secondary wasn’t asked to do too much in coverage, since Washington only threw the ball 24 times. The role of the UCLA DBs in this game was primarily run support, and there were some mixed results.
On the good end of the spectrum were Fabian Moreau and Anthony Jefferson. Both had good games against the run, often times cheating over from their corner spots to seal the edge of the line of scrimmage. Both, too, had good moments in pass coverage. Moreau had a big-time break-up on a post in the first half and then followed that up with a good tackle on a screen. Jefferson also was a force on the outside against the run, and had a couple of nice break-ups, one on a would-be touchdown catch in which he knocked it out of the receiver’s hands in the end zone.
Ishmael Adams had a decent day; he did get burned by the Washington’s 6-5 receiver Brayden Lenius, which is a tough match-up for the 5-8 Adams.
Tahaan Goodman, after having a noteworthy game against Arizona a week ago, had a tougher game against Washington. He was late to the ball a few times and missed a couple of open-field tackles. Jaleel Wadood, like he has been most of the year, was up and down, missing on some pursuits but making other good tackles.
Defensive Scheme, Coaching and Game Plan: B
UCLA fans now assume that UCLA’s defense is employing mostly a conservative, bend-and-don’t-break philosophy, since it did a bit at the beginning of the season, but in recent games, and in the Washington game, it really wasn’t.
Many fans probably felt that way watching the second half of the Washington game, as the Huskies gained about 200 yards, and 127 yards on the ground, and put up 20 points. But when the opposing team is down 31-10 at halftime and wants to run the ball 30 times in the second half and help you burn the clock, you let them. In this situation, it wouldn’t make sense, either, to press the line of scrimmage, put more guys in the box, risk under-manning your secondary and allowing Washington quick scores. So, the second-half defensive tactic was appropriate – and ultimately got the job done.
When UCLA needed to bring pressure it certainly did. It started the game with a strong pass rush, getting some heat on Miles. Then, finally, when Washington actually decided in the fourth quarter it might have to pass more, UCLA dialed up some pressure and was effective again.
The pass rush, too, has gotten quite a bit more deceptive in recent weeks, and was so in Washington. Hollins got a clean look at Miles on a stunt, which resulted in a sack. The DL was moving around, and Owa again moved inside at times on pass-rush downs. UCLA Defensive Coordinator Jeff Ulbrich sent pressure from other spots, too, with the corners being sent a couple of times. And even in the second half, when you could easily rationalize that backing off Washington’s receivers made sense, UCLA’s DBs pressed quite a bit.
In the first half, when UCLA didn’t just scheme to allow Washington to help it run out the clock, the defense used quite a bit of its playbook. In the key second quarter, when UCLA really established its dominance in the game, the UCLA defense allowed Washington just 13 yards.
The Washington media portrayed the game as a comeback that fell short. Well, not exactly. When you’re down 21 points at halftime but you never come closer than within two touchdowns in the second half it really isn’t a “comeback.” It might have felt that way a little since Washington possessed the ball for a majority of the second half, but it only did so because it elected to predominantly run the ball, and UCLA was glad to oblige.
If there was something you would have liked to have seen it would have been for UCLA’s rushing defense to more effectively limit Washington’s rushing attack in the second half. And we think it – the rushing defense -- is definitely something the UCLA staff knows this team needs to improve upon. Miles also exploited UCLA’s inability to contain a scrambling quarterback.
But in addition to basically a more aggressive scheme in the last few games, you have to also give the defense credit for getting more negative plays, which are drive stoppers, and for being really stingy in the redzone. Holding Washington to three field goals when it was within the 20 yard line three times was critical.
Special Teams: C+
UCLA’s biggest blunder in this game was allowing John Ross’s kick-off return for a touchdown. The Bruinshad gone up 38-13 in the middle of the third quarter and the route was on – until just a few moments later when it was off because of the kick-off return. It provided UW a sliver of hope, and you could feel the energy reignite in the stadium. It also, just from a scoreboard and clock standpoint, put Washington in striking distance, down 38-20 with just about 6 minutes left in the third quarter. UCLA’s kick-off and punt return coverage, which has been excellent for Mora’s three years, seems to have experienced some hiccups in recent games.
Ka’imi Fairbairn, too, struggled to get his kick-offs in the endzone and, of course, if the opposing team can’t return a kick they can’t return it for a TD.
Punter Matt Mengel did his job very well. He had just three punts, and he put two within the Washington 20 and the third went for 52 yards.
Fairbairn, however, redeemed himself by going 3-for-3 in his field goals. The 46-yarder to put up UCLA 44-27 was a UW momentum killer, too. If he had missed that kick you could have easily have seen the Huskies get some energy back, down two touchdowns with 8 minutes to go.
Of course, if the refs hadn’t made the horrendous pass interference call on Lucien in the endzone a few plays before, it would have been 48-27 and the UW faithful (and that includes its media) probably never would have uttered the word “comeback.”