Through the first quarter or so, we actually thought this would be a pretty good day for Brett Hundley. He was hanging in the pocket to make throws and looked sharp and accurate. Then, at about the point in the second quarter where he hung in to make a great throw to Devin Fuller (that was dropped) and took a huge hit, he seemed to go into a bit of a shell. To that point in the game, with about 11:50 to go in the second quarter, he was 7 of 11 for 74 yards and a touchdown on three drives, and from that point on he was 10 of 21 for 72 yards on six drives. A few of the missed throws deep that he attempted in the second half seemed to come at the expense of staying in the pocket a bit longer and reading through progressions. He also had a few chances to run the ball that he missed, though Stanford did do a nice job of cutting off obvious running lanes with spies and good containment.
When Hundley hurt his hand in the fourth quarter, he gamely tried to stay in for a few throws, and even completed a nice one to Thomas Duarte over the middle on a 4th down. Jerry Neuheisel looked a little overmatched coming in cold against a very stout Stanford defense.
Running Backs: B
Paul Perkins actually ran the ball very well against the Stanford defense, but he probably wasn’t given enough opportunities. Perkins only carried the ball 17 times, but he was easily the most effective offensive weapon that the Bruins had on Friday, averaging 6.8 yards per carry. It was legitimately inexplicable why Nate Starks came out in the second half as the primary running back on the first drive, because Perkins had done a nice job in the first half and proceeded to do a nice job in the second half.
If they’re handing out an offensive MVP award this year, Perkins would get our vote.
Wide Receivers: C
Thomas Duarte made a few big plays on the touchdown drive, and then had a critical catch on a 4th down in the 4th quarter. Jordan Payton went most of the game without a catch, finally recording his first deep into the 4th quarter. He had a tougher time than usual getting open given the physicality of Stanford’s defense, but it was also the case that Hundley wasn’t seeing the field particularly well after the first quarter and opted more for short passes to Fuller and long, no-chance passes deep.
Offensive Line: C-
In terms of run-blocking, the unit actually did a very good job. It was weird to see Scott Quessenberry and Alex Redmond get a nice push up the middle on running plays and then get mostly steamrolled by the Stanford defensive linemen on passing plays. The interior linemen really had some issues against Stanford’s physicality and strength in the middle. The long-armed Henry Anderson, when he lined up on the interior against one of the guards, seemed to be able to just shuck them without Quessenberry or Redmond really even getting a good grip on him. Hundley was sacked four times, and while you’d blame him for a couple, he came under fire a good deal more than he’s been used to over the last four or five games. Stepping up in the pocket really wasn’t an option after the first quarter or so, because that was where the pocket was collapsing.
At the tackle spots, Caleb Benenoch and Conor McDermott did pretty well, though neither was quite at the level they were in the last few games. Like with the interior guys, they did a better job in the run game than in the pass, and were actually able to give Perkins some running lanes to the outside, which I really wasn’t expecting given Stanford’s aggression and reaction times. Malcolm Bunche came in for a series in the first half at left tackle, but it might simply have been a case of wanting a senior to get a little time in his final home game.
This was doubtless the best defensive front that UCLA’s offensive line played this year, and the Bruins played some good ones (Utah, Virginia, Texas, USC, and Washington all had pretty good front sevens). That it wasn’t a complete, unmitigated disaster (and, rather, an incomplete, mitigated disaster) speaks to some of the growth of the line since the Utah game.
Offensive coaching, scheme, and game plan: D
There are two big issues we can localize as scheme- and coaching-related on the offensive side that we’d like to see improved going forward. First, personnel usage has been questionable, especially this season. To zero in on this game, we’re still a little confused about the usage of Devin Fuller. Even when he looked decidedly quicker a year or two ago, he was never the type of athlete to make guys miss from a jogging or standing start, which makes it a little confusing why he is, more often than not, the guy catching swing passes and receiver screens out of the backfield. His best plays in practice came when he could catch the ball at full speed over the middle on slants or drags, turning up field quickly into the seams of the defense. Mossi Johnson, who has shined over the last three or four games, looks much more capable of taking those kinds of plays a long way, and we’d have been interested to see what would have happened if Johnson had gotten each of those catches Fuller got on Friday against the Cardinal.
Second, we’d like to see a bit more adjustment of the game plans to the flow of the game. The running game was pretty clearly working for UCLA against Stanford on Friday, which, admittedly, was probably unexpected heading into it. But after a quarter and a half, or at least after halftime, it should have become apparent that UCLA’s offensive line was getting a good push up front and that Perkins was running particularly well against the physical Stanford defenders. Even down 11 or 18 points, the Bruins had time to still run the ball, but after eight first-half runs for Perkins, we saw only nine in the second half, and none on the first drive of the 3rd quarter, when it was pretty readily apparent that the Bruins needed to score to get some momentum back.
We’re also still trying to understand the fake field goal down 28-10 in the 3rd quarter. That drive, on the merits, might have been UCLA’s most consistent, solid drive of the game. Perkins had four runs for a combined 28 yards, Hundley had completed a variety of passes to Fuller, Devin Lucien, and Johnson. There had been precisely one negative play, a big sack by Henry Anderson, but otherwise UCLA was moving the ball well. We completely agree that UCLA should have gone for it on 4th and 5, since a field goal really does nothing for you given the complexion of the game. But opting for a one-read pass by Jerry Neuheisel out of a field goal formation over simply running the offense, which had just driven most of the way down the field, just did not seem like a great decision. Trick plays have generally not been kind to UCLA over the last few years, anyway, so that struck us as a little questionable. Given the way the game was going, it probably wouldn’t have mattered what they did, though.
Defensive Line: C-
A week after putting together arguably their best performance of the year, the defensive line struggled to get much done against the physical offensive front of Stanford. Early on, they did a better job against the run, but as the game wore on, the defensive line started to struggle a bit more (probably the case of being on the field for nearly 38 minutes of game action). Kenneth Clark looked a little worn down, not playing with his usual strength and explosion, and Eddie Vanderdoes did not do enough in one-on-one opportunities. As a group, the defensive line seemed to struggle when they did get one-on-one matchups, but often the Stanford offensive line, with several extra bodies, was able to double whichever defensive lineman was at the point of attack.
When Deon Hollins went down and Aaron Wallace and Isaako Savaiinaea started to fill in at his vacated defensive end/outside linebacker spot, that seemed to cause some real issues for UCLA. Wallace looked completely overmatched against Andrus Peat (which is something so seemingly obvious on paper that it’s strange that matchup even occurred more than once in an actual football game). Stanford was able to run over that side at will, especially in the second half.
As a group, the defensive front managed zero sacks against Hogan, and really didn’t put him in any serious pressure situations most of the day. While they did do a better job against the run early, the inability to stop Stanford’s rushing attack through the end of the first half and throughout the second half helped to turn the game into a blowout.
Myles Jack was asked play a good deal of that near-safety position he played against USC, and didn’t do as good of a job against the physical, slower Stanford receivers as he did against the quicker, faster USC receivers. In deep, one-on-one coverage, he probably just hasn’t had enough reps to be able to defend those perfectly (most of his best coverage is done in the short field on slants and drags when he can use his quickness and reflexes to his advantage, rather than his jumping ability and ball skills). We could see him getting better at that going forward, but it might have been a bit much to ask for him to be very good at that without much experience doing it.
Kenny Young looked good against the run last week against USC but got exposed in coverage against Stanford’s tight ends. UCLA clearly wanted to stay in more of a base defense to account for Stanford’s running game, but Young’s inability to cover made that a less than ideal situation.
Defensive Backs: D
UCLA get no pressure on Hogan, which certainly didn’t help matters, but the defensive backs also didn’t play very well. Tahaan Goodman really struggled against the big receivers for Stanford, and it looked like Jaleel Wadood got significantly more time in the second half because of some of those struggles. As a whole, the secondary didn’t contest much of what Stanford did, with Hogan being able to easily complete 16 of 19 passes, including 12 of 12 to start the game.
After putting together a nice few weeks pressing receivers at the line of scrimmage, UCLA’s corners seemed to play off more in this game, likely due to the physicality of Stanford’s receivers, but the end result was too many free releases off the line, which helped Hogan find open receivers after only a few seconds.
Defensive coaching, scheme, and game plan: D
Again, we’ll start with the things that are specifically scheme and coaching related. First, with personnel usage, Takkarist McKinley simply needs to see more time in a variety of roles next year. He made one or two mistakes against Stanford, including reading a Hogan run inside when it bounced outside for a long gain, but his athleticism on the edge makes up for a good deal. McKinley has been slotted behind Odighizuwa as a defensive end, mostly, but we’d like to see him expand his role into playing both that role and the Anthony Barr role currently occupied by Hollins and, apparently, Wallace and Savaiinaea.
Second, in this game specifically, UCLA seemed to find itself in an awkward middle ground of attempting to pressure and attempting to play a coverage-based scheme. Early on, UCLA tried a couple of blitzes and stunts that got picked up pretty easily by Stanford (which spent most of the game with 6+ blockers, as they usually do), but very rarely did the Bruins send more than four or five pass rushers. Given the way that Stanford was slinging the ball around the field, and given the way that Hogan has crumbled under pressure this year, we’re a little shocked that we didn’t see any all-out blitzes, especially when it became obvious that Hogan was hitting a great rhythm. He’s made mistakes under pressure all year, and has rarely looked as flustered as he did under the all-out pressure from Arizona State (when he completed 19 of 39 passes for an average of 5.4 yards), but UCLA really seemed content to use the same pressure schemes it had used over the last half of the year against, again, a max-protect Stanford. It wasn’t a recipe for success.
Special Teams: B-
UCLA didn’t make any big plays in special teams, but also didn’t have any real missteps, aside from a long kick return that got called back due to a Stanford penalty. Ka’imi Fairbairn hit his lone field goal attempt, and Matt Mengel had probably his best punting day, booming three for an average of 56.3 yards. Jordon James didn’t look good at kick returner to start the game. Ishmael Adams took over in the second half, and looked weirdly nonchalant on the first kickoff of the second half, dropping the ball and then just kind of looking at it as Mossi Johnson dove to get on top of it and down it.