Kansas State Unit-by-Unit Analysis

Jan. 5 -- Most of the team grades out pretty well after the 40-35 win over No. 11 Kansas State...

All photos courtesy of Steve Cheng

Quarterback: A-

First, we should acknowledge something that seemed pretty obvious from his opening throws: Brett Hundley’s hand was not at 100%. Throws that usually pop down the sideline turned into loopier comebackers, and as he tired later in the game, his throws got a bit more erratic. Based on what was intimated in the post-game, his hand was still ailing a bit from injuring it against Stanford a month ago, and it did seem to affect the passing game.

Given that he seemed to be playing with a bit of a handicap, Hundley turned in one of his best performances of the year, and a great capper to what has been an excellent career at UCLA. He did everything — made throws to start the game, ran well through the middle stages, and even made a saving tackle after an uncharacteristic fumble by Paul Perkins. His running ability was a game changer, particularly on his long scrambles. Even though his throws didn’t have their usual zip, he still completed 12 of 24, and had three or four more that probably should have been caught (we’re looking at you, Mossi Johnson and Thomas Duarte). As Tracy wrote in the recap, UCLA is really going to miss his third down playmaking ability next year, because regardless who wins the starting quarterback job, no one is going to have that skillset.

Running Backs: A

The only thing that keeps this from being an A+ is Perkins’ fumble, which set up a Kansas State touchdown. Other than that, Perkins basically stole the show in the Alamo Bowl, running for an average of 9.7 yards per carry, which looks like a typo. He again busted a long touchdown run, this for 67 yards to ice the game, as if to prove to everyone how not slow he actually is. His other touchdown run was arguably more impressive, though, as he dipped his way down the sideline and made some nice hesitation moves to make his way to the front corner of the end zone.

Jake Brendel said it this week with regard to next year, but it bears repeating: when you have a running back who is a more or less sure thing to average five or six yards per carry every game, it does wonders for taking the pressure off the rest of the offense. Perkins is that guy. Against Kansas State, he had one uncharacteristic fumble, but then was virtually flawless the rest of the game. If he can keep this up and run for 1800 yards next year, who knows, maybe he’ll even be on the All Pac-12 second team.

Nate Starks only had a couple of carries, and didn’t do a whole lot with them. Jordon James had just one carry in his final game as a Bruin.

Devin Lucien (photo by Steve Cheng).
Wide Receivers: B-

First, the good: it was really nice to see Devin Lucien have a big game in the last game of what must have been an extremely frustrating year. He caught three passes for 29 yards a touchdown, but also had a 34 yard rush on what was a lateral pass from Hundley. He could be a weapon for the new quarterback next year, whoever it ends up being, so hopefully this bowl game will help to jump start him for next year.

Jordan Payton also played well, running with great physicality after the catch. He actually looked surprised on one throw from Hundley that hit him in stride rather than as a comebacker, but he ended up taking that one all the way to the five yard line, fighting through a few defenders along the way. Payton’s been a steady force for UCLA’s offense this year, and he’ll provide a really good safety net for the new quarterback next year.

On to the bad: Thomas Duarte didn’t have his best game, with one drop and one other ball that probably should have been caught. He didn’t get much separation from the Kansas State defensive backs to have clean opportunities to catch the ball; some of that was the Wildcat defenders playing pretty well, and some was Duarte not timing the throws very well. He has an uncanny knack for creating separation when the throw is coming in, either through a slight nudge, a little hesitation, or some other old-man move, and it just didn’t seem like he was perfectly in-sync on Friday. Mossi Johnson also had a drop, though it was a tough ball to catch.

In all, it wasn’t a pass-heavy game, with UCLA electing to run much more often than throw. Most of the receivers did a good job blocking downfield, which has been a strength of the receiving corps under Eric Yarber.

Offensive Line: B-

As they’ve done pretty much all year, the offensive linemen handled themselves very well in run blocking. On Perkins’ 67 yard touchdown run, he had a lane wide enough for him barrel roll through. The left side of the line did an especially nice job in run-blocking all game, with Conor McDermott and Alex Redmond frequently pushing that side of the line two or three yards off of the line of scrimmage immediately after the snap. The right side of the line was decent as well, particularly Caleb Benenoch, but UCLA largely elected to run behind the left side.

Pass protection was a bit of a different story. McDermott was actually beaten a couple of times, one on a speed rush that led to a sack. He just looked a step slower than usual, perhaps having to shake off a bit of rust after the month between games. Scott Quessenberry really had some struggles at right guard, and, like we’ve said, still looks like he could really use a redshirt year. It wasn’t an unmitigated disaster of a game, like Utah or Virginia, but given what we’ve come to expect from the offensive line over the last half of the season, it wasn’t one of their better efforts.

In the end, though, rushing for 331 yards on 39 carries is an impressive number, and a huge amount of credit for that has to go to the offensive line.

Offensive Scheme, Coaching, and Game Plan: B

We really liked the way Noel Mazzone opened up the game. In fact, the first half of play-calling was like a strange callback to Hundley’s first year at quarterback. Those triple option throws that we saw Hundley’s freshman year and never again? Back in force on the first few drives of the game. That weird offensive line split, where the tackles move out to the sidelines with one receiver, leaving three offensive linemen with Hundley in the middle? Made its glorious return. UCLA used short passes and intermediate throws really well, and set up opportunities to actually run on third and medium for a couple of first downs. There was really good balance to the offense.

The second half wasn’t quite as dynamic. First, you have to acknowledge that UCLA simply didn’t get the ball that much in the second half. Between long Kansas State drives and the Perkins fumble, UCLA only possessed the ball five times in the second half, with one drive ending after two plays (the Perkins fumble) and another being comprised of three kneel-downs to end the game. Those three other drives were productive (netting a field goal and a touchdown), but the play-calling wasn’t nearly as creative, with more frequent standard dropbacks for Hundley and inside handoffs to Perkins. Obviously, UCLA still was productive, but much of that was due to Hundley making some incredible plays with his legs, and Perkins (and the OL) breaking off a huge touchdown run on a fairly simple run play. It’s a nitpick, though. Mazzone called a pretty good game, and scoring twice on four real drives in the second half is nothing to sneeze at.

Defensive Line: A-

We’ve been grading Deon Hollins as a defensive lineman all year, so why stop now? He had easily his best game as a Bruin on Friday, looking completely unblockable against Kansas State’s poor right tackle. He had three sacks and honestly could have had more, but for all the cramping and insane uncalled holding. It obviously helps that Kansas State was virtually no threat to run, since that simplified Hollins’ role, but it was still a big game for him. His development over the last seven games of the year is a big bright spot for the defense.

On the other end, Owamagbe Odighizuwa also had a big performance in his final game as a Bruin. He had a really impressive sack, essentially taking down Jake Waters with just his left hand at one point, and also had another tackle for loss. He also batted down two passes at the line of scrimmage, and did a more than effective job against the run. It might not have been a transcendant performance that gets the football world buzzing, like Jordan Zumwalt in the Sun Bowl, but he probably helped his draft stock quite a bit.

Deon Hollins (photo by Steve Cheng).
Kenneth Clark and Eddie Vanderdoes were both solid in the middle again, as they’ve been all year. The Wildcats had basically no running room up the middle thanks to their ability to eat up double teams and plug the interior.

We didn’t see much from Takkarist McKinley, who might have only gotten in for one play, and Ellis McCarthy didn’t do much in the time he was in. Given that it was just one game, we imagine UCLA relied on the starters a bit more heavily than they would have during a regular season game.

Linebackers: A-

Eric Kendricks had an excellent game in his final performance as a Bruin. He opened the game with a sack, recorded another later on, and was in on or around the tackle on virtually every run for Kansas State. He and Myles Jack both seemed to have a script for Kansas State’s offense in the back of their heads, with both anticipating where plays were going long before each play developed.

Jack had more than a few highlight reel plays. It was funny to watch poor Jake Waters slowly come to the realization that matching up his slot receiver with a linebacker wasn’t going to be a win for Kansas State. Myles Jack lined up as the nickelback in the first quarter and absolutely blasted KState’s slot receiver on a short pass early. Later on, he read Waters on the option perfectly and single-handedly forced a big tackle for loss. Even later, he had a really impressive interception downfield, undercutting a throw and taking the return nearly back to the house. Yes, he had a few penalties that were varying degrees of devastating, but the quality of his all-around play probably makes up for some of the foolishness. If he can clean up the dumb penalties, though, he’s not going to have many flaws as a player.

Kenny Young got a handful of snaps throughout the game, but as with the defensive line, it did appear that UCLA rode its starters for much of the game.

Defensive Backs: D

About the only significant blemish for the defense was the play of the defensive backs. UCLA had an aggressive game plan in place, with a lot of blitzing and pressure, but to use that kind of plan successfully, UCLA really needs to get good play out of its secondary. On Friday, UCLA’s secondary was almost universally poor. Anthony Jefferson was OK, but otherwise, the secondary struggled, especially at cornerback.

Jefferson moved back to safety for the game, with Tahaan Goodman not getting reps at safety(we’ve heard he could be in the doghouse a bit), which forced Priest Willis into the starting lineup at cornerback. Willis actually looked OK to start the game, but after about halftime, it looked as if Kansas State started to pick on him a little bit, culminating with that final Wildcats touchdown over his head where he misplayed his assignment. We do think his interception should have stood, since the call for hands to the face was a little questionable.

Willis wasn’t alone, of course. Both Fabian Moreau and Ishmael Adams had poor games as well. Adams, in particular, had a really bad sequence where he gave up a touchdown and then the subsequent two-point conversion. Later, he actually tripped Willis when Willis had the chance to prevent a touchdown run. Moreau played off coverage a bit more than he had in the previous six games, and it’s pretty clear at this point that it’s just not his strength. Marcus Rios, it should be noted, had an awesome sack at one point off of a blitz, and he’s looking absolutely rocked out physically, which is just a great thing to see after where he was a year ago.

In any case, it should be obvious to any lockdown corners across the country that there’s early playing time available if they decide to come to UCLA.

Defensive Scheme, Coaching, and Game Plan: B+

If you’re not completely results-oriented, this was a really encouraging game from defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich. UCLA used a variety of blitzes and stunts to keep Kansas State off balance from the opening snap, and really didn’t let up all that much. UCLA’s blitzes came from pretty much everywhere, with cornerbacks, safeties, and linebackers all getting in on the action, sometimes from deep. UCLA got the most consistent pressure it’s gotten all season, with seven total sacks and 12 tackles for loss.

If you are results-oriented, the second half probably wasn’t great for you, but we actually liked that Ulbrich kept up the aggression. UCLA’s secondary struggled, yes, but going back to a passive style would have created its own set of problems, with Waters having more time to throw against UCLA’s struggling secondary. If anything, that second half was a great recruiting tool, as if it were designed to show everyone: see, we really do need talented defensive backs.

Ulbrich’s development as a coordinator over the last six or seven games might be the most positive development for next season. If the defense we saw against USC, Arizona, California, and in the first half against Kansas State is anything like what we’re going to see next year, the defense could be very good in 2015.

Special Teams: C

UCLA’s coverage units weren’t great, and got pretty lucky that one long return was called back due to a penalty. The return blocking wasn’t much better, as Ishmael Adams didn’t have much room to get going (and, for what it’s worth, Adams looked a little gimpy, and wasn’t running with usual explosion).

Matt Mengel had one really poor kick (the one that would have gone for a touchdown if not for a penalty), but otherwise was pretty good. Ka’imi Fairbairn nailed both of his field goal attempts and, don’t look now, but he actually looked pretty reliable over the last four or five games of the year.

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