This sort of performance was bound to happen at one time or another for Josh Rosen. It’s a credit to the rest of the team that, even with Rosen playing a very poor game, UCLA still managed to win on the strength of its defense and running game. Rosen threw three interceptions, two of which were on really poor decisions. The first was a throw across his body when he was rolling right that he probably should have thrown away. The second was forgivable — he was throwing to the blitzing side and it was a fine decision, but the throw was just a little off. You also have to credit Bronco Mendenhall for rolling coverage to the blitzing side of the defense, which probably added a whole layer of confusion to what Rosen was seeing.
The third pick was probably the most crippling, and it was a little worrying, since it was a similar decision to the first interception. Again, rolling to his right and buying time he tried to throw across his body into triple coverage and was once again picked off. On that play, he actually had some running room in front of him, and might have even been able to get a first down depending on how quickly the linebackers reacted.
He also had a number of plays that probably could have ended up much worse. Twice he was tipped at the line, which could have ended in interceptions, and there was another play where he pretty clearly thought BYU jumped offsides and attempted to take a shot deep that easily could have been intercepted.
Mendenhall called a really tricky defensive game, and it’s completely understandable why a true freshman would be flustered, going against a big, long defense that is doing a variety of things to confuse him. It’s a credit to Rosen that he’s already getting that sort of treatment from opposing defensive coordinators, but he’ll have to learn to deal with it quickly, since conference play will bring even more of those sorts of game plans.
Running Backs: A
We’ll get to the job the offensive line did in a second, but the running game was why UCLA even had a chance of winning the game. Paul Perkins had a career high in rushing yards, and scooped up huge chunks of yardage at various points, including a pair of 44 yard runs in the first half. He showed great vision, and his burst seems to be back after looking a little slower in the first game.
Nate Starks was probably the player who opened the most eyes though. With Perkins gassed toward the end of the game, Starks came in on the go-ahead drive for UCLA and looked phenomenal. He showed great explosion, excellent vision, and enough power to break through arm tackles. Between Perkins and Starks, UCLA has one of the top running back tandems in college football, and they showed it on Saturday.
Sotonye Jamabo was really ineffective when he came in, and almost coughed up a fumble. He didn’t have great blocking on his first run, which led to a loss, and Payton, who didn’t have a great game blocking, missed one on Jamabo’s swing pass that probably would have allowed him to get more than two yards. That said, UCLA’s tandem of Starks and Perkins should probably get the lion’s share of competitive carries. We would like to see more Bolu Olorunfunmi in non-junk time as well.
Wide Receivers: C
In theory, UCLA’s receivers should have been running free for much of the game, since BYU was bringing a lot of pressure against Josh Rosen, but that wasn’t the case. Individually, UCLA just didn’t get a ton of separation from the BYU defenders. The two guys who were able to consistently were Thomas Duarte and Jordan Payton, and, naturally, they were the only two who did much of anything in the receiving game. Otherwise, UCLA just didn’t get much separation from the BYU defensive backs.
Mossi Johnson hasn’t looked quite like the player we saw through spring and fall camp. He had one really bad sequence where he stepped out of bounds early on a receiver screen when he could have run through for the first down, and then, on the next play, he went in motion and didn’t get set before the ball was snapped, which led to a five-yard penalty.
Downfield blocking was generally pretty good. Payton missed one block on Jamabo’s swing pass that blew that play up, but he also had a huge block on a long Perkins run down the right sideline. Payton uncharacteristically dropped a ball that hit him right in the hands, and also didn’t make a great play on Rosen’s second interception, so it might have been a little bit of an off game for him.
Offensive Line: A
This was a really good performance from the offensive line, and when you factor in the degree of difficulty of going up against a strong, mature front, it was the best they’ve looked this season. In the second half, when UCLA leaned hard on the running game, the offensive line, as a whole, shined.
For the first time this season, UCLA looked really good blocking in space, with Kenny Lacy especially looking good pulling to the outside. Jake Brendel also had a nice pull on one of Starks’ runs. The tackles were really good in the running game, with Conor McDermott and Caleb Benenoch both doing a nice job of sealing lanes for Perkins and Starks to run through. Benenoch has had a really good year so far.
Pass protection, again given the degree of difficulty, was superb. BYU was doing some really strange things up front. Oftentimes, every defensive player would stand up prior to the play and it was extremely difficult to identify which players would be rushing the passer. Largely, UCLA did a great job of picking up the pressure. There were a few plays where BYU did some sneaky things to get into the backfield, like one wraparound blitz by Harvey Langi where he started in the middle, scooted around the right side of the line, and got to Rosen, but largely, UCLA handled BYU’s tricky scheme very well.
Offensive scheme, play-calling, and game plan: B-
The scheme and game plan weren’t bad. UCLA tried to go up tempo to start the game, but the first drive stalled when Perkins couldn’t get anything on first down, Kenny Walker missed a cutback lane on a sweep, and Payton dropped first down. The Bruins were clearly trying to go very up tempo at various points in the first half, which was clearly the game plan against the big, strong, slow BYU defense, and that made a great deal of sense to us.
Our concern with the offense was that it probably leaned a little too hard on a true freshman’s football acumen. As talented and smart as Rosen is, he hasn’t had the reps at this level to know how to perfectly diagnose the different types of formations and fronts BYU was throwing at him. With so much of the offense built on run-pass options, a true freshman quarterback having a bad day can be nearly catastrophic, as it was on Saturday.
Perhaps the answer is more pre-snap motion to help Rosen see the defense, or to have more automatic play calls built into the offense, where Rosen has little choice in what the play will be. In any case, the offensive adjustments in the second half were good, and once Rosen got out of his own way, UCLA was able to score with relative ease on the Cougars.
Defensive Line: B
Just like with the offensive line, this was the defensive line’s toughest test of the season, going up against a physically mature offensive line with solid talent, especially on the interior. In the first half, the defensive line was very good in pretty much all phases. There were a couple of big runs for BYU, but the pass rush was really good, especially when UCLA started to rush just four or five. Takkarist McKinley did some really good things off the edge, including one bone-jarring hit of Tanner Mangum that kept him from setting and throwing.
UCLA was really active batting down passes as well, which was key, since the secondary didn’t seem too interested in that aspect of the game. Kenneth Clark and Jacob Tuioti-Mariner both tipped passes at the line during the game.
As the game wore on, though, it became apparent that UCLA really misses Eddie Vanderdoes, and having another talented body on the interior. Against that physical front, and given how much UCLA’s defense had to play on Saturday (40 minutes of the game), UCLA’s defensive line started to wear down, especially in the 4th quarter. In the first half, UCLA’s pass rush was getting a nice push on pretty much every down, but in the second half, Mangum had much more time to throw, and it seemed to be largely fatigue related. McKinley also had some sort of minor injury that slowed him down as well, and Eli Ankou looked like he was slowed as well.
Given the degree of difficulty, including the fatigue and the physicality of the opponent, it was a more than solid game for the defensive line. This was a great test for playing Stanford later in the year, since Stanford will try to dominate the clock, much like BYU, and has a similarly physical front. And for UCLA to do as well as it did holding up against BYU was a very good sign.
Do we have a mid-season position battle on our hands? Kenny Young was ejected on BYU’s first series, and in his stead, Isaako Savaiinaea (who split time between defensive end, outside linebacker, inside linebacker, and fullback! last year) played the game of his life. His physicality matched up really well against BYU’s, and he showed off very sure tackling ability. He was virtually always in position, and also looked good blitzing in the middle. He looked better than Young has this year, and it’ll be interesting to see what that means for his playing time going forward. At the very least, Savaiinaea is clearly very good playable depth at inside linebacker.
Myles Jack mostly lined up in coverage, and he was excellent. He could play pretty much any position he wants at the next level, but safety is definitely an option. Basically every time he was lined up in man coverage he locked up his guy. His interception at the end was a pure instinctual play. He also played with good discipline throughout, which was great to see.
Jayon Brown was solid, but he had a couple of plays where he was a little overaggressive, missed his gap, and allowed a run. Overall, though, he did a nice job in pursuit and usually was in position to make plays.
Deon Hollins was really good against both the run and the pass. He is much stronger than a year ago, and much more technically sound in run defense. He’s gone from being a real liability in edge containment his first year to probably UCLA’s best edge defender this season, which is a stunning transformation. He put a great deal of pressure on Mangum throughout the game.
Kenny Orjioke also had some nice moments, including two tipped passes at the line of scrimmage. He’s getting more comfortable game by game, and it’ll be interesting to see if his playing time starts to pick up even more.
UCLA didn’t get beaten over the top, which was pretty clearly the game plan, especially in the second half, but other than that, it was a pretty rough game. Fabian Moreau had one really positive play in the first half when a six-man rush didn’t get home and Mangum was able to make a deep throw down the right sideline. Moreau reacted well to the ball and actually made a play on it, breaking up the pass before it could land in the receiver’s hands. That was one of the few highlights of the day.
Moreau got hurt early in the first half and sat out most of the middle portions of the game, with Denzel Fisher coming in in his place. Fisher had a few nice moments, including a good stop in run support, but BYU made a point of picking on him for most of the second half. UCLA was mostly playing off in coverage, but Fisher seemed to be lining up a good eight or nine yards off of the line of scrimmage most plays, and didn’t react quite well enough to the play to successfully do that. BYU marched down the field a couple of times just doing simple out routes that UCLA just did not defend well.
The secondary was certainly depleted, with Moreau hurt, Ishmael Adams out, and even Marcus Rios looking a little dinged up for a stretch. But cornerback play is definitely a concern. Rios has struggled so far on inside slants, allowing receivers a basically free release into the middle of the field, where there hasn’t been safety help.
BYU gave teams a blueprint for attacking UCLA on defense, and going forward, it’s going to be interesting to see how UCLA responds.
Defensive Scheme, Play-Calling, and Game Plan: B
For those saying that UCLA didn’t pressure in this game, if you rewatch, the Bruins brought more than four on at least 50% of passing downs in the first half. The problem was that on all but one or two of those blitzes, BYU’s offensive line picked them up perfectly, and it allowed Mangum a lot of time to throw. UCLA actually got its best pressure when it rushed four, and UCLA’s staff made a nice adjustment at halftime to be much more selective with its blitzes in the second half.
We thought the overall game plan was a pretty fair one. BYU’s offense was predicated in large part on deep passes to the big receivers, so UCLA tried two strategies — first, they tried to get significant pressure on Mangum early with a variety of blitzes to keep him from getting set and being able to complete passes deep. That didn’t work too well, so in the second half, UCLA went with more of a four-man rush, and dedicated more guys to coverage.
The issue for us was that in the second half it became pretty clear that UCLA’s defensive line was starting to wear down, which meant less pressure from four than the Bruins were getting early, and BYU adjusted to the deep coverage by throwing easy passes underneath the corners. BYU seemed to pretty clearly focus their offense on just throwing underneath whichever cornerback was playing furthest from the line of scrimmage, and given that, we would have liked to have seen more press coverage.
In any case, it was a weird defensive game, with UCLA having to be on the field for forty minutes with a banged up secondary, so we can’t be too harsh. It will be interesting to see what adjustments UCLA’s makes in its coverage plans, though, because against the pass-happy teams in the Pac-12, playing that sort of soft coverage will result in a lot of points given up.
Special Teams: B-
Ka'imi Fairbairn banged home a field goal, hit all of his extra points, and was nails on kickoff (we’ll just go with the assumption that the kickoff that bounced its way to the returner was intentional). Matt Mengel was decent enough on punts.
Devin Fuller had a very nice game as the return man, returning a punt to the BYU red zone on a big momentum swing. He also had a couple of nice kickoff returns. Kickoff and punt return coverage were both pretty good. Taylor Lagace did have a kick-catch interference penalty, though, which hurt.
UCLA gave up an onside kick in the first half that seemed to catch them off guard. We’ve liked a lot of what we’ve seen from Mora’s teams on special teams, but they do have a tendency to give up fakes and odd things on special teams, so perhaps that’s something to focus on when self-scouting.