This story is by BRO contributor, herenowucla.
BYU Defense vs UCLA Offense: A Boxing Match
BYU tried to confuse Josh Rosen early by varying the number of guys in the box pre-snap.
In the first quarter they used 5- and 6-man boxes, which are clear run boxes for the quarterback pre-snap in UCLA’s offense. As it became clear they couldn’t slow down Paul Perkins with that few in the box, they used their Mike linebacker (Harvey Langi) to run blitz. Rosen, Perkins and center Jake Brendel did a great job of identifying that and were able to run to the open zone away from the run blitz. That ultimately forced BYU to add a guy to the box in the early second quarter and that is when Rosen started to get really confused.
One example was on the drive that resulted in a field goal. The drive stalled because Rosen checked out of a run against a 5-man box on third down. BYU blitzed off the edge putting 7 on the rush and deflected Rosen’s pass (which would have gone nowhere anyway) and forced 3 points. Had he stuck with the run play, UCLA would have gained first-down yardage and kept the drive going.
Another example was on Rosen’s second interception. UCLA was in a 4-wide look and BYU showed 5 in the box and two potential blitzers straddling the box. Rosen checked Perkins out of the run, got heat from the boundary on a safety blitz and missed the hot route, instead throwing a hitch off target to Jordan Payton. That is a freshman mistake. He had a fly route to the deep middle third with Mossi Johnson from where the safety vacated (probably hot route) and had one-on-ones to the far side. But Rosen never came off the hitch and threw it inside and Langi got the pick. That was a very poorly thrown ball, but really a poor read.
From that point on Rosen looked totally flustered, was forgetting his footwork and BYU really started to vary their looks. On the next series’ 3rd down play, BYU only had 2 down lineman and a cluster of 4 guys in the middle of the box. Rosen read 6 in the box and expected the same safety blitz as the last series but BYU dropped 8 and almost had another pick.
At that stage it was clear: UCLA should have reined in Rosen UCLA had given him a lot of liberty to check at the line based on what he sees, and for a freshman he reads defenses very well, especially pre-snap. But BYU is a ranked team of adults, and when your quarterback is clearly struggling to diagnose you have to adjust. Had UCLA adjusted at this point they would have put at least a field goal on the board before half, maybe a touchdown. But BYU started to vary the numbers in the box as UCLA got closer to the end zone in that final drive and once again Rosen got confused and threw a really bad pick to end the half. This pick was actually a good pre-snap read. Rosen recognized the exotic front and read 7 in the box correctly. What he didn’t do though was take what the defense gave him. He could have hit Payton for a first down or run for one himself. Instead he reverted back to what he could get away with in high school and tried to do too much. BYU is really good at adjusting in play and getting depth when it’s clear their pressure won’t get home. Rosen threw right into triple coverage on his third pick and hopefully it will be one he learns from going forward.
I posted at halftime of the game on Saturday on the BRO Premium Forum that UCLA’s offensive staff needed to help out the quarterback. Like the Utah game last year, the Bruins had a game plan that their quarterback wasn’t able to execute because he was struggling with his reads. The staff needed to recognize this also against BYU, and pound the ball to force BYU to define their numbers in the box and make them commit numbers to help open up the passing game.
That is exactly what UCLA’s staff did. UCLA’s first drive of the second half resulted in a score after 5 straight Perkins runs. That forced BYU to define its front and The Bruin offensive line just took over. Because UCLA was able to run against 5-, 6- and 7-man boxes it allowed Iese to drop off for a slot and put trips on one side with Payton single on the other. This proved to be something BYU couldn’t defend. UCLA basically flooded their zone coverage and forced them into man coverage where it had favorable match ups. The touchdown pass to Payton was an example of a one-on-one BYU just didn’t have the personnel to handle.
Once BYU went man UCLA spread them out at the line of scrimmage, which opened running lanes even more for our backs. Perkins and Starks were able to find huge running lanes in UCLA’s zone blocking scheme because BYU had to keep defenders out of the box and that led to the final touchdown. In essence, once UCLA forced BYU to clearly define whom and how many were in the box, theywere able to find the match-ups they wanted.
As I mentioned, UCLA’s offensive line was an absolute beast in this game. Every single guy stood out.
Paul Perkins had a fantastic game. I only saw one hole missed by him all night. Starks, who should absolutely get 100% of the non-Perkins carries, was really good as well.
The receivers’ blocking was also outstanding. It won’t get mentioned in a broadcast setting, but their ability to lock onto guys and prevent lanes from collapsing was terrific.
Rosen obviously had a freshman game. Some of it was him being a freshman and not understanding that he can’t get away with things at this level that he got away with in high school. Other issues were just misreads or bad decisions. Unfortunately, in football you just have to experience these things to truly understand what the mistake is. Hopefully that’s what happened against BYU and he gets better from this experience.
Finally Noel Mazzone, the subject of ridicule from BROS anytime we don’t knife through a defense, made some wonderful adjustments in this game. Yes, his game plan was too arrogant going into the game, but when adjustments had to be made they were, and they were the right adjustments.
BYU’s Offense vs UCLA’s Defense: A Split Decision
UCLA came out to start the game with the intent to bring a lot of pressure and heat up BYU quarterback Tanner Mangum early. BYU had a great game plan to combat that strategy and used short drops and under routes.
On BYU’s first drive, they accurately predicted UCLA’s pressures every time. They countered with short drops and short passes against a softened coverage and a vacated middle. That first drive was almost entirely BYU getting the ball out of Mangum’s hands before the pressure could get home. Short completions combined with really poor tackling in the secondary were responsible for their first scoring drive, but really their game plan was the perfect counter against UCLA’s speed.
UCLA adjusted by showing almost exclusively base defense, 6 in the box with corners pressed. Against that, BYU ran the ball successfully enough to force UCLA’s safeties up. By mid-first quarter, with the corners pressed, the safeties inside the 15-yard depth, and six in the box, they tried to open up the vertical passing game. This is where BYU historically has blown open games under this staff. However, against the Bruins they couldn’t protect the quarterback without leaving in an extra blocker and UCLA really got after them for a few drives against that look.
So like all good staffs, BYU quickly went away from trying to go vertical with 4 wide and moved back into a 3-wide look with a tight end or fullback. That led to short gains, better runs and shorter routes. This was the main theme that played out the rest of the game, which was BYU trying to spread out UCLA’s linebackers and the front having to hold up against the run with four down linemae. UCLA seemed content to let them earn it the hard way and really dialed back the blitzes.
So much of football is the game within the game. Tom Bradley played a solid game of chess with the BYU offensive staff. My only complaint, and it’s a big one, was playing the far side corner 10 yards off the receiver. Not sure who on our staff makes the coverage calls, probably Bradley and Demetrice Martin together, but that decision allowed BYU to get yardage virtually anytime they wanted on first down.
The book on Mangum was he struggles with short passes, but I would have much rather see UCLA vary press coverage and force them to throw deep against a nickel. Because UCLA didn’t run much nickel (dropping Jaylen Brown for Tahaan Goodman), UCLA had to use safeties in run support, and that resulted in having to give a big cushion on the corner and show a 4-high zone look in the secondary.
This is also a case where UCLA’s defense missed Ishmael Adams. He’s a great nickel back, very versatile and makes good reads. Adams in the game in place of Brown would have allowed UCLA to press the corners and move around the defensive backs to force more intermediate throws and increase the degree of difficulty on Mangum’s throws.
By about the middle of the second quarter, both teams seemed content to go 12 rounds with these adjustments. BYU had a lead and was content to stay on schedule, burn clock and kick field goals. UCLA seemed content to play base, limit big scoring plays, let Isaako Savaiinaea keep making plays on an island, and hold them to field goals. For the rest of the game that is sort of how it played out.
Tom Bradley ran a bend-but-don’t-break defense. Limiting points is how you win games and historically his defenses have allowed the ball to be moved between the 20s but they tighten up near the goal line. That was exactly what our defense did in this game. Schematically, UCLA was limited by personnel. Injuries, suspensions and ejections prevented all of UCLA’s defensive personnel options from being available. UCLA had freshmen forced into significant duty, and had to minimize the scheme accordingly. BYU can hurt you vertically with their tall wide-outs. Not once did they complete a pass over the top or on a deep jump ball. To defend that you have to give up something, and in this game UCLA was comfortable giving up the ability to defend the short stuff. It proved to be a sound game plan with good execution in the end. When UCLA’s personnel is back I’d hope we would take more risks, run the risk of giving up the big play in return for forcing turnovers.
A special mention has to be given to Savaiinaea. It appeared he didn’t have a single bad read. I’ve never been overly impressed with Kenny Young; I think he’s going to be a good player for UCLA, but he’s not as instinctual as some of the great middle ‘backers UCLA has had in the past. Savaiinaea has certainly made some mistakes in his time on the field the past two years, but in this game he played at another level. I’m not sure if Young is capable of this kind of performance -- truly a tremendous effort from him in this game.
Conclusion…Survive and Advance
UCLA got the win, and ultimately that’s all that matters. The Bruins didn’t get exposed like they did last year to huge personnel voids (Utah game) and didn’t see a team do something that they couldn’t deal with (Oregon game). That’s the good news.
The bad news is UCLA’s preparation was not good on either side and UCLA’s seeming arrogance caused the team come out flat for the second game in a row. Arizona will be a good test. They historically don’t match up well with Mora’s Bruins, but they’ve got very good receivers who are big and physical and will present some of the same challenges that BYU did. UCLA will have got to come ready to play and match their intensity. UCLA has better personnel than Arizona, but the Bruins can’t make the mistakes they made in this game in Tucson and expect to win.