Josh Rosen was significantly better on Saturday than he was against BYU, and looked much more like the player who tore apart Virginia three weeks ago. He wasn’t quite at that level of perfection, where every throw was seemingly placed exactly where it needed to go, but he wasn’t too far off. He made zero critical mistakes, with no throws that came particularly close to an interception, and just one fumble that came on a blindside hit that he really had no chance of being prepared for.
Probably what was most impressive was just how clearly and obviously he learned from last week. He had a few plays where he had to buy time with his feet when Arizona had good coverage downfield, and instead of being impatient and throwing into coverage, he either threw the ball away or waited, in the case of his lofted ball to Jordan Payton down the sideline, for just the right moment to throw to an open receiver.
Then, in the zone read game, he clearly decided that he needed to keep the ball more to keep the defense from keying on the running back so easily. He had two or three really good keeps on the zone read, and his run for a first down on UCLA’s first series, immediately after Arizona scored to make it 7-0, was actually pretty critical. A stalled UCLA drive there, and Arizona might have been able to generate an early 14-0 lead, especially with how porous UCLA’s run defense was.
Rosen isn’t going to play at a perfect or near-perfect level every game this year. There will be more games that look like the UNLV game especially, when he is just a little bit off throwing the ball and the defense is taking away some of his favorite things to do in the passing game. But we wouldn’t be surprised if BYU is the last of the multi-pick games where he just makes multiple freshman-like mistakes, because Rosen clearly learns and adapts very quickly.
Running Backs: A
You wouldn’t be enamored with Paul Perkins if you just looked at a box score from this game. He was well below his average yards per attempt, and only caught one pass. But actually watching the game was once again eye-opening. He had a number of times where he was hit before or at the line of scrimmage, somehow managed to spin away, and turned what should have been multiple tackles for no gain or for loss into three or four yards gains. When he got some blocking, he was extremely slippery in the open field, breaking a number of tackles but also just avoiding guys with such an economy of movement it was like he was in slow motion and yet still moving quicker than everyone else. He is an extremely efficient runner, just across the board, and that stood out in a big way on Saturday.
Sotonye Jamabo had a really nice game, and definitely got the best blocking he has had in his short UCLA career. He also looked like he was making more of an effort to turn up field and run tough against the defense, which was really good to see. When he gets up to speed and his long legs start going, he eats up yards in a hurry.
Nate Starks only got five carries, looking like he got squeezed out by this game so quickly turning into junk time. Still, he ran hard in those five snaps, and looked good.
Bolu Olorunfunmi got dinged up on one of his carries, with what looked like a shoulder. Jim Mora said he was doing better on Sunday, so we’ll see what that means for the game on Saturday.
Nate Iese didn’t get much to do. He caught one ball out of the backfield on a 3rd and 10 which didn’t turn into much since he didn’t have a ton of time to get a head of steam before a defensive back and Scooby Wright were in the picture.
Offensive Line: B+
The only thing that really dropped this grade was the slow start to the second half, but otherwise, the offensive line was excellent. Caleb Benenoch was an absolute force in the run game, and on basically every good UCLA run in the first half, he blockaded basically the entire left side of Arizona’s defensive line. He’s been really good all year, and has probably been the best offensive lineman on the team through four games.
Kenny Lacy and Alex Redmond were both really effective pulling through the gaps Benenoch created on the right side, and that was UCLA’s most effective running play all night, with Perkins, Starks, or Jamabo following those two guys through the gaping hole Benenoch created. UCLA has now had two consecutive games where the offensive linemen have looked much more effective playing in space, and coincidentally or not, those two games have come with Adrian Klemm back on the sidelines providing in-game feedback.
Running to the right was definitely UCLA’s bread and butter in the run game on Saturday night. The left side wasn’t quite as stout in run-blocking, and Conor McDermott overall didn’t seem to have his best game. He was still very good in pass protection, for the most part, but wasn’t crushing his side the same way Benenoch was on the right side.
As an isolated sequence, the beginning of the second half wasn’t great. It seemed that on the sack of Rosen, McDermott had a misunderstanding of either the play or the blocking behind him, because he did little more than chip the defensive end before he crashed into Rosen. Nate Iese was leaking out of the backfield for an outlet, so perhaps McDermott thought Iese was in to block, or maybe Iese actually was supposed to block, but it was a miscue. On the next play, Perkins was blown up in the backfield almost before he got the ball, and it looked like it was a mistake by Kenny Lacy, who tried to get to a second-level block before accounting for the guy in front of him.
In any case, it was a loud environment, to the point where UCLA had to use a silent count for most of the game, so perhaps UCLA just had some miscommunications on blocking adjustments. That sort of thing happens.
Wide Receivers: A-
Jordan Payton played a great game, made even greater by the fact that he did it on a bum ankle. He really worked hard to get open for Rosen, especially on the one scramble play where he recognized that Rosen needed an outlet and just ran an undesigned double-move against double coverage to get open down the sideline. His pushoff on the touchdown was, as Kirk Herbstreit said, just a perfect veteran move, pushing off enough to get the catch, but not enough that anyone would feel comfortable calling it pass interference. Payton and Rosen appear to have developed a little more cohesion, and hopefully that continues since clearly Payton is the team’s best receiver.
Thomas Duarte is another player that Rosen has made a habit of targeting in the early weeks, and he rewarded Rosen for his trust with a great touchdown catch on the first drive, stopping the ball with one hand to reel it in with two and then showing his power and speed to get in the end zone.
Darren Andrews, filling in for Mossi Johnson (who moved to safety), had a really critical third down catch in the first half that kept UCLA driving and kept Arizona from gaining momentum. He has real speed, and looked great winning the edge on that play and accelerating up field. More of those plays in space for him, please.
UCLA didn’t spread it around nearly as much in this game as they usually do. Payton, Duarte, and Andrews caught 14 of Rosen’s 19 passes, as the freshman quarterback keyed on some matchups, and receivers, that he likes throwing the ball to.
Offensive Play-Calling, Scheme, and Game Plan: A
UCLA did basically everything it wanted to do in this game, and a huge credit for that has to go to Noel Mazzone and staff. UCLA ran the ball consistently, but also generated huge gains in the passing game, and overall looked like such a balanced, talented offense that immediately after the game, the national media collectively decided to just ignore how bad UCLA was against the run and anoint the Bruins favorites to make the playoffs.
Really, there isn’t all that much to note. UCLA didn’t go at quite the tempo it normally does, which was probably smart given the issues on defense. The Bruins did a nice job of compensating when the blocking wasn’t great to start the second half and going to more of a quick-passing style for a while.
Overall, it was a really nice game offensively. UCLA was excellent on third down (11 of 15), gained 6.6 yards per play, and had some explosive plays.
Defensive Line: B-
You might think: B-? UCLA gave up about a million rushing yards and you give the defensive line a B-? But watching the game again, not a whole lot of that was on the defensive line. There were a couple of times where Jacob Tuioti-Mariner got blown off a little bit early (he started for Takkarist McKinley, who’s been a bit nicked up), and Kenneth Clark maybe tried to do a little too much in the second half which opened up a couple of gaps, but overall the defensive line actually was pretty OK.
Clark, in the first half especially, was a force, and had to basically act as a one-man tackling machine, having to make more trailing tackles than a nose tackle should reasonably ever have to make. He’s playing more snaps than ever, but he actually has looked supremely well-conditioned throughout these games and seems about as effective at the end as he does at the beginning. There were a couple of plays in the second half where he was probably trying to do a little too much and lost some gap integrity, but we understand the feeling, given how bad much of the rest of the run defense was.
Tuioti-Mariner got blown off a little bit in the first half, which opened up some running lanes for Solomon and, later, Randall. It looked like on a couple of the zone reads he also lost contain on the edge, though most of the issues with the zone read had to do with inside linebacker play from what we could tell watching on TV.
The interior guys were mostly OK. Eli Ankou and Matt Dickerson both did a decent enough job. This was more of Ankou’s style of game than Dickerson’s, since Dickerson is more an interior pass rusher and Arizona really didn’t utilize much standard passing game with Randall as the quarterback.
Inside linebacker play was a definite issue on Saturday, as everyone has pointed out. Kenny Young really seemed to struggle, even from the start of the game, and just looked like he was constantly caught flat-footed or just a little out of position. Lots of times when it looked like it was an edge player who ran out too wide and opened up a lane, Young or Isaako Savaiinaea was supposed to be the player filling the hole, and they just weren’t able to get there. Anu Solomon looked like he was even poised for a 100 yard rushing game before he went down, and he’s not a runner, so it wasn’t as if the issue was only apparent when Randall came in.
Now, not having Myles Jack out there was a huge issue, and we’d completely buy the theory that the rest of the linebackers and secondary tried to do a little too much in his absence and ended up over-pursuing and cheating to one side or another too often. That’s definitely a factor you have to consider.
Young had a rough time of it, though. Savaiinaea was a little bit better, and at least did a better job of tackling, but he too got caught flat-footed and misreading the the run game far too many times. Jayon Brown going down was an issue, since he was actually one of the few guys who was playing well behind the defensive line, and provides much needed speed in the back seven. Hopefully he’s not out for long.
Deon Hollins didn’t look great against the zone read, though some of that was the inside guys not filling the gap very well between Hollins and the rest of the defensive line. He did fall on a couple of fumbles, though, and had a nice pursuit tackle of Randall for a short gain that could have gone for a long one if Hollins hadn’t caught him from behind (impressive in its own right that Hollins was able to run down a player as fast as Randall).
It’s really going to be interesting to see what UCLA does if Brown is out now as well. Suddenly, a linebacker group that was very athletic two weeks ago starts to look a little slow and plodding, which could be tough to compensate for in the Pac-12.
The secondary didn’t have a whole lot to do in coverage on Saturday, but given the loss of Fabian Moreau and all the shakeups there, we didn’t think they were too bad at all. There was the one touchdown early where Ishmael Adams and Tahaan Goodman both looked partially at fault for the Arizona playing running behind the defense, but other than that, UCLA did a nice enough job of shutting down what became a limited passing game with Randall on the field.
Run defense wasn’t great at the secondary level either though. The safeties, who have some real responsibilities against the zone read, appeared confused, with Jaleel Wadood looking completely lost on Randall’s touchdown run immediately after he came in. And this is more from a scheme perspective, but the safeties didn’t cheat up against the run much at all, electing to play more than ten yards off while Arizona was killing them on the ground.
Ishmael Adams was mostly good in his first game back, and easily could have had three picks, rather than one. He had one missed coverage and also had a holding call, but he was actually decent against the run and looked really comfortable playing a safety/nickel position at times.
Marcus Rios also looked better than he’s looked so far this year. He had a couple of nice breakups and was much more aggressive in coverage, looking to get physical with the receiver more often, which kept him from getting burned on those slants that have cost him the last couple of weeks.
Randall Goforth, in his first extended action at corner, looked pretty decent. We didn’t see much out of Mossi Johnson in this game playing safety, and we’re interested to see how that move goes. Tahaan Goodman, aside from the early miscue on the touchdown pass, was pretty solid all night long, and was one of the few sure tacklers on defense.
Defensive Play-calling, Scheme, and Game Plan: D
Yeah, when Randall came in, he ran for a ton of yards, but the issue for us was that, when Solomon was in, he also appeared poised to run for a ton of yards. Maybe they weren’t designed runs, as Randall’s were, but they seemed part and parcel of the same issue, and it didn’t seem like UCLA did much to correct it during the game. Perhaps it was simply the case that UCLA was fine with Arizona running the ball since it chewed up clock and UCLA had such a big lead in the second half, but given how concerned Jim Mora seemed with the run defense after the game, we’re doing to say that it wasn’t exactly a strategic move.
UCLA’s safeties seemed all too often out of the picture against the run, and it wasn’t until Randall had a ten-yard gain before he’d be hit by one of Goodman or Wadood. When a team is running the ball as well and as consistently as Arizona was in the second half, we would have liked to see more cheating up from the safeties.
Without Myles Jack, UCLA loses a ton of speed on defense, but they’re going to have to quickly figure out a way to deal with quarterback runs. Because, frankly, Solomon wasn’t a running quarterback and had 47 yards on seven carries. UCLA doesn’t face a true running quarterback until Seth Collins of Oregon State, but every quarterback UCLA faces up to that point has some mobility and can make plays with his legs, and it’s a good bet that every offensive coordinator in the league is going to watch what Arizona was able to do in this one.
Special Teams: B+
Ka'imi Fairbairn’s touchbacks were huge. While UCLA was getting great field position early on, Arizona consistently had to start from inside its own 25. He’s been money on touchbacks for most of the last two years, and on Saturday, he didn’t allow a single return.
Matt Mengel's punts are a real concern, though UCLA’s offense is good enough that they should be able to keep them from being a critical issue. He gave Arizona good field position a few times, but the Wildcats’ miscues kept the punts from costing UCLA too much.
The return game was a factor again. Devin Fuller looked good on a couple of returns, one a punt and one a kickoff, and put UCLA in Arizona territory twice on returns. Ishmael Adams got one kick return on Saturday and didn’t have much room to work with. It’ll be interesting to see what the split is like there going forward.