In last year’s Arizona game, the UCLA defense had probably its most impressive performance of the Mora era. This year, it was the Bruin offense’s turn. Down 7-0 after a hyped-up Arizona offense took their opening drive into the end zone and facing an earsplitting sellout crowd, the Bruins took advantage of a very good kickoff return and scored a touchdown in 5 plays. After Deon Hollins beat Anu Solomon to recover a bad shotgun snap, the offense scored on the next play. The two teams then traded punts, and after the UCLA defense forced another punt, the UCLA offense scored touchdowns on four straight drives before the end of the half, and sent the Arizona fans fumbling for their basketball schedules. On a week where the college football world’s spotlight was pointed on the Pac-12, the Bruins staked their claim as the league’s team to beat.
Now, the stats: (Note: we didn’t officially hit garbage time until the final Bruin touchdown)
As always, we use:
- Yards Per Stop to measure efficiency
- Yards Per Play to measure explosiveness
- Points Per Drive to measure scoring
- Points Per Trip Inside the 40 to measure drive finishing
- Field Position Margin to measure field position
- Turnover Margin to measure turnovers
7 first half drives, 6 touchdowns. A perfect Points Per Trip Inside the 40 number, the first we have seen while writing this column. The UCLA offense was efficient, explosive, and scored a touchdown every time it crossed the 40. This was a stunningly good performance that catapulted the season stats for the Bruin offense into the Top 10 level across the board. 125 Yards Per Stop is just an absurd Mariota-Oregon-vs-Wyoming type number. The Arizona defense made exactly 4 stops all game, 3 of which came in the second half with the game mostly out of reach. 6.8 Yards Per Play isn’t quite as astronomically high of a stat, but it’s still a great explosiveness number against a Pac-12 defense. The Bruin offense managed 6 plays of at least 20 yards, 3 of which went over 30 yards.
During the nonconference season, the Bruins posted mediocre Points Per Trip Inside the 40 numbers for the first time in the Mazzone era, but we cautioned that we were still in small sample size territory. Boy was that quite the correction. 7 Points Per Trip Inside the 40 is how you bury a team—if just 3 of UCLA’s 8 touchdowns were instead field goals, the final margin would have suddenly been a much less-comfortable 12 points. This was an incredible performance across the board by the Bruin offense, and a great sign after consecutive mediocre efforts.
The UCLA defense was unable to replicate its incredible 2014 success against the Wildcats, though it at least played well enough after the opening drive to keep the lead comfortable. After Solomon went down, the Bruin defense had issues with the Wildcats’ run-only replacement quarterback, reminiscent of last year’s struggles after Utah benched their starter mid-game. Overall, the UCLA defense was in the mediocre Top 100 level in the efficiency-allowed Yards Per Stop stat, and just one tier better in explosiveness prevention and scoring prevention. This was clearly a transitional game with the team trying to adjust to life after Myles Jack, but the Bruin defense will need to play better in games that the offense is not a Death Star. The season numbers are still mostly elite (Yards Allowed Per Stop dipped just underneath the Top 10 level cutoff), but of course most of those numbers came with a fully-operational Jack.
Ishmael Adams only returned one kickoff in his first game back, but Devin Fuller continued his solid return play. Fuller’s 46 yard kick return to set the Bruin offense up with a short field after the initial Arizona touchdown was key to settling the game down, and Fuller also had a 29 yard punt return. With Fuller doing fairly well, it will be interesting to see if Adams gets his job back (if anybody’s asking, we think he should).
Overall, the Bruins were +5 in Average Field Position in this game, even despite a pretty weak punting night by Matt Mengel (though at least none of his short punts were returned). Ka’imi Fairbairn had 9 kickoffs, and all 9 went for touchbacks. He is a hidden weapon against some of the electric returners the Bruins will face later this year.
The turnovers were obviously a huge key to the game. Of 6 stops in the first half, only 2 came from punts. Deon Hollins’ great hustle to get the first blown snap led to the first UCLA lead of the night, and another Hollins recovery and an Ishmael Adams pick helped the Bruins to a +3 turnover margin on the night. Against a team that can score as quickly as the RichRod offense, it is important to get stops however you can. Therefore, while the Bruin defense wasn’t great by any means, they did a great job of taking the ball away and getting the stops necessary to build a lead. A week after his three interceptions kept the BYU game close, Josh Rosen did not throw a pick against an Arizona defense whose strength had been its secondary. The Bruins did fumble once, but were able to recover.
Saturday evening, Arizona State comes to the Rose Bowl in what has turned into a pretty fun rivalry. Obviously that game lost a little bit of luster with the Sun Devils’ capitulation against Southern Cal, but one imagines that Todd Graham’s defense thinks it can confuse Rosen and Mike Bercovici threw for over 500 yards in his first start against UCLA last year. For now, the Bruins are tied for first place in the division and probably the Pac 12’s national standard bearer.
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