Photo by Steve Cheng

UCLA vs. Stanford: Unit by Unit Analysis

Oct. 17 -- We provide the grades for UCLA's ugly performance against Stanford on Thursday...

Quarterback: B-

Josh Rosen had one really big error (the pick-six on UCLA’s opening drive), but was otherwise pretty good. Again, as against ASU, he was under fire for long portions of the game, but still generally made good decisions. He again had to deal with receivers and running backs dropping way too many passes and after Conor McDermott went down, he often had to throw and make decisions on the run.

He’s still occasionally trying to throw across his body, and that’s something he’ll have to correct going forward. Against Stanford, the game was already out of hand and he was clearly just trying to make things happen late, but it would probably be good to start building better habits in that regard.

His throw to Darren Andrews for the 70-yard touchdown was a thing of beauty. He looked left for the entire time the route was setting up and then pivoted and threw in a really smooth motion to put the ball perfectly in-stride to Andrews. He had to throw a lot of lasers throughout the day because UCLA’s receivers were once again not getting a great deal of separation, and he did a nice job of fitting the ball into tight windows.

Rosen is already a good college quarterback as a true freshman, and he’s going to be really fun to watch as he grows and matures.

Running Backs: C+

Paul Perkins gets an A. That run he had on UCLA’s first field goal drive was almost as impressive as Myles Jack’s run against Washington last year, which is saying a great deal. Everything good about Perkins was on display in that run — the freaky patience, great balance, excellent feet, great vision, and very good burst. He ran the ball extremely well on Saturday, and it obviously helped that UCLA came out throwing since Stanford couldn’t then stack the box against Perkins the way ASU did.

Nate Starks wasn’t particularly effective in his few carries. On his first carry, he ran right into Caleb Benenoch’s back for very little gain. The run was probably not blocked well enough for more than a four or five yard gain, but he didn’t show great vision there. On his other two runs, he got about what the run was blocked for, but didn’t do much extra.

Sotonye Jamabo had a bad drop on what should have been a touchdown on a route out of the backfield. He had one nice run from scrimmage, but also had two ineffective ones. He also showed really poor blocking technique in the fourth quarter, and with Rosen still in the game at that point, it was legitimately terrifying seeing him out there lunging at pass rushers. He needs a long lesson on blocking or he really can’t be in as a blocker on passing downs.

Bolu Olorunfunmi had six carries for 66 yards in his first action in a couple of games. With 8.1 yards per carry this year, he has probably earned some more non-junk time touches at this point.

Offensive Line: D

The UCLA offensive line has clearly fallen into a rut in recent games, and even before Alex Redmond and Conor McDermott went down, the offensive line was having issues in this one. Caleb Benenoch had his worst game of the year, looking out of sync on the penalties but also whiffing on a few blocks. Jake Brendel continued his stretch of relatively poor play, taking a penalty on an illegal man downfield call, and also having some issues against Stanford’s interior offensive linemen.

McDermott was having a pretty good game before he went down in the first half, but Kolton Miller probably isn’t ready to go against the kinds of physical players Stanford can bring to bear. He had trouble dealing with the strength of Stanford’s ends, and at one point got bowled over on a play that Rosen somehow managed to get a first down out of. Miller is probably going to be a good one, but he just needs another year of seasoning. Hopefully McDermott’s injury isn’t serious.

Fred Ulu-Perry had a handful of good plays when he came in for Redmond, but also whiffed on some blocks and looked overmatched at times. It’s a lot to ask of a guy to switch back and forth between the defensive and offensive lines as a true freshman.

If McDermott is out for some period of time, we’d like to see Benenoch switch to the left side and Miller play on the right. Benenoch will of course have to play better than he did in this game, but we’d be a little worried if Miller has to protect Rosen’s blindside.

Wide Receivers: D-

There were just way too many mistakes on the part of the receivers to give them any higher grade. Jordan Payton probably shouldn’t have been called for offensive pass interference, but he looked so awkward that I completely see why the referees called it. Thomas Duarte dropped a couple of passes, and Kenny Walker also dropped one. Speaking of Walker, twice he blocked players when he didn’t need to (once on Darren Andrews’ long touchdown, and once on the targeting call on Rosen’s run). Again, I don’t think it should have been targeting, but it wasn’t a necessary block. Eldridge Massington and Devin Fuller also both ran really poor, lazy routes at times that led to incompletions. It was overall just a poor showing from the receiving corps — again.

Andrews did run a nice route on the 70-yard touchdown and he came to play, getting a big first down conversion late as well. Payton was really effective in the middle stages of the game, and Duarte showed up late. But overall, the solid play for the receiving corps came later on in the game after this one was already a blowout.

Offensive Scheme, Game Plan, and Play Calling: C-

This was a much better showing for the offense than a week ago, especially early on. UCLA went to the pass much more early on first down and it was very effective. UCLA also made a real effort to use tempo early to start wearing out Stanford’s thin defensive front and it wasn’t a bad plan.

The bigger issues offensively were mostly penalties, somewhat personnel usage, and a couple of conservative sequences of play calls in key situations. On the first UCLA field goal drive, for example, Starks was brought in on 1st and goal from the 15 after a timeout. Starks then was stymied on his first run, and then, on second down and 23 after a holding penalty, UCLA ran Starks again, and again, he gained two yards. Then, on 3rd and goal from the 21, UCLA brought Perkins back in, who gained just three yards and UCLA settled for a field goal. It was a very conservative sequence for UCLA after a really effective drive that started with Rosen throwing on the first two downs.

Penalties were a disaster in this game for the offense. The illegal formation penalty on Caleb Benenoch coming out of the timeout on that field goal sequence was just silly. Yes, offensive linemen do it all the time, but UCLA was pulling Benenoch on that play, which made it more obvious that he was cheating back. The illegal man downfield calls, the holding penalties, the personal foul, the peelback “targeting”, the offensive pass interference — a lot of these are born out of inattention and lack of focus.

NT Kenny Clark (Photo by Steve Cheng)

Defensive Line: C-

UCLA’s defensive line was not done any favors by the scheme on Thursday, and as the game wore on, they wore down, to the point where they were getting pushed around late by the Stanford offensive linemen. Early on, UCLA actually was able to do some nice things up front, but the pair of long touchdown drives toward the end of the first half seemed to really wear down UCLA’s defensive front.

Kenneth Clark needs to get special credit every game, because for another stretch in this one, he seemed to be the only guy playing defense for UCLA. UCLA did a few nice things to give him more of a chance to get a pass rush, including setting him up a yard or two behind the line of scrimmage to give him a chance to get more of a push. It worked, and he was able to get in Kevin Hogan’s face a few times.

Later on, Stanford started doubling Clark in earnest, and the defensive line wore down, which led to those easy Christian McCaffrey runs toward the end of the first half and into the second. It also didn’t help that UCLA didn’t go to a four true linemen look, and instead used a five-man front with Aaron Wallace and Deon Hollins on each end. UCLA was giving up a ton of bulk up front and was just outnumbered, and the lack of adjustments to that were startling.

Linebackers: F

This was another really poor showing from the linebacker group. Kenny Young continues to struggle, looking tentative and often playing on his heels against Stanford’s downhill attack. It seems like most of the tackles he gets are after nine or ten yard gains, which is never a good sign for a linebacker. He over pursued a bunch in this one, including on McCaffrey’s first run (the 25-yarder to open the game) and on the Wildcat touchdown by McCaffrey. He just seems to lack confidence right now, and that lack of confidence is compounded by his lack of experience and foot speed.

Isaako Savaiinaea made some plays, but he also found himself out of position at times. He has better natural instincts than Young, though, and can make some plays in the running game. Jayon Brown had what looked like a blown coverage in his first game back on one of the throws to Austin Hooper. Aaron Wallace made a few nice tackles, but he was positioned so far out of the play so many times that he was mostly a non-factor. This actually seems like it would have been a game to even try Wallace at inside linebacker because of his bulk, but most of the time he was lined up on the edge, where Stanford rarely ran.

This was not the game for Hollins, since Stanford passed the ball so rarely and he was giving up so much bulk to the Stanford offensive linemen. Stanford ran at his side a good amount when he was in, and there wasn’t a whole lot he could do about it. On Hogan’s few dropbacks, though, he was effective rushing the passer, so he definitely provided a positive in that department.

Defensive Backs: F

The defensive backfield was very poor in this one, and if Stanford had tried to pass more, the Cardinal could probably have had very good success through the air as well. The catch on Jaleel Wadood will live on forever as probably one of the best catches of all time, notable in part for the fact that if Wadood had turned around he probably could have caught an interception in his breadbasket. What was notable about THAT for anyone who was watching the game was that on the previous play, if Johnny Johnson had turned around, he probably could have caught an interception in HIS breadbasket. Obviously, those would have been spectacular plays that you can’t just expect players to make, but UCLA’s defensive backs have shown a propensity for a lack of awareness, and all too often run into receivers who are turning back to under thrown balls.

Randall Goforth seemed to have a poor game as well, both in run support and in pass coverage. He was caught in no-man’s land in the zone a few times where he was just not in position to make a play on the tight end. In run support, he just gives up so much weight that against a physical team like Stanford, that’s not a recipe for success.

Marcus Rios had one poor play, allowing a really easy inside release to Devon Cajuste for a touchdown. Aside from that, he looked to play pretty well, but Standford didn’t challenge UCLA much on the outside.

There were a couple of pass plays in the 2nd and 3rd quarter where UCLA just looked confused on the back end and Stanford was able to make wide open completions. Perhaps communication was an issue, because it looked like a few times the defensive backs struggled to get into proper position.

Defensive Scheme, Game Plan, and Play Calling: F

We said before the game that UCLA would have to try some different things against Stanford, namely some blitzing and stunting up front, if it was going to have any kind of success. Stanford is built to march methodically downfield, so a bend-but-don’t-break scheme plays right into the Cardinal’s hands.

UCLA really didn’t try much that was new. Yes, there was a wrinkle where Clark lined up a yard or two back so they could get more of a pass rush out of him, but other than that, UCLA didn’t spend much time run blitzing or blitzing Kevin Hogan on his dropbacks. On the two 3rd and long conversions on Stanford’s 7+ minute touchdown drive between the first and second quarters, UCLA rushed three and four respectively, and each time Hogan had enough time to make the throw to the sticks.

Against a team like Stanford, that is able to march up and down on you to the extent that the Cardinal was able to, it just seems like it’d be ideal to take more chances. If you run blitz and overload a particular gap and get into the backfield, some of the time you’re going to give up a big play when the running back is running away from the blitz. But other times, when you guess right, you’ll get a big play for a loss, or perhaps even force a turnover. UCLA really didn’t do that at all against Stanford, and the defense completely wore down before the first half was even over thanks to a pair of Stanford touchdown drives that combined for 12:50 of the last 21:46 in the first half.

In this one, given the way that Stanford was able to run the ball through the middle portions, we would have liked to have seen some bigger packages with four (or more) true defensive linemen, and perhaps even Wallace rolling inside at linebacker. Stanford was just gashing UCLA up the middle, and there didn’t seem to be too many adjustments to stop it.

Special Teams: D

UCLA gave up a big return to McCaffrey which set the Cardinal up with great field position after UCLA’s field goal drive. Between Rosen’s throw and that gaffe, UCLA was in a 14-3 hole before the Stanford offense had really gotten going.

Again, Matt Mengel was a real weakness for UCLA at punter, as he failed to change field position time and time again, giving Stanford short fields to go to work. As we reported during the game, we’ve heard UCLA is going to try out someone from the soccer team this week at punter.

Ka'imi Fairbairn was good on his field goals, but his kickoffs were going a little bit shorter than normal, which helped lead to McCaffrey’s big return. Fairbairn did show some nice jets on the return to almost run McCaffrey down.

UCLA’s return game was really poor. Stanford’s kick coverage is very good, and the Cardinal kept UCLA from getting much of anything on their many, many kick returns.

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