Saturday’s game was a relatively poor performance for Josh Rosen. He did hit some incredible throws, including a pair of excellent throws to Jordan Payton (one on the 2nd and forever in the first quarter, the other the perfectly placed deep ball to Payton in the third quarter), but he seemed to be a little off on his decision making and wasn’t nearly as accurate as he usually is.
It also seemed like there were a few times where he elected to hand the ball off on run/pass options when Colorado was showing a pretty heavy run defense set. Perhaps they weren’t true options, and instead were just straight runs, but it didn’t seem that he was seeing the defense as well as he usually does.
The fumble was one of Rosen’s few egregiously bad plays this season, especially given the tenor of the game at that point. UCLA, at that point, was up by 12, but it was a tenuous lead. Rosen didn’t show great awareness of the rush and ended up gifting Colorado 7 points. UCLA’s defense was hanging on by a thread at that point in the game, so it was a really bad time for the offense to give up some points of its own.
Rosen did a great job of bouncing back on the final touchdown drive, threading nice throws into Jordan Payton and Thomas Duarte to get UCLA down to the goal line, where Sotonye Jamabo punched it in.
Running Backs: B
That was a gritty performance from Paul Perkins, who seemed to be limping at basically every point in that game aside from his 31-yard touchdown catch and his 82-yard touchdown run. He clearly wasn’t close to 100%, but managed to gut through those two plays, and looked like his usual shifty self on both of them. On the remaining balance of his plays, he looked a step slow and a little tentative, which stands to reason given his knee injury.
Nate Starks had a really nice run on the touchdown run, but didn’t do a whole let else besides that. He didn’t get his first carries until well into the game, after Jamabo got his first reps, and then basically traded off with Jamabo the rest of the game. Starks, trying to eat clock at the end of the game, couldn’t get anything going forward in the face of a heavy run defense.
Jamabo had one nice run of 19 yards and got a grand total of one yard on his other three carries (though one of those three was a touchdown, so there’s that). It was a very small sample size of runs in this game, so there wasn’t a whole lot to draw from it aside from the fact that Jamabo, like about 85% of running backs, can’t get a whole lot going against a stacked box.
Nate Iese blocked pretty well in this one, but he hasn’t been targeted on a throw in forever. Against the stacked boxes and run blitzes of Colorado on Saturday, it might have been a good opportunity to hit him on an outlet or two.
Offensive Line: B-
UCLA’s offensive line was much better in pass protection than run blocking on Saturday, and it’s understandable given the injuries and absences against Colorado that there would be a drop off somewhere. In strange occurrences, UCLA actually had its best running play of the day when Kolton Miller went down and Caleb Benenoch moved back out to the right side. Benenoch did a great job of sealing the edge on Perkins’ long touchdown run, while Jake Brendel did a great job of sealing off the interior.
On Starks’ touchdown run, Kenny Lacy and Conor McDermott both did a nice job moving their feet and keeping Colorado’s defense from getting upfield against Starks, who was stretching the run out to the sideline before cutting up. Largely, UCLA wasn’t able to get much of anything up the middle, which was due to equal parts a lot of run blitzes and stacked boxes from Colorado and also the absence of Alex Redmond and inexperience of Fred Ulu-Perry. The Bruins just didn’t get a lot of push up front.
In pass protection, UCLA’s offensive line looked much better, even while dealing with some blitzes. Rosen took some hits, yes, but most of them came when Colorado basically went Cover 0 and sent more than the line could block. There weren’t many times that a offensive lineman was beaten in a one-on-one, and there didn’t seem to be any egregious miscommunications in pass protection, which is always a concern when you’re shuffling bodies around quite a bit.
Wide Receivers: B+
After a relatively quiet game last week, Jordan Payton was arguably the offensive MVP on Saturday. He not only got open in key situations throughout the game, he was also key in blocking on a couple of UCLA’s other longer plays throughout the day. The long catch down the sideline was perfect Payton — even though he was relatively well-covered, he created enough space at the key moment to be able to make a fairly uncontested catch.
Thomas Duarte was relatively quiet after a big game last week, but again, he came up huge late on the long catch up the seam that put UCLA inside the five down by three in the 4th quarter. Darren Andrews had a nice catch early, and was targeted a couple of other times, but had a relatively quiet day. For the most part, this was the Payton show, with a decent helping of Duarte as well.
Jordan Lasley made his first real impact of the season late in the game, making a key first down catch. It was nice to see him get some action in a critical moment.
Logan Sweet completely whiffed on a block on Andrews’ other catch, which was intended to be a swing where Andrews could turn up field immediately after the catch and get in a one-on-one. Instead, because Sweet either thought he was going to get the ball or just missed the assignment, Andrews was blown up for a four-yard loss.
Offensive Scheme, Game Plan, and Play Calling: C
This was nowhere near as bad as that Arizona State game plan, but there was definitely some of that same feel to the futile runs on the interior into a stacked box. UCLA mixed up the run and the pass more, so there wasn’t that same element of predictability that there was against ASU, but it seemed like Colorado was able to guess run successfully quite often. UCLA had some explosive plays (82 yard run for Perkins, 19 for Jamabo, and 11 for Starks) but if you took those runs away from them, the three players combined for 43 yards on 20 carries.
It was a weird game. Watching it live, I thought the defense really stunk, but watching it a second time, the sequence of drives gave a different impression. We’ll get to the defense in a second, but UCLA’s offense going, on four consecutive drives in the second half 3-and-out, Rosen’s fumble TD, five-and-out, and then eight-and-out kind of killed the defense. Coupled with the first half, when UCLA went three-and-out on three of their five drives, and UCLA’s offense really didn’t do UCLA’s defense a whole lot of favors.
Against one of the worst defenses in the Pac-12, UCLA punted on seven of 12 drives and went three-and-out on four of them. That’s not the mark of a great offensive performance.
Defensive Line: C-
Get ready — I’m quite a bit softer on the defense than I thought I’d be immediately after the game on Saturday. I’ll get the two big complaints out of the way first: the defensive line absolutely wore down as the game went on, and there were way too many moments where the defensive line especially wasn’t able to get set quickly enough against Colorado’s tempo. Obviously, some of that is on how quickly the play call comes in, but some of that has to fall on their shoulders as well.
That said, UCLA’s defensive line actually held up reasonably well for much of this game, and despite some brutal sequences where the defense was thrown back onto the field after very little rest. Eli Ankou in particular had a nice game, getting into the backfield on a couple of plays and disrupting Sefo Liufau’s timing. He had a lot of one-on-one opportunities because Colorado seemed to make a concerted effort to double-team Kenneth Clark, and he responded well.
Clark didn’t have his best game. He was doubled extensively, but as the game wore on, it looked like he got worn down, and was getting taken out of plays. Ainuu Taua played quite a bit on the interior, and there were a couple of sequences where Colorado seemed to run at him a little bit with some success.
The big issue for the defensive line that was noticeable from a TV angle was just the inability to get set on some of those quick tempo plays from Colorado. It looked like Jacob Tuioti-Mariner in particular got lost a couple of times and just didn’t get in a stance before the ball was snapped. Admittedly, that was more tempo than Colorado had shown on film, but after the third time or so, the players should have been ready for it.
The degree of difficulty argument is the big one here. Kenny Young, UCLA’s second-string middle linebacker, went down toward the end of the second quarter, and then Josh Woods, a true freshman who’s probably 210 pounds, came in to fill in for him. THEN, Woods went down, and Cameron Judge, who hasn’t practiced at inside linebacker, had to come in and fill in, while Jayon Brown slid over to the Mike position, which he hasn’t practiced before either.
Despite all of that, UCLA was able to get critical stops at key junctures in the game, and there were a few sequences where the linebackers really, really played well.
In the first half, there was one sequence where Kenny Orjioke, playing on the outside, read a zone-read beautifully and blew up the running back in the backfield for a big loss. On the next play, Jayon Brown read a screen pass perfectly and blew up THAT play for a big loss as well. Suddenly, Colorado was faced with a third and forever after looking like they were driving easily down field.
Aaron Wallace had some nice moments off the edge, including a key sack of Liufau late. His late hit on Liufau wasn’t great, but it was a bang-bang play and it looked like he tried to pull up when he saw Liufau release the ball. Wallace actually didn’t seem to play enough in this game, as he’s now had two of his best games as a Bruin in back-to-back weeks.
Kenny Young again didn’t play great early, and seemed like the culprit on a few runs to the outside, but he also had one really nice tackle that the TV announcers credited to Jayon Brown where he read the outside run perfectly and cut up field for a tackle for no-gain.
Of course, it’s understandable that people credited Brown with so many tackles because he was all over the place for the defense. He has gotten very good at avoiding blockers to make tackles, and despite giving up some weight to the average-sized linebacker, he’s a sure tackler. He played really well, and was probably the defensive MVP for UCLA.
Cameron Judge played well at inside linebacker, and as with Wallace, we’d like to see more from him. He had a huge stop on the 4th and 4 late. Josh Woods didn’t know what he was doing on his first play, where he seemed to blow a big coverage on the tight end, but settled down a little bit after that.
Look, it wasn’t a great game, obviously. UCLA’s linebackers gave up some runs, and they didn’t fit their gaps perfeclty. But given the amount of guys who were out in this one, and the amount of snaps a guy like Brown had to play, this performance was impressive in its own way.
Defensive Backs: C-
If we’re handing out MVPs for each unit, Johnny Johnson probably earns the one for the secondary. He covered a variety of different receivers for Colorado, and stuck with each of them fairly well, including some great coverage on Shay Fields early in the game where Liufau took a shot to Field but it had no chance because Johnson was step for step with him the entire way.
Ishmael Adams made a great play on the ball to snag the interception, and then showed off his great acceleration on the return. He wasn’t great in coverage outside of that, but it was obviously a really big play with Colorado driving. He got hurt on a punt return in the second half, for those wondering why he left the game.
Marcus Rios was in and out of the game with some sort of injury (undisclosed) and didn’t have his best game in coverage. UCLA seemed to revert to some off coverage in this one, and Rios hasn’t played off coverage nearly as well as he’s done in press. Colorado was able to dink and dunk underneath him quite a bit in this one, though Rios, as always, was a sure tackler so there was very little yards after the catch.
Randall Goforth is really struggling to tackle at this point. It’s really strange to watch, because he gets a big hit, seems to get his arms around a ball carrier, and then just can’t finish the tackle for whatever reason. He might try to adjust to tackling lower and going after the lower midsection or legs, but it has become a little bit of an issue in recent weeks.
That was a great play from Nathan Meadors on the interception. He read the ball perfectly and had a great jump on the pass. There was so little question about it you could almost hear that idiot Pac-12 Networks announcer anticipate it happening. We liked what we saw out of him in man coverage in fall camp, and we could absolutely see him playing some corner down the road.
Defensive Scheme, Game Plan, and Play Calling: C-
The defense didn’t have a very good game against Colorado, but we have to stress that you can’t just judge a defense in a vacuum — it has to be judged in the context of what the offense is doing as well. In the first half, UCLA’s defense actually performed sort of how it’s designed to perform. UCLA forced a turnover, two punts, and three field goal attempts. Heck, even in the second half, UCLA allowed two touchdowns while forcing three punts, one field goal attempt, and two turnovers (one on downs). 7 of Colorado’s 31 points came from a defensive touchdown. UCLA allowed 4.84 yards per play (below UCLA’s season average allowed) and coupled with just 24 points allowed, that’s, on the surface, a solid bend-but-don’t-break day.
Now, the issue is in the details. UCLA wasn’t able to regularly force negative plays against an offense where they really should have been able to. After seeing a much greater variety of stunts and pressures up front last week against California, we really didn’t see much of that this week against Colorado. Oh, there were a few blitzes, and a few attempts to get Kenny Clark into pass rush situations, but nothing like what we saw against Cal, at least from our vantage point. UCLA should have been able to overwhelm that offensive line with pressure, but UCLA really didn’t show enough variety up front to give Colorado’s inexperienced front much to think about.
UCLA also reverted to playing more off coverage. That gave Liufau some relatively easy dink and dunk opportunities, and Colorado was happy to take four or five yards per play for much of the game. Colorado was not explosive in this one — the Buffs had one big play, a 62-yard pass that Liufau threw only because he knew he had an offsides call coming. But the sheer number of three to six yard plays was staggering. It was bend-but-don’t-break in its most maddening form.
At any rate, this defensive performance wasn’t nearly as bad as we thought watching it live (probably because we could fast forward through the commercials). UCLA needed to get a few more third down stops early in the first half, but that really could have changed the trajectory of this entire game for the defense. UCLA had one truly awful drive, the opening drive of the second half, but otherwise, we thought the defense played with some real tenacity.
Special Teams: D
Special teams were really bad on Saturday. UCLA had maybe one or two successfully returned kickoffs, and the rest either ended in fumbles or penalties. Matt Mengel was better punting the ball, but he still wasn’t great, and booted one into the end zone and another only 35 yards late in the game.
Ka'imi Fairbairn had no field goal attempts a week after making a 60-yarder. UCLA’s kickoff coverage was better than it’s been, so that was good to see, but Colorado doesn’t have a great return game.
UCLA vs. Colorado Unit by Unit Analysis