After a slow start, UCLA got on track and pounded a depleted and not very good Oregon State team, 41-0, Saturday.
It was what UCLA was supposed to do, and it was satisfying that the Bruins did it.
The first quarter was a bit worrisome, with Oregon State’s offense able to move the ball on UCLA’s defense, and UCLA’s offense not nearly as effective. UCLA gained just 64 yards while OSU racked up 124.
The offensive gameplan, too, was a bit worrisome. Against one of the worst defenses UCLA will face this season, the playcalling was fairly conservative, combining UCLA’s running game with a short, horizontal passing game. In the first quarter the longest run from scrimmage was 7 yards and longest pass was for 14. It appeared UCLA’s gameplan was to run, dink and dunk, which isn’t a good strategy for UCLA’s offense. UCLA’s running game isn’t a dominating one, and it needs to get pretty good-sized chunk yardage in its passing game for it to move the ball down the field.
Thank goodness things changed in the second quarter. Playcalling started to loosen up and UCLA got a couple of interceptions and a fumble out of OSU’s young and green quarterback, Nick Mitchell. Seemingly within a few minutes, it went from an arduous, 3-0 game to a blowout, 24-0.
It appeared that Noel Mazzone, UCLA’s offensive coordinator, first wanted to see how his own freshman quarterback, Josh Rosen, would adapt to the rain. Once he saw that Rosen wasn’t fazed, perhaps, the playcalling expanded. UCLA started throwing the ball vertically, stretching the field. Rosen expertly extended plays with his feet and instincts and improvised some big gains.
You know when UCLA’s offense is humming -- it’s when Thomas Duarte is a vital element of it. In the first quarter, Duarte was persona non grata. Then, in the second quarter, his number was called, and he caught five balls for 96 yards and two touchdowns. It’s not just an idle coincidence. When UCLA goes to Duarte it’s generally utilizing the middle of the field and down the field.
Rosen was an artist. He went 22 of 33 for 333 yards and 2 touchdowns, and had one of his better days in his short Bruin career. He combined some really nice accuracy with great decision-making – and a crazily advanced feel for the pocket and extending plays. There were a number of incompleted passes that were even things of beauty; he threw a beautiful go route to Jordan Payton, which hit Payton in the face and should have been caught.
As we’ve said all season, the reason Rosen is able to be so effective as a true freshman is not only that he's freakily talented, but that he’s getting great pass protection from UCLA’s offensive line.
Paul Perkins had a couple of signature runs and created more yardage when it seemingly wasn’t there. But it’s pretty clear he’s not completely himself and still hampered by the knee injury. Sotonye Jamabo might have had his best result so far this season, looking quite a bit more confident and physically strong, and very advanced himself in having patience and picking holes. Nate Starks also sparked with some explosiveness. Holes widened as the game went on, and by the second half, with Perkins on the bench, Jamabo, Starks and Bolu Olorunfunmi were benefitting.
As we said, UCLA got its chunk yardage. This game changed in the second quarter when UCLA got its big-chunk gains, a beautiful 63-yard completion from Rosen to Kenny Walker, and a 51-yarder to Duarte.
UCLA’s offense gained a total of 674 yards, its most in a single game this season, and averaged 7.1 yards per play.
UCLA put together an interesting defensive performance. First, you have to quality it a bit with the disclaimer that OSU’s offense is plainly not very good and Mitchell just isn’t ready to play at this level. UCLA clearly recognized that early on and sent some pressure at Mitchell. OSU got a little lucky initially, with a tipped pass and some other fortunate ball bounces, and the offense that is the worst in the Pac-12 at converting third downs was doing exactly that. But as things settled in, the true nature of OSU’s offense came out, with Mitchell struggling, throwing a couple of big second-quarter picks. OSU gained just 24 yards in the second quarter and earned one first down. UCLA stopped sending so much pressure, looking like it understood that it didn’t need to overly pressure Mitchell to get him to make mistakes. And UCLA’s four-man front provided enough touches on Mitchell by themselves. Takkarist McKinley had his best game in a UCLA uniform, with two sacks and three tackles for loss.
Oregon State gained just 126 yards over the last three quarters and UCLA pitched a shutout.
Jayon Brown had 10 tackles in the first half, and finished with those 10.
Of course, there were a few concerns, and we’d be remiss not to mention them. Perhaps the biggest concern was keeping Rosen in the game a little too long. When he took what looked like an absolutely illegal targeting hit with UCLA up 31-0, the last three games of the season flashed before the eyes of the UCLA fan community.
As we said, there was a worry with UCLA taking a while to get started, and perhaps not recognizing its offense needs to always use every dimension, particularly its vertical passing game.
And there were the penalties – 10 for 71 yards. Jim Mora was obviously pissed off in his post-game interview about it – and he wasn’t angry over his team committing the penalties, but with the refs inability to recognize that OSU’s defense was imitating UCLA’s snap counts, causing UCLA to false-start seven times.
In the end, it was satisfying for UCLA to get the type of win it should, to hold serve and, probably most importantly, play a game without getting anyone else injured.
UCLA is now 7-2 and in control of its own destiny – but that destiny has to go through what is looking to be a tough out in Washington State, a bugaboo in Utah and, of course, USC.