UCLA got a seasoned, excellent, poised-beyond-his-years performance from Josh Rosen on Saturday night. Despite some rough pass blocking, especially on the right side of the line, and a simply absurd number of drops, Rosen went through this game remarkably unflustered. Time and time again, he came up with huge throws and huge plays to keep UCLA drives moving, and he put the Bruins in position to win a game they really had no business winning given the sheer number of times they shot themselves in the foot throughout this one.
Rosen made a number of great throws in this one. There were any number of rollouts where he found guys downfield and threw perfect strikes. There was the nutty throw to Eldridge Massington with a guy in his face on UCLA’s second scoring drive that set up a squandered shot at a touchdown. And then there was the excellent decision-making in the run game. Rosen made great decisions about when to take off and run, and converted one key first down on a run as well as, of course, the long 37 yard touchdown run to put UCLA ahead briefly in the 4th quarter.
Rosen’s performance on Saturday was a great sign for the future. He’ll almost certainly go into next year as the best quarterback in the league, and there’s an argument that he’s playing better than anyone at this point. He deserved a better result Saturday night.
Running Backs: B+
UCLA’s run blocking was better than its pass blocking, but UCLA’s running backs were still in a position where they often had to make something out of nothing, and by and large, they did a nice job. Paul Perkins was very good running the ball in this one, and on the field goal drive in the 4th quarter, he basically took over for a stretch, churning out three great runs that weren’t particularly well blocked.
Sotonye Jamabo and Nate Starks did get some good blocking from the left side on their two runs that punched in UCLA’s first touchdown. It was two very similar looking plays out of a two-back set, and both sliced in behind nice blocks from Alex Redmond and Conor McDermott. Starks had that one nice run but didn’t do much else in his three other carries. He had one where he tried to bounce it outside and really should have just gone forward for the two or three yards. Part of his growth is going to be realizing when a play can’t be a ten-yard gain and just accepting the two yards. Perkins does a nice job on that, which is why he so rarely gets dropped for a significant loss.
Perkins had a bad drop, and Jamabo tripped on a swing pass, which brings this grade lower. The Perkins drop stalled a drive on 3rd and 2 when UCLA was down by five, and was uncharacteristic for the typically sure-handed running back.
Wide Receivers: D
You simply can’t drop as many balls as UCLA dropped on Saturday, particularly when your quarterback plays as well as Rosen did. UCLA had seven drops in the first half alone, and basically everyone got in on it — Jordan Payton had a drop, Thomas Duarte had one drop and one pseudo-drop (he got his hand on it), Eldridge Massington had a drop, Darren Andrews had a drop and another pseudo-drop (the deep bomb he probably could have caught), and Kenny Walker had a drop. It was a miserable half for the receivers.
Massington was featured more in this game than he has been this year, and he made a couple of nice catches. He did also have a false start and a drop, and on a couple of those post routes late, just didn’t seem to have a great connection with Rosen, who missed him so badly that it looked like there must have been a miscommunication.
Payton had a career-high in catches, and was generally really good, aside from the one drop. Darren Andrews also played fairly well, but did fumble the ball on one UCLA drive when the Bruins were down by 5 late. Yes, it didn’t look like a conclusive fumble from any of the angles we saw on TV, but I’d imagine if you synced the two angles, it would have shown the ball coming out before his knee hit the ground, so that one I get.
Duarte was ill in this one, and that probably hurt the receiving group. He didn’t look like his usual self, but he still came up with some big catches in key moments.
Overall, though, the drops hurt UCLA, and combined with the fumble, it just wasn’t a very good day for the receiving corps.
Offensive Line: C-
For the second straight week, UCLA was hit by a ton of procedure penalties along the offensive line, including three false starts and one snap infraction by Jake Brendel. Heck, the first Washington State offsides call should have been a false start on UCLA (Redmond actually moved before the Cougar player entered the neutral zone). We get that there are mitigating factors, with the defensive line calling out the cadences and whatnot, but the sheer number of penalties is concerning.
Pass-blocking wasn’t great, particularly on the right side, but keep in mind Washington State’s defensive line is actually pretty good. UCLA didn’t give up a sack in this one, but a lot of that was due to Rosen doing a great job of moving around in the pocket and getting away from pass rushers. Kolton Miller and Caleb Benenoch had a tough time on the right side dealing with Washington State’s talented defensive linemen, and that forced Rosen into rollouts pretty often. After a certain point, it almost looked like UCLA was designing the rollouts around the idea that the right side of the line was having a hard time blocking the pass rush, and if so, that was a nice adjustment.
Run-blocking was better, especially on that sequence that led to UCLA’s first touchdown, with McDermott and Redmond leading the way. The right side was also a little better on running plays as well.
Overall, though, the penalties were often drive killers, and the pass-blocking was such that a lesser quarterback would have been sacked at least three or four times.
Offensive Scheme, Play Calling, and Game Plan: C-
UCLA made some wacky decisions in the red zone in this one. Twice, UCLA went to its jumbo package with odd personnel in the red zone, and both times, it worked out really poorly. The first drive stalled thanks to, to begin with, a false start from defensive end Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, and then the second drive had, as its featured moment in the red zone, a stretch run with 250-pound fullback Nate Iese, who was getting his first carry ever. Naturally, that went for negative three yards.
The thing was, between the 20s, UCLA moved the ball really well thanks to a good game plan that had the Bruins attacking the edges of Washington State’s defense quite a bit. We said in the preview that you can hurt this defense with wide receiver screens and UCLA did a great job of that. But the red zone play calling was really strange and cost the Bruins.
Since there have been a few questions, we don’t necessarily have a problem with either decision to kick 22-yard field goals on 4th and 5. Our bigger issue is with the play calling that led to those situations, but 4th and 5 at the goal line is not an easy conversion — 4th and 5 at, say, the 35 is a different story because the whole playbook is available and the defense has to defend the full field. Now, the one decision we did take issue with was the 4th and 3 at UCLA’s 47, when the Bruins decided to punt. The math would probably dictate going for it there.
We did like the long drive with the jumbo formation (that did not include defensive players, but instead Fred Ulu-Perry and Colby Cyburt), and also liked the split back formation that scored the first touchdown. UCLA can build on that Stanford-type formation, but the big key is that it needs to be a full-field formation. It’s not something you can just trot out there on 3rd and 2 and expect to get a conversion because when it’s predictable, it’s easy to stop. But with the full field drive, UCLA was able to vary the play calling and even ran a true play-action pass out of it. That was cool to see.
Defensive Line: A-
The UCLA defensive line was exactly as good as it needed to be in this one. We said in the preview that UCLA would have to get a pass rush from its front because it’s hard to blitz Washington State, and, while the Bruins blitzed more than we thought they would, UCLA got a ton of pressure from just its front four for most of the game.
What can be said about Kenneth Clark at this point that hasn’t already been said? Clark was phenomenal in this game, recording three sacks and repeatedly fighting through double teams to get to the quarterback. The decision to start flexing him back from the line of scrimmage to get him a little more momentum for his pass rush has paid off in a big way this year. A lot of guys celebrated senior day on Saturday, but we’d bet that’s Clark’s last game at the Rose Bowl.
Matt Dickerson played a lot in this one, most likely because he’s a better individual pass rusher than Eli Ankou, and he did pretty well. He had the encroachment penalty that Takkarist McKinley took some issue with, but he actually put nice pressure on the quarterback and had one sack negated by an Ishmael Adams holding penalty.
Jacob Tuioti-Mariner had a really manly sack of Luke Falk in the first half, basically dragging the left tackle (and his holding, holding arms) all the way to Falk in the backfield. That was the play Falk actually got injured on as well, but it was a great, clean sack from Tuioti-Mariner, who looked really strong on that one.
Takkarist McKinley wasn’t quite the explosive force he was last week, but he still made a number of nice plays, including helping to blow up the reverse with Cameron Judge. He also helped out on the sack toward the start of the game that was credited to Deon Hollins.
Kenny Young had a great play to start the game, showing great recognition on the first play of the game, the swing pass, to blow it up for a loss. He didn’t have a great game, but it was a much better day than he’s had recently, and it probably helped that Washington State didn’t run the ball much at all.
Deon Hollins had a great speed rush going most of the night, which resulted in a sack on the second play of the game and what in another, better world would have been a holding call on Washington State’s last touchdown drive.
Cameron Judge, as we mentioned above, absolutely blew up a reverse by Washington State. Judge played really well a couple of weeks ago against Colorado, and given the quality of his play overall, we’d like to see him get more time. Jayon Brown had another good game, and did some nice work blitzing from inside on a couple of different plays.
Defensive Backs: C-
Ishmael Adams had a really poor game, even outside of the punt return decisions. He got called for an obvious defensive hold that turned a 4th down and likely field goal into a repeat third down and a touchdown. He also was in coverage on the final Washington State touchdown and didn’t do a great job reacting to Gabe Marks to make a play. You can’t blame him overmuch for that, since he had no safety help on the biggest play of the game, but it wasn’t great coverage.
Johnny Johnson had a few good moments, but Washington State went at him on one drive with a number of slants and he didn’t cover those well. Nathan Meadors then came in and did precisely no better, since the issue was more the lack of help inside than the corner play on the outside. Still, UCLA’s corners have had a habit of allowing really easy inside releases on slants all year.
Tahaan Goodman, it should be noted, absolutely should have been called for targeting on Luke Falk. He dove, head-first, into the attempted tackle and actually made contact with the sliding Falk’s head with his shoulder. That was textbook targeting.
Marcus Rios got called for a pass interference, which we thought was a little questionable, but then had a nice breakup on a likely touchdown pass to Dom Williams that probably could have been called pass interference, so it evens out.
Jaleel Wadood made a great play to come up with the interception late, reacting really quickly to Falk’s throw and diving for the catch in the end zone. That was a huge play, and kept UCLA alive for Rosen’s great drive.
Defensive Scheme, Play Calling, and Game Plan: C+
UCLA actually brought a good amount of pressure early, and it actually didn’t look like it worked very well. When UCLA brought extra guys, Falk generally just checked down and hit a quick pass, which is Washington State’s M.O. The Bruins adjusted, and spent most of the game rushing four, which was actually really effective, since Clark and the defensive line were playing so well.
The Bruins were a little slow to adjust to the slants of Washington State on the first Cougar touchdown drive, allowing Falk to march downfield attacking Johnson and Meadors basically the whole way on quick in-routes. UCLA adjusted to that later in the game, but given how much of the Cougars’ offense is predicated on those sorts of throws, we would have liked to see an in-drive adjustment there to prevent the score.
The final drive was really ugly. Washington State was allowed to march downfield way too quickly. The whole idea of Bradley’s defense is to give up yards but make teams take time driving downfield, but instead, UCLA gave up huge chunk plays and got marched on in just over a minute. On the final play, UCLA had no help for Ishmael Adams on Gabe Marks, Washington State’s best receiver.
Special Teams: D-
This was another disastrous day for UCLA special teams. Whatever you feel about the fumble/non-fumble by Ishmael Adams, that was an abysmal decision to even catch that ball, let alone return it. Adams made a number of head-scratching punt return decisions in this one, including once not catching a ball that he should have fair caught (which then rolled an extra 15 yards or so) and then another time fair catching a ball when he had a good ten yards of space around him.
Nate Starks got some time as the kick returner, and he doesn’t really look natural doing it. Perhaps it’ll come, though.
Matt Mengel had a punt blocked because Washington State scouted out UCLA’s punt formation and attacked the wedge with more than UCLA could block, and Mengel was too slow getting the punt off. Then Kenny Walker followed that up with the worst UCLA punt we’ve ever seen.
The only reason this gets a D- rather than an F is that it wouldn’t be fair to Ka'imi Fairbairn. Fairbairn was perfect on field goals, excellent on kickoffs, and is now the Pac-12’s all-time leading scorer. Good for Fairbairn, who’s progressed well in his career.