Josh Rosen (Photo by Steve Cheng)

Takeaways from UCLA's Performance at Texas A&M

Sep. 5 -- Letting the game (and the video of the game) sink in two days after UCLA faced Texas A&M, here are more takeaways about Josh Rosen, the offense, the UCLA secondary, personnel usage and more...

• For the last four years we’ve been saying that Noel Mazzone’s play-calling was mind-boggling.  So it stands to reason that the most mind-boggling play call of this game was directly associated with him.  As UCLA’s offensive coordinator, Mazzone called a read option when UCLA had the ball within the ten-yard line many, many times. It was stunning that defenses didn’t know it was coming, he called it so many times for a touchdown with Brett Hundley.  So, it was mind-boggling in overtime against Texas A&M that UCLA didn’t anticipate Mazzone, an extreme creature of habit, would make that call to win the game.  Tip of the hat to Mazzone for calling it.  

• UCLA wants to be a team that enforces its will to run the ball on the opponent.  We can understand that UCLA wanted to test the Texas A&M rush defense, since it was suspect last season. After trying to run between the tackles to no success, it appeared that offensive coordinator Kennedy Polamalu learned his lesson and adjusted, and started running outside the tackle, with stack and zone blocking, and it was effective, and Sotonye Jamabo’s forte, so that was a good sign. 

Soso Jamabo (Photo by BRO's Steve Cheng)

• What wasn’t a great sign was that Polamalu didn’t adjust to Texas A&M’s pass rush in the third quarter quickly enough.  UCLA had contained Texas A&M’s vaunted pass rush in the first half, for the most part, and then A&M’s defensive coordinator John Chavis clearly dialed up more pressure to start the second half.  It took Polamalu the entire third quarter to adjust, still using conventional drops, until the fourth quarter when UCLA went to a quicker, shorter passing game, along with utilizing Jamabo on swing passes, and was effective.  UCLA’s offense stagnating in the third quarter was a key to the loss.  Some self-scouting here might have been reasonable to expect: like we said, we can understand that UCLA would want to test A&M’s rush defense, but it should have already discounted in that the offense was going to have to be prepared immediately to adjust to A&M’s pass rush.

 • Quarterback Josh Rosen was right to blame himself.  He wasn’t just being gracious; it was completely valid.  Rosen not only missed some throws, and those have been well-documented, but missed seeing some open receivers.  Even beyond the ill-advised first-half interception when he just threw it wildly before getting tackled, a key to this game was Rosen not seeing some open secondary options.  Specifically it was mostly not seeing his short options, until, again, the fourth quarter, when he clearly changed his progression and didn’t just lock onto a receiver down the field.  On a play in the redzone, Rosen rolled out and missed seeing the shorter, open receiver for a touchdown and threw it to the back of the endzone to the covered receiver.  How long he held the ball was exactly how he was in fall camp.  While it’s tough when a quarterback misses a wide-open receiver, at least it’s a forced error, where he’s making the right decision but just couldn’t execute it.  Not seeing open receiver options is the bigger long-term worry. Rosen will have games where he makes the types of throws he missed against A&M, but really taking his game to the next level will dictate that he’s able to make progressions and find his other options.  So, even though Rosen has been hyped up to be the Chosen, his game still has some holes that he’ll need to fill to live up to the hype. 

• There were some rushing yards left on the field.  There were many running plays in which Jamabo didn’t gain much, but you could have easily envisioned Paul Perkins making an individual effort to get positive yardage. Perhaps we’re haunted by the Ghost of Paul, but having Perkins Saturday would have made a huge difference.  We’re hoping that Nate Starks, who was pretty much suspended for the Texas A&M game, returns for UNLV and provides that Perkins-esque quality, of being able to earn more additional yards per rush.  

• UCLA might have inadvertently discovered its best spread offense.  The offense easily looked the best Saturday when it operated out of the spread, which was a good thing on one hand, but not on another. For one, it didn’t appear that the offense went from the shotgun for most of the first half, so it probably squandered some yards and points sticking with the under-center, double-tight look for so long.  But on the other hand, Polamalu’s spread looked very good.  Rosen was clearly more comfortable in it (which is understandable since he’s played in it his entire life), as it seemed was the rest of the offense.  Polamalu, too, called a good game when the offense was in the spread.  Developing the pro-style package was definitely a good idea, giving UCLA the option to go to it when it needed it.  But, if we may second-guess a little, perhaps Polamalu’s spread should be used more often as the base.  Of course, UCLA should use all of its options when game-planning against specific opponents, using them to exploit weaknesses, but at least for a while, when Rosen and the offense are still getting used to the pro-style and working out some kinks, the spread should be the default.

• UCLA’s rushing defense was still suspect.  It gave up 203 yards to a team that was 101st in rushing in the nation last season.  Even with UCLA’s switch to the 4-3, its vulnerability against the run was clearly the key to Texas A&M’s offense being able to move the ball.  The defensive line was mostly Eddie Vanderdoes and Takkarist McKinley, while the rest of the unit was just okay, and then when McKinley went out, the defense was severely impacted, in both its running defense and pass rush.  UCLA’s linebackers, too, fell into some of their old poor habits of picking a gap prematurely.  Second Guessing: UCLA’s secondary was clearly its strength.  UCLA’s DBs were making plays all over the field, with Fabian MoreauNathan MeadorsJaleel WadoodTahaan GoodmanAdarius Pickett breaking up passes in one-on-one matchups.  With the secondary being so strong, maybe it’s time UCLA put more pressure on the line of scrimmage to stuff the opponent’s running game, and also mount a better pass rush.  It’s maybe time UCLA’s defense started working without a net and abandon the bend-and-not-break tactic.  The defensive personnel it has now should dictate it, with the secondary being the strength of the team and the front seven perhaps needing some help, specifically on rush defense. 

• As we said was a big worry from fall camp, UCLA needs to find some reliable receivers who can catch the ball.  You could easily make the case that, even with Rosen not sharp, and the offensive playcalling taking a while to adjust, the Bruins would have easily won the game if the receivers group had hung onto just a couple of their missed catches.  It appeared there were at least a couple of touchdowns dropped (Jordan Lasley to start the fourth; Austin Roberts in overtime, etc.), and the ball going through the hands of Alex Van Dyke for an interception was absolutely devastating. That might have been a touchdown, too, but at the very least a first down within the redzone, and it becomes momentum stealer with the pick. Kenny Walker, to his vast credit, looked like the most reliable UCLA receiver on the field.  In practice, the most reliable is Darren Andrews, and he didn’t have the ball thrown his way often enough.  The go-to receiver in practice was tight end Nate Iese and he might have had one ball thrown to him against Texas A&M. Ishmael Adams was also in the reliable group from camp, and he didn’t have a ball thrown to him.  Perhaps the most talented receiver on the roster, true freshman receiver Theo Howard, didn’t play a snap in this game, and given the performance of the receivers, he deserves a chance.  

Kenny Walker (Photo: Steve Cheng)

• There was a big impact, figuratively and literally, by UCLA’s bigger safeties.  Goodman caused a fumble in the first half and made big hits throughout the day.  Pickett made a play that should have been game-winning (if UCLA had won), when he broke up a pass in the final seconds of regulation. He, too, was hitting people all over the field.  Heck, even freshman safety Brandon Burton had a big hit in kick-off coverage.  Goodman and Pickett not only made big hits, but made big plays, and it’s clear they deserve more playing time, and bring an enforcer-type of toughness to the defense that you can’t discount.  

• There were some positives to take away from the Texas A&M game that provide some optimism for the season.  The game would have been alarm-sounding if it hadn’t been for the fourth-quarter comeback.  When Rosen is looking for his shorter options, and UCLA’s playcalling takes what the defense gives it, the offense looks to have a chance to be good.  Again, if you isolate on Polamalu’s spread offense, it overall was pretty good on the day.  UCLA’s secondary looks like it has a chance to be outstanding this year, and the defense could get more aggressive at the LOS because the secondary has proven its reliability.  Despite all the reports that the Texas A&M pass rush was so key to the game, UCLA’s pass protection was solid, until A&M blitzed, which is understandable.  The Aggies got only one sack on the day, and many of the “hurries” came when Rosen still had time to find a secondary receiver.  So, the prospect of UCLA’s pass protection for the season might be better than you would think.   Takkarist McKinley looked to be the difference-maker he’s been in practice, before he went out of the game. Overall, there are definitely some things that have to develop, but there are the makings of good team in there. Losing on the road to an SEC team in one of the most challenging environments in college football, and it being a loss in just the first game of the season, provides UCLA a clear course to still putting together a good season. 

• Some Personnel Notes and Second-Guessing (Other than those above):

-- Jacob Tuioti-Mariner got time at defensive end with McKinley out and played well, both against the run and pass.  He’s so much quicker than Matt Dickerson, and Dickerson wasn’t greatly effective, so it could be that Tuioti-Mariner deserves to start at the other defensive end spot when McKinley returns. Dickerson, in fact, should probably move inside.

-- It’s time for linebacker Josh Woods to get a chance.  Jayon Brown had an okay game; Kenny Young looked better but was still susceptible to bad decisions in gap integrity and Cameron Judge wasn’t a big factor (also because he’s the linebacker on the sideline most of the time in the nickel).  These aren’t players we’re waiting on to develop but those that have been in the program for a while; it’s at the point you get what you’re going to get. Woods is one of the most athletic linebackers on the team and the linebacking unit could use a boost. 

-- Without McKinley, and Deon Hollins missing the game, redshirt freshman Keisean Lucier-South got some time as the designated rush end, and had moments when he looked quick, but was mostly contained, looking like he’s still 25 pounds away from being able to overcome the caliber of A&M’s tackles. 

-- Najee Toran stepped in for Poasi Moala at right guard and generally looked good. As expected he was better against the run, and was key in some blocks that led to good rushing gains. 

-- If Iese is destined to be the forgotten guy, again, perhaps redshirt freshman tight end Caleb Wilson can pick up the slack. He made a key catch and earned some impressive yards after the catch.  If Roberts can firm up his hands, he could be one of the biggest weapons of this offense, with a very good ability to get separation.  

-- Despite jumping offside (which you could attribute to the Texas A&M center bobbing his head), true freshman defensive tackle Boss Tagaloa showed the game wasn’t too big for him, looking strong at times in rush defense.  

-- Sophomore right Kolton Miller did live up the hype, looking very good against A&M’s ends. He matched up mostly against Daeshon Hall, and got the best of the match-up for the most part. Miller not only showed good feet but nice physicality. 


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