In the statistical season preview, we wrote that the stats pointed to a UCLA football team that would be nowhere close to elite but still have a chance to play for the Pac-12 title thanks to its schedule. After one game played across the league, it appears that prediction is right on track. That is the end of the good news.
As far as the actual game in College Station, the stats are far less kind to the Bruins than our own initial thoughts after the game, colored as they were by the fourth quarter comeback. The Bruins were not even Top-25 level in any of the statistical areas that we follow, and were downright awful in multiple categories. It was a really bad performance even grading on the curve of first-game-of-the-season-in-a-tough-environment. Frankly, even if the Bruins had scored a touchdown or field goal on that final drive in regulation or won in overtime, the stats would not have looked good.
As always, we use:
- Yards Per Stop to measure efficiency
- Yards Per Play to measure explosiveness
- Points Per Drive to measure scoring
- Points Per Trip Inside the 40 to measure drive finishing
- Field Position Margin to measure field position
- Turnover Margin to measure turnovers
The gory details:
To fall into Parcells-ism for a second: the point of the game is to score more points than the other team. The Bruins were remarkably awful at this somewhat important facet of the game on Saturday. They made it within the Texas A&M 40 yard line eight times and scored 24 points. The last time the UCLA offense averaged fewer Points Per Trip Inside the 40 was the opening game of the 2014 season at Virginia. The Bruins only scored 1.5 or fewer Points Per Drive two times last season (Southern Cal and Arizona State). That level of ineptness at actual scoring makes it somewhat remarkable that UCLA was able to even take the game to overtime. We don’t really follow Points Per Snap Inside the 10, but we have to imagine that two field goals and a turnover on downs would be especially awful.
We wrote in the game preview that A&M appeared to be susceptible to the big play, but the Bruins were mostly unable to take advantage outside of the Kenneth Walker touchdown—only two plays went for over 30 yards. There were certainly more opportunities in the passing game, with the drops and Rosen’s inaccuracy in the first three quarters keeping the UCLA offense from more big pass play. The run game was very disappointing, with only the one Bolu Olorunfunmi long run breaking up a tough day on the ground. The UCLA offense was inefficient, not explosive, and awful at taking advantage of scoring opportunities. They had better hope that A&M’s defense is for real.
The defense wasn’t as horrific as the offense, but it wasn’t very good either even despite Trevor Knight repeatedly missing open receivers. Just as the offense was astoundingly bad at scoring, the defense was astoundingly bad at stiffening near the goal line. Over the last two years, only Stanford (both years) has averaged over 6.2 Points Per Trip Inside the 40 against the UCLA defense. The Bruins left more potential points on the board than the Aggies as shown by the huge 3.2 point disparity in Points Per Trip Inside the 40. The Bruins did a fair job of preventing the big play given the playmakers in the A&M receiving corps, but we must take that with a grain of salt remembering that the Mazzone offense isn’t particularly designed to go long.
With Deon Hollins home in Westwood and Takkarist McKinley hobbled with a groin injury, the Bruins were unable to get any sacks (there were several hurries, though the larger UCLA defensive linemen were unable to catch Knight) and only managed two tackles for loss. Knight is a fairly athletic quarterback, but the Bruins will be facing plenty more of those this season, so it would probably be nice to manufacture more of a pass rush somehow. It’s pretty distressing that since the halcyon days of Datone Jones, Cassius Marsh, and Anthony Barr in year one of the Mora era, the UCLA defense has been so bad at rushing the passer, and there is no rule that just because a team doesn’t blitz much doesn’t mean it can’t get pressure. If Hollins and McKinley miss further time, it is about time for players who modeled themselves on Barr in high school like Keisean Lucier-South and Breland Brandt to bring more of the speed and flexibility necessary to be a great pass rusher.
While the Bruins were unable to manage even one touchback on a kickoff (miss you already, Fairbairn), the kick coverage was pretty good, with only one relatively long punt return by the dangerous Christian Kirk. The Bruins were unable to break any big field-flipping returns of their own, with only Ishmael Adams’s punt return before the Bruins’ final drive of regulation getting more than a few yards. The punting, happily, was uneventful if unspectacular.
In a close game, turnovers are incredibly important, and the Bruins turned the ball over three times with two interceptions in Aggie territory (one of which was probably a UCLA touchdown if the ball hadn’t been dropped). That first Rosen interception was really bad. Ugh. It was nice to see the UCLA secondary force two turnovers after being remarkably poor at forcing turnovers in 2015. Adarius Pickett may have had the best hands on the Bruin team on that day.
The Bruins had very few penalties, which was good to see and hopefully will continue throughout the season. No false starts or holds in game one against a strong defensive line and in one of the loudest environments in college football was one of the few bright spots for the Bruin offensive line.
It was a very poor first game for the Bruins, but thanks to what looks like a weak Pac-12, there is still a very solid chance at the first division title in 4 years and first conference title in 18 (!!) years. Up next: a tune-up against a UNLV team that actually gave Rosen some trouble last season.
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