It appears that Kalani Sitake learned a thing or two from his time under Kyle Whittingham. Unfortunately for BYU, he even imported the Utes’ anemic offense to Provo. As a result, the UCLA defense had one of those dominant games that pops up a couple times each season (for example: Utah, Oregon State and UNLV last year), playing with the edge and tenacity that had been missing for most of the first two games. The offense had a tougher slog, being basically unable to run the ball, but scored enough to win. It was a tough game in a hard environment, but the Bruins deserved to win and did, only a 62 point turnaround from the last visit to Provo.
As always, we use:
- Yards Per Stop to measure efficiency.
- Yards Per Play to measure explosiveness.
- Points Per Drive and Points Per Trip Inside the 40 to measure scoring efficiency and taking advantage of scoring opportunities.
- Field Position Margin to measure the hidden yards of field position.
- Turnover Margin to measure the impact turnovers have had on the game and season.
First, the bad news. Forced to play against a solid defensive front seven, the offense looked even worse than it did against the five stars from Texas A&M. Kennedy Polamalu’s troops were inefficient, with the worst Yards Per Stop since the 2015 Arizona State game and five three-and-outs. They were not explosive, with the second-worst Yards Per Play of the last two years. They were poor at scoring, with the worst Points Per Drive since 2014. As Vin Scully is wont to say when describing a player mired in a slump: it was a struggle (especially as compared to the Texas-Cal game one channel down), and in no place was that more obvious than the painful attempts at running the ball. Of 31 non-sack rushes, a grand total of five went for more than four yards (16%). The initial BRO review of the game was not kind to Josh Rosen’s ability to find open receivers, but from a statistical standpoint the biggest issue was by far the inability to run the ball.
So where is the offense after the first three games? It has performed well in one game (against cupcake BYU) and poorly in two (against big bad Texas A&M and BYU). This leads to the offense being mired in the mediocre Top 100 level in every stat we track. This isn’t a great sign, especially considering that we can probably expect Pac-12 defenses to have talent closer to A&M and BYU than UNLV. It’s Stanford week, so this would be a good time for the offense to start clicking.
The defense broke out in a big way. Taysom Hill clearly doesn’t have the legs he used to, and while we believed that Hill might give the Cougars the best chance to win against a UCLA defense that had previously struggled against the run, it was remarkable that Sitake did not at least try to give Tanner Mangum a shot. Maybe he could have drawn a few more weak pass interference penalties.
So, the happy numbers: fewer Yards Allowed Per Stop than any game in the 2015 season but Oregon State and UNLV. Fewer Yards Allowed Per Play since the start of 2015 than any game but last year’s UNLV game. One Point Allowed Per Drive. Things went well for the defense until the final BYU drive against a very passive UCLA defense, which we actually believe was an ok strategy given the Bruins were up two scores. The actual execution of the strategy wasn’t perfect—Fabian Moreau has been very good so far but you really shouldn’t give up a 23 yard touchdown pass that was very much of the huck-and-pray variety in a prevent defense. This was also the first game in which the defense got a significant amount of snaps from both Eddie Vanderdoes and Takkarist McKinley and the entire squad’s attitude was noticeably different as a result, so hopefully McKinley’s injuries are not too severe. Deon Hollins looked dangerous as well in his first action, but sooner or later he must actually get a sack instead of just providing pressure. Against Stanford, we imagine that Rick Wade, who had a bit of a coming out party, to get plenty of snaps.
This level of domination turns around the season stats for the defense pretty significantly. For the season, the defense is now at the Top 25-level at both preventing efficiency (Yards Allowed Per Stop) and explosiveness (Yards Allowed Per Play). This performance was not able to drag the Points Allowed Per Drive out of the gutter it had been in thanks to the bend-then-break nature of the defense the first two weeks, but things are certainly trending in the right direction. Now, however, it is time for the deep end. Christian McCaffrey and the Stanford offensive line will be the greatest test of the season thus far.
As expected, BYU’s ridiculous turnover luck over the first two games did not continue, with the Bruins and Cougars forcing one turnover apiece.
It appeared that UCLA came with the punt block several times, though they never quite got through. As a result, Ishmael Adams averaged only 1.3 yards per return and even muffed one punt. Thus far, only the one Adams punt return late in the fourth quarter against Texas A&M has really affected a game. Ish still looks dangerous, but he has yet to really produce the moments of magic that were so awesome in 2014.
Once again, the Bruins did a good job in a hostile environment of avoiding penalties, with five penalties, several of which were very questionable. Two of the penalties were absolutely horrific pass defense calls that allowed BYU to eventually smash in their only touchdown (after six plays starting at the UCLA 14) before the switch to prevent defense and another was a very soft Unsportsmanlike Conduct penalty against Darren Andrews for doing basically the same thing that every receiver in the NFL does after every catch. Kudos to the UCLA coaching staff for sticking with Andrews, whose speed really was able to rip the BYU secondary apart. The silent count is working well (though please Scott Quessenberry fix those snaps), with zero Bruin procedure penalties in Provo. The next step is to have success at home, where the Bruins were very sloppy against UNLV.
UCLA went through the nonconference season like a good-not-great team with some consistency issues. Until further notice, that seems about right for this team. The Bruins have an opportunity to serve notice that they can be something more on Saturday evening at the Rose Bowl. Questions? Comments? Meet us on the Premium Football Forum or tweet us @Bruinalytics.