UCLA squandered what was probably the best performance from Josh Rosen this season. He missed a couple of throws and had one questionable decision throwing a ball up into coverage, but was otherwise very good, looking more in-sync with his receiving corps than at any other point this season. He was once again let down by drops, with two coming on a drive in the third quarter that certainly would have resulted in points had they been caught. Quarterbacks don't typically do what Rosen did against Stanford -- average nearly 10 yards per pass attempt and complete over 65% of passes. He also looked to the tight end much more than he has over the first three games, although that did look like his primary target on a majority of those throws. The one thing we saw him miss pretty badly was a wide open Nate Iese on UCLA's first touchdown drive, where Stanford forgot to cover Iese and he was running free straight up the seam into the end zone. He went on to hit Iese in that drive for a touchdown, so we give him a pass there.
Running Backs: B-
We don't put a whole lot of blame on the running backs themselves for UCLA's poor rushing performance. For the most part, they got the yards that were available, and, in Bolu Olorunfunmi's case, got significantly more yards than were available. Olorunfunmi nearly iced the game on his own on UCLA's final drive with a great bouncing run where he ran into a stacked line, maintained his balance, bounced the run outside, and accelerated past the Stanford defense for a first down. It was a remarkable individual effort. If only he'd been able to replicate it on the ensuing set of downs. Olorunfunmi got 11 carries against the tightly packed Stanford defense, but given his strengths as a runner, we would have liked to see him get 20+ carries.
Sotonye Jamabo and Nate Starks were less effective against the Stanford defense, and we didn't see much of the true freshmen. We once again saw Ishmael Adams carry a ball from scrimmage (for a first down, we should say), and we still really don't get what UCLA is trying to do there. Adams hasn't looked great in those spots, and has looked much more effective catching the ball rather than running it (his one drop on Saturday not withstanding).
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends: C-
Perhaps this is a bit harsh, but in a game where every possession was significant, a couple of drops or poorly run routes loom large. On Rosen's deep ball to Jordan Lasley, it looked like that one might have been a bit more on Lasley, as he hit full speed a little late. The two drops in that third quarter drive were also significantly, particularly Ishmael's, who dropped the ball as he was looking to turn upfield for more yardage. It's not a huge stretch to say that if Adams catches that ball (for a first down), UCLA goes on to score a touchdown that drive -- the Bruins were moving the ball very well, and had started to take advantage of Stanford's weakness at cornerback. If that happens, UCLA probably wins the game, since it would have put the Bruins up two scores in a game where even a 7-point lead felt very comfortable.
What saves the grade is the performance of the tight ends. UCLA can probably recruit from this game, since the tight ends combined for well over 100 yards receiving. Iese was very good, and easily could have had over 100 yards if Rosen had hit him a little earlier for the touchdown in that first scoring drive. He caught the ball well and was wide open much of the game. Caleb Wilson and Austin Roberts both had nice catches as well, and as a group, the tight ends blocked better than we can remember them blocking through the early part of the season.
Offensive Line: C-
It was really the same old story as the early part of the season, with the added wrinkle of Kolton Miller really having some trouble on his side of the line. Miller drew the unfortunate task of dealing with Solomon Thomas, and Thomas more or less owned that matchup, looking a little too physical and explosive for Miller at this stage of his development.
But the main issue was the interior of the offensive line. Scott Quessenberry really seemed to struggle against Harrison Phillips, and then combined that with some pretty bad snaps, including one that led to a very bad decision by Rosen to throw a ball up into coverage (thankfully it was not picked off). Najee Toran had his own issues against Thomas as well. Kenny Lacy might have held up the best among the three interior guys, but he wasn't great by any means. None of them generated much of a push in the run game, which was a huge part of why UCLA averaged just over two yards per carry.
Offensive Scheme, Play-Calling, and Game Plan: C-
Tracy went into this in-depth in his piece, so it isn't worth rehashing in full here. Ultimately, UCLA was undone by a game plan that seemed oriented around the idea of doing what we do rather than doing what the game plan should dictate we do. Rosen was excellent in this game, and Stanford's pass defense was not only weak at the beginning of the game, but got consistently weaker as the game wore on. Stanford lost two starting cornerbacks, and UCLA should have looked to exploit the match ups against the backups, and for about one drive they did (the one where Adams dropped that ball).
For the most part, it was a stubborn game plan of trying to pound the ball between the tackles. We were really anticipating some sort of play-action in the second half to build on all of the time spent running the ball up the middle in the first half, but it never came. UCLA has a multiple offense, but if it isn't going to use the multiplicity of its formations to create good match ups against the weaknesses of a particular defense, then what good is it to be multiple?
Defensive Line: A-
Ooh, boy, this was fun to watch, and by "this", we mean Eddie Vanderdoes trucking Stanford interior offensive linemen like they were dudes from UNLV for much of the first half. Vanderdoes is playing with what I like to call "old man strength" so far this season. He was a huge part of the reason that Christian McCaffrey was limited for long portions of this game. The rest of the interior line did a nice job too, with Eli Ankou looking good before his injury, and Boss Tagaloa and Nick Terry both filling in and looking good as well as the game wore on.
Jacob Tuioti-Mariner played really well at end and created a sack off of a great move against Stanford tackle Austin Hall. Takkarist McKinley was once again hobbled by his sore groin, but still played very well, and was critical in backside pursuit against Stanford's running backs. He had two tackles for loss and a sack, despite the groin issue, and it's really wild to think what he'd be doing right now if he were fully healthy. As it stands, we're hopeful UCLA can find a game to sit him over the next few weeks so he's ready to go for the second half of the season.
The opening drive wasn't great, with Kenny Young looking a little out of sorts against the Stanford rushing attack, but then everything suddenly clicked on Stanford's second drive, and from that point the linebackers, and Young, suddenly started playing very well. Young had the interception that was thrown right to him, but he also pursued well and was reacting well to plays after that opening drive.
Jayon Brown had another very good game, recording 10 tackles, and it looks like our prediction that he would once again lead UCLA in tackles could be coming to fruition. We didn't see a whole lot from Cameron Judge, which makes sense since this wasn't really the type of game for him. Josh Woods had a very nice play at one point, pursuing McCaffrey into a short gain where, if McCaffrey beats Woods, he almost certainly gets 10+ yards. Isaako Savaiinaea didn't play too much, and looked a little lost the one time we noticed him as well on Stanford's second drive.
Defensive Backs: A-
Stanford only passed the ball for 143 yards on 28 attempts, so the Bruins were clearly doing something right in the secondary. There were multiple times where Ryan Burns dropped back to pass and there was simply nothing available for him. UCLA's corners, Nathan Meadors and Fabian Moreau, once again played very well. There is really only so much you can do against a perfectly thrown fade -- that's why teams elect to throw them in the end zone, because it's either complete or the receiver can't catch it, but very rarely can a DB make a play on a well-thrown fade. Blaming Meadors for that touchdown catch would be wildly unfair.
That final drive was unfortunate, but the issue seemed to be mostly that the UCLA staff lost its aggressive mindset and started to play passively, which gave Burns time to sit back and find receivers. What also happened is that Burns started to really hammer the height advantage his receivers had over UCLA's defensive backs. The one throw that stands out is the completion to Trent Irwin, where Burns tossed the ball about three feet over Irwin's head and Irwin came down with it over Jaleel Wadood, who gives up about five or six inches to Irwin.
Adarius Pickett and Tahaan Goodman were both fun to watch, as they laid big hit after big hit against the Stanford receivers and tight ends. Pickett and Goodman were a huge part of UCLA winning the physical battle overall, and it seemed like in the middle chunks of this game, Stanford's receivers wanted no part of going over the middle, with even the big, tough Stanford tight ends alligator-arming a couple of balls. Of course, that one hit on Francis Owusu could have been called targeting, but otherwise, most of the hits, while hard, looked pretty clean.
Defensive Scheme, Play-Calling, and Game Plan: C
For 90% of the game, this was one of the best-called games for UCLA with Tom Bradley. The Bruins mixed different pressures, clearly lined up to match Stanford's ogre packages, and used a variety of different looks up front to change things up for Burns and keep him uncomfortable. At different times, it looked like UCLA was running a 5-3-3, finally matching Stanford's offensive line with the big bodies on UCLA's roster.
Then the final drive happened, and that really sacrifices the grade here. Last week, when UCLA went with the prevent defense up two scores against BYU with two minutes to go, we supported the move, because it makes sense up two scores to keep the other team from scoring really quickly. The key words there are "up two scores". Against Stanford, UCLA wasn't even up a touchdown, but still went prevent against a team that had two minutes and no timeouts. In other words, they did exactly what Stanford needed them to do to get into position to score on the other side of the field with time to spare.
Since it was such a close game, you could point to more than a few things that lost the game, but this decision, coming as it did at the end of the game, literally lost the Bruins the game. If UCLA goes a little more aggressive on that drive, maybe the Bruins give up a big play for a touchdown, but if that's the case, suddenly Rosen has more than 24 seconds to drive down the field and tie it or win it.
Special Teams: C-
While Marcus Rios's play was very bad, running into the returner the way he did, we don't place much special importance on it for that drive. Fifteen yards when a team is playing prevent defense is basically nothing -- maybe Stanford scores with 15 seconds on the clock instead of 24, but the Cardinal probably drives the field for the touchdown anyway the way the defense let up. Still, it was unnecessary by Rios, and that gets the knock here.
Ishmael Adams continues to look very shaky in the return game. He muffed another punt, and just doesn't look good even when he returns the ball, not showing off his customary vision or acceleration. It might be time to try someone else there.
The kicking game was fine. Austin Kent punted the ball pretty well, and we liked the decision to send kickoffs away from McCaffrey all game. J.J. Molson made his field goals and that was pretty critical, until it suddenly wasn't.