2006 was my first year of college, about 2,900 miles away from the Rose Bowl. I watched the 13-9 miracle against SC alone in a cold basement on a 15 inch television. When the Bruins punted up 13-9 late in Saturday’s game, I started to hear the echoes of that big win ten years ago. I’ve definitely had the music from that great Larmz highlight video in my head a few times already this week.
I did go to one game during the 2006 regular season. It was the Notre Dame game in South Bend, where the Bruins outfought and outplayed mighty (at the time) Notre Dame for 58 minutes or so before allowing the Irish to drive 80 yards in three plays, with non-division-winning San Francisco Giant Jeff Samardzija weaving his way through the Bruin defense for the game winning touchdown. That had been the worst feeling I can remember from a loss. On Saturday, after outfighting and outplaying mighty Stanford for 58 minutes, the Bruins inexplicably dropped back into that DeWayne Walker prevent defense and lost a game that they should have won. This one may have been the most painful loss yet.
As always, we look at the following stats:
- 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.
This was not a very good offensive performance against a Stanford defense that isn’t nearly the squad it has been in years past. The Bruins were in the mediocre Top 100 tier in all stats we track except for Points Per Drive, where they were in the lowest tier. Football Study Hall calculated a 37% Success Rate (over 50% of yards needed for a first down on 1st and 2nd down, 100% of yards needed to gain on 3rd and 4th down) for the Bruin offense, well below the national average of 40%. The Bruins were only able to get inside the Stanford 40 three times, and one of those was after a Kenny Young interception return. They were unable to find the explosive plays needed to perhaps loosen up the Stanford defense up front, with no plays of at least 30 yards (though to be fair the Bruins connected on plenty of intermediate length routes between 10 and 30 yards). Going against an opponent with a potential weakness at cornerback, it’s a shame the Bruins instead kept grinding out 3.31 yards (excluding the sacks) and a cloud of dust on the ground. With the Bruin defense doing a great job of keeping the Cardinal from big plays, the offense was unable to make the game-changing field-flipping plays that might have made the difference.
Alarm bells should be ringing right now for the offense. 24 Points Per Game and 2.00 Points Per Drive is probably not good enough to win the Pac 12 South. Brian Fremeau has the Bruin offense as a very mediocre 65th in the country in Points Per Drive. We can talk all we want about explosiveness and efficiency, but at its most basic level, football is about scoring points. If the Bruins were just a little bit better at this most basic skill, they would be 4-0 and almost certainly in the Top 10. Unsurprisingly, the Bruins are in the mediocre Top 100 tier in explosiveness and efficiency as well. Football Study Hall is similarly unimpressed with the Bruin offense, with the Bruins 97th in the country in IsoPPP (a measure of explosiveness) and 69th in Success Rate.
This was so close to being a fully dominant defensive effort. Take out that final awful prevent defense drive (which still took ten plays because Stanford is Stanford) and the Bruins would have allowed an elite Top 10-level 28 Yards Per Stop and Top 25-level Points Per Drive. Unfortunately, that drive happened and the defensive stats really aren’t that incredible. Stanford has a solid offense, though not as good as last year, and the defense really should be commended for a very good effort. That last drive just kept it from being a great one. This is certainly a game to build on for the defense, and hopefully they can keep it up against the offense-only Arizona schools.
The Bruin defense has had a solid defense. It has returned to its customary Top 25 level at Yards Allowed Per Play (a happy return after last year’s all-around bad defense) and is 11th in the country in IsoPPP allowed, showing a good ability at preventing big plays. It is not as good at preventing efficiency, in the Top 50 level for Yards Allowed Per Stop and 75th in the country in Success Rate. There has been a lot of talk about the potential for this Bruin defense being great, but it is still just potential. To actually be the first great UCLA defense in some time, the Bruins must improve over the next few games. They are 6th in the country in IsoPPP allowed on pass plays, but 51st in IsoPPP allowed against the run and 89th in rushing success rate. Stop the run and become the best defense in the league.
The Bruins did a very good job of taking care of the ball and had two takeaways, a sign of the Bruins flipping the usual script against the Cardinal. Further, the Bruins actually had fewer penalties than Stanford, which makes us pretty confident in saying the offseason focus on eliminating penalties really has worked.
One thing to be said about David Shaw—he is consistent. We aren’t big fans of his repeated decisions to punt on fourth and short with the best running back in the country in his backfield, but it leads to results like the incredible -7.9 Average Field Position Margin. This is including the interception return that set the Bruins up at the Stanford 30, so Shaw did a great job of tilting the field against the Bruin offense in a game where his own offense was sputtering. That’s the thing about Shaw—he is probably not a great in-game coach, but he is great at creating a culture and building an identity. David Shaw always punts, and it often works.
A small aside: it’s time for somebody besides Ishmael Adams to get a shot at returner. He hasn’t looked as dangerous as he was in 2014, and he gets plenty of chances to have the ball in his hands on offense. According to Football Study Hall, the Bruins have the #101 Punt Return Success Rate and #95 Kick Return Success Rate in the country. Adams should focus on offense and a new player should be given a shot at breaking some explosive returns.
If UCLA wants another shot at Stanford (or Washington), they can probably afford one or maybe two more losses this year. The Stanford game was the most painful loss in maybe a decade, but there is no time to breathe easy—a loss to an Arizona team that had looked bad all year before taking Washington to overtime last week might be a season killer.
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