Josh Rosen might be breaking out of his early season funk. After having a pretty decent performance against Stanford a week ago, he was better against Arizona on Saturday. Though his final stat line perhaps doesn't indicate it, he was more accurate than he has been this season, and if it hadn't been for a half-dozen drops, he probably could have passed for over 400 yards on well over 60% passing. He made a couple of incredible throws, including his pair of touchdown passes to Kenny Walker. On the first throw, he had to buy a ton of time in the pocket and then had to make a split-second throw to Walker down the sideline which caught him perfectly in stride. The second, again a moment when the pocket was breaking down, involved Rosen throwing while an Arizona player grabbed at his feet, and once again, it was a split-second window where he had to get the ball up. Even during the abysmal second quarter, it wasn't so much that he was bad as he wasn't getting a) any protection from the offensive line at all and b) any help from a wide receiver corps, that just kept dropping passes.
Running Backs: B-
UCLA went with Nate Starks as its primary back in this game, and it remains to be seen whether that'll be a permanent switch. For the most part, we thought he did a pretty good job, though perhaps not as good as we thought watching him live. There were a few times where he didn't show enough patience as a runner and just ran directly into the pile. He generally ran well, though, and what really stood out was his blocking. He helped pick up a pass rusher on Rosen's first touchdown pass to Walker and then, on Rosen's touchdown pass to Theo Howard, Starks did a great job getting in front of the play to free up a lane down the sideline for Howard. Given that this team might not ever be able to run the ball this season with consistency given the issues up front, perhaps prioritizing Starks' blocking skills makes some sense.
Sotonye Jamabo had a really rough time of it. It seemed like every time he got a snap he had to deal with the offensive line completely breaking down. There were a few times where he was just met by a host of Arizona defenders three yards behind the line of scrimmage, which was just ridiculous to watch. It's hard to judge him harshly after that performance because he really didn't have much to work with. He caught a nice screen pass, though, and we hope to see more of that. Bolu Olorunfunmi didn't get much time at all, so there wasn't much to go on there.
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends: B-
There was a lot to like about the receiving corps in this game, and a lot left to be desired. First, for the good, we finally saw Theo Howard and he made one of those electric plays you expect from truly elite receivers. We've talked for years about getting that guy who can take a quick hitch and turn it into a touchdown, and that's exactly who Howard is. If he'd caught that ball at UCLA's 15-yard line instead of Arizona's, it would have been just as much of a touchdown. More please!
Darren Andrews and Walker were both very good as well. Andrews has clearly become a trusted target for Rosen, as he was targeted more than anyone and rewarded Rosen with nice catch after nice catch. He looked great on the sweep out of the backfield for the touchdown as well. Walker, for his part, has become such a more polished receiver than he ever was before, and it's great to finally see it all click for him.
So, that's the good. The bad is that, for the fifth consecutive game, UCLA had a bunch of drops, to the point where Jim Mora called it out in the post-game press conference. Eldridge Massington and Mossi Johnson had two particularly back-breaking drops, but Nate Iese also had one on what would have been a first down, and there were others as well. The offensive line wasn't great during the first half stagnation, but the receiving corps helped no one with its inability to hold onto the ball. In the second half, there were fewer drops, which is as good an explanation as any for why the offense started to click more.
Offensive Line: C+
This wasn't quite as bad as we thought it was live. While UCLA couldn't generate much between the tackles, for the most part Arizona, especially in the first half, was devoting more to the box and sending more guys on run blitzes than UCLA had the ability to block. Now, that doesn't completely absolve the offensive line, which again wasn't able to generate much of a push even when Arizona spread its defense out more, but there were a few times where there were just too many guys for the Bruins to block.
The interior of the line again was an issue. Scott Quessenberry seemed to get a little flummoxed by all the shifting Arizona was doing up front, and there were a couple of times that he just didn't give himself enough of a chance to block his man. Najee Toran and Kenny Lacy both had issues as well.
On the edge, Conor McDermott had a pretty nice game, and he's quietly put together a decent few game stretch after that tough opening game against Myles Garrett. Kolton Miller obviously went down and returned on crutches, so that's a big issue. Andre James filled in and, watching live, he looked perfectly fine, and then watching the replay, it didn't look like there were any major breakdowns because of his presence.
Offensive Scheme, Game Plan, and Play Calling: C+
This was a little bit of a strange game plan considering the relative strengths of this Arizona defense. UCLA clearly came out to pass the ball, and pretty consistently went with its shotgun formations in the first half. It was interesting only because Arizona's run defense was so bad coming into this one, and the Wildcats' pass defense was decent enough. UCLA shifted things in the second half, using its under-center looks more, and varying the play-calling quite a bit more so that Rosen wasn't just sitting back in the pocket waiting to get hit.
It'll be interesting to see what UCLA does going forward now that we have five games of data that essentially show the Bruins are going to have a tough time running the ball between the tackles no matter who they're facing. Perhaps the first half was a simple experiment to see if they need to go to more of a pass-heavy scheme going forward.
Defensive Line: A
We can safely say at this point that the defensive line, with Eddie Vanderdoes and Takkarist McKinley both healthy and playing, is a pretty darn good unit. McKinley had a really good game, looking very disruptive off the edge but also holding the edge pretty well and keeping Arizona's running backs and quarterbacks from getting wide with ease. His pursuit also kept Arizona's quarterbacks from getting super comfortable throwing on the run. UCLA also moved him around more in this one, and he saw time on the interior as well as lined up far out wide, which was cool to see. Vanderdoes, for his part, was very stout on the interior and seemed to be lining up a few yards into Arizona territory given how quickly he was able to get there off the snap.
UCLA played with Jacob Tuioti-Mariner and Matt Dickerson both getting a little bit more time on the interior and that seemed to work pretty well given that Eli Ankou is limited after the elbow injury. For the most part, UCLA physically dominated Arizona's decent offensive lien and kept them from generating much of a push at all.
Kenny Young was arguably the best player on the field during long stretches of this game, and isn't that just the craziest thing? Clearly the light has come on for Young, and he's been playing his best football as a Bruin over the last three games. With the defensive line playing better, he hasn't had to deal with as many offensive linemen, and that's freed him up to use his speed and athleticism to make plays. This was an excellent performance for the junior, and hopefully the light stays on the rest of the year.
Jayon Brown also played pretty well, but he did get the unfortunate task of having to spy Arizona's very fast quarterbacks for stretches of this game, so there were a few times when Brandon Dawkins and then Khalil Tate were just able to beat him simply by being faster. Looking at the schedule going forward, given that Manny Wilkins looks doubtful for this Saturday, UCLA won't have to deal with any quarterbacks faster than Arizona's pair, so that's good. Josh Woods also overpursued a little on one quarterback run.
Defensive Backs: B+
UCLA's secondary didn't have its most challenging evening, what with Arizona not really even trying to throw the ball much in the second half despite being down by three scores, but the Bruins still did a nice job mostly blanketing the Arizona receivers. Fabian Moreau had his first legitimate-looking pass interference call of the year, and Johnny Johnson was hit with one as well that looked like a decent call, but for the most part, UCLA was pretty clean in its coverage. Early on, Arizona picked on Randall Goforth on the first drive, which led to a touchdown, but after that there really wasn't much for Arizona in the pass game.
In run support, the secondary was mostly fine, but there were a couple of missed tackles, one by Goforth and one by Jaleel Wadood, but that one's kind of hard to blame him, as tackling a 200-pound bowling ball is not easy. Adarius Pickett played really well again, and he's quickly becoming one of our favorite players to watch on defense.
Defensive Scheme, Game Plan, and Play Calling: A-
UCLA has put together three good games on defense in a row, and it might be safe to say that the Bruins actually have a good defense. Against Arizona, the Bruins again mixed some things defensively, using a spy on the running quarterbacks quite a bit. They didn't blitz a ton, but you don't really want to against running quarterbacks who can't throw the ball that well.
Obviously, Arizona put together some drives in the second half, but we're not going to pin that on the scheme or game plan. At that point in the game, allowing Arizona to burn clock and run the ball was a fine decision.
Special Teams: A-
From a field position perspective, this was UCLA's best performance of the season. The return game was on point, with Ishmael Adams, Randall Goforth, and Adarius Pickett all putting together nice returns. Kickoff and punt return coverage were both excellent. In the kicking game, J.J. Molson missed a field goal, but otherwise, Austin Kent and Molson were both pretty solid. Overall, this was a very encouraging game for the special teams.