Let's start with the good: Josh Rosen showed off a lot of toughness by coming back into the game in the second half when he was clearly hurt. Even with making a couple of bad mistakes, he did enough for UCLA to win the game -- once again he was plagued by receiver drops (in this game, two dropped touchdowns) as well as an offensive scheme that allowed him to take way, way too many hits. Of course, he did have the two bad mistakes, a fumble in the first half that set ASU up for a field goal and then an interception in the second half that set the Sun Devils up for a second field goal. It wasn't his sharpest game, but given the injury, he played pretty commendably.
The biggest concern for UCLA coming out of this game is that Mike Fafaul, who might have to play considerably more going forward, did not look good. He led UCLA on a punt-fest to end the first half, and then opened the second half by throwing an interception on a simple throw to the sideline that got jumped. Those are the kinds of interceptions we often saw in practice from Jerry Neuheisel and Fafaul over the years, and what gave us a good deal of trepidation, going back before this season, that either would be able to start games for UCLA given their inability to make all of throws. Fafaul also iced the game with another pick on UCLA's final drive. In total, he was 3 of 11 for 44 yards and two interceptions, and that performance is a big worry heading into this week.
Running Backs: D+
UCLA only ran the ball 17 times (not counting sacks), which shows you just how ineffective the UCLA running game was. On those 17 runs, Nate Starks and Sotonye Jamabo combined for just 40 yards, which is so wildly ineffective that you understand why they only ran the ball 17 times. Starks had basically one good run all night and then spent his other 13 carries more or less running directly into the pile, while Jamabo was simply too slow getting up field on his three runs. Neither of them looked particularly decisive, and while we're not going to pin all of the blame on them (the offensive line and scheme were both pretty bad as well), they should have been able to get more yardage than they did. Bolu Olorunfunmi was not available for this game, in much the same way that both Starks and Jamabo were unavailable for games in the first stretch of the season, and his absence was felt. Jamabo, to his credit, contributed with a great 66-yard play on a screen.
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends: D
We're getting toward theatre of the absurd territory here. After Kenny Walker looked semi-reliable in recent weeks -- like, perhaps, UCLA's second or third-best receiver -- he went out and dropped two touchdown passes. They weren't perfect throws, but they were plenty good enough for Walker to catch and he did not. Nate Iese (who played fairly well aside from this) had a drop as well, and there were a couple more sprinkled in that could have been counted as drops as well. It has to be maddening for Rosen, who has struggled with his accuracy at times this year, to see even his accurate throws dropped by his receivers.
There were some positives. For one, Theo Howard started and doubled his catch total for the year -- he's now up to a whopping four catches! Jordan Lasley, who also had a semi-drop, was impressive in his return to the field after sitting out last weekend, with a great 52-yard catch and run for a touchdown. Austin Roberts played well for the most part, and even the much maligned Eldridge Massington had perhaps his best game of the season. Darren Andrews didn't do a whole lot.
Offensive Line: D-
UCLA simply cannot run the ball between the tackles, and that's a systemic failure that begins with the scheme and continues through both the offensive line and the running backs. The interior of UCLA's offensive line is just not equipped to power the ball up the middle, or really run block in any major way. Kenny Lacy and Scott Quessenberry have both seemed to struggle quite a bit this year, and that was evident once again in this game. These guys were all recruited to play in Noel Mazzone's tempo spread, and asking them to turn into the kind of maulers you need for Kennedy Polamalu's scheme in a single offseason was probably an unreasonable request. Tackle play wasn't great either, from either Conor McDermott or Andre James. The offensive line was often overwhelmed by numbers, but even when it wasn't, they struggled to sustain blocks long enough to give Rosen unimpeded time to throw. Rosen took an absurd number of hits.
There isn't really an obvious solution here, aside from making a wholesale change back to a tempo spread. UCLA's interior line is not equipped to win one-on-one against defensive linemen, and that pretty much dooms this offense to failure.
Offensive Scheme, Game Plan, and Play-Calling: D-
This is more a grade for the half-season, and the overall failure of this offense to achieve its number one goal from the offseason: running the ball. This offense can't do it, and if your run-first offense can't run-ever, there's no other word for it than failure. UCLA has one of the worst rushing offenses in all of college football, despite having plenty of talent at running back. If we had to put our finger on why it's so bad, we'd probably point to the overall scheme change, which pushed UCLA to an offensive design that it did not have the personnel to fit. UCLA's offensive line is at its weakest point of the Mora era (perhaps 2012 has an argument, but the offensive line is clearly not good) and picking that moment in time to make the change to more of a pro-style scheme speaks to an overall misunderstanding of the talent on the field.
We're also going to pick out something specific: punting on the ASU 34-yard line was the worst 4th down decision we can remember this staff making, and they've made really questionable 4th down decisions with a breathtaking frequency over the years. Just to be clear: you either kick the field goal there (probably the best call) or you go for it (it's 4th and 10 with Fafaul, sure, so success rate is probably not high). What you don't do is punt, which gains about 20 yards of field position as a likely case scenario while turning the ball over to the Sun Devils. It's just a silly decision.
Defensive Line: A-
Really, we have no substantive objections to the performance of the defensive line. In the first half especially, it was nails, and we have to imagine if they'd been kept off the field a bit more by sustained offensive drives, they could have put together their most dominant performance of the 2016 season. There were a couple of plays where the ends over-pursued and gave ASU some cutback lanes, but for the most part, this was a dominant performance against the run. Takkarist McKinley once again played really well, but once again seemed to be ailing from that groin injury. He had two tackles for loss early, and he's being used in a variety of ways both on the edge and on the interior. Eddie Vanderdoes was once again very solid on the interior and stuffed much of what was sent his way by the Sun Devils. Matt Dickerson had maybe his most effective game of the young season as well, recording four tackles, while Rick Wade, who hadn't played much in the last couple of games, provided UCLA with a solid presence off the edge in the absence of McKinley at points. From a pass rush perspective, they probably didn't get quite enough pressure on Brady White, but White was pretty ineffective anyway, so it didn't turn out to be a big deal.
It's probably safe to say that the light is on for Kenny Young and staying that way. He followed up his nice three-game stretch with another very good performance on Saturday. He seems to take great pleasure in beating up quarterbacks, as he laid a couple of big hits on White. He's playing so much faster than he was at the very beginning of the season and throughout almost all of last season, and it's really fun to watch him now. Jayon Brown was also very good in pursuit, and led the team in tackles (it looks like he's going to end up confirming our suspicion that he'll lead the team in tackles despite not playing middle linebacker). Even Cameron Judge had a nice game, pursuing to the edge well.
UCLA as a whole allowed just 79 yards on 34 carries against a pretty good rushing attack. That speaks to much improved play from the beginning of the year both along the defensive line and in the linebacker corps.
Defensive Backs: B
This wasn't a bad performance by any stretch of the imagination for the secondary, but there was one significant issue. The absence of Nathan Meadors obviously hurt. ASU was able to attack his fill-in on that side, Randall Goforth, pretty effectively at times during the game, and if White had been a little more accurate early, ASU could have hit some big plays over Goforth to Tim White. The more aggressive scheme UCLA has run for large parts of the season, with a single high safety, requires really good cornerback play, and while Fabian Moreau more than provided it on his side, there was a drop off on the other end. You have to commend Goforth for showing a willingness to fill in anywhere, but he's just not quite at the level of Meadors.
Safety play was mostly fine, and we'll see what Jaleel Wadood's status is after he looked like he got hurt toward the tail end of the game. Tahaan Goodman played a good amount, and Adarius Pickett looked as solid as he usually does. Pickett and Moreau both recorded interceptions, and it's great to see Moreau starting to play the ball quite a bit better than he did in the past.
Defensive Scheme, Game Plan, and Play Calling: B
This was a very solid game from the defensive staff and given the level of their performance in the first half, even mediocre offensive play would have been enough for UCLA to have a double-digit lead going into halftime. UCLA shut down ASU's rushing attack basically all night and forced the game into the hands of Brady White, who showed that he wasn't up to the task for much of the first half. In the second half, he got it going a little bit more. It looked like UCLA went a little more conservative when McKinley was out of the game, running more of a base Cover 2 look, and White was able to drive on that. UCLA's success is very much personnel-driven, and if McKinley or Vanderdoes misses substantial time, there isn't anyone who can effectively fill in for them.
Overall, though, the defense allowed fewer than five yards per play, just over two yards per rush attempt on the ground, and recovered two turnovers. This wasn't a completely dominant performance, but it was the next step down, and it should have been enough to give UCLA the win.
Special Teams: D
J.J. Molson missed two of four field goals, and must have looked shaky enough to the coaching staff that they decided to defy all math and science by punting from the 34 yard line. Austin Kent, for his part, didn't have a great game, and wasn't able to drive the ball well, which set up ASU with decent field position too many times. The return game was a disaster, as UCLA struggled to even hang on to the ball, let alone run it up field. Pickett muffed the ball basically every time he tried to catch it, but luckily he recovered them all.
If you were conservatively inclined, you could pin the loss on special teams, but we're still going to lean toward the offense being the main culprit. Still -- you could make the argument it was special teams play, and that's never a good sign.