The 2016 edition of UCLA football is basically a Will Muschamp team with a more likeable coach. The defense is absolutely incredible and can dominate any offense it plays against, but the offense is absolutely abysmal and has been stopped for long stretches of the game by every single defense it has faced, even UNLV. Put those two together and you get a team that, after that horrific offensive showing against a bad Arizona State defense, is 3-3 and now must almost certainly win out to win the division. I’m just glad I was at a wedding and so couldn’t watch much of the game live. Yeesh.
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.
The bad news first: the UCLA offense is awful. We are now halfway into the season and can confidently say that this is one of the worst UCLA offenses in recent memory. This was a really terrible Arizona State defense and it shut the Bruins down. Additionally, the offense gifted the Arizona State offense great field position by turning the ball over an astounding four times. ASU had three scoring drives of 6 or fewer yards, all thanks to turnovers. The only stat that we track that wasn’t in the lowest tier was the Yards Per Play measure of explosiveness, but if we recall that coming into the game ASU was literally the second to worst team in the entire country at preventing explosiveness, that just-ok UCLA explosiveness number looks a lot worse. That was (hopefully) about as bad as it gets.
For the season, the UCLA offense, led by preseason Heisman hopeful and future first round pick Josh Rosen, is in the mediocre Top 100 tier in every single offensive statistic that we track. That just is not acceptable—even a Top 50 level performance on offense would probably be good enough for the Bruins to be undefeated on the season. Tracy and David claim that the scheme is sound, but the facts are stark and inescapable: this scheme (and the playcalling and player use that goes along with the scheme) has failed the UCLA team and it appears to be getting worse as the season wears on. It was certainly time for a change from Noel Mazzone’s scheme, but this has been a clear step back in every conceivable way. The Bruins cannot run the ball, they are pretty bad at catching the ball, and now they have an injured quarterback and a backup who was truly awful against maybe the worst defense in the league (well, probably not worse than Cal). Inefficient, not explosive, and bad at scoring: the UCLA offense in 2016.
We’ve got that out of our system now, so in happier news, the defense was again truly awesome, and have now crept into the elite. Their numbers were almost identical to last week’s dominance against Arizona, and given the awful field position deficit they often faced, their dominance is even more impressive. In another universe, the diving Adarius Pickett interception in the end zone spurred a game-winning drive to bring undefeated UCLA to 6-0, but alas it was not to be. The Bruin defense prevented the big play, forced a ton of three and outs (only four of seventeen ASU drives traveled further than 15 yards), and held pretty firm once the Sun Devils were in scoring position. Even given the fact that they were facing the backup quarterback, this was a great performance by the defense that the offense wasted.
As we said above, the UCLA defense is now in the elite Top 10 tier in both our efficiency prevention and explosiveness prevention statistics, and it is in the very good Top 25 tier in points prevention. They have only really had one bad game—UNLV, and it is pretty clear that this defense is now everything that it was hoped last year’s Myles Jack-led defense could be. It has been a trying year to be a Bruin fan thus far, but at least we get to watch a truly elite defense shut opponents down. We can only hope that they do not wear down as the offense’s failures take their toll.
Perhaps the ugliest stat on our report card was the -9.4 Average Field Position. Given that the Bruins lost by 3 points, that is basically the difference in the game. Move the two 40+ yard attempts that JJ Molson missed in by 9 yards, and maybe he hits one or two. Move what proved to be the game-winning field goal by Zane Gonzalez back to 55 yards (after an ASU drive that traveled a whopping four yards), and maybe ASU punts or Gonzalez misses. Losing the field position battle so decisively, mostly due to turnovers but also to the offense’s complete inability to sustain drives, cost the Bruins a game that they should have won even despite playing poorly.
Those turnovers were really killers. ASU turned every single one (except for the final desperation interception) into field goals, while the Bruins were unable to manage a single point off of the three ASU turnovers the defense heroically forced. Yuck.
There are probably a few thousand Bruin fans who actually made the trip to watch that game—you people are saints and deserve all the good things in life to happen to you. In the meantime, the annual “UCLA must win out to win the division” tournament starts a lot earlier this year. First up: a Washington State team that absolutely demolished Stanford as the Bruins were melting down in Tempe. Get well quick, Josh.
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