Another game, another poor offensive performance dooming the Bruins to a loss in a game they really should have won. The fact that UCLA has now lost every close game it has played besides BYU really shows how important margin of victory is in evaluating a team. Had the Bruins made the two or three plays necessary to win against Texas A&M (not drop the ball going into the end zone or stop Trevor Knight on 4th down in overtime), Stanford (not drop the ball inside the 5 yard line or stop the fade), Arizona State (do anything whatsoever on offense in the first half or not have the needless offensive PI on the final drive), and Washington State (do anything whatsoever on offense in the first half, stop the two fourth down conversions the Cougars managed on touchdown drives), would they really be a Top 10 level team as they would certainly be ranked? Good teams bury mediocre teams (like Stanford, Arizona State, and Washington State), and UCLA is not a good team. It is probably not a bad team, but it’s not good enough to avoid close games. Right now, it is losing those close games. Let’s take a look at the stats.
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 offense was better than last week, but still not nearly enough against a mediocre Washington State defense. The Bruins were in our mediocre Top 100 tier in Yards Per Stop (our measure of efficiency) and Points Per Drive, and were in our worst Below Top 100 tier in Yards Per Play (our measure of explosiveness). The run game was unable to do much at all and, while Mike Fafaul was ok, he couldn’t go deep to really pressure the Washington State secondary. Theo Howard didn’t play (maybe he was suspended?), and the offensive line again did not show up. The four turnovers (three before the final desperation drive) were another failure. In a game where the Bruins were going to need to rely on the defense to win, the offense made too many mistakes to give itself a chance.
For the season, every single statistic of the offense is in the mediocre Top 100 tier, and that sounds about right. We have to imagine that we will be seeing the UCLA offense morph even more towards an Air Raid style all-pass game very soon, as the Bruins are unable to run the ball with any regularity. It was good to see Fafaul much improved this week, but we still hope to see Rosen as soon as possible. Top 25 Utah arrives next week, and (SPOILER ALERT) it is a game that we think the Bruins should win. It will require a much better offensive effort than we have seen the last two weeks, however, so we shall see.
The defense was good, though not quite up to its elite standards on the year. They allowed the Cougars to convert on four of five fourth down attempts, and while some of the catches Wazzu receivers made were ridiculous, the Bruins weren’t the dominant force that they needed to be to win the game singlehandedly. They did a great job of preventing a big play, with no plays of longer than 24 yards and only two longer than 20 yards, leading to an elite Top 10 level 4.3 Yards Allowed Per Play, but they just allowed the Washington State defense to be a little too efficient, with a mediocre Yards Allowed Per Stop (though still nearly half of Wazzu’s season average). As a result of that (and the terrible field position deficit the Bruins found themselves in due to turnovers and an awful day for the kicking game), the defense was not particularly good at preventing points, with a mediocre 2.45 Points Allowed Per Drive (though still a much lower number than the 3.34 the Cougars had been averaging). Overall, it was an ok day at the office for the UCLA defense, but we have higher expectations for this crew now. They have the ability to shut teams down, and they did not do that against Wazzu.
For the season, the Bruins fell just out of the elite tier in Yards Allowed Per Stop, though they remain on that highest level in Yards Allowed Per Play. Points Allowed Per Drive stayed level in the good Top 25 tier, and so overall we are still happy with the way the defense has performed thus far. With Utah, Colorado, and Oregon State coming up, the Bruin defense has an opportunity to feast and rise into the elite level across the board. We hope that they can stay positive despite the lack of help they are getting from the offense, because the UCLA defense has been really fun to watch this year.
We need to talk about the field position differential. The Bruins were blown out again in field position differential, just as they were against Arizona State and Stanford. A large part of that field position issue was due to the offense’s turnovers, but the kicking game was equally culpable. The Cougars ripped off two nearly identical kickoff returns for 70 total yards, while Ishmael Adams was completely bottled up on his returns, averaging only 15 yards per return. Then there were the punts. Austin Kent’s first punt went 15 yards, but luckily he was roughed so it didn’t count. Then he punted a Kenny Walker special for -1 yard, and followed that up with a 26 yard punt. The Bruins are going to win games on defense and special teams this year, but if special teams is not up to the challenge, then there is only so much the defense can do. If UCLA wants to make a bowl game and beat some of the good teams left on its schedule, it cannot keep playing against a tilted field.
It has been a tough couple weeks on the road and there is a ton of negativity around the program. However, the UCLA defense is legitimately fun to watch and, while the team has almost certainly been eliminated from contention for the division title it still should be frisky down the stretch.
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