Look, we're obviously grading on a bit of a curve here, because typically when a quarterback turns the ball over five times, that's not going to earn a passing grade. But circumstances called for what they called for, and Mike Fafaul gamely threw the ball 70 times and put the Bruins in a position to win the game. If you had told us prior to the game that Fafaul would throw the ball 70 times and the Bruins would score 45 points, we would have been relatively certain that UCLA would have won by three scores. Obviously, he did have four interceptions and a lost fumble, and that certainly contributed to the success that Utah had in scoring. He made a number of nice throws -- including the two touchdowns where he froze the safety with a pump fake and then threw the ball right where the safety should have been on a rope -- and a number of not-so-nice throws (basically any of the interceptions, including the pick that set Utah up to score at the end of the first half). In an ideal world, Josh Rosen will be back against Colorado, which boasts, at least according to the stats, a better defense than even Utah or UCLA.
Running Backs: C
I mean, an incomplete would also work pretty well here. UCLA had ten non-quarterback carries in for a combined total of 23 yards. Bolu Olorunfunmi handled the bulk of the carries, and he did about as much as he could do with what was given to him. Even spreading out the defense didn't do much for UCLA's running game, and the Bruins pretty much scrapped it after the first series until very late in the game. Sotonye Jamabo got just one carry. UCLA is trying to involve the running backs in the passing game a bit more, with some dumpoffs and screens, and for the most part that worked well enough. Olorunfunmi had one bad drop, and it seemed like Utah started to eat up the plays where the running backs would split out wide as the game went along. Brandon Stephens, who hasn't played much recently, got one touch, but it was a pass to the sideline when he split out wide that went for negative yards.
Offensive Line: C
Grading on what they were actually asked to do, you could probably justify a higher grade than this, since Fafaul was neither sacked nor pressured much. But, given that the entire reason UCLA had to go with an Air Raid passing attack was due to the inability of the front five to block effectively in the running game, we're hard-pressed to give anything better than a C. The OL generally did a nice job pass-blocking, and gave Fafaul plenty of time to throw. It's a major concern, though, that even when UCLA spread things out -- even at the beginning of the game when Utah couldn't have possibly seen the Air Raid/spread attack coming -- the Bruins were still unable to run block enough to generate any kind of ground game.
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends: C+
There were still an absolute ton of drops, but we're willing to be a little more forgiving given that there were 70 throws, and plenty of good plays made to offset the bad. Nate Iese came to play in a major way on Saturday. That was, by far, the most impressive performance he's had as a Bruin. He played with a real aggressive mindset, and was also able to find some favorable match ups against the Utah defense, which allowed him to go off for eight catches, 146 yards, and two touchdowns. Jordan Lasley, who didn't play much to open the game, finished with a big performance, including a really impressive 75-yard catch and run for a touchdown where he broke away from Utah's defense. He, too, had over 100 yards on 7 catches. Eldridge Massington and Darren Andrews both had some drops, but they each contributed as well.
About the most peculiar thing with the receiving corps remains Theo Howard's playing time. He's looked good running routes and catching the ball every time he's been on the field, but his playing time has basically not adjusted since the beginning of the season. Admittedly, he's not a good blocker at this point, but very rarely are you going to find a freshman receiver who's a good blocker. Certainly, given that the primary job of a receiver is to catch footballs and gain yardage, and given that Howard has shown a nice ability to do both of those things, it would stand to reason that he would have earned more time by now. He had one catch, a quick throw that actually could have gone for quite a bit more if he'd broken an arm tackle, and then he had a nice route down the sideline that would have gone for a touchdown if Fafaul had put any air under it.
Offensive Scheme, Game Plan, and Play Calling: B-
We have to give credit to the offensive staff for trying something -- anything -- to get the offense going, and to their credit, it almost paid off with a win. The Bruins had a much more productive offensive day than they've had in quite a long time, and while they were still unable to run the ball, this was about the only way UCLA was going to score 45 points in a football game against Utah. It's probably not sustainable to run a full Air Raid with a staff that hasn't run an Air Raid offense before but, against a team that was unprepared for that sort of attack, it worked well for a long portion of the game.
There were some nitpicks. While we always like aggression, making the decision to continue to throw the ball at the end of the first half, a series after Fafaul had just fumbled the ball away and looked a little off, was a bit questionable. Utah had just one timeout at that point, and there was under a minute left on the clock, so UCLA could have run the ball out and dealt with the three-point deficit heading into halftime. It's a nitpick, and, again, we like aggression for the most part. It just might not have been the best time for it considering Fafaul is who he is, and had just fumbled.
Defensive Line: C
This is one of those times when we wish we could split the defensive line grade into a grade for the defensive ends and the pass rush on one hand, and a grade for the interior defensive line and the run defense on the other. The interior defensive line didn't have a great game, but they also weren't aided by a game plan that really kept only six or seven in the box against Utah's big sets. Utah's offensive line was a very good group, and they were able to manhandle UCLA a bit at the line of scrimmage. Eddie Vanderdoes, who started off the year looking like a beast in the run game, has been a bit slowed in the last two weeks, and we wouldn't be surprised if he's not 100% (no one is at this point in the season, of course). Boss Tagaloa, when he was in, looked like he had a tough time holding up against that Utah attack. In general, it didn't look like any of the interior guys were able to beat blocks with consistency and get into the backfield to make plays.
On the other side, Takkarist McKinley had his major breakout game, from a numerical standpoint at least, with three sacks, a forced and recovered fumble, and six tackles. He had countless more pressures, hurries, and plays where he just forced Utah to do something it didn't intend to do at the beginning of the play. He was the definition of a disruptor. We said watching live that McKinley is maybe the best defensive end that UCLA has had in 10 years, and watching the game again only reinforced that idea. He's a true freak, and hopefully this one year of excellent film is enough to get him drafted highly.
UCLA's run defense was abysmal, and the linebackers have to tote some of that blame as well. While this was a pretty porous performance from the defensive line up front, the linebackers seemed to be out of position quite a bit, with Kenny Young reverting back to some of the indecision we saw from him at the beginning of this year and throughout last season. Jayon Brown was a little bit better, and he had a nice interception of Troy Williams at one point, but he wasn't in position to make too many plays against the run. It seemed like it was a real domino effect, with the defensive line not playing well against the run, which basically meant the linebackers were going to struggle.
Defensive Backs: C+
While your lasting memory of this game might be Jaleel Wadood rapidly losing ground to Joe Williams while trying vainly to pursue him, it's hard to blame the secondary for failure to contain a running back. While the safeties certainly might have been able to take better angles at Williams at times, the run defense was a failure long before any backs hit the secondary. Wadood had 15 total tackles, which speaks to the utter disaster that UCLA's front seven run defense was on Saturday. A back line safety should only lead the team in tackles against an Air Raid team. So, yes, the defensive backs could have probably taken better angles at Williams, but it might not have matter anyway, because Williams was a whole lot faster than any of them.
Utah wasn't able to generate much in the passing game. One long pass came against Johnny Johnson, who bit on a double move slightly, and Utah hit another long one over Randall Goforth, but other than that, the secondary basically shut down Utah's passing game. The secondary played well enough for the defense to have a good performance, but they were let down by very poor play up front.
Defensive Scheme, Game Plan, and Play Calling: F
UCLA couldn't do anything to stop the run all day, giving up 360 yards rushing on just under 50 carries. If there were significant adjustments to what Utah was doing up front, we didn't see them, and subsequently, UCLA allowed a just OK running team to go off. Of course, Utah didn't get much in the passing game against the Bruins, but that wasn't really Utah's strength coming in. The Bruins had to know that Utah would try to run the ball extensively, but were just unable to stop them. For the most part, it looked like UCLA went with six or seven guys in the box much of time, which was the failed game plan from the games against USC and Nebraska last year.
Does some of the blame for the defensive issues fall on the change in offensive scheme, and the many turnovers that resulted? Sure, maybe. We can see how being on the field more after quick drives could wear down the defense over the course of a game. But here's the thing: UCLA's defense gave up 20 points in the first half, which was more than this defense probably should have given up to this offense over the course of an entire game. For whatever reason, the defense laid a complete egg in this game, just as the offense was able to finally generate some real production.
Special Teams: D-
The Bad: Basically everything else. UCLA gave up a kick return for a touchdown on the opening play, consistently gave up nice yardage on punt returns, and kicked the ball out of bounds on their final kickoff. Even the decision to do a full kickoff on that play was questionable, as Utah was able to run at will most of the game. UCLA's return game was bad outside of Pickett, and Adams doesn't look anywhere near as explosive as he once did (he was dragged down by the kicker at one point -- from behind). We'd like to see UCLA have open tryouts at both return spots over the final four games, because Adams has been a liability there.