I prepared my girlfriend for the Utah game by explaining that it would, in all likelihood, be a defensive slog between two teams with weak offenses and strong defenses. This is college football, so of course the absolute opposite thing happened, as the Bruins and Utes combined to score more points in regulation than Cal and Oregon. It was one of the stranger games in a long time, as Mike Fafaul set several single-game UCLA records for passing, and the best UCLA defense in recent memory gave up the most rushing yards a UCLA defense has ever given up (besting Edgerrin James on that awful day in Miami 18 years ago). A weird game in a weird season, and now the Bruins are 3-5 and must win out to avoid the worst season of the Mora era. Let us 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.
These stats are a little sobering. Even in probably the best offensive performance of the season (taken into account that the Utah defense is significantly better than the Arizona and UNLV defenses), the numbers are just ok. Besides points per trip inside the 40, even the best stats were only in the just-ok Top 50 tier. Even though Fafaul was not really able to successfully throw the ball too far down the field, Jordan Lasley and Nate Iese were able to torch the Ute secondary. For the last several weeks, we have been saying that even a just-ok performance from the UCLA offense would have won the game, but unfortunately that proved to be incorrect on Saturday afternoon. The five turnovers obviously were bad, but either way, an offensive effort like that would have probably produced a win against Stanford, Arizona State, and Wazzu.
For the season, the stats are still in the mediocre Top 100 tier, which is about where they belong. The Bruins’ run game woes are well-documented, but the passing game has not been very good either (even with Rosen—and “waiting for a nerve to fire” sure sounds like “Mike Fafaul is going to play a lot more this season” to us). There do appear to be a few good pieces in the pass game, with Jordan Lasley being this past week’s star and the pass protection generally has been fine (33rd in Adjusted Sack Rate according to Football Study Hall), but the passing game overall still isn’t particularly good, ranking 48th in Football Study Hall’s explosiveness rankings and 67th in Success Rate. Still significantly better than the abysmal running game ratings, but not good enough to make this anything besides a bad offense (even after this past week).
The Bruin defense decided to take an extra week off, falling off a cliff in its worst performance of the year. As well-coached as Utah is, there is just no excuse for the way the UCLA front seven repeatedly was gashed for long touchdown runs by the Utes. That is the type of thing that future NFL Bruin running backs do to bad Washington teams, not mediocre Utah running backs to what had been a great UCLA defense. This was a complete and utter failure, and one that basically came out of nowhere. We are now in great danger of the season, which has already taken a dark turn, falling into Neuheisel-like depths if the defense cannot return to its dominant ways.
For the season, the Bruin defense is still in the very good Top 25 level of our efficiency prevention and explosiveness prevention ratings. They have probably lost the ability to finish the season in the elite Top 10 tier, which is fair, as elite defenses don’t let Joe Williams have three touchdown runs of over 40 yards. It is a shame. The passing defense is still fantastic (remember when we didn’t believe that Fabian Moreau was good? How many receptions has he given up all year?), and Takkarist McKinley is a wonderful terror, but Utah exposed something troubling, and if UCLA wants to not be embarrassed for the rest of the season, the defense needs to figure out how to plug those new leaks.
It is truly amazing—even with the terrible defensive performance and mediocre offensive performance, UCLA probably would have won if the team hadn’t been crushed again in average field position. The only loss in which they haven’t decisively lost in field position was Texas A&M, and it is perhaps the biggest issue with this team (besides the rush offense of course). Turnovers, poor returns, bad kick coverage, and too many three-and-outs are combining to kill the Bruins, who have only lost one game by more than 7 points (the Stanford game, which shouldn’t reallllllllly count given the freak sack fumble on the last play of the game). There have been a lot of words written about how the Bruins are a few drops away from being a Top 15 team, but the real issue is that the Bruins are forcing themselves to play uphill. Field Position kept the Bruins from turning the corner into a conference champion a few years ago, and now it is perhaps the biggest cause of the surprising slide back into mediocrity.
It is finally the bye week, so up next we will analyze how the entire Pac-12 stacks up, followed by an extended look at what has gone wrong with this season.
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