We're uncomfortable giving really bad grades to the quarterback position because, frankly, Mike Fafaul shouldn't be in the position he's in, and he's playing pretty much as well as he can -- and as well as he can probably isn't good enough to beat a defense as good as Colorado's. Fafaul made some good throws, including his rollout touchdown pass to Darren Andrews, but there were plenty of other times throughout the game where he was too slow making his decision or simply didn't have the arm to put the ball where he wanted. Of course, he wasn't helped again by his receivers, most notably the drop by Eldridge Massington in the end zone, but he actually was protected fairly well from Colorado's pretty good pass rush. To beat a team as good as Colorado, Fafaul needed to play at about the level he did against Washington State, and he wasn't at that level on Thursday. His one interception was a really forced throw that didn't need to be made, and he had a number of throws, basically any time he threw over the middle, that could have been picked off.
Running Backs: D
Maybe UCLA is just going to give every running back a full game from here on out to see what they can do? This game was Sotonye Jamabo's turn, after Bolu Olorunfunmi got his turn against Utah, and Jamabo had about as much success as anyone's having in this run game this year: not much. He averaged under 3 yards per carry, and while he certainly could have more decisively turned upfield at times, there weren't many holes to run through. If UCLA really is just going to rotate the backs for the next three games and give everyone a shot, that seems like a decent approach -- as we've been saying for two weeks, the season is essentially over, and all that's left is to get as much information as needed to make good personnel decisions heading into next season. Nate Starks got minimal time in this one as well, and did literally nothing on the one carry he received.
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends: D-
Drops weren't a huge issue, until the very end, when Massington dropped a touchdown that would have put UCLA within a score with under 4 minutes to go in the game. That was a brutal drop at such a critical point in the game, right after UCLA had just driven down the field thanks to some of the best offense of the day. Andrews was one of the few guys who actually seemed to play well in this group on Thursday, as it just didn't seem that there were many open receivers for Fafaul to throw to. Andrews made a great play on the wheel route-looking touchdown, and he also was one of a few Bruins who did an excellent job of drawing unsportsmanlike penalty calls from Colorado, which was the best part of UCLA's offense on Thursday. Austin Roberts had a very nice run and catch on that drive that should have ended with a Massington touchdown in the 4th, and Jordan Lasley once again looked like a very reliable target late in the game. We didn't see much from anyone else, as Ishmael Adams was very quiet, and Theo Howard didn't look like he got in there for any snaps. Nate Iese got a little dinged up early, and we're not sure how much that affected him, but he obviously was nowhere near as productive as he was against Utah two weeks ago.
Offensive Line: D
Pass protection was decent enough -- not exceptional, by any means, but if Fafaul and his receivers had been a bit more in-sync, the passing attack probably could have been much more productive. Run blocking was, as usual, a disaster. UCLA's interior linemen simply can't win consistently one-on-one, and that forced UCLA to run outside a lot more, where UCLA found a little bit more success, but even there, UCLA's tackles aren't perfectly equipped for run blocking in space either. Scott Quessenberry had a poor game again, not just in terms of his snaps, but in terms of his run blocking as well. His snaps were obviously disastrous, as it seemed like one in two or one in three were way too high and put UCLA out of rhythm offensively from the jump. Obviously, he was nursing some sort of shoulder injury, but it's a shame that UCLA doesn't have anyone behind him to play that position, because Quessenberry shouldn't have been out there if his shoulder was so bad that he couldn't snap the ball properly. Kenny Lacy and Najee Toran were about the same as they have been, with periodic struggles finding and blocking their man. Conor McDermott and Andre James had an easier time of it in pass protection than you would have thought pre game since Colorado's best pass rusher was ejected for targeting early in the game.
Offensive Scheme, Game Plan, and Play Calling: F
UCLA went back to a very conventional and predictable offense and the Bruins were rewarded with arguably their worst offensive performance of the season. Breaking away from the royal we for a second, I'm firmly of the belief now that UCLA cannot run the ball, and won't be able to run the ball, no matter what they try. The systemic issue of the interior line being unable to block anyone one-on-one can't really be solved -- even if you spread out the defense, I have zero confidence that this group of five can block an equal number of defenders. Trying to run the ball upwards of 25 times on Thursday was basically insane, especially in a game where UCLA only ended up with 59 plays, and especially given how inept the running game looked basically all game. Fafaul threw a ton of picks last Saturday against Utah, but he also had long periods of that game where he was in-rhythm and sharp. At this point, given the absolutely failed nature of this offense, something like an 70/30 pass/run split might make sense, and you just have to hope that Fafaul hits a good rhythm and puts together a couple of drives. Anything close to a 50/50 run/pass split is essentially crazy.
Defensive Line: A
UCLA's defensive line was absolute nails on Thursday, and they harassed and harried Sefo Liufau into one of his worst performances of the season. Takkarist McKinley has had a great season, and he had another great game on Thursday. Most importantly, he has made at least one of our preseason predictions look smart. He had another sack which led to a forced fumble, and put up some great numbers, but frankly, there were so many instances in this game that don't show up in a stat sheet where he just changed Colorado's offense. UCLA is moving him around a ton on defense, and he's taking advantage of basically every matchup offered. Even in a basically unwatchable football game, McKinley gives you some reason to keep tuning in. Jacob Tuioti-Mariner had a big game as well, and he just popped off the screen at times. He did a great job playing through his helmet getting ripped off to record a sack, and there were a few other times when he just used his athleticism and strength advantage to get into the backfield. Eli Ankou was noticeably good in this one, breaking into the backfield a few times, and Eddie Vanderdoes, who still looks a little dinged up, was very solid as well. Overall, this was a very good bounce-back game for the defensive line, against what was a pretty good offensive line coming in.
Speaking of bounce-back games, the linebackers were back to their quality of play from pre-Utah. Jayon Brown was all over the field making plays, and he recorded a stunning 19 tackles. His fumble return was a huge play, and set UCLA up for one of its few scoring opportunities on Thursday. Kenny Young was excellent as well, with one really impressive tackle for loss where he exploded into the backfield on a stretch play. It's so weird with Young -- it just seems like game-to-game there can be huge differences in his quality of play. Josh Woods had probably his best game of the season -- he hasn't really made too many noticeable plays this season, but in this game, he stood out a few times with solid tackles and good positioning. Cameron Judge showed good awareness on his interception, though the ball was effectively thrown right to him.
Defensive Backs: A
Fabian Moreau has finally started to look like the player we all saw in fall camp 2013 this year. He was a shutdown corner on Thursday, and from what we could tell, this looked like it might have been his best game of the season. He allowed basically nothing on his side of the field, and the way he used the sideline as an extra defender was basically expert-level corner play. It's been sometimes frustrating for fans watching him develop in real time, but he has turned himself into one of the best corners in the Pac-12. On the other side, Nathan Meadors, in his first game back from injury, looked a slight bit rusty, but was still very good. It looked like Colorado tried to attack him a bit more than Moreau in the passing game, and the few things they got in the passing game seemed to come against him. Still, getting him back definitely shored up that side of the field, and allowed Randall Goforth to slide back into more of a nickel/safety role, which suited him well. Tahaan Goodman, Adarius Pickett, and Jaleel Wadood all played well, and we liked what we saw out of Octavius Spencer. From a coverage perspective (and in this game, there weren't as many run game responsibilities) this might be the best secondary UCLA has fielded in over a decade.
Defensive Scheme, Game Plan, and Play Calling: A
It would be virtually impossible to find valid complaints with the defensive game plan in this one. The Bruins allowed under four yards per play, which is pretty absurd when you consider that this was a pretty darn good offense UCLA was facing. UCLA was largely able to rush four and drop seven thanks to the play up front, so you could probably say that it was a conservative scheme if you were nitpicking, but they threw in enough wrinkles with moving McKinley around to keep it unpredictable. It was interesting -- I ventured over to the Colorado board to see what they were saying about the game and they were talking about all the different pressures UCLA sent. Watching the game live and then over again, it didn't look like UCLA blitzed much at all -- it was mostly McKinley just being moved around and rushing from different places. With a player like that, UCLA can play a bit more conservatively and drop a bit more into coverage, and that's what they did. So, while the scheme and game plan were perhaps a little basic, that perfectly fit what UCLA needed to do in this game.
Special Teams: F
It seems like UCLA might be mismanaging its kicker situation. While we understand the frustrations with freshman kickers, having a revolving door at both punter and kicker is not giving anyone an opportunity for consistency and confidence, which is so key for those positions. J.J. Molson had one kick blocked and missed another, so he was yanked, only for Andrew Strauch to miss his field goal opportunity late. Austin Kent wasn't even allowed to punt in this one, with Stefan Flintoft and Adam Searl taking all of the punts, and not doing a particularly great job. UCLA might be best served riding with the freshman specialists at this point and just letting them play through it. Again, and this is our mantra, this season is over -- might as well use these live reps to build for the future. Unless they've made the decision that Strauch, Searl, and Flintoft are their future, Molson and Kent should get all opportunities to work through things going forward.
UCLA allowed a punt return touchdown in this one, which was decisive, and another big punt return as well. UCLA's return game wasn't as bad as it has been, with Ishmael Adams actually breaking off a decently long one at one point.