Aside from one big mistake, Mike Fafaul played a solid game overall. That one mistake was a big one, though, a cross-body throw into the end zone that ended up in the arms of a dropping OSU linebacker. The throw was off the mark, obviously, but Fafaul made a bad decision to even throw the ball at that point. It was a 3rd and 1 at the goal line with UCLA up just 7 points late in the game, so the most important thing for UCLA at that point was to make sure to get points -- any sort of points -- to push the game to a two-score lead. That interception by itself made the game much more in doubt heading into the 4th quarter.
Other than that, he was fine. He made some big throws, including a couple to Jordan Lasley, and he was hurt quite a bit by another absurd number of drops (there were at least six in this game, counting conservatively). He's been better than anyone could have expected for a former walk-on playing extensively for the first time.
Running Backs: B
It wasn't exactly a breakout performance for UCLA's running game, but by the standards of this season, it was an eruption. The Bruins ran for 5.6 yards per carry and a total of 163 yards, and they did it with a wide variety of running backs. Every back in the rotation besides Jalen Starks averaged 4 yards or more per carry, and Starks, for his part, was used in more short yardage situations and was effective in his own right. Bolu Olorunfunmi was the most consistently effective of the backs, but we were very intrigued by the play of Brandon Stephens, who had one long touchdown run negated by a holding penalty on Conor McDermott. He definitely has that slashing quality that Paul Perkins made so famous in Westwood, and we wouldn't be shocked if he progresses enough to be in the mix to start next year.
Sotonye Jamabo ran pretty well, but coughing the ball up on the first possession seemed to relegate him to a bit of an in-game doghouse as he didn't play a significant number of snaps after that. Nate Starks was, relative to the rest of the bunch, pretty ineffective in his four carries. We really liked the powerful combo of Olorunfunmi and J. Starks, though, and to have any hope of winning out, it'd make sense to ride those two since they are the most capable of generating positive yardage even when the offensive line doesn't block effectively.
Offensive Line: C+
The offensive line wasn't a horrorshow, so there's that. It wasn't great, though, and against a bad Oregon State front, they still weren't able to generate the kinds of gaping holes that teams have routinely been able to open up in Oregon State this year on the ground. The Bruins averaged 5.6 yards per carry, but bear in mind that Oregon State gives that up basically on average -- this was basically a run-of-the-mill day for Oregon State's rush defense.
The Bruins were generally able to pass protect well, with Oregon State recording just one sack, but, again, not to downplay that performance, but OSU was one of the worst sack-generating teams in the country entering the game. So, in short, it's hard to take too much from the performance of the offensive line, since this was a defense basically designed to make offensive lines look fine.
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends: C
There was a lot to like about UCLA's receiving corps in this game, but, as with most games this year, there was also a lot to dislike. First, on the good side, we loved about 90% of what we saw from Jordan Lasley. He's gone from a guy who potentially just going to be warming the bench all year to arguably the most reliable playmaker on offense over the course of about 7 games. He always had the athletic ability, but he really seems to have earned the trust of the coaching staff with his performances of late, and it's paying dividends. We also really liked that we actually got to see Theo Howard play an extensive amount of football. He catches the ball well and actually forced a couple of OSU penalties with his speed and quickness. Darren Andrews also had a few nice catches where made things happen after the catch with his speed.
There were also a stunning number of drops, as there have been in basically every game this year. Nate Iese (who we really hope is OK after appearing to hurt his knee) had a couple of drops, Andrews had a drop, Lasley had a drop, Kenny Walker had a drop, and there was at least one more that we're forgetting off the top of our collective head. In addition to that, Lasley also fumbled a ball away that was returned for a touchdown, so that isn't great. Whatever is going on with the receivers this year, you have to hope it is just a weird, one-year thing.
Offensive Scheme, Game Plan, and Play Calling: C
This was one of the better offensive performances of the season for UCLA, but it was still pretty pedestrian by any reasonable standard. Oregon State had a very bad defense, and the Bruins were able to generate 444 yards on 77 plays -- a respectable 5.8 yards per play, but nothing to crow about. UCLA looked to pass quite a bit more than run, which we support wholeheartedly, and in this it gave the Bruins a decent balance. We really didn't like the play call from the one-yard line to have Fafaul roll out when the running game had actually worked pretty well to that point -- especially the battering ram version with Jalen Starks. For the most part, though, this was a fine game for the offense, and we liked the overall decision to scrap the fullback and go back to more single-back sets.
Defensive Line: A
We are running out of superlatives for Takkarist McKinley, who was once again dominant, explosive, freakish, and any number of other adjectives associated with him being very good at playing football. He made life very tough for Marcus McMaryion at points, and while he recorded just one sack and two tackles for loss, it felt like double that. He has become one of the best players in the Pac-12 over the course of the season, and it's a little sad that this final year of his was wasted on a team that is going nowhere.
Eddie Vanderdoes and the interior of UCLA's defensive line were very good as well. Watching live, it felt like Oregon State had a few more gashing runs than they did, but watching the game again, it was really only a couple of decent runs. For the most part, Oregon State was stymied by UCLA's play up front, and this wasn't a bad Oregon State offensive line, for the most part. We should also mention Deon Hollins, who recorded his second sack of the season to ice the game late.
This was a really solid game for the linebackers, and it continued the growth and trajectory of Josh Woods, who is looking progressively more confident and decisive out on the field. His development is necessary for UCLA, considering the Bruins lose their best linebacker, Jayon Brown, this offseason and will need some experienced talent to replace him. Woods has gotten valuable experience this year, especially over the last few weeks, and that should serve him well heading into his junior season.
Kenny Young and Brown were both good again, and we can pretty much link their performance to that of the defensive line. It might sound axiomatic, but when the defensive line plays well, the linebackers have better games, and when the defensive line struggles, the linebackers have a much tougher time. Aside from the one major blip against Utah, Young in particular has played well for most of the season now. Brown, for his part, had another fumble recovery, as he just has that knack for being around the ball.
Defensive Backs: B+
This was a really solid performance for the UCLA secondary, but at this point, the defensive backs have pretty much spoiled us -- we expect basically perfection, and this wasn't quite a perfect game. On the good side of things, this was probably Randall Goforth's best game of the season, and he put an exclamation point on that statement by changing the fortunes of the game with a pick-six late. Even without that, though, he was very good most of the game, showing great anticipation in coverage and showing off that acumen he has gained over the course of five years at UCLA. He had one breakup in the end zone that could have been another pick-six, and had another stop on what could have been a first down if he hadn't known exactly where the sticks were.
Cornerback play was pretty good, but not quite what we've come to expect -- which, again, speaks to the way we've been spoiled by the quality of play in the defensive backfield this year. Fabian Moreau had somewhat of a tough time with Victor Bolden, one of the premier speedy receivers in the Pac-12. Moreau was called for a couple of penalties, and also allowed a couple of receptions that he would typically have defended better. Nathan Meadors, on the other end, had one noticeable bust when he slipped and allowed a deep pass over him. Again, these are relative nitpicks -- the Bruins allowed just 7 yards per attempt and recorded a game-clinching pick-six.
Defensive Scheme, Game Plan, and Play Calling: A
The Bruins have had one bad defensive game in about the last seven, and while that game against Utah was very bad, for the most part the other six games have featured excellent performances from the UCLA defense. UCLA didn't do anything particularly tricky, and in fact seemed to play more base defense than usual, with Woods getting much more time than he usually does. That was probably geared toward matching up against what was expected to be a very run-heavy Oregon State scheme, but then the Beavers ended up passing about as much as they ran.
We really had no objections to this defensive effort. Aside from a fumble return for a touchdown, a punt return that came back to the UCLA 16, and a fumble return to the 4 yard line, the Bruins gave up just three points. Obviously, UCLA didn't have to go against Ryan Nall, but the Bruins can only go against the team that lines up against them, and UCLA's defense was pretty close to elite against that group.
Special Teams: C
Special teams, like basically everything this season for UCLA besides the defense, was a mixed bag in this game. UCLA scored a touchdown on special teams, off a blocked punt no less, and that was cool to see since we legitimately can't remember the last UCLA blocked kick for a touchdown (maybe it's very recent and my memory sucks?) UCLA also got a nice field goal from J.J. Molson, and we hope the coaching staff continues to show confidence in him going forward, since that will pay off in years to come.
The negatives were big as well. The Bruins allowed a long punt return off a weird play where they didn't follow the flight of the ball and it allowed Oregon State to set up a tricky return. The punting game in general wasn't good, with Austin Kent continuing to struggle quite a bit. As we wrote in the wrap, we'd still like to see UCLA stick with him, for the same reason that sticking with Molson makes sense -- they're freshmen, and the only way for them to build confidence and get better is with game reps.
We'd really like to see someone else get a shot at kick return and punt return going forward. Ishmael Adams had a couple of decent returns, but just looks considerably more tentative and less explosive than he looked as a sophomore two years ago.