Mike Fafaul was perfectly fine on Saturday. He didn't make any egregious mistakes, and was once again hurt by several drops from UCLA receivers. He completed under 50% of his passes, yes, but there were at least three drops, and 18 of 31 looks a lot better than 15 of 31. He threw a couple of touchdown passes, both solid throws to Jordan Lasley. He did a great job, actually, avoiding pressure and keeping plays alive, but UCLA's receivers generally did a poor job working open when Fafaul had to scramble, and he had to scramble way too often in the second half because of the issues up front and the seeming conventionality of the passing game. We'll reiterate for what feels like the hundredth time: UCLA should consider itself lucky that Fafaul was as competent as he was the last five weeks, because he performed better than anyone could have reasonably expected from an under talented former walk-on. He'll have a chance for his second win as a starter this week against California, and it would be good to see him get it.
Running Backs: C-
This game once again featured a running back rotation by committee, and it was much less effective than it was against Oregon State, which stands to reason. What was peculiar about this game is that the Bruins opened up the first couple of drives running fairly well. On the first drive especially, UCLA used their two battering ram backs to great effect, with Bolu Olorunfunmi and Jalen Starks combining for 14 yards on three carries -- a veritable bonanza of rushing yards for UCLA. Inexplicably, neither Olorunfunmi nor Starks got a single second quarter carry, with UCLA opting for Sotonye Jamabo and Nate Starks instead, both of whom were pretty ineffective. Overall, UCLA ran the ball fairly poorly and there's no guarantee that Olorunfunmi and J. Starks would have kept things up if they'd been the primary backs for the entire game, but given their effectiveness in the first quarter, it would have stood to reason to give them a little bit more work into the second quarter. Not committing to a real starting running back this year was one of many things that hurt the running game, and it cost UCLA again. One of the biggest miscalculations that UCLA made this year was putting too much of the onus of the running issues on the backs themselves -- going full musical chairs at that position did nothing to help the situation, and did nothing to fix the main issue, which was always the offensive line and the scheme itself.
Wide Receivers: C-
Man, this Jordan Lasley guy is a real playmaker. He had a drop or two, but his touchdown catch and run was one of the best things we've seen out of the UCLA offense all year, and that's worth noting. His second touchdown was a very nice route and showed great body control, and it seemed like he drew some added joy out of it by scoring both of those touchdowns on his former teammate, Adoree Jackson. It's exciting to think what he's going to look like with more playing time next year, and it's a little sad to think about what he would have looked like with more playing time last year. He also threw a pass! He could have delivered it a little earlier, but when you're asking a receiver to throw a ball and it's completed, you take it. Theo Howard dropped a ball, which led to the Dow dropping 500 points and chaos reigning in worldwide markets. Darren Andrews is a really nice slot receiver who's going to finish with the quietest 60 catches in recorded history. A rotation with him, Lasley, and Howard starting next year could be really dangerous and tough to defend, assuming UCLA has installed a non-embarrassing offense by then.
Offensive Line: D-
Fafaul really put some lipstick on this pig with his ability to avoid pressure, because this actually wasn't a great pass protection game for the offensive line. They were OK, but they've been significantly better this year, and this wasn't a high pressure USC defense. The run game was typically atrocious as well, with UCLA's interior offensive line once again showing a real inability to block the way they need to. UCLA had some success running around and behind the right tackle a little in the first quarter, but that dried up soon thereafter. After the first quarter, UCLA ran for just 12 more yards in the entire game to finish with a grand total of 59 on 19 carries -- shockingly, far from the worst showing for UCLA this year.
Offensive Scheme, Game Plan, and Play-calling: F
We debated giving this a D- because that opening script was OK, but the inability of the offense to do literally anything over the final three quarters is just too much to deal with. After that opening script, UCLA's offense went back to its maddening yuckfest from the previous 10 games, with the Bruins opting for way too many conventional drops for Fafaul, a really inexplicable running back rotation, and just bad strategic decisions. We went into the 4th and 1 punt enough in the initial wrap, but that plays into this too -- when you concede the game offensively in the third quarter of a two-score game, you're not going to get a good grade. The opening series of this game showed that UCLA, with the proper mix of play calls and personnel, could generate some yardage against a good but not super elite USC defense. But the following three quarters only reinforced what we've seen all year long: this is a failed offense, and UCLA made some grave mistakes in the offseason when they were deciding on a new offensive system.
Defensive Line: C
UCLA's ends played pretty well, but the interior looked like it had some issues against USC's big guards. Eddie Vanderdoes still looks like he's playing a little hurt to us, and just isn't quite showing the explosion off the snap that he was showing at the beginning of the year. Boss Tagaloa got some good experience against the best offensive line he has faced this year, and hopefully that'll aid him heading into the offseason. The ends played pretty well, though. Takkarist McKinley wasn't able to generate much and got burned once, noticeably, on a Sam Darnold zone read, but he also got some pressures and contributed to at least one tackle for loss that apparently didn't make it to the stat sheet. USC ran away from him a bunch, so he affected the USC offense in that way, and unfortunately the Bruins weren't able to take advantage of that. Jacob Tuioti-Mariner also had a solid game, and, like McKinley, affected the game in ways that didn't show up in the stat sheet. He did have a tackle for loss as well. For UCLA to win this game, the entire defense probably needed to play at an A level, and unfortunately they weren't quite at that level in this one. This was one of those games where McKinley needed to have some two or three-sack performance with a bunch of pressures thrown in as well, and he just didn't quite get there.
The linebackers were mostly OK, but as with the defensive line, they were just not quite as good as they have been at times this year. Kenny Young actually wasn't an issue, for the most part, as he seemed to be in position to make plays much of the time, and even recorded a sack. Josh Woods actually struggled a bit more, as it looked like he was just a little lost at times, and not sure where to set up against the USC offense. Jayon Brown had eight tackles and an interception in the end zone, but he did get isolated in coverage a couple of times and USC was able to attack him a bit.
Defensive Backs: C-
USC was very clearly attacking Randall Goforth in coverage, and seemed to go to whoever Goforth was covering whenever the Trojans needed a conversion. He struggled, with one bad misplay of a touchdown ball where he had good position but just timed his leap poorly. He also got hit for a couple of crossing patterns where he allowed the receiver too much room to operate in short yardage situations. Nathan Meadors also had his worst game of the season, most likely, which was unfortunate to see since he's played so well this year. He misplayed one short pass where he played as if the receiver would break outside, but instead the receiver broke inside for a first down. Fabian Moreau held his own, for the most part, with a couple of bad plays and a couple of very good ones. His pick was one of the best plays on the ball he's made as a Bruin. Given the success USC had running the ball, we would have liked to have seen a little bit more of Adarius Pickett and Tahaan Goodman.
Defensive Scheme, Game Plan, and Play-calling: C
UCLA tried to play the defense that has kept them in games this year, and that was completely justifiable, but after it was clear that it wasn't working as well as it had, UCLA just kind of stuck with it. If ever there was a game where UCLA should have started to just go for broke at the end, this was it, but we didn't see too many all-out blitzes. Darnold had way too much time in the pocket all game, and while we know it's been a challenge for any team to pressure USC, but you still have to try. Adjusting the personnel a bit too, with Goforth maybe seeing less time in the second half and Pickett and Goodman seeing more could have been advised as well, though that probably wouldn't have changed the outcome too much. Overall, UCLA came in with a justifiable game plan, but probably failed to adjust enough to the fact that the game plan wasn't working well enough for UCLA to win the game.
Special Teams: C-
UCLA kept Adoree Jackson from impacting the game in any major way on special teams, which was the biggest priority in this game for UCLA's special teams, so that was a win. Of course, UCLA also had a field goal blocked because the left side of UCLA's field goal unit forgot that it was supposed to block the USC players. Stefan Flintoft handled punting duties for UCLA, and he did a solid job, averaging 40 yards on 7 kicks with two downed inside the 20. UCLA's return game was basically garbage again, with Ishmael Adams doing very little with the ball on kickoffs, and USC only punting twice with no returns.