Mike Fafaul had his worst start of the season on Saturday, completing just 12 of his 30 passes, while also throwing a pick, and for once, most of the incompletions were absolutely his fault. He was very inaccurate for long stretches of the game, and didn't look anywhere near as comfortable in the pocket as he has looked at times this year. It's a shame for him and the program that he was pressed into duty this year, since he was not capable of doing what UCLA asked him to do. It's going to be very interesting to see what Devon Modster and Matt Lynch look like come spring practice, because they would have had to be pretty terrible in practice for UCLA not to opt for one of the two midseason when Josh Rosen got hurt. In any case, it's not Fafaul's fault he was asked to play to this extent -- his six starts were due to UCLA's overall failure to adequately recruit the quarterback position under Jim Mora.
Running Backs: D
UCLA's running game was very bad again, averaging just 3.5 yards per carry, and, keep in mind, that performance came against the worst run defense in the Pac-12. UCLA's running backs struggled to find holes, and it looked like Bolu Olorunfunmi wasn't even looking for holes -- there was one play where he just barreled right into a defender at the line of scrimmage, as if he'd lost all hope that there would ever actually be a hole. Nate Starks was the competent running back on Saturday, with 73 yards on 11 carries, and once again, it was weird that he didn't get more than 11 carries. UCLA did a very poor job of recognizing what running backs were succeeding this year, as there were too many games where a particular back would have a lot of success, but the staff would stick with an arbitrary rotation for very little purpose.
Offensive Line: F
UCLA's couldn't open up holes against arguably the nation's worst run defense, and couldn't pass protect against one of the least disruptive defenses in the country. Cal managed three sacks after having just 15 coming into the game. UCLA tried out Poasi Moala and Josh Wariboko-Alali at guard, and we applaud trying something different, but the result was the same, with Wariboko in particular struggling at left guard. UCLA gave up a ton of pressure directly up the middle at Fafaul, and there were a couple of times where he couldn't do anything except eat the sack. UCLA has a lot it needs to figure out in the offseason on the offensive line.
Wide Receivers: D
UCLA's receivers, for once, weren't the main issue with UCLA's passing game, but there were still a couple of drops, and a few times when Fafaul rolled and had no one coming open for him. On the bright side, Caleb Wilson showed up in a big way, and got open for a few nice gains down the middle of the field. Jordan Lasley had a drop, but also made an impact, and hopefully he'll see an increased role next year. Theo Howard got some good time in this one, and had one nice reception that was called back due to penalty. Kenny Walker didn't produce a ton, but did have one of his best catches as a Bruin, a nice grab over a defender in the end zone for a touchdown.
Offensive Scheme, Play Calling, and Game Plan: F
UCLA managed just 10 points against one of the worst defenses in the Pac-12. They had no discernible plan for taking advantage of Cal's very bad rush defense, with five running backs rotating through basically willy-nilly. All told, the Bruins averaged fewer than 5 yards per play, and considering the quality of the defense they were facing, this was probably UCLA's worst offensive performance of the year. Kennedy Polamalu was fired yesterday, and given the sheer number of times this season where we thought that, yes, this is the worst this offense has performed, that firing was completely justified. Hiring him in the first place, given that he was a first time play caller and had never designed an offense from scratch before, has turned out to be a disastrous decision that could have far-reaching consequences for the UCLA football program.
Defensive Line: D-
UCLA managed no significant pressure against Davis Webb, and that pretty much told the tale for the defense. Webb, for all of his good qualities, isn't a particularly accurate quarterback, and putting pressure on him can make him positively erratic. UCLA wasn't able to do that at all, with Takkarist McKinley and Deon Hollins both getting relatively stymied by the quality Cal offensive line. UCLA also allowed pretty consistent positive yardage for Cal's running game, rarely dropping anyone for a loss, which helped contribute to Cal running an astonishing 102 plays. While the Bears weren't explosive on the ground (just under 4 yards per carry), they were able to consistently get positive yardage, and keep Cal's offense on the field for long drives. It should be noted that while McKinley wasn't very effective rushing the passer, he did have 11 tackles, and was a big part of keeping the Cal running game from having too many explosive carries.
Jayon Brown had 14 tackles in his final game as a Bruin, and that was good to see. Kenny Young added 9, but the linebackers were mostly unable to do much to affect Cal's offense -- while they effectively cleaned up the running game to prevent big plays (for the most part), they didn't generate many negative plays. It's a shame we won't be able to see Brown in a UCLA uniform going forward, since he is one of the best stories about UCLA over the last two years, going from basically a pure special teams player to one of the two or three most valuable players on the defense. Young showed enough progress over the course of the year, or at least had enough good games, that we're hopeful he can turn in a nice senior year next season, but Brown's shoes will be tough to fill.
Defensive Backs: D-
UCLA dropped three interceptions in this one, with each one hitting a safety in the hands. Adarius Pickett had a surefire pick-six late that he just dropped, while Randall Goforth had two early picks that were both dropped. If UCLA makes those plays, perhaps the game would have turned out differently. Cornerback play wasn't great, but you have to acknowledge that both Fabian Moreau and Nathan Meadors were varying degrees of not healthy for the game. Denzel Fisher was pressed into duty, and he is still a bit handsy at this stage of his development. Marcus Rios got a lot of playing time in his final game as a Bruin, and that was good to see. Safety play, aside from the dropped interceptions, was just OK.
Defensive Scheme, Play Calling, and Game Plan: D-
UCLA managed basically no pressure on Webb all day, and ran mostly their base nickel scheme against the Bears, without much aggression or variation. Obviously, there's probably something to the idea that UCLA's defense wore down over the course of the game given the massive play disparity between the Bears and the Bruins, but this was still one of the least disruptive games for UCLA's defense since the very early part of the season. UCLA turned in two pretty poor defensive performances in the last two weeks, and that will unfortunately mar what was a nice middle stretch of the season for the Bruins.
Special Teams: F
UCLA fumbled one squibbed kickoff return, and from that point forward, UCLA decided to fair catch every squibbed kickoff, which was just so silly. There were moments where UCLA players were catching the ball without a Cal player within 15 yards, and still they were fair catching the ball. That's just bad coaching. Ishmael Adams once again wasn't good on returns, but, for whatever reason, Cal kicked away from him anyway. UCLA's punting and place kicking were fine, but the return game has been a disaster for the better part of two years now. Kick coverage was also not good, with Cal, a not good returning team, bringing one kickoff out all the way to the 50.