ASU Reality vs. Expectations

How did the expectations hold up this week? In analyzing the Arizona State game in detail, the Bruins come away with some of the most positive aspects of any game yet this year...

The UCLA Bruins 20-13 win over the ASU Sun Devils had all the feel of an NFL win: solid, professional, gimmick-free football accompanied by loud, raucous fans (61,778 of them). The Bruins performed well in all three phases of the game in raising their record to 6-2.

The defense was the most impressive: Larry Kerr's play calling was at times aggressive (‘backer blitzes) but on 3rd and 10+, he often had the Bruins only rush three (which, impressively, still produced pressure) and dared ASU to throw underneath, a strategy which worked to perfection time after time as the Bruins had a solid day of tackling and limited run-after-catch to the bare minimum.

The Bruins held ASU to only 132 net passing yards, a number certainly helped by the ankle injury to Andrew Walter, who was 4 for 10 for 53 yards before retiring to the baseball hat and clipboard. Another huge statistic was holding ASU to only two conversions on 16 3rd-down chances. And nothing speaks louder than shutting out ASU in the second half, the third time this year that UCLA has done that (Arizona and Washington being the other victims), paving the way for three comeback victories.

Because the Bruins faced poor field position all game long, the pressure on Chris Kluwe to kill punts was large, and Kluwe delivered in tremendous fashion. On nine punts, Kluwe and UCLA netted 37.1 yards a kick once return yardage was subtracted.

His early, booming punts immediately raised Bruin anxiety levels around the Rose Bowl and across the cable network as memories of Oklahoma and Antonio Perkins sprang to mind, especially after Daryl Lightfoot's 35-yard return.

Fortunately, the punt coverage team dodged bullets, with a scare here and there, and Kluwe's directional punting became an absolute weapon as the game wore one. Hey, it wouldn't be Halloween week without something scary.

And talk about scary. If UCLA's O becomes a consistent force over the next two games, even Wazzou and USC will enter the game with some trepidation. UCLA demonstrated a big play offense, with seven plays of 15+ yards (passes for 52, 37, 26, 25 and 16 yards, and Maurice Drew's runs for 83 and 25). Certainly, the 403 yards of total offense was welcome relief for the offensive doldrums of recent weeks. As expected, UCLA had a ratio of 59% run, 41% pass on the game.

However, the Bruins didn't steamroll the Sun Devils. Out of 66 real plays from scrimmage by my count, the Bruins had 32 positive plays (‘positive' defined as 3+ yards gained or a 1st down/TD achieved) and 34 negative plays. Last week, the Bruins only produced 25 positive plays to 34 negative against a lower-ranked defense, so there definitely seems to be improvement this week, especially considering the big play component.

The individual reader will have to decide whether or not Karl Dorrell lived up to intentions of "overseeing" the play calling to ensure Moore had a chance to be successful and to produce a "better mixture" regarding running vs. passing plays, "creating more balance" in the offense.

In terms of effectiveness running the ball, Manuel White produced six positive plays to three negative. His season-ending injury courtesy of a hit from Riccardo Stewart seriously dampens the joy of the victory. White also had a hugely positive play by taking a simple dump-off from Matt Moore in the first quarter and rambling 26 yards for a 1st down on 3rd and 4.

Thankfully, Maurice Drew was able to pick up the slack, getting all 18 of his carries in the second half, and producing 11 positive runs vs. only 7 negative runs, including gains of 83, 25, 13, 12 and 10 on his way to 176 net yards. Has a star been born in the land of Hollywood?

Tyler Ebell was only able to produce three positive running plays vs. six negative carries, gaining 19 yards on 9 carries.

The running style RB Coach Eric Bieniemy teaches is very disciplined and patterned after the style in vogue in the NFL today: go where the play is called, get running downhill (ie, get the shoulders turned to at least a 45 degree angle to the LOS), and then make one cut, either straight up field, or to the outside, preferably never running horizontal to the LOS.

What we don't see from this style are plays where the running back 1) starts towards the hole, say, to the right, 2) cuts back to the left when he sees the defense converge on the planned point of attack, 3) runs parallel to the LOS to the left (completely cutting back against the grain) until a hole emerges, and then 4) cuts it up before the backside defenders can tackle him, making at least something out of nothing, or breaking off at most a huge run, not to mention slowing down the D from flowing to the play side point of attack on future plays. It is almost impossible to watch a CFB game these days without commonly seeing runs like the one just described.

Unfortunately, Ebell, with his vision, instincts, quickness and build, seems ideally suited for the latter running style (where the idea is to go untouched), but not necessarily the former, where such a premium is placed on being able to run through tackles, a la Priest Holmes and Clinton Portis. Hopefully Tyler will revert in future games to the form he demonstrated in spring ball and early in fall camp running the ball in this attack.

The Bruins seemed to make a concerted effort to balance the play calling on 1st down after the 80+% 1st down runs seen vs. Cal. In the first half, UCLA threw the ball seven times and ran it nine times. The Bruins gained 85 yards on 3 of 7 passes, with one TD and one INT, and ran for 32 net yards on 9 carries.

Of the 85 yards, 52 came on the Bruins' first play from scrimmage, a hitch to the left side that saw Craig Bragg get the ball in his outside arm and blow by the CB to the outside. Another 25 came on the play/action pass to Bragg in the end zone. Moore was smart enough to make the throw a jump ball and Bragg was skilled enough to position himself and well-coached enough to catch the ball at its highest point, something the Bruins have sorely lacked in recent years. Thanks, Coach Embree.

In the first half, the Bruins gained 117 yards on 16 1st down plays, a 7.3 average. The play calling was indeed more balanced, with UCLA throwing the ball 44% of the time. The UCLA running average on 1st down was a respectable 3.6 yards, with five of the nine carries gaining 3+ yards (including Ebell's run for 7 just before the half).

In the second half, the old pattern started to emerge. The Bruins ran the ball 75% of the time on 1st down after halftime (9 of 12), for only 22 yards (a 2.4 average). On the three pass attempts, UCLA only completed one for six yards.

However, it was great to see UCLA rack up yards throwing the ball in the first half, and then switch to the running game in the second half, in neoclassic NFL fashion. The Bruins threw for 186 yards in the first half (Matt Moore was 10 of 17, with one TD and one INT), and then ran for 171 in the second half, as MoD, the high-speed brick, shattered ASU's window, complete with nasty note attached: "You ain't winning recruiting battles with us no Mo."

Whenever a team plays a 4-2-5, it really means that they are playing a 4-4-3 in running situations. The Bruins faced 8 in the box all night and were still successful running the ball, thanks to Drew's ability to bounce off tacklers, keep his feet and change the direction of the run.

One adjustment UCLA made was to send twins to the wide side, send the TE to the short side, and then run to the short side, where UCLA would have five blockers (C, OG, OT, TE and FB) to account for five defenders (DT, DE, ILB, OLB, CB), leaving the RB unaccounted for if the FS didn't fill aggressively.

It was on exactly this play that MoD broke his 83-yard TD run. ASU blitzed Brett Hudson, the S/OLB, but Blane Kezirian drove him to the inside (snagging the ILB in the process), FB Pat Norton kicked out the DE who was looping outside, FS Jason Shivers took a horrible tackling angle (because he didn't know about MoD's suddenness), and it was a footrace.

The running O was so strong at the end of the game that UCLA was able to execute the "four minute offense," the scheme teams run when they try to close out the game. Unlike games against CU and IL, the Bruins were finally successful this time, sparing the paramedics more medical emergency work.

A big bright spot stems from the comparison between UCLA's offensive production in the second half and ASU's: the Sun Devils passed for only 51 yards in the second half, and ran for only 1 net yard. That will get it done: 175 vs. 52.

True, Sam Keller was in at QB for ASU, which certainly limited the number of plays at ASU's disposal and altered the available audibles at the line. But Walter didn't look very impressive starting off 4 for 10 before leaving the game, never to return, after getting his ankle rolled up. Given that ASU's game plan didn't seem to emphasize attacking the seams, throwing to the backs, or using the TE over the middle, and didn't have any deceptive running plays, it is highly likely this was UCLA's night, no matter who Dirk "Cookie" Koetter played at QB.

An adjustment Dorrell promised during the week was to have the CBs play tighter coverage on ASU's wide outs, a move which worked beautifully because the Bruins were never burnt deep on long passes but the CBs were always in position to make the tackle just as the ball arrived, when the QB wasn't busy being sacked or throwing the ball inaccurately.

Speaking of QBs…Karl Dorrell took a huge gamble in the eyes of many by giving the ball to Matt Moore after the Bruins won four straight with Drew Olson at QB. In the eyes of others, it was two weeks too late.

There were a few glimpses of what the passing O could look like with Moore at the controls: the bombs to Bragg, the high fastball to Marcedes Lewis, the checkdown to Manuel White, and the curls to Junior Taylor and Ryan Smith. However, as expected, Moore tried to guide a few passes as he attempted to be too fine, with the ball sailing high as a result.

The biggest fears were that Moore wouldn't take care of the ball as much as he should, fears which were realized. First there were the two INTs that resulted from being hit as he attempted to throw, situations where he should have realized he didn't have the time needed to get the throw off with any authority, and therefore should have taken the sack rather than put possession at risk. But it could have been much worse. There was a play early in the 1st quarter near the Bruin end zone where Moore put the ball on the ground, but the play was ruled an incomplete pass instead of a fumble. (Finally, UCLA got a break!)

Unfortunately, Moore doesn't have the luxury of learning ball security at a gradual pace. He clearly didn't have time to get the passes off in the face of the rush coming at him, yet he tried it anyway, with disastrous results. Hopefully, we'll see substantial improvement in the Stanford game.

Once again, the Bruins were able to send away the Arizona State Sun Devils with their tails because they won the second half with superior conditioning and adjustments (according to FSN's John Jackson), and because ASU self-destructed at inopportune times, such as Loren Wade's fumble deep in UCLA's territory right after a UCLA turnover, a move which was probably the play of the game.


Well, we didn't see UCLA's play-calling and formations keep ASU's D off-balance very often…but it worked often enough to produce a number of 15+ yard plus plays. No shotgun was used this week…maybe UCLA is trying to keep some formations concealed? We did see UCLA throw early and run late, and Moore throw two checkdowns when he was feeling pressure. However, we didn't see the Bruins try to long/short the CBs into impossible situations: end the split end deep and then send the FB into the flat. Moore didn't play the most calm, cool and collected game, but there were definitely bright moments and hopefully there will be more to come. Sure enough, Moore attempted to "guide" a few throws, with the ball sailing high as a result, and he held on to the ball a little too long a couple of times, which was understandable given that ASU came after him big-time, to see if he can handle the pressure.

Now that the Manster is out of the mix for the season, the Bruins are lacking a power back with the size to hurt the other team on short yardage plays if nothing else. Hopefully, the staff will recall that JD Groves (6-2, 233) ran the ball very effectively during fall camp when the Bruins were short of RBs due to illness and injury.

As expected, UCLA produced 6+ plays of 20+ yards, which offset the 50% of UCLA's offensive plays that were "non-productive" either due to execution or to the lack of the element of surprise.

Defense: My fondest wishes were granted as UCLA's "Baby Bull" DL swarmed all over Andrew Walter and even forced him to leave the game. When Keller came in, the Baby Bulls continued to use their Doc Kreis-honed strength and power to hunt as a pack, collapsing the pocket/getting the sack on an alternating basis. The four actual sacks fell just short of the 5+ sacks desired, but UCLA did get the numerous flushes from the pocket it needed to win the battle on D.

As hoped for, once the DL collapsed the pocket and the CBs took away the cheap stuff short without giving up the bomb down the sideline, the great set of UCLA LBs had another field day making plays in the backfield and in the passing game.

Given that ASU is one of the most dangerously balanced teams UCLA has faced so far this year, it seems safe to say that the UCLA D is very solid, even when matched up with a quality opponent.

My fear that Andrew Walter can throw the ball a lot farther than UCLA anticipates was unfounded. Not that ASU didn't try: on the game's first series, the Sun Devils tried to vertically stretch CB Matt Clark by sending Derek Hagan deep. However, Jarrad Page took a perfect angle and almost intercepted the pass. That play seemed to alter Cookie's play calling for the rest of the game.

I expected UCLA's D to have a great game, and they did.

Special Teams:

Who was more of a star? Chris Kluwe or Justin Medlock? Without Kluwe's valiant efforts to push the Sun Devils back with booming punts, even UCLA's D might have gotten disheartened. And without Medlock's pure-butter, Jordanesque-in-crunch-time FGs, UCLA is again looking at a skin-of-the-teeth type win.

While kick-off coverage remained strong, punt coverage allowed 11.5 yards/return. One problem was that UCLA's gunners were consistently getting delayed by ASU's coverage guys, but the reverse wasn't true. ASU's gunners easily shook UCLA's coverage guys and gave Craig Bragg fits, catching a punt on the fly on the 4, and crowding Bragg so much on another punt, that CBra failed to field it, allowing ASU to down it on the 5.

Overall: Karl Dorrell's formula for CFB success worked again: Great D + good special teams play + conservative offense (that popped some big ones, fortunately) + great conditioning = Pac-10 win. Just Look Good, Baby! We'll see if the trend can continue into November, starting with Stanford.

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