Analysis of Stanford Game

UCLA wins a steamy affair in Palo Alto, 45-17, with UCLA's offense coming alive in the second half and back-up tailback Kahlil Bell having a career day, while the Bruins' defense looking a bit in disarray at times, especially in pass coverage. It wasn't a dominating win, but a comfortable one...

If you had reasonable expectations as a UCLA fan going into the season opener against Stanford, you probably weren't surprised by much as the #14-ranked Bruins beat the Cardinal Saturday, 45-17.

There were some minor surprises. UCLA's offense might have been slightly better than you would have anticipated, and its defense worse, while you probably expected Stanford's defense to be a little better and its offense worse.

While the Bruins definitely had the game in hand, you'd have to say, however, that you never felt they were in complete domination of the Cardinal. There was just never that feeling of a big, bad bully that had the weak wimp pinned down on the ground and was just casually pummeling him.

UCLA definitely had to work for this.

In terms of expectation, the first few minutes of the game lived up to almost what you could have stereotyped about UCLA. If it were a Hollywood script it would have been rejected for being too formulaic. UCLA's defense, in its attacking, aggressive style, forced a turnover from Stanford's quarterback, T.C. Ostrander, on a blitz, on what practically looked like a drill out of a UCLA practice, with cornerback Trey Brown, running down Ostrander from behind and swinging his arm like a club to punch out the ball. In what looked like another UCLA practice drill, Bruce Davis scooped up the fumble and advanced it to the Stanford 11-yard line.

Then, as if living up to the stereotype, UCLA's offensive mind trust calls two run plays in a row that net 1 yard. After four weeks of fall camp where UCLA did so much work with its offense in the red zone, trying to counter the reputation from last year that it got conservative within 20 yards of the endzone and typically settled for field goals, it ran on first and second down. After an incomplete pass on third down, it then, indeed, settled for a field goal.

But, again, as if you were scripting this, UCLA's rookie field goal kicker, Kai Forbath, misses the 28-yarder, exactly what was one of the top concerns of fall camp.

So, with a great opportunity within the redzone for its offense created by its defense, UCLA comes away with nothing.

Every BRO reader at this point had to just scoff, almost not able to believe how typical the first minute of the game was.

Then, for the rest of the first half, UCLA's offense lived up to its rep from last season even more, being very conservative, predominantly running the ball, utilizing pretty standard, straight-ahead running plays, with its quarterback, Ben Olson looking a bit shaky.

Every BRO reader then had to be telling himself: "This really isn't the extent of the offense, is it? Tell me they're just trying not to give away so much of their offense to other opponents against lowly Stanford. Please, tell me that."

New Offensive Coordinator, Jay Norvell, is certainly dealing with a Bruin Nation that probably has very limited patience. After four years under Karl Dorrell with, more or less, a struggling – and very predictable – offense, we had heard, and seen in practice, that the offense was showing signs of breaking out of its conservative cocoon. But we had actually seen signs of it before in practice, and it never really manifested itself in an actual game. So UCLA fans generally have four years of frustration over its offense laying at the feet of Norvell, who probably doesn't deserve it. With that shortened tolerance, and expectations running high for the offense, the conservative first half against Stanford was the equivalent of a couple of years of watching Dorrell's conservative offenses.

But a plan obviously unfolded. UCLA, offensively, was conservative in the first half, probably to try to get its offense warmed up and get Olson comfortable.

And Olson needed to get comfortable. He did throw two touchdown passes on two fade routes, two balls that weren't thrown perfectly that demanded great plays by the receivers, Joe Cowan and Gavin Ketchum. He also threw another similar ball to Brandon Breazell, who made one of the most eye-opening catches in recent memory, a one-handed grab while being tightly covered, a catch that sustained a drive that ended in the Ketchum touchdown. Olson started out one-for-four for a loss of one yard total. He rushed some throws and overthrew others. So, it very well might have been a very smart thing that UCLA came out in the first half conservatively on offense, to get Olson settled down and to not put him in a position to make some mistakes.

In the second half, the UCLA offense opened up – not drastically, but enough to not show too much and also get the job done against Stanford. It just about doubled its yardage production from the first half to the second.

For those who were complaining under their breath in the first half about Norvell and how the offense looked just as conservative as ever, they were then probably sitting back and pretty content with what they saw of the offense in the second half.

In the offensive game plan were slip screens to receivers, quick drops on timing routes, some pocket movement, roll outs on play action, a flea flicker, an end around, and, shockingly, some pitches, counters and a shovel pass. While it wasn't exactly Texas Tech, it was probably the most diverse play-calling in one half by a Dorrell team, in a game where UCLA wasn't down by three touchdowns in the fourth quarter.

There was a feeling, still, that UCLA has more up its sleeve, and it just pulled the curtain open on a few things it needed to use to get the job done against Stanford. Hey, when you call one slip screen and it goes for a touchdown, why not call it again, and again, until Stanford can actually defend it rather than show your future opponent's another play?

Cowan's touchdown off the inside screen was a pretty play and significant. Cowan weaved in and out of Stanford's defense, found the sideline and then showed that nice, straight-ahead speed to get into the endzone. It went for 77 yards, and put UCLA up, comfortably, 28-10. It was the kind of big play that UCLA hasn't had much of since Maurice Jones-Drew left the program, one that gets you 45 points in a game, rather than 28.

So, then let's try it to Breazell, since Stanford doesn't appear to be able to defend it, and Breazell sees the Stanford defense part like the Red Sea and waltzes into the end zone, to put UCLA up, again comfortably, 38-17.

Olson was better in the second half. The combination of quick drops, moving the pocket a bit and good pass protection from his offensive line kept him from being touched by Stanford's defense for most of the game, and it helped him to get more, well, comfortable. He still overthrew a few passes and hurried a couple of others when it didn't appear he was under much pressure – or at least not enough to warrant overthrows and hurries. He didn't make any big mistakes, however, never forcing anything into coverage. So, with a fairly conservative game plan, one intended clearly to get him comfortable, Olson went 16 for 29, for 286 yards and five touchdowns. Those five touchdowns were as many as he threw all season a year ago. So, overall, a good opening performance from the quarterback.

UCLA's receivers looked good – and big. The UCLA coaching staff obviously saw that Stanford's inexperienced secondary could be exploited by the Bruins' bigger, experienced receivers. It has to be tough if you're a 5-11 cornerback and you have to face 6-4 Cowan, 6-5 Ketchum and 6-4 Dominique Johnson. Johnson looks like a tight end out there, and he had a touchdown pass on a quick slant where he physically sealed his defender easily with his big body. Breazell, who at 6-0 and 160 pounds, is definitely a change of pace, and he looks like he has fresh legs compared to last season, when he looked slowed by injury. Breazell finished with 6 catches for 111 yards. Last season, UCLA had only one receiver get more than 100 yards in a game when Marcus Everett had 102 against Notre Dame. UCLA tried to get the ball into the hands of Everett, who many feel is its best receiver, but Olson missed him a couple of times and Everett droped a catchable one. Pretty significant is that UCLA's receivers totaled 14 receptions, while UCLA's running backs had just two (last season UCLA running back Chris Markey led the team in receptions). UCLA's receivers, as a group, look like an experienced, cool-headed crew out there, running sharp routes and making nice, athletic catches. It will be nice to see perhaps Terrence Austin get more involved, to get UCLA some more quickness alongside Breazell to compliment the size it has at receiver.

The offensive line had a particularly good day, albeit against Stanford. In pass coverage, tt allowed just one sack, on a blitz, but gave Olson plenty of time to make decisions most of the day. Micah Kia, the true sophomore, in his first start, did a good job of pushing his rusher out wide. In run blocking, UCLA's o-line was outstanding. The interior three linemen – guards Shannon Tevaga and Noah Sutherland and center Chris Joseph -- probably were the most dominating force for UCLA on the field. They looked like a perfectly choreographed dance routine against the run, sealing Stanford's interior defensive linemen consistently like it was literally written in Xs and Os. Tevaga came out of the game with a few nicks, but nothing considered serious, and Joseph left late in the second half, reportedly bothered by his hip flexor, and his status is uncertain. Micah Reed came in for Joseph and did fairly well.

It's clear that the offensive line – and the entire O for that matter – are a bunch of seasoned guys who know their scheme and know how to think the game. The O-line looked one-step smarter than Stanford's defensive line, which was supposed to be its defensive strength.

Tailback Kahlil Bell had a career day, gaining 195 yards on 19 carries, looking strong and quicker. He was the tackler-breaker in this one, bouncing off would-bes like a pinball, while always keeping the legs churning. While Bell had some big gainers, probably his best run was one where he was originally hit in the backfield, and then literally broke seven tackles for a ten-yard gain. On his big gainers, he was able to get into the defensive backfield with the power he's gained by those extra 10 pounds he put on in the off-season, but didn't quite have the jets to finish it off and out-run the Stanford defense. It's funny that Bell said he wanted to dispel his rep as a power runner and show more speed, but all he did was reinforce his reputation as being a very good power runner without breakaway speed. And that's okay; UCLA will take his 195 yards every game.

Chris Markey, the 1,000-yard rusher from a year ago, was pretty quiet, gaining 71 yards on 20 carries, and not looking particularly explosive. If you remember, Markey looked this way at the beginning of the season a year ago, only to appear to gain more power and explosiveness as the season went on, so hopefully there's more to come.

If this is how it's going to be, however, with Bell running with conviction and Markey looking soft, you can probably foresee Bell being the premier back, like he was in this game. UCLA will go with the guy who's feeling it, and in this game it was definitely Bell. Hopefully this will challenge Markey.

While it was only in mop-up duty, converted sophomore safety Christian Ramirez looked good at tailback, gaining 55 yards on 5 carries. A slasher type, after he picked the hole, he showed nice acceleration up the field. It's key that UCLA feels it has another tailback it can go to after Markey and Bell, even if Chane Moline returns soon.

Overall, when analyzing the offense, again, you have to take it all with a this-was-only-Stanford grain of salt. It's just not going to be this easy against UCLA's future opponents. This was UCLA's offense fattening up on probably the worst defense it will face all season.

You probably never felt, though, that UCLA was really dominating this game completely because UCLA's defense never really dominated. Admittedly, Stanford's offense wasn't the Keystone Cops that you might have envisioned, but UCLA's defensive secondary, which has to be considered one of the strongest units on the team, didn't have a great day. They uncharacteristically allowed some big plays through the air. Stanford's receiver Richard Sherman went for a 70-yard touchdown, receiver Evan Moore had a 42-yard gain, and tight end Jim Dray jetted up the sideline for a 46-yard gain. Stanford is going to be probably the weakest team UCLA faces, and it threw for 331 yards against the vaunted UCLA secondary. It was a very hot day, and Stanford's coaches obviously realized by the end of the second half that they were going to have to throw the ball to compete, putting the ball in the air 59 times. But still, it wasn't a great performance by UCLA's passing defense.

Cornerback Trey Brown had a good day, with a number of break-ups. He had two in succession in the first half that were very impressive, with Brown timing his break perfectly, and using textbook technique for the break-up. Other than Brown, the rest of the Bruin defensive backfield struggled somewhat. On Dray's big catch, which was a simple clear-out for him on the sideline, UCLA's Alterraun Verner either missed his assignment, or just bumped into safety Chris Horton, creating some considerable space for Dray. On Sherman's touchdown, Verner got juked on a double move by Sherman. Verner wasn't completely lost for the day, though, making a couple of other nice break-ups. On Moore's big gainer, safety Dennis Keyes looked like he took the wrong inside angle, and Moore bounced off him and Brown and, with Keyes over-committed, took it up the field. Rodney Van had a lapse when trying to tackle Stanford running back Anthony Kimble on the edge. Van has a habit of lunging when he tackles, rather than keeping his feet, wrapping up and driving with his legs. Kimble bounced off Van and turned the corner for a 31-yard gain, easily Stanford's biggest on the ground all day. Verner went into the game for Van when he suffered a high-ankle sprain.

UCLA shut down Stanford's running game for the most part, with the Cardinal gaining just 52 yards on 26 rushing attempts. It wasn't, however, as dominating as it sounds. Stanford had 58 yards rushing at halftime, with 17 of its 26 rushing attempts for the game coming in the first half. Stanford was seeing a bit of room on the ground, and some daylight when Kimble broke off that 31-yarder, but the Cardinal simply abandoned its running game in the second half. Some of the credit goes to UCLA's rushing defense, since Stanford realized it wasn't getting much done on the ground, but it wasn't as if UCLA's rushing defense was overwhelming. In fact, on Stanford's last drive of the half, where it drove the field from its own 20-yard line and capped it off with a touchdown catch by Dray, the Cardinal had a few nice gains on the ground, and it actually looked like Stanford was starting to open up some space for its running game.

Stanford's passing offense, too, was effective at times because UCLA's defense failed to consistently pressure Ostrander. When UCLA is blitzing, it's generally good at putting pressure on a quarterback, but when it falls back into a four-man rush, quarterbacks last year and Ostrander in this game had plenty of time in the pocket. On Stanford's last drive of the first half, where it drove 80 yards for a touchdown, UCLA for the most part went to a four-man rush and Ostrander had too much time to throw.

Bruce Davis was essentially neutralized in this game. The Stanford offensive line was shading his direction a bit, just to possibly get another body in his way. If this is the case for the rest of the season, the Bruin defensive end on the other side has to take advantage, and Korey Bosworth did have two sacks, but that side wasn't a big enough force to get Stanford to stop shading toward Davis.

Overall, it was a spotty performance by the UCLA defense. If it's aspiring to be one of the best in the conference – and in the country – allowing what could be the worst offense it will face all year 17 points, 383 yards, and 331 of those yards through the air doesn't translate well for the rest of the season. Much of Stanford's big gainers came after UCLA defenders had break downs, so hopefully it's a matter of it being the first game, the defense being rusty and shoring up some issues here and there.

It was definitely a bit of a departure from the team we saw a year ago, when the offense had to repeatedly rely on the defense to win games. The offense definitely won this one, but again, this was just Stanford and not any real indication at all as to how the offense, or the defense, will be the rest of the season. It wasn't dominating, by any means, but a comfortable win, and to start off the season and Pac-10 play, we'll take it.

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