From a very cursory viewpoint, the offense wasn't any more effective than it looked in the scrimmage last fall, or during last season.
But if you looked a little closer, with perhaps a more discerning eye, you could see some differences – some advances. Maybe they're not giant steps, but there were definitely some baby steps for the offense at Drake Stadium Saturday.
Quarterback Kevin Prince went 9 for 19, for 77 yards and one interception. Those numbers aren't misleading; Prince looked about as effective as they sound. But, there were some differences, however. Prince throws a better ball than Kevin Craft did a year ago – a more accurate, catchable ball. Prince went through progressions. He was late in going through them often, but he did go through them. He actually threw to his secondary receiver a number of times. He has command of the offense in a way that Craft never exuded.
Perhaps the biggest advancement with the offense was the improved pass protection. The UCLA quarterbacks had time to throw, generally, compared to last year's offense. The quarterbacks actually could stay in the pocket and go through their progressions.
It's not only due to an offensive line that is probably better at providing protection, but the tailbacks, fullbacks, H-backs and tight ends are all doing their blocking assignments better.
Another advancement: There was some daylight running the ball. While the defense did stuff the run often, the offense also provided a few decent holes to run through.
So, with improved pass protection and more running room, you could definitely make the case that the offensive line has seen an improvement.
Now, of course, it's difficult to take a great deal from the scrimmage, for a number of reasons. On one had, there are concessions you have to make for the offense – it isn't going to dip too deeply into its playbook, and the defense knows the offense pretty well. But then again, the #1 offense only really moved the ball against the #2 and #3 defense, or a mixture of the #2 and #3.
It was very clear that when the #1 offense went up against the #1 defense you can throw out all of the different mitigating issues and conclude that the defense is far better than the offense. And it's easy to conclude that defensive tackle Brian Price is a beast.
On the first series of the scrimmage, on the second play, Price jumped into the offensive backfield and caught Christian Ramirez a split second after the ball was handed to him for a four-yard loss. On the next play, Price batted down a Prince pass. He was only in for a handful of series but he pretty much wreaked havoc on every rep.
Eddie Williams, the JC transfer offensive guard, was taking most of the brunt of Price's wrath.
The other most significant thing that happened in that first series is Ramirez, on his second carry, twisted an ankle and never came back to the scrimmage. It's described as a mild sprain.
After punter Jeff Locke boomed a 49-yarder, the #1 O went up against the #1 D again. The refs called Prince down on a virtual sack, even though it appeared he wasn't in the grasp of a defender before completing a nice pass. On the next play, he threw an interception to safety Rahim Moore when he was hit by defensive end Damien Holmes, and Moore returned it for a touchdown.
The 2s took over, with true freshman quarterback Richard Brehaut. Brehaut, though, didn't throw a pass for his first several series, only handing the ball off. On the first series for the 2s, Johnathan Franklin bounced outside for a gain of 4, then took one up the middle for a gain of 6. On the next play, Franklin made the offensive play of the scrimmage when he jitterbugged his way through a good-sized hole up the middle and then turned on the speed in the open field to bust a 60-yard touchdown run.
Franklin had a couple of other impressive runs throughout the scrimmage, ending with 6 rushes for 99 yards and that one touchdown. He looked explosive and elusive.
Derrick Coleman looked similar to how he looked last season – a little show off the line of scrimmage. He had five carries for -6 yards, but take into consideration he was going up against the #1 defense most of the scrimmage while Franklin faced mostly the 2s. Coleman did catch a ball out in the flat and picked up good yardage after the catch both with some shifty moves and power.
Milton Knox also looked good, running between the tackles with power and having an ability to squeeze through seams. He finished with 9 rushes for 34 yards.
Damien Thigpen, the true freshman speedster, got some tailback reps, and looked explosive. He had 7 carries for 41 yards. He's the type of runner that you just hope will get that one step into daylight and then, with the speed, you think he has a chance to break it.
Brehaut did end up throwing the ball, going 3 for 6 for 29 yards. He stayed in the pocket and threw a strike to Jerry Johnson for a gain of 10, but then threw two poorly thrown balls in succession, before again throwing a good ball to fullback Trevor Theriot for a gain of 5.
Kevin Craft looked like the same quarterback from last season. He didn't get much time, going 1 for 3 for 6 yards. He did look good on a bootleg where he ran for 10 yards.
In terms of the receivers, it appeared that the coaches were trying to get some of the younger guys more playing time. Terrence Austin was the best man in his brother's wedding, so he wasn't there. Taylor Embree wasn't in on many reps and didn't have the ball thrown to him much.
Freshmen Randall Carroll, Morrell Presley and Ricky Marvray seemed to be in a great deal, but didn't make many plays. Carroll, who had shown very reliable hands in practice for two weeks, dropped an easy catch on a crossing pattern where had a great deal of room in front of him to run. On a crossing pattern in the endzone, cornerback Andrew Abbott had to interfere to keep Carroll from making the play.
Presley had a few balls thrown his way, but didn't connect on any of them. A couple were catchable. Marvray also didn't have a catch.
Johnson had two catches, and looked big and long. He very well might be maturing, and playing himself into some playing time.
Senior Gavin Ketchum sat out with the hamstring.
Nelson Rosario had one ball on a slant that was catchable, but he didn't make a big effort to get it. Then, on a post, on a ball that was overthrown, he didn't make much of an effort to go get that one either.
The tight ends were an impressive group. Nate Chandler had 2 catches for 22 yards, catching both balls in traffic. Cory Harkey caught a traffic ball for 11 yards. Ryan Moya caught a quick out for four yards. And then redshirting Joseph Fauria had one of the best plays of the two hours. He caught a ball out in the flat from Nick Crissman, and turned it up the sideline for a 60-yard touchdown. Marvray provided a block along the way that made it possible.
Crissman, again, looked like a gamer. On the pass to Fauria, he was rolling and Fauria had come back, but then slipped behind the pressing defender, and Crissman was smart enough to hit him going up the sideline. Crissman placed a perfect ball in the hands of Presley on a streak that was broken up.
Perhaps the most worrisome aspect of the night: When the #1 offense went on the field against the #3 defense, it wasn't an overwhelmingly lopsided match-up. It took a while for the #1 offense to get moving, and enough chances provided by the coaching staff.
When the #1 offense first sputtered against the #3 D, Coleman was actually stopped for a loss of one on a tackle by freshman defensive end Iuta Tepa. Prince, after a couple more incompletions, hooked up with Harkey, and then hit Chane Moline for a short pass that was a first down. Franklin made a run inside that he took outside for 11 yards. Prince then hit Chandler for 11, and the Chandler for another 4-yarder. Prince then, on a bootleg, ran it in for a touchdown. The offense got four consecutive first downs, and it was the only time all scrimmage that they even had two consecutive first downs.
Defensively, with Price leading the way, the play of the front seven was impressive. As we said, David Carter looked good – strong and quick. Defensive ends Kyle Bosworth and Datone Jones looked strong, with Jones particularly looking tough to block, especially when he's trying to take the edge.
Back-up middle linebacker Steve Sloan made a few nice plays, one where he provided blanket coverage and got a break-up on a tight end, and two more where he filled a hole well and got the stop on a running play.
Coverage, generally, was very tight. Aaron Hester was very effective in staying close to his man and he also came up and made a couple of plays against the run. Strong safety Tony Dye, who was with the 1s, had one of the best defensive plays of the night when he shot through the line to get a tackle for loss on a running play.
Freshman linebacker Todd Golper had a sack on a blitz and another nice tackle.
Special Teams provided most of the excitement for the scrimmage. Thigpen busted a kick-off return for a 60-yard touchdown, shooting up through a hole and blasting through it with some considerable speed. Knox then returned a kick-off for 32 yards. Thigpen then lit up the scrimmage again with a 70-yard punt return for a touchdown, showing that break-away speed again.
Courtney Viney returned a punt for 94-yard touchdown and looked very shifty in doing it.
Even with Thigpen having such a big day on special teams, you have to give the special teams MVP to punter Jeff Locke. Locke was busting punts, hitting on two that went 47 yards each, with great hang time. He boomed a 62-yarder that was aided by the punt returner not fielding it. He then pooched a punt that bounced out of bounds on the one-yard.
But that wasn't all Locke did. With placekicker Kai Forbath sitting out with a slightly strained quad, Locke took over field goal duties, and was very impressive. He hit field goals of 53, 23 and 35 yards. His field goals have great trajectory, getting very high quickly, which makes them difficult to block. It's clear why UCLA isn't pursuing any high school placekickers seriously when it has redshirt freshman Locke on the roster.