They probably deserved an A, but there were a few little mistakes here and there. Nothing particularly substantial, but enough to lower the grade to a B+.
Left guard Darius Savage definitely showed he was worthy of the starting left guard spot. He was a monster for most of the game. He opened up gaping holes and pretty much manhandled his guy all day.
Left tackle Sean Sheller and Savage made for some great OL play on the left side. Sheller, too, contained his man almost the entire game.
Center Ryan Taylor was stellar on the Pistol snaps and generally blocked well.
Right guard Eddie Williams had generally a good day. He did quite a bit better in run blocking than in pass blocking. The sack in the first half was caused mostly by him getting beat.
Right tackle Micah Kia played fairly well, but missed a few blocks here and there.
They get the D merely for all the dropped balls. In watching the tape of the game closely, they weren't necessarily to blame for not getting open. Many times there was a receiver open but Kevin Prince didn't find him.
Nelson Rosario easily was the best of the bunch.
Cory Harkey blocked very well and caught the one ball thrown to him and advanced it well.
The F-back position was a disappointment, mostly because of Morrell Presley's initial two drops on the first two plays from scrimmage. Christian Ramirez did have a very nice block on one play. Presley didn't make much of an appearance after that.
RUNNING BACKS: B
It doesn't seem difficult to see that Johnathan Franklin, as long as he can hang onto the ball, needs to get most of the carries between him and Derrick Coleman. Franklin showed explosion, picked good holes and ran tougher than Coleman, which is something since Coleman is 230 pounds and Franklin might be 200.
In the one series he got, Malcolm Jones look good, gaining strong yards after the initial hit.
We'd like to see Franklin get the bulk of the carries, and let Jones have a chance as the #2 tailback.
Coleman just doesn't run hard enough or break enough tackles for his size, and if you're conceding speed and quickness for tackle-breaking with Coleman, and he's not giving it to you, we don't see the point.
After watching the tape of the game thoroughly, we've come to the conclusion that many of the issues with the offense were indeed the fault of Kevin Prince.
Even while some of the drops were catchable, many of them were a bit inaccurate, making it a tough catch.
In many cases, he locked on to receivers while there were others open. He tried to force throws into coverage a number of times. If there are two or three defenders on a receiver it would stand to reason there is another receiver open, correct?
Then there were at least a half dozen times when receivers were open and Prince was unhurried and he just made a poor throw.
He threw two sloppy inteceptions. The first, at the end of the first half, was a throw he shouldn't make, across the field. He fumbled the ball at a critical juncture. If this had been Franklin, he would have been benched.
I know it's hard to trust us on this, but the Prince we saw at the beginning of fall practice is a completely different quarterback than the one we saw against Kansas State. The issue: Is it a matter of Prince, having been out for three weeks, being rusty? Or is it that he's just simply not a gamer? If it's the latter, there is going to be a time soon when Richard Brehaut needs to get a chance. If you go by practice, Prince clearly gives UCLA a better chance to win – but that's the practice Prince. And then it very well could be that Brehaut is, in fact, a gamer, and plays better in a game.
OFFENSIVE SCHEME: B
The Pistol accomplished what it was meant to – improve the running game and, with more deception and movement of the pocket, allow the quarterback more time to throw. As I said in the game review, it was just a matter of not having the players to execute it.
OFFENSIVE COACHING: C
You have to give Norm Chow and Rick Neuheisel credit for trying the Pistol since, as a scheme, it has promise. But on the other hand, the play-calling, even in a scheme like the Pistol that relies on deception, was conservative.
There seemed to still be a bit of a carry-over from the West Coast Offense in philosophy – that is the dink-and-dunk approach. And in terms of playing percentages, we still don't get why an attempt to throw a 2-yard pass across the field, which is highly risky and susceptible to a pick-6, as opposed to throwing the ball vertically down the field where an interception would more or less be the equivalent of a punt. The risk-reward has never made sense. If you're already going to attempt a pass, and take on all of the risk of pass protection, throwing the ball, risking injury to your quarterback, etc., why not do it with a potential reward worth the risk? At least a 10-yard pass.
It seemed like, too, there wasn't much adjustments as the game wore on. The only reasoning we can make sense of to dink-and-dunk is if your OL can't provide pass protection and you need to get off the ball quickly. But in this game it was pretty clear the OL was providing a good amount of protection. And to our knowledge, UCLA went deep only once, and it resulted in a positive play, a PI committed on Rosario. Now, there could have been reads that called for deep balls that Prince just didn't see, but there simply weren't many receivers running routes deep into K-State's coverage.
OFFENSE OVERALL: C
It would have been lower if not for such a good performance by the OL. UCLA has been waiting for a good offensive line, it gets its best production from one in a game in a long time, while doing it in what looks like a dynamic offensive scheme, and the offense still falls flat. It might be time loosen up, throw off the conservative approach, and let 'er rip, especially if the OL produces more games like this one.
DEFENSIVE LINE: C-
This might be kind, since the DL was generally pretty poor throughout the game, but made a couple of nice plays that saved it from getting a D.
The defensive tackles get Ds, and that's probably being kind, too. Justin Edison was pushed around the entire game. He doesn't appear he can play at this level. David Carter, for getting so much hype from the coaches, wasn't much better. He was pushed back most of the day.
Donovan Carter, the converted linebacker, and freshman Cassius Marsh, in the limited series they were in, did a bit better. Not great, but better. When Marsh fell down, at least he fell down forward, and stuffed the middle of the line, as opposed to Edison who was getting blocked back 8 yards. Carter also showed some ability to shed a block with his quickness, and ran down a running back for a tackle.
The defensive ends weren't much better. Nate Chandler is clearly the best, and he wasn't great. He showed some athleticism in being able to get around his block, but many times found himself out of the play. A few times, though, he found himself in the play. Damien Holmes was sealed off and taken out of almost every play. He just simply can't hold his blocker – even holding him neutral would be a win. But so many times he's blown back and then the weakside of the field opens up like the Red Sea.
Keenan Graham, when he was in the game, was a particular upgrade over Holmes. It wasn't close. He might not be as strong as Holmes in the weight room, but he uses his body and leverage much better to hold off a block. And he's much quicker, able to get around his blocker easier.
Iuta Tepa was also an upgrade over Holmes. He wasn't great, but he is far more active and is at least moving forward rather than getting blown back.
UCLA plugged in Akeem Ayers to defensive end many times, and he was exceptional. UCLA uses him in passing downs and he was unblockable most of the time rushing the passer.
We'd like to see, perhaps, Graham get more playing time over Holmes at the weakside rush end, and let Donovan Carter and Marsh get a chance at DT over Edison. It'd be interesting, too, to see Ayers play mostly with his hand down at the strongside defensive end spot, move Chandler inside to DT, and play Graham at the weakside defensive end. You're giving up bulk, but you're increasing your quickness considerably, and in this game the quicker guys did much better than their bulkier, slower counterparts.
But after watching the tape in detail, it's tough to imagine both Holmes and Edison continue to get starters minutes.
Ayers, if you look at the stats and just a quick impression of the game, had a big day, with 11 tackles and he was seemingly all over the field. He did make some plays. Playing linebacker, though, he tends to be very undisciplined, often times making the wrong choice, or engaging his blocker too long while a running back scoots right by him. He is an exceptional athlete, but if you go by the K-State game, he's still very raw, at least as a linebacker. We said in the game review he makes most of his mistakes at linebacker, and is far less inclined to make a mistake when he has his hand down at defensive end.
Steve Sloan, in practice, and in this game, got some time at the strongside spot. It might be a good experiment to put him there and perhaps let Ayers get more time at DE.
Patrick Larimore, for his first start at middle linebacker, did well. He had a very good first half, but then seemed to get fatigued in the second. He showed very good instincts in reading plays and filling holes, and was generally the best linebacker at shedding his block. He made some mistakes, and was less active in the second half. But overall, it was a promising first start.
Sean Westgate, for the most part, was manhandled throughout the game. He was thrown back on the edge, many times which would then open up an entire side of the field for KSU to run into. Even when he just needed to hold his blocker, he was pushed back considerably. He made some tackles in the open field, when a play had broken down, but this game was some strong evidence that Westgate doesn't have the size or strength to hold up.
It would seem that Glenn Love should get a shot at the weakside linebacker spot. He physically couldn't be more over-matched, and his size and quickness might offset the issues more.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: C
K-State only threw the ball 17 times, and the secondary didn't really get beat through the air. But their run support was generally poor.
Rahim Moore had a poor game. He made a couple of plays, but, like Ayers, looked undisciplined in his assignments. He often times seemed out of position, or late to make the play, and he missed a number of tackles.
Tony Dye perhaps was the best defender on the day, leading the team with 15 tackles, making a couple of touchdown-saving ones, in fact. He made good decisions and was in position most of the time.
Aaron Hester actually had a decent day, too. He got caught on that one pass interference, which was questionable. But then responded right after to single-handedly stop a KSU drive by making two impressive open-field tackles on successive plays.
Sheldon Price suffered from the same problem as last season, getting pushed back and blocked out of running plays.
Dalton Hilliard, subbing at strong safety, made a nice open-field tackle.
DEFENSIVE COACHING: C
Maybe we missed them, but we tried to count how many times UCLA stacked the box with 8 guys, and we counted only three times. Wouldn't this be a good risk-reward gamble, against Kansas State with Daniel Thomas and an unproven quarterback?
And sometimes instead of just employing more defenders to plug holes in run support, there was quite a bit of over-pursuit in run blitzes, seemingly. It created many of KSU's long runs from scrimmage.
As we said in the game review, the defensive play calling was head-scratching.
DEFENSE OVERALL: C-
The coaching, play-calling, the lack of discipline, some players getting consistently blown back by their blockers and the poor tackling made for a mess of a defense on Saturday. From play to play there were so many players out of position, or making bad choices, or taking bad angles on tackles, etc. It was a bit amazing that, even going against UCLA's Pistol in practice, the defense looked dumbfounded by the option. It wasn't until about 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter when UCLA actually looked like they had a clue how to defend it correctly.
Perhaps the biggest defensive deficit was the weakside. It was a huge liability against the run, with KSU going right at Holmes and Westgate.
You might have to give some of the players a break in their missed assignments, over-pursuit and bad decisions since it looked like many of them were trying to over-compensate for the vulnerability on the weakside of the defense.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B+
Kai Forbath hit all three of his field goals probably still bothered by the groin injury, Jeff Locke averaged 45.7 yards per punt, pooched one within the five-yard line and boomed a 60-yarder, and put every kick but one into the endzone for a touchback. The coverage teams were solid, with Damien Thigpen again showing that he's a very good special teams player, making a great tackle. Josh Smith only got two chances on kick-off returns and appears ready to bust one. Taylor Embree returned two punts but, as we said in the game review, he is the very conservative choice to return punts when you have Smith.
AWAY UNIFORMS: C
One of my biggest pet peeves with UCLA athletics is how many different damn blues are utilized. You go into the UCLA student store, you can buy a sweatshirt with UCLA on it in about 8 different shades of blue. You go to a UCLA football game, fans have on about 20 different shades. There are even different blues used in the cheerleader uniforms and the big "UCLA" flags.
I finally felt some relief when UCLA started its "True Blue" campaign a few years ago, and made an effort to standardize the blue.
Now, returning to the old navy blue numbers and outlining on the away uniforms is a considerable step back. Even on the UCLA sideline during the game, Neuheisel was wearing "true blue," which clashed with the uniforms, and now it seems many of the coaches and personnel don't know what color is appropriate.
There is now also confusion on the uniform itself. While I'm told the UCLA script on the helmet is navy blue, it sure doesn't look that way on television. It looks closer to the true blue.
Plus, simply, the away uniforms with the true blue numbers and outline were simply better-looking and more distinctive.