Photo Credit: Telemachus
No, not of the K-State game, I'm talking about this year. I'll go over each unit one by one, hopefully I look at all of the development correctly.
Starting with the complete team
Overall, this unit is about three times better than last year IMO. UCLA's different looks and base sets have become so much more complex, and the yardage in this last game reflected that improvement. Using the running game correctly was so key to setting the tone early in the season. Our RB's ability to make something out of nothing was key against Tennessee, and then the explosion after they pass the initial line of fire was apparent against KSU. Remember, UCLA is using two Freshmen and a Sophomore, they only have great things ahead of them. Passing, I'm seeing a lot more "Choweeness" from this bunch. Logan Paulsen and Ryan Moya are so good. Their ability to work in both running and passing games are great. Our wideouts have been spot on as well. Our QB's have well, been UCLA QB's, except one was a Freshmen, who led UCLA to their first big road win for a shockingly long time, and the other was Kevin Craft who "redeemed" himself this week.
Unit by unit after the jump
A great way to look at this unit is their ability to make most of their "unfavorable" situations, but those situations have worked their way into "better" situations over the course of this young season. I'll look at the backs in three categories. Speed, strength, vision. I know that there are many more categories to look at, but hey, I don't have all day!
Jet Ski. What to say about this guy. A surprise? A revelation? A legend in the making? Perhaps. As for speed, he might not be electric, but he's definitely got some static on him. Explosiveness and breakaway speed are different things. Both don't come in a single package too often as well. Franklin has explosiveness. He either is patient on stretch plays, or is just a pinball on dive and sprint plays. Going in to this year, I wanted to see a few things, but most importantly, it would have to be whether or not UCLA could respond to adversity along the line, and how the running backs could make the most of those situations. Franklin, if he could capture a bit of the message so far, can almost always make 1-3 yards out of a mess of a blocking result. Last year, Bell and Company had to do a kamikaze kind of thing, just running at full speed into pileup. Resulting in the 40 yard rushing. Franklin has to do that sometimes. But somehow, some way, he seems to always manage to get through. He also has looked great at cutting back through botched plays, and fighting for yards there. One negative is ball security; 2 fumbles at the very end of the game, one possibly could of ended up being the reason that UCLA lost? I hope that will go away soon.
The Bruiser. Not as much of an appearance this year, don't know how that works, he's the "veteran" right? Coleman is probably going to evolve into a short yardage back. His purpose, IMO, is still up for grabs. Could he end up replacing Franklin? Most likely not, Franklin is a more natural back, and he's only a Freshman. Coleman has got definite speed through the holes. His speed after that is average. Strength is unquestionable, his impact upon contact is 9/10 times stronger than that of DB's and LB's. That last 1 being the likes of Taylor Mays and Eric Berry. This really can define him as a "short yardage back" but, that explosiveness ended up averaging 5 yards per carry last week. Vision was very evident last year, I haven't seen too much of it this year, but then again, he's sharing carries even more than last year.
Misleading? Yep. He's quick as a cat, yet he can bring plenty of pop to the hole when he gets there (over 200 lbs). Knox reminds me of a lesser Jacquizz Rodgers. I don't think he has the vision that Rodgers does, but he definately has the stature. He probably will be used as a pitch runner as opposed to a sprint or dive runner because of his physical ability alone. Knox will need to earn his carries though, he has a couple of similar backs in front of him, not to mention keeping himself from suspension.
Thigpen has impressed me in his limited time. His speed was shown in more than one situation on Special Teams, which by the way, if you didn't catch it, was blinding. Again, a True Freshman. It will be interesting to see if he looks elsewhere, but then again, I think he will end up sharing a majority of the carries in the future. Unfortunately, I don't know enough about this guy in a college situation, but looking at him at the high school level, I think he understands the cutback lanes better than any other back on the team, but then again, it is high school, where pursuit is drastically different.
Before you look at this, this is what I will be taking from Craft's Junior year:
- Why he throws interceptions
- Pocket Presence
Wear your mouthpiece. That's all I have to say about that. I would like to look at the three things in detail
- Completions came from good reads, and bubble screens early in the year. Literal right? Well it's true, Prince has done what everyone has asked of him, and did it well. He can check off of Eric Berry, and be accurate enough on both screens and touch passes to earn him a couple of nice TD's that weren't mistakes or off of penalties, they were earned, and well earned I might add. The rest were from the Offensive Line's ability to give the receivers and Prince enough time to work together at finding places to throw to.
- Prince does something that Craft didn't do last year; throwing the ball to where only his receiver could catch it, or no one catches it. Happily, an interception is worse than an incompletion. Prince demands a great play, or else he would have to make a tackle. I would rather call up play makers instead of leaving it to chance.
- Prince has an ability to "feel" his way around the pocket. Most of that was because he has an offensive line. He is much calmer and collected when the pocket is crinkling then Craft was. It's way too early to expand on that, but basically, Prince is more of a natural QB then Craft is.
What really impressed me about Prince is mobility. He has the ability to run that naked bootleg, but not enough experience to really run it right. Escapability is perfect this year, but I don't think we've seen enough of it yet.
Prince has the chance to become one of the great UCLA QB's. He already has one-upped the likes of Troy Aikman and Cade McNown with a win AT Rocky Top. He also has a much better coaching staff with a lot more experience in developing young talent. Don't believe me? Just watch, the intangibles, physical ability, and smarts are all there, you just watch. He only has one problem, he doesn't like wearing a CUSTOM FIT mouth piece. (Shakes head) I would feel plenty better about Stanford if Prince was still "in one piece".
I'm looking at it as if Kevin Craft will only get to play football 1-2 more times for the rest of his life. It's a sad fact, but it's true. This guy is a warrior. and it was unfortunate that he was placed into the shoes of expectations that went up about 6-7 sizes when UCLA beat Tennessee last year and the paper read "Master Craftsmanship". It was a sad situation, but UCLA got what it signed for. Craft will, without a doubt IMO, play the best football of his entire life in these dwindling games. Against KSU, Craft looked a lot more poised and controlled with the ball. Some plays, granted were Craft plays, but others, were signs of what could have been for this JUCO transfer. All of Craft's bad past seemed to melt away when he hooked up with the wide open Terrence Austin on the sideline. That might have been the same for other people too. I'm not too concerned about whether or not Craft will perform well in these final games, because well, he won't let himself do that because Kevin will not get a second chance or a do-over next year.
I won't look at everyone, but the key players will definitely be there.
Austin has been quite the game-breaker. Not only has he been acknowledged as a top tier returner, but has turned into a balanced, both possession and breakaway receiver for the Bruins. UCLA's attack has somewhat revolved around where Austin lines up. They like to run to his side, seemingly, because he is a very good perimeter "blocker", and can really demand attention from the main corners and safety. Berry is an exception because he kicked, held and coached for Tennessee, not to mention play on both sides of the ball. His route running has even got himself to fall over. Angles to approach him on the defensive side are very mixed, so no continuity there, but his ability to make a quick cut on posts and "Choweeness" type deep cutbacks keep the defense guessing and wondering about releasing, or bumping to keep the inside hip advantage. It already got UCLA two TD's this year, so look for Austin to continue to demand attention from DB's and look for the Cover 2 defenses to start shifting to a more aggressive slant towards his side.
Embree has really gone under the radar lately. IMO, he has the best "possession" look for UCLA. His ability to sneak through zones and outreach nickel DB's has really surprised me, because, well he's really long and lanky, which is contrary to common beliefs of that "sneaky" guys. Embree is always going to have a height advantage, but his speed as been "almost" good enough. He has been literally a fiber's length away from getting a Touchdown against SDSU, and has been really close to catching up to some overthrown passes. He is definitely my favorite target as of right now if I'm the QB.
Nelson Rosario/Morell Presley:
I combined these two guys because of their relationship. Morell is most likely really upset now. He gets suspended against KSU and probably will lose his starting job for the rest of the year because of it. Rosario just had a flat out awesome game, aside from "The Grab", he was spot on for routes and blocking. Bravo, Nelson. If he tried harder in practice, he would really give Embree a run for his money. Presley, although limited, has really made me say "THANK YOU NORTON!" This guy is going to be a MONSTER next year. He's one of those Super-Athletes, which are so rare in places other than Florida. Watch him play, he has the strength to block out an outside backer, and the speed to cut in against nickel defenses. It will be really fun watching him grow up.
Around BN, there was a lot of hype about this guy, but when the offense started throwing in some "sprinkles" on the vanilla ice cream, he gets suspended. He'll learn from that mistake though. I did get a chance to see him at the Z spot and he easily separated from the corner, but then he slowed down after the pass was thrown to the other side of the field. I can't wait to see this guy... literally... full speed.
Ryan Moya/Logan Paulsen:
Two words: Absolutely Dominant (A la Commenting) These guys are just head and shoulders above the competition, but will probably never get the recognition for it. Blocking, they are probably better run blockers than our offensive linemen. They have a way of just driving the guy out of the play, and kicking out those pesky outside backers. I also like their ability to catch the ball on flats and immediately look up field instead of trying to juke out the more agile corners that they get to face. Their physicality has led to that "extra yard" more times than not. These guys add that other dimension to an offense because now you have to scheme around another class of player downfield.
I'm not going to go into detail because that is not the reason that UCLA has an offensive line. Their goal this year was to make sure that they could "gel" as a UNIT, not as individuals. Mind you, some linemen are performing and improving better than others, but that won't capture my opinion towards all of them. A great example for linemen and their compatibility is to see how they respond to a non-verbal situation, or if they would just have to know whether or not they were going to pick up the blitz or shade out their linemen. At Neyland, they had that situation, and they responded with 90 or so yards rushing, and only 1 allowed sack against a superior talent and more experienced unit dressed in Orange. Pretty good if you ask me. I can't wait to see these guys in a year or so. Wouldn't it be awesome to have a line like Texas Tech's from last year? All seniors, 300 Lbs + and just dominant? I would love to see that... but without the makeup. Being able to compare this line to last year's is impossible because this year's line was already better before the SDSU game. In this part of the team, you can't "un-improve" because their job doesn't change, so the sky is the limit for them. Remember, I'm not asking for them to stop improving, they've just been so darn good much better than last year's line this early in this season that it makes me wonder what it will be like when they all can talk to each other without speaking. Paradox? I think not.
Like last year, expect this part of the team to sputter out and fire a few blanks against more dominating defenses in the PAC-10, however, they have already played a top tier defense, maybe they've set the tone for the rest of the year? Question marks are the best way to sum it up. We haven't seen enough of this unit and a full fledged play calling session to truly judge their position in any relationship. But game by game, they have improved steadily and vastly. I like the swagger going into the PAC 10.
Hopefully, when this unit is complete, we'll see even more improvement, which is why I'm predicting UCLA to finish in the top 4 of the PAC 10 this year, if they keep up the improvement of course. If not, it would be more realistic to put them in the 5 or 6 spot because of that pesky U-Dub factor now