Okay, we've had a couple days to think this one over. We've had the delirious and irrational hysteria of those who lost perspective and then a couple others who went too far the other way in defending the team to combat the hysteria. Neither is particularly helpful, but both are understandable. When you pour yourself into something, only to fall short, it's a killer. When you pour yourself into something and are a part of something, as we all are with UCLA, you can't bear to see those who represent you in blue and gold irrationally attacked. We're two days past the game though, so let's try this recap thing again.
What went well and what needs the most work. This is one that is going to take into account what we've been tracking all offseason. Was the offensive line dominant? They were not by any stretch of the imagination, but they were above average and considering the hits that the Bruins have taken at the position, that's a huge accomplishment. Was Kevin Prince good? Nope, but there are reasons that contributed to it. So, let's dive in. Here's the good, the bad and the ugly from a Saturday afternoon in Manhattan, Kansas.
Offensive Line- Let's start with the guys I mentioned briefly above. With Mike Harris, Jeff Baca and especially Kai Maiava unable to go, there were legitimate concerns about the Bruins' offensive line. Sure, there were seniors all along the line, but they weren't packing a ton of experience (some experience, but nothing overwhelming) and they were, for the most part, supposed to be second-string guys. That didn't stop the big boys up front from winning the battle against an admittedly rebuilding Kansas St. defensive line. The best sight of the game came when the Bruins went for it on fourth and one and they didn't even both opening a hole for the running back. Instead, they pushed the line of scrimmage two yards back, more than enough to pick up the first down. Prince was sacked six times, but several of those came after five or six seconds looking around downfield and for the most part, Prince had all day to throw. Add in 193 yards rushing and the offensive line did a stellar job. Some credit also has to go to Anthony Barr and the other F-backs, who chipped in with some solid blocking to help out the o-line.
Aaron Hester and Sheldon Price- Kansas St. was never going to be a major threat through the air, but Hester and Price, both sophomores, both shut own the Wildcats' receivers. Price did well to use his long arms to jam the K-State receivers and throw off any timing that the Wildcats were looking for. While he was instructed to give an unusually large cushion last season, Price was allowed to be more aggressive in Manhattan and it paid off as he was able to put some of his better attributes to good use. Hester had one bad moment, picking up a pass interference penalty for handfighting downfield, but he came back on the next two plays to make big tackles that put K-State in a third and long. Coming off of his broken leg from a year ago, Hester didn't show much rust and was quick and instinctive, while using his big frame both in coverage and in run support. With very little safety help all game, Hester and Price never blinked and never stopped being aggressive.
Running Backs- Jonathan Franklin led all running backs with 60 yards and he finished last among them with 4.6 yards per carry. Derrick Coleman continued to do what he's done his entire UCLA career, picking up chunks of yards even when it seems like he's not doing much and Malcolm Jones looked very good in only three carries. It's always been tough to judge our running back play because they've had nowhere to run, but on Saturday they had room and showed good instincts to find the first hole and go for it. They were quick and decisive and it paid off. Most impressive is that they were very aware of situations, bypassing a couple chances to possibly break big plays to make sure they picked up the first down when it was in front of them. A couple times Franklin and Coleman each tried to make a little magic happen by going offscript in the second level, but they did it when the offense could afford the chance, even when it didn't work. On the whole, a very complete performance for all three running backs.
Revolver- It was clear very early on that the revolver offense was most effective for the Bruins. The bulk of the effective running came out of the revolver, either getting the ball to the running backs or Prince taking it on his own, as he did for UCLA's first score. All the talk about the revolver has been about the quarterback getting involved and making the game 11 vs. 11 as opposed to 10 vs. 11 and it worked. The Kansas St. linebackers were hesitating a bit after Prince hung them out to dry for the touchdown and it paid dividends not only in the running game, but also in the passing game where the Bruins found some space in the middle while the linebackers were hesitating. It was clear that the team had spent a lot more time this offseason out of the formation as the timing in the passing game was much better than from under center.
Defensive Line- The front four have gotten some flack for the huge rushing game the Wildcats have, but I didn't see it as a giant problem for them. They weren't good by any means, but I don't think they were completely at fault for the big day that Daniel Thomas and Co. had. They had trouble shedding blocks to make tackles and when peering over the numbers it's not a surprise that only one defensive lineman, Nate Chandler, is in the top five on the team in tackles. What I think they did do a solid job of though is protecting the linebackers. For the most part, the defensive line kept blockers occupied and didn't let a very good Kansas St. offensive line to get onto linebackers and make work overly tough on the linebackers. Thomas showed a lot of patience in the backfield, often waiting an extra second or two to let a hole open up and that pause in the backfield was because his offensive line couldn't just toss the UCLA defensive line around and move on to the linebackers. It took a little extra work for the Wildcats' offensive line so while that alone isn't enough from the UCLA defensive line, they did enough to keep it from being a disaster. The real problem versus the run we'll get into in the ugly.
Tackling- This one is rather simple. The tackling was very, very bad. Guys not breaking down, reaching, not wrapping up. We saw it all on Saturday and the Bruins paid for it to the tune of 313 rushing yards. The reason I don't dump this down in the ugly section is that I wonder how much of it had to do with CRN eliminating full contact and tackling from practice after the fall game when Maiava went down because, in his opinion, the team couldn't afford to risk more injuries. While the decision makes sense in theory, the Bruins paid for it. Because the team hadn't tackled live in a while, their poor tackling isn't completely their fault. They most definitely need to be better, but 100% of the blame can't fall on their shoulders.
Kevin Prince- Again, a bad day from Prince. 9-26 and two interceptions to one touchdown won't do it. Neither of his interceptions were horrible, with one coming when the game was out of reach late and the other trying to force things in late in a half. Not that they're excusable, but they weren't horrible. The issue with Prince was his minimal practice time due to injury and the obvious effect it had on his timing. The ball wasn't coming out when it needed to and the ball was sailing on him at times. With all the time he spent watching practice instead of participating and the dropped passes, it's not too much of a shock that Prince struggled.
Wide Receivers- We just mentioned dropped passes with Prince so here we go. Of all the outrage and upset fans, this is the one area where I can't think up any defense or reason of explanation. They're experienced. They're deep. They're talented. Pretty much, the receivers are supposed to be the best unit on the football team and to say they put up a stinker would be nice to them. It started with two drops from Morrell Presley to open the game and never got better. It made it difficult for Prince to get into a rhythm and it was both a drive killer and way to turn a chance at six points into a field goal when key first downs would hit a receivers' hands and go bounding to the turf.
Linebackers- This is where I saw the defense as having the biggest of problems. Akeem Ayers made some flat out sensational plays, but still lacks discipline at times. Kansas St. still respected the hell out of him because they did their best to run away from him when they could, but twice he found himself in the wrong fit versus the run and opened up a whole for Thomas to pick up big chunks of yardage. Patrick Larimore got his chance at linebacker and struggled, in my opinion. He was very tentative and when he did get aggressive, it was usually in getting too close to the line of scrimmage so he was basically walking into blocks. He didn't look especially quick moving sideline to sideline and on the whole looked as inexperienced as he is from the get-go, but the problem is that it looked to me like he panicked and got worse as he tried too hard to make big plays when the simple fits and wrap up would have done the job. Sean Westgate had himself a horror of a game from my vantage point. He racked up the tackles and did well when he got into space, but that's not going to be good enough. In between the tackles, the defensive line did a solid job of letting him run without a blocker on him, but if you're playing linebacker, you have to move through traffic and Westgate struggled to do so. I would like to see Glenn Love get some more snaps next week because these problems in traffic were the same things I saw glimpses of in training camp, while Love did much better in that regard. As bad as I though the linebackers were though, we're talking about two new starters in the unit so this isn't a complete shocker.
Chuck Bullough Starting Games- Chuck Bullough has now been the UCLA defensive coordinator for 14 games. In six of those games, the opposing team has scored on their opening possession. Only once has his defense started the game with a three and out and several times the opposing team has moved the ball only for someone to come up with a turnover. Turnovers are nice, but when giving up a lot of yards before having one bail you out is the bright spot, it's not such a good thing. After the first quarter, I think Bullough called a good game and the problems UCLA had getting stops were out of his control and the responsibility of the players, but the slow starts have gone from worrying trend to flat out problem.
Pro-Set Offense- We heard so much about the revolver all offseason and throughout practice, that's all the Bruins worked out of. In the several practices I attended and all the open practices there were, there was not a single snap I or anyone I talked to from under center. Everything was revolver. During last week's podcast, I wondered if we were going to go all revolver because of the problems that would come up going pro-set with so few reps out of it. Well, we didn't go all revolver and saw our share of pro-set on Saturday, but it didn't go so well. The revolver was clearly more effective and the timing of the passing game out of the pro-set was terrible. Prince's timing with his receivers wasn't very good at all, but that problem got a lot worse out of the pro-set and I don't chalk this one up to scheme. I wonder about the coaches and their decision to lean so heavily on the revolver in the preseason, then give the pro-set as much work in the game as they did. A curious decision and one I think bit the Bruins in the butt.