UCLA! That's what its all about. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
During the past summer, we layed out "The Eye Test", a set of 6 objectives that we hoped to see the Bruin football team to meet on a game in and game out basis. After every game of this season, we have graded the team on an A-F basis on how they have met each of the 6 objectives, leading to a GPA for the game, and for the season to date.
1) Is our defense prepared for each and every team we play?
2) Do we call offensive plays to catch our opponents off guard?
3) Do our players look like they know what they should be doing at all times?
4) Do our players play for 60 G-D minutes every game?
5) Do our players execute?
6) Do we have leaders on the field?
The point of this is not to show whether UCLA is having a Championship season, but to ask - as KnudsenRockne did when presenting this idea - whether the Bruins are playing like Champions, regardless of what the win-loss record happens to show. Meanwhile, as freesia noted in yesterday's Spaulding Roundup, some of the various UCLA beat writers have published midseason report cards for the Bruin Football team, using more traditional divisions of grading, dividing the team into its various offensive and defensive units, as well as special teams and coaching. With tonight being the start of the second half of the Bruins season, this looks like a good time to take a look at our Eye Test GPA, and how it compares to the Grades and GPA assigned by Jon Gold for the Daily News and Peter Yoon for ESPN LA.
While I will break down the Eye Test grading in a moment, I'll start by listing the overall GPA for each game. Houston: 2.05; San Jose State: 0.67; Texas: 0.22; Oregon State: 2.12: Stanford: 1.97; Washington State: 1.95. The overall Bruins Nation Eye Test GPA: 1.50. In comparison, the beat writer GPA's are: Gold/Daily News: 1.89. Yoon/ESPN LA: 1.90.
While Bruins Nation may look like a hard grader, giving the team low, but not failing grades, the reporters following the team have not been much more impressed than the frontpagers with how the Bruins have started out the season. With half a year down, a student with any of these grades would find themselves on Academic Probation - with time and opportunity to turn things around, but with the prospect of significant changes if the status quo continues.
To start things off, here is a breakdown of the Eye Test GPA, by category.
1) Is our defense prepared for each and every team we play? GPA: High: 1.7 - Oregon State, Washington State. Low: 0.0 - San Jose State, Texas
After the opening game at Houston, Tony Dye noted that the defense had not been prepared for Houston's offensive game plan, which basically called for Case Keenum to throw a bunch of short passes to take advantage of the 5-7 yards that UCLA DB's routinely give to opposing WR's. Against San Jose State, a team that runs a similar offense to our own, the UCLA defense was dominated through the first 3 quarters, seemingly unready for an offense that it sees in practice every week. Further down the line, the lack of fundamentals shown by the defense has been all too glaring. Not to mention the question of whether we really have our best personnel on the field for the majority of the game. Really, you can say that the Bruin defense is prepared to bend but not break, but is that really the way to succeed?
2) Do we call offensive plays to catch our opponents off guard? GPA: High: 3.3 - Houston. Low: 0.0 - Texas
The season started out with a well-balanced attack against what looks to be a solid team. After catching 3 passes in 2010, Joseph Fauria caught 6 against Houston in emerging as another weapon for Mike Johnson's offense to take advantage of. Of course, his appearances have been few and far between since then, though making his rare catches count. The lack of Fauria for long stretches of the season is just one symptom of the conservatism that has infected Coach Neuheisel's mindset.
3) Do our players look like they know what they should be doing at all times? GPA: High: 2.3 - Stanford. Low: 0.0 - Texas
There is some linkage with the first criteria for the team, though this one goes beyond game planning and basic preparation. A couple of all-too common faults that we have noted in this criteria have been penalties and a lack of communication, particularly coming from the sideline.
4) Do our players play for 60 G-D minutes every game? GPA: High: 2.7 - Oregon State, Stanford. Low: 0.0 - San Jose State, Texas
Something that we can take away from the first 6 games is that the team has never quit. Whether or not they look to have played at their maximum for the whole 60 minutes, they have not laid down. After watching Bruin teams of the recent past allow opponents to gather steam and roll over them in the later minutes of blowout losses, the 2011 edition has fought to the end, even in games against Stanford and Texas where the game was decided long before the final whistle. With that said, there has been a bit of sleepwalking in the last few weeks, particularly in that San Jose State game, where it seemed like a local high school team - not Poly or Mater Dei - put on some blue and gold uniforms and took the Rose Bowl field.
5) Do our players execute? GPA: High: 2.3 - Stanford, Washington State. Low: 1.3 - San Jose State, Texas
Execution has been a weak point for the Bruins this season, though sadly this season's deficiency is not a unique occurrence. The Defense and Special Teams have been battling it out for
6) Do we have leaders on the field? GPA: High: 2.3 - Houston. Low: 0.0 - Texas
This has been a mixed bag - at time we have seen guys like Richard Brehaut and Johnathan Franklin step up and rally the troops, while Joseph Fauria has not shied away from making his feelings known, but not so much from the defensive side of the ball. At times like the Texas game, there has been little spark from the supposed leaders - from players as well as from the coaching staff. And while I realize that this is an epidemic infecting college football, and really too much of college and pro sports, but seeing players celebrating routine plays as if they just won the Super Bowl just looks tacky. Particularly when it is happening against teams that UCLA should be beating down - but is not - it just does not seem right.
While Gold and Yoon came to a similar conclusion in their view of the Bruins performance to date, they did differ in a few points, in terms of the basic grade as well as their analysis. Here is how they graded the various units and the coaching, with their reasoning mixed with a few of my thoughts on how the eye test fits into some of the units.
Quarterbacks: Gold - 2.3, Yoon - 2.0.
The passing game is certainly improved from last year, though the early uncertainty at the position hindered the progression of both Brehaut and Kevin Prince. While Prince has experience leading the team through tight spots, I still need to see him really lead this year's team before figuring out just how the position is going to shake out - the view from my seat at the Texas game of Prince's reaction to getting benched, and the team's (very positive) reaction to Brehaut taking over still sticks.
Running Backs: Gold - 3.0, Yoon - 3.0.
Johnathan Franklin and Derrick Coleman are very good runners that have been significant parts of the offense. For anyone that has been on this site on game days and in the days following, the idea that the runners have been a bit too central to the Bruin offense is not a new one. Both of these guys - as well as Jordon James and Malcolm Jones - are talented enough to get the ball often, but the share of run calls - and the exclusive use of the Pistol formation - points to the conservatism at the top of the UCLA football program.
Wide Receivers: Gold - 2.3, Yoon - 2.0.
Problems with effort and consistency were key parts of both report cards, as well as a focus of our analysis in the Eye Test. Nelson Rosario has accrued plenty of yards, and when he is on, has made several outstanding catches - his one-handed pin against Houston is ESPN's #1 play in College Football this season to date. When he has been made part of the game plan, Fauria has proven to be a key weapon in the passing attach. But Rosario's focus and Fauria's presence have not a constant in the Bruin offense.
Offensive Line: Gold - 2.7. Yoon - 3.0.
The story is of a unit whose talent does not match those of the skill players around them, but finding a way to play up to and above their level of talent. The Bruins are running the ball well behind these guys, and pass protection has improved since last fall. With that said, injuries have taken their toll on the group, while Gold writes that a remaining deficiency in protecting the quarterback might be one factor in the offensive conservatism. Whatever their flaws, these guys look to have done the most with the least on this team, something that has been true for the past couple of years.
Defensive Line: Gold - 0.7, Yoon - 1.0
After talking about the O-line doing the most with the least, we come to their opposite number, on the field as well as in the rankings. After a series of preseason reports advertising the strength of the defense, and of the D-line in particular, the unit has been a massive dissapointment. As Yoon wrote in his report card entry, the Bruin D ranks in the bottom-10 nationally in Sacks and Tackles-for-Loss, while allowing more than 180 rushing yards/game, and being physically dominated by smaller and less talented opposing O-lines. With that said, the line took a step forward against Washington State. Hopefully, they build upon that performance tonight and into the second half of the season.
Linebackers: Gold - 1.3, Yoon - 2.0.
Another unit where the overall talent at the position has not come through in its production. Again, Lapses - particularly in pass coverage - have hindered the linebackers. The overall lack of fundamental play, whether it be in tackling or the aforementioned lapses have hurt, and is not unique to the 'Backers. While there has been some discussion on how useful Sean Westgate is to this defense, seeing guys like Eric Kendricks and Jordan Zumwalt out of the starting lineup, and less development than hoped from Patrick Larimore since last fall raises questions.
Defensive Backs: Gold - 2.7, Yoon - 2.0
This comes down to strong play - particularly from Aaron Hester and Sheldon Price - balanced against a conservative bend-but don't-break scheme that exposes the DB's to giving up short-yardage plays all game long, helping quarterbacks opposing the Bruins rank in the top quartile in passing efficiency nationally. Our corners are certainly not a weakness of this team, and it would be nice to see them able to become more aggressive in their play later in this season. Injuries are taking a toll on the depth of the unit, as well as taking Tony Dye out of the defensive backfield, possible for the remainder of the season.
Special Teams: Gold - 1.0, Yoon - 1.0
Aside from the Defensive line, the lowest rated part of the team in the first half of the season. The placekicking woes may be the most obvious problem - with a temporary solution coming via UCLA Soccer - but the coverage and return teams have been woeful, as well as the decision to go ultra conservative in the choice of a punt returner. As Peter Yoon wrote:
The Bruins rank 102nd or lower in punt returns, kickoff returns, punt return defense and kickoff return defense. Some of UCLA's most memorable gaffes this season -- Oregon State's punt return for a touchdown and Taylor Embree's fumble against Stanford -- have come on special teams.
Coaching: Gold - 1.0, Yoon - 1.5 (Offense - 2.0, Defense - 1.0).
Particularly when applied to the defense, I could easily say that the beat writers were being generous to the coaches, where a passive conservatism, along with a shortage on in-game adjustments to the opponent's game plan has combined with the lack of fundamentals taught during training camp to find a defense playing far below its talent, and too often playing down to the opposition (or below it). On the plus side, the passing game has been more effective than it was last season, and Coach Palic seems to be holding the O-line together as well as one can.
Responsibility for the problems that the Bruins have had in getting plays to the Quarterback, burning timeouts, and some of the utterly stupid penalties that have been committed - the illegal substitution penalty (or was it 12 men?) following a timeout a few weeks ago being maybe the most bone-headed - do, in the end fall on the head coach. As is true of the other faults and weaknesses that have been exposed by the various game-by-game and midseason reports. While the midterm grades are not pretty, they are not so low as to be unrecoverable by this team, or by Coach Neuheisel. There is plenty of time to work their way out of probation.