That really sums up my feelings on Saturday's 21-14 UCLA win over Utah.
I was much more enthralled by an outstanding game between Notre Dame and Stanford, along with an underrated Oregon State-BYU game.
There is a difference in intensity and desire that is clear when watching those games that has been absent in the Bruins in every game excluding the Nebraska win. They are full-go every play, even if they make mistakes.
I have no problem with the effort given by the Bruins thus far. They've played hard on both sides of the ball for every game this season, except for the ending at Cal.
What UCLA has shown so far is the effort of a bowl team. A 7-8 win team. Not that I don't appreciate UCLA not embarrassing themselves every week, because I do. It's nice to be 5-2 instead of 3-4 or 4-3. I, unlike a lot of people here, can't see UCLA winning less than 7 games this year at their current level. Even if the drive to be a national contender isn't there, the talent is.
The problem is, that isn't good enough. This collection of players, the potential for an offense that could finish in the Top 20 nationally along with a defense that forces a lot of turnovers and could become a Top 50 defense by the end of the year. That should be a 9-10 win team. That team should play in or be in position to play in a conference championship game.
"Should be" and "will be".
Which one of those terms will the 2012 season be defined with. We'll see.
Now, on to the Eye Test.
1) Is our defense prepared for each and every team we play?
Utah came into the game with a mediocre-bad offense and had a freshman quarterback starting his first collegiate game against the Bruins. On the surface, it was probably the most complete defensive game UCLA has played in the Lou Spanos era of defense. They probably played at a higher level in spurts against Nebraska and put up less points against Houston.
4 more TFLs (props to Cassius Marsh and Datone Jones for controlling the line of scrimmage) and 2 more sacks (I think a 3rd might be added for Owa) bringing the total to 24, which is good for 9th in the NCAA.
Andrew Abbott had another solid effort, the obvious highlight being an Interception that set up the offense to score early in the first quarter. The whole secondary did a good job against a poor pass offense.
I was not pleased with the 3rd down defense, ended up being 6-13 for Utah. Against an offense as one dimensional as Utah was in this game, there is no reason why they should be converting 50% of the time. Not overly concerned with this because UCLA's defense has been pretty stellar the entire season about getting off of the field on both 3rd and 4th down, ranking 24th and 15th(tie) in the NCAA. But that is a big factor in my grading every week and the Bruins struggled this week in that capacity.
This is the performance that I expected out of the defense against Utah, so I can't give much higher than a B (3.0). Workmanlike, no surprises or disappointments.
2) Do we call offensive plays to catch our opponents off guard?
Not the best statistical day for the offense. 354 yards of total offense, 171 yards on the ground against a strong Utah run defense was nice to see. As was the increased workload for Johnathan Franklin with 22 carries and a reception. If not for a fluky 8 yard loss, Franklin would have been right around 100 yards again and he scored his first rushing touchdown in quite some time.
Brett Hundley was okay throwing the ball. 15-21, 183 yards, 1 TD. Only completed passes to 6 different receivers, which I'm fairly sure is a season low. Only Jordan Payton and Shaquelle Evans caught passes out of the depleted wide receiver core.
The coaching staff allowed Franklin and Hundley to put the game away with the running game at the start of the 3rd quarter with a 14 play drive to take almost 6 minutes off of the clock and putting the game out of reach at 21-7, with the defense having not allowed a touchdown to that point.
As good as that all sounds, it was still a stagnant type of game for the most part on the offensive side of the ball. The only 3 and out was the first drive of the game, which can be attributed to a weird pseudo-injury to Hundley on yet another awkward slide/fall/dive at the end of a run where his knee buckled under him.
Arizona State will be a good opportunity for the offense to show that they actually are an elite offense in the country because they'll be matched against a talented ASU defense that's only allowing 270 yards a game.
Against Utah, the offense was underwhelming. But the effort was enough to win. Grade ends up at a C+ (2.3)
3) Do our players look like they know what they should be doing at all times?
The penalties went away for a week. Whether that was due to the referees keeping the flags in their pockets, or due to improved discipline by the Bruins remains to be seen. But 7 for 43 yards (with two intentional delay of game penalties on punts) is a good day at the office.
The improvement in penalties was completely offset by the worst special teams play of the season, even with the penalty fiasco on special teams against Cal.
I'll first harp on the punt being downed with 1 second left on the clock. What on earth was Logan Sweet thinking? I don't know that I've ever seen that big of a mental error. If Utah's schoolyard play at the end of the game had somehow worked and Utah tied the game to force OT, that error would have gotten a decent amount of national attention.
Steven Manfro. I like the kid a lot. Feel like he adds a welcome dimension to the offense and is one of the better players on the team with the ball in space. But this has to be the last straw for quite a while in the return game. The previous fumbles can't be put solely on his shoulders because players have run into him before he's caught the ball multiple times.
This week was all on him though. Utah punting from their 32 yard line and their punter (who had a hell of a game) boots it 65 yards inside of the 5 yard line. Your basic rule of thumb as a punt returner is to never catch the ball inside of the 10 yard line, there are exceptions of course, but 9 times out of 10, that ball is going into the endzone for a touchback. Manfro willing runs backwards from the 15 or so to try and get under this punt. He boots it, kicks it into the endzone and the ball gets recovered for a Utah touchdown.
Special teams is a huge part of football, that is completely unique to football. Every other team sport is just offense and defense. One team has the ball and the other is defending it. That's what makes special teams play so vital to success in football. The change of possession isn't a given thing. There are no in-bounds plays or change of innings. If you mess up on special teams, there is no guarantee of getting the ball back. Punt return, kickoff return and punt teams all need to improve a lot.
That is the best example of not knowing what he should have been doing. It lead to Utah's only points until late in the 4th quarter.
Usually this question is a matter of penalties preventing points from being scored or making it easier for the other team to score. Rarely does it actually put points on the board.
A little better than last week; but not much improved. I'll give credit to the defense for playing fundamentally sound throughout. Not many missed tackles or big plays allowed. Grade reflects the improvement on defense and in penalties, as well as the continued steps backwards by the special teams. C- (1.7)
4) Do our players play for 60 G-D minutes every game?
Team played hard all game. No lulls in effort or any sloppy play. The drive that Utah scored their only offensive TD on late in the fourth quarter was soft coverage at the end of a game.
I've always said that the Prevent defense only prevents you from winning. That's what could have ended up happening if not for the offense running out the clock at the end of the game.
That is on the coaching staff and not the players though. Team did what should be done every game. B (3.0)
5) Do our players execute?
The only turnover was on the Steven Manfro play, I addressed that already. Can't apply that failure completely to multiple areas.
I didn't have any lingering issues with this category. No drops that I remember vividly. The first execution issue that pops into my head is the continued inability for Brett Hundley to end running plays.
I am baffled that he still hasn't learned what to do before he gets tackled. What he is presently doing is the worst possible thing outside of just standing still and getting lit up. He has defaulted to this semi-barrel roll or a Matrix bend backwards while keeping both feet planted type of fall. Doing this exposes his entire body to the defense. Ribs, shoulders, knees, ankles. He's a tackling bag falling to the ground.
Sliding or diving are not difficult tasks to learn, and it is one he HAS to learn if he wants to play at the next level at some point. If the coaches aren't dedicating some time to this after or before practice every day, they are failing Brett Hundley. Period.
I'd like to give props to Jeff Baca, XSF, Jake Brendel and Alberto Cid for the job they did in the interior on Star Lotulelei. That's an NFL DT that has to be double or triple teamed all game long. He had one TFL at the end of the first half.
Defense, again workmanlike. Took care of business without a ton of flash. Holding any D1 offense, regardless of caliber, to one TD in a game means you executed throughout.
Grade looks good here overall. Best that it has in quite some time. B+ (3.3)
6) Do we have leaders on the field?
Still waiting for a leader to show up on the defense.
Obviously Anthony Barr, Datone Jones, Eric Kendricks, Cassius Marsh and Andrew Abbott played well throughout the game, as did a few other players. It was nice to see the defense play well as a unit. No one jumps off of the page though. Tevin McDonald had a ton of tackles because he was again targeted quite a bit in man coverage, if you've read my Eye Tests so far this year, that shouldn't be a surprise. Donovan Carter got most of the snaps at DT, which was surprising. Played well also, props to him.
Offensively, I'll give a shoutout again to Xavier Su'a-Filo and also to Joseph Fauria, who had his best game of the year, in my opinion. Looked solid blocking on the edges for the first time I can remember this year. Again Brett Hundley and Johnathan Franklin pop up here. Special props to Shaquelle Evans, had a big time game and is improving steadily every week. 4 catches for 91 yards brings him up around 500 yards on the season. Could be the first time UCLA has had back-to-back 1000 yard receiver in a very long time.
This grade was like most of the game, steady but unimpressive. B- (2.7)
Final Grade Card for Utah Utes
Based on the discussion here is how it shapes up:
1) Is our defense prepared for each and every team we play? [B: 3.0]
2) Do we call offensive plays to catch our opponents off guard? [C+: 2.3]
3) Do our players look like they know what they should be doing at all times? [C-: 1.7]
4) Do our players play for 60 G-D minutes every game? [B: 3.0]
5) Do our players execute? [B+: 3.3]
6) Do we have leaders on the field? [B: 3.0]
Utah GPA: 2.72
For perspective, the overall GPA at the end of the regular season was 1.61 last year. Clearly not as impressive as the Rice game (3.27) or the Nebraska game (3.48) or the Colorado game (3.33), but a huge step up from the Cal blowout (1.1) and point higher from what was previously an ugly loss to Oregon State (1.62).
Through the first seven games, UCLA ended up 5-2. Is that what people expected? Close to it. After the first 3 games, 6-1 looked realistic and that is probably what the record should be.
Bye week follows this one. UCLA gets two weeks to prepare for the currently 5-1 Arizona State Sun Devils on the road. ASU gets to face Oregon on Thursday night and will likely come into next week with an identical 5-2 record to UCLA against inferior competition, in my opinion.
The match-up I look forward to is UCLA's run defense against a very talented RB tandem in Cameron Marshall and D.J. Marshall, along with the running threat that Taylor Kelly and Michael Eubank present at QB.