So, I guess this proves that "trap games" do exist after all, Coach Mora.
UCLA pulled out another win over Washington State on Saturday night, as you all know. It was far too close of a game considering it was 37-7 UCLA at the half.
The offense had their worst outing of the season, the defense struggled in the second half, the officials struggled with their vision and had to ice their throwing shoulders after the game.
It was not a pretty night for football. It was below freezing. It lasted longer than a Red Sox-Yankees game. It had more flags than a meeting of the United Nations.
But it was a victory in another game that the Bruins would have lost last season and many others before.
End of the day, it works. UCLA won 44-36, withstanding a second half that WSU won 29-7. The Bruins are 8-2 and 5-2 in the Pac-12, ranked 17th in the BCS and AP Poll and headed back to the Rose Bowl for the game we've all been waiting for.
This was a tough one to grade because the game was a comfortable win that doesn't look that way on paper. It was a worrisome last 6 minutes as UCLA couldn't move the ball and was playing a prevent defense to run time off the clock; but the game was not ever in doubt after the second quarter.
Let's see how we ended up at that point and get to the grades in the "Eye Test".
1) Is our defense prepared for each and every team we play?
Peaks and valleys. Peaks and valleys.
Coach Mora has said something I agree with to an extent through the whole season, "It's not enough to evaluate a defense based on yardage."
I get that, if you allow a 50 yard drive that nets zero points, than you did your job as a defense successfully. It might not have looked as good as a dominant three-and-out, but it is the same result.
Washington State ran 87 plays on offense, despite converting only 2 out of 15 3rd downs (which continues to make the 3rd down defense a bright spot for the UCLA defense in 2012, now up to 13th in the country).
Big problem here wasn't the tackling or coverage or the any flaws in scheme, it was UCLA giving the Cougars 9 first downs via penalty. Brutal.
There are rightfully a great deal of complaints about the officiating in this game; but UCLA still allowed 29 points in the second half of a game that should have been over at halftime.
The final score takes away from some great individual efforts by Cassius Marsh (2.5 sacks, a blocked kick and a forced fumble that led to a TD), Anthony Barr (2.5 sacks, a safety, a blocked punt and 8 tackles), Eric Kendricks (15 tackles and a defensive TD), Damien Holmes (3 tackles for loss), Stan McKay (7 tackles and a big forced fumble on a kickoff) and Datone Jones (was all over WSU's QBs, blocked the FG that was returned for a TD and had 1.5 TFLs).
Overall the secondary played poorly and giving up 450 yards in the air bumps UCLA down to 103rd in the nation going into a game against the best pair of WRs in college football. Not something any of us are looking forward to.
I was impressed by Domonique Williams and Bobby Ratliff; but those guys have no business going for 232 yards and 2 TDs against UCLA's defense.
The linebackers and defensive line did a good job. Not that Washington State has any semblance of a running game this year; but they still only had 67 yards. Most of that came on two runs by Jeff Tuel on the first drive of the game for 14 yards that were him escaping pressure on pass plays and a 29 yard run in the 4th quarter that I missed while in the bathroom, so I have zero analysis as to what the issue on that play was. Overall, it was a good job against the run by the front seven.
An uneven effort with bad secondary play, 9 defensive penalties and 29 points allowed in the second half; but also with a good run and 3rd down defense and 2 blocked FGs.
Grade reflects how up and down the defense was, they did just enough to not fail. C- (1.7)
2) Do we call offensive plays to catch our opponents off guard?
This was one of the worst game that the offense has played the entire year, maybe Cal and Oregon State were worse. But those two teams are both talented on defense and OSU is a top 15 team. There wasn't an excuse for letting a bad Washington State defense put together their best game of the year against a UCLA offense that just put up 600 yards and 66 points last wee.
Only 334 yards of total offense. That isn't going to cut it in the Pac-12.
Brett Hundley played fine. 18-21 for 260 yards with 3 TDs. But he also had an interception on maybe his worst pass of the season. The stat-line looks fine; but something was just off with him this week. He held on to the ball way too long on more than one occasion, which is why he got hit more in this game than any other I can remember.
Johnathan Franklin had only 66 yards on 19 carries. The team only managed 73 yards on the ground against a defense that came in allowing 172 yards a game.
More than either of the two skill guys that get all the praise, I think the struggles of the offense fall on the offensive line in this game. The Washington State defense had 10 TFLs and 4 sacks, they forced the first fumble of Franklin's senior season (at least that I recall) and took advantage of Hundley's bad decision and got an interception. As a defense, you'll take those numbers any game and be in a good position to win.
While the final score says UCLA scored 44 points, the offense did not earn the majority of those. UCLA's longest drive was 2 minutes and 59 seconds. At some point you need to give your defense a pick-me-up with a 5+ minute drive.
I am aware that the N-Zone offense predicates itself on tempo; but when the opposing team runs 87 plays and your offense runs 59, that is an issue. The defense did not play well; but no D1 defense can stop another D1 team for 90 plays.
For putting up 200 yards less than the team's average, turning the ball over twice (not holding the offense responsible for Kenneth Walker's fumble) and putting the defense at a massive disadvantage throughout the game, the grade here is likely the lowest it has been in a UCLA victory this season, C- (1.7)
After analyzing the offense and the defense, this does not look like a game that UCLA should have won. How did it end up that way then? We will see that in the next 4 questions.
3) Do our players look like they know what they should be doing at all times?
I apologize for the mini-rant I'm about to go on.
Pac-12 officiating strikes once again. UCLA finally took back the bottom spot in the nation for penalty yardage per game with 12 penalties for 106 yards.
Larry Scott needs to take a look at the NCAA stats page and notice that the number 82, 91, 97, 100, 104, 115, 116, 117, 118 and 120 teams in the nation are all governed by the same atrocious officials (the exceptions being #5(!) Arizona State and #62 Stanford). That is a black eye on one of the best conferences in the nation and seriously needs to be remedied.
This game lasted 3 hours and 47 minutes. An hour per quarter is unacceptable for the Pac-12. The officials controlled the pace of the game with the excessive number of flags being thrown on both teams.
I watch a great deal of college football every week, part of that is making up for totally missing a few years of it because I was playing, the other part of that is just because I love the game and can't get enough of it. The Pac-12 players don't play any dirtier or sloppier than any other conference; but the stats show a different story. A drastically different story. The players aren't committing more penalties, the officials are calling more.
Change something, Commissioner.
Now, back to this specific game.
UCLA was only wrongfully called on maybe 3 penalties the whole night, so it isn't like the officials were screwing the Bruins anymore than they were screwing themselves. The pass interference calls are tough. Most of the time, they can go one way or the other and with the rules the way they are now, any contact can get a flag thrown.
I was actually proud of UCLA for keeping their composure early in the game with Washington State playing reckless and chippy after the whistle. Last year's team would have reacted much differently, like at Arizona. That said, anytime you have 40 more penalty yards than rushing yards, you failed to a degree.
The offense didn't have any mental errors that pop out at me reflecting on this game. The personal fouls on Jordon James and Jeff Baca were both foolish and understandable. Baca was protecting Franklin in a pile after the fumble and James was defending himself after a Washington State player tried to body slam him after scoring a touchdown.
Defense suffers here. 9 first downs via penalty is an issue regardless of how bad the refs are because the refs aren't going to stop being bad next week or this season.
The special teams looked good all game, the fumble by Kenneth Walker put a damper on a great debut by him as a kickoff returner. The punt team did a great job being in position to down another Jeff Locke punt inside the 5. The kickoff team forced and recovered a fumble on a picturesque open-field breakdown and tackle by Stan McKay. The punt return team (mainly the starting defense; but it qualifies as a special team) blocked two punts off the edge.
The special teams give a boost here as much as it hurt this category earlier in the season. And the penalties hurt a little less than usual because of the need for someone to hold the Pac-12 refs accountable for their actions. B- (2.7)
4) Do our players play for 60 G-D minutes every game?
UCLA might have played their best 15 minutes of the season in the 2nd quarter. 30-0, very impressive showing. Aside from that, Washington State won the game pretty handily 36-14 in the other 3 quarters.
The Bruins played all 60 minutes on both sides of the ball, they just did not play particularly well for about 40 of them.
I don't think that UCLA was looking ahead to Southern Cal or that the team was affected by the below freezing temperature in Pullman. I think the Bruins played with less intensity and also down to the level of Washington State. It wouldn't have been a different game if it was 20 degrees warmer or if the SC game was in three weeks. The Bruins just played sloppy.
Grade reflects this. C+ (2.3)
5) Do our players execute?
Turnovers were an issue this week and were the biggest reason behind the defense's issues in the first quarter.
Johnathan Franklin has been the unquestioned MVP of this team and has almost placed himself in a spot that is immune from criticism. But he did fumble on Saturday night, following the defense having been on the field for a 6 minute drive and 4 minute drive and forcing another 3 and out along with putting up 7 points and blocking 2 field goals and a punt.
As much as the defense was criticized, that is one hell of a start to a game. The offense couldn't put anything together and it visibly wore down UCLA defense.
Brett Hundley held on to the ball too long on a handful of plays that cost UCLA big and threw a costly interception. The offensive line couldn't create any traction in the running game and gave up 4 sacks, even if two of those are on Hundley.
The offense was unstoppable in the second quarter. Scoring three times and looking like the game was headed for another blowout victory. Alas, the game did not end at halftime, the thoughts of Richard Brehaut, Melvin Emesibe, Logan Sweet and Kevin Prince playing dissipated, and the offense looked pretty pathetic in the second half while netting just 127 yards. That is a pitiful half of offense for a team averaging 500 yards a game and the execution on offense has to be light-years better to get to where this team should end up this season.
Neither side of the ball executed well in the second half. The pass defense was picked apart by a backup QB and a receiving core missing an elite WR and by an offense that could only move the ball through the air or by penalties.
Aaron Hester got beaten easily on two quick slants. One by a receiver who didn't have a catch before this game that went for 37 yards and another on the goal-line for the two-point conversion that got Wazzu within 8 points.
Side-note (it is safe to look ahead now): If you haven't seen Southern Cal play this season, let me give you a tidbit of info about the NCAA's leading receiver. Marqise Lee runs the slant better than a number of NFL receivers. He plays for the Trojans. Hester will be covering him next week. Robert Woods has somehow become underrated in the national media, despite his numbers. He also plays for the Trojans. Hester will also be covering him next week. You cannot double both of those players.
Tevin McDonald got picked on in coverage as well, notably getting beat on a play over the middle that went for 49 yards. Most of his tackles came on passes completed on him.
Another side-note: He did not play well last season against Southern Cal and will need to step up huge for the Bruins to slow down the Trojans through the air.
This was an underwhelming outing in a lot of ways; but there were positives as well.
The 4 blocked kicks, the 2 fumble recoveries, the clutch interception by Andrew Abbott.
The big plays throughout by the front seven, big hits from Stan McKay and Dalton Hilliard (penalty or no), the continued improvement of Jordan Payton as a threat in the passing game, the 9th TD of the season by Joseph Fauria and the overall special teams play.
Like the rest of the game, peaks and valleys.
Grade here is a bit higher than elsewhere because the defense scored twice and the special teams had an outing to remember and build on for the future. B (3.0)
6) Do we have leaders on the field?
Looking at this as a four quarter game, I can't say that there was a leader on offense. The offensive line was disappointing. Hundley played okay. Franklin couldn't get going on the ground.
So, despite getting the win I cannot give the offense credit for this category.
On defense, there is an obvious group of players that are the heart of the squad. The defensive line and the linebackers played great. Eric Kendricks, Anthony Barr, Damien Holmes, Jordan Zumalt, Datone Jones, Cassius Marsh, Seali'i Epenesa and I suppose Dalton Hilliard and Stan McKay (if they are considered linebackers in certain packages) are consistently good week-to-week. They don't always all have big games, but they are responsible for any success that UCLA has had on the defensive side of the ball.
This grade is saved by the performance of the front seven on defense. C+ (2.3)
Final Grade Card for Washington State Cougars
Based on the discussion here is how it shapes up:
1) Is our defense prepared for each and every team we play? [C-: 1.7]
2) Do we call offensive plays to catch our opponents off guard? [C-: 1.7]
3) Do our players look like they know what they should be doing at all times? [B-: 2.7]
4) Do our players play for 60 G-D minutes every game? [C+: 2.3]
5) Do our players execute? [B: 3.0]
6) Do we have leaders on the field? [C+: 2.3]
Washington State GPA: 2.3
For perspective, the overall GPA at the end of the regular season was 1.61 last year.
That grade feels about right for this game. Like passing a class by showing up and passing only the midterm and final. You just take the grade and move on with the year. For the sake of comparison, this was not on the same level as the wins this year: Arizona (3.8), Rice (3.27), Nebraska (3.48), Colorado (3.33), Arizona State (2.7) and Utah (2.72) and not as ugly as the two losses: Cal (1.1) and Oregon State (1.62).
Next week marks the unofficial one-year anniversary of my first Eye Test at Bruins Nation, last year I wrote up our Senior Day win over Colorado on November 20th. I want to thank everyone here for their praise and criticism. Been a very eventful year as a UCLA fan. It would be nice to top it off with a win over Southern Cal.
The game on Saturday is for a Pac-12 South championship. Win and go play Oregon again for a shot at the Rose Bowl. Lose and even a nine or ten win season is going to have a dark cloud over it.
UCLA should beat Southern Cal. The Bruins two best wins are over the #14 Nebraska Cornhuskers and an obliteration of then-#22 Arizona. Southern Cal's two best wins are beat Arizona State last week and inching past Washington 24-14. Every time USC has played a ranked team this year, they've lost.
Does Southern Cal have a monumental advantage on the UCLA secondary with Lee and Robert Woods (a scarily quiet 700 yards and 10 TDs this season)?
Does either defense look like they can slow down the other team's offense?
But you throw out the records and the stats in rivalry games. It is the best game to do an Eye Test on. It is one, stand-alone game to be judged without any context on the rest of the season.
This can be a start of the next run of UCLA victories over Southern Cal, or it can be a continuation of the Dan Guerrero era of Southern Cal punking UCLA and stabbing their sword at the 50 yard-line of the Rose Bowl and in the ego of UCLA fans.
I prefer the former over the latter.
Until next week, Go Bruins!