2) Do we call offensive plays to catch our opponents off guard?
This is Part 2 of the 6-part "Eye Test" roundup of the regular season. The Bruins' offense went through a massive transformation from 2011 to 2012. The Pistol was abandoned for the N-Zone offense. The change resulted in an improvement in nearly every statistical category and an even greater improvement in terms of excitement for the fans of the Bruins. A redshirt freshman quarterback won the job in San Bernardino, the receiving core had to replace an oft-maligned but productive receiver in Nelson Rosario, and the offensive line started three freshman the entire season. There was a reasonable level of doubt around the direction that UCLA would take on offense, and the result exceeded even the most optimistic prognosticator's take on the season.
Let's take a look at the grades.
Rice Owls: [B+: 3.3]
A 72-yard TD run on the first play from scrimmage was a sudden jump into just how dangerous the N-Zone offense could be and just how good Brett Hundley could end up being. The Bruins put up 49 points against the Owls and looked impressive doing so, if not a little flat in the second half.
Despite Rice ending up with a fairly potent offense and competing in a bowl game, their defense was anemic, ranking 95th in total defense and 88th in scoring defense. UCLA did manage to put up a ton of offense, but that is what should have happened against Rice.
Brett Hundley had a ridiculous debut, 270 yards of total offense and 3 TDs, but the story from the offense in this game was Johnathan Franklin running all over the Rice defense for 214 yards and 3 TDs (2 of which went for 70+ yards). Also worth noting was the surprise debuts of a lot of freshman on offense, 3 offensive lineman, 2 wide receivers, and another running back. A solid performance, but it was what it should have been.
Nebraska Cornhuskers: [A+: 4.0]
This may have been the best offensive performance of the season, certainly one of the two best. The Nebraska defense did not end up being all that imposing at the end of the season, as they scoring defense is almost identical to UCLA's D, giving up 26 points per game (56th), but their yardage per game was nearly identical to Stanford's D, at 343 yards per game (22nd). In the most exciting non-conference victory since the blowout of #7 Texas or perhaps a 2007 win over a BYU team that ended up 11-2, UCLA put up 36 points and 653 yards of offense.
Brett Hundley (358 yards of total offense and 4 TDs) and Johnathan Franklin (276 all purpose yards and a TD) had huge games once again, but the real stars of this game on offense were the offensive line. Xavier Su'a-Filo, Torian White, Jake Brendel, Jeff Baca, Simon Goines, Greg Capella and Alex Ceachir combined for one of the best days a UCLA offensive line has put together in my time as a UCLA fan.
This was a great start to the season, 4 exciting quarters and, if not for some redzone sputtering and 2 missed FGs, this score would not have been close. A promising and dominant performance and this grade still feels right.
Houston Cougars: [B: 3.0]
Houston had a bad defense that was severely overmatched physically by UCLA and their defense turned out to be the Achilles' heel of their season, ranking 115th in total defense by giving up 483 yards per game and giving up 36 points per game (109th). UCLA basically matched those totals with 36 points and 567 yards.
This was the first time that Hundley looked like a freshman on the football field. He had injured his ankle against Nebraska while sliding/diving/falling (which he still hasn't figured out). Make no mistake, he still had sustained periods where he looked exceptional, ending up with 320 yards and 2 TDs while completing passes to 11 different receivers. But he lost a fumble on a swing pass that should have been an interception for a touchdown, actually threw two interceptions and had at least two others dropped or eliminated by defensive penalties.
The running game was effective all game but took a step back from the Nebraska and Rice games. Perhaps the highlight of the game was Datone Jones catching a 7-yard TD pass from Hundley, or the breakout game from Damien Thigpen.
As much as there was to criticize, the Bruins blew out the Cougars, put up nearly 600 yards and the game was never in question. Through the first 3 games, UCLA had taken care of business offensively in all 3.
Oregon State Beavers: [D+: 1.3]
Again, this was a game where UCLA had no idea how good Oregon State would turn out being. This looked like a tough, but winnable game especially after the start to the season. Oregon State controlled the line of scrimmage and forced UCLA to put the game in Hundley's hands by eliminating Franklin's impact. The Beavers played a very impressive defensive game despite giving up 444 yards, nearly 100 yards over their season average of 354 (33rd) and right on their season average in scoring defense with 20 points (22nd).
In the 27-20 loss UCLA scored on one big play from Hundley to Shaquelle Evans (65-yard TD pass) and aside from that the offense never moved the ball in the first half. Execution was at a low for the season in this game on offense, with an especially bad showing from Joseph Fauria that led to his benching for Darius Bell, who caught two 30-yard passes.
The offensive line was missing Jeff Baca and his replacement Brett Downey struggled along with Simon Goines on the right side of the line in his absence. Another issue in this game was Johnathan Franklin only getting 13 touches in a close game. At the time, Franklin was in the Top 5 of Heisman candidates and this was a really perplexing decision by Mazzone to not get him incorporated in the passing game. Overall, this grade still looks good, even with how good of a defense Oregon State turned out to be. Most of these wounds were self-inflicted.
Colorado Buffaloes: [B: 3.0]
Feel very confident about this one. Statistically, Colorado ended up as one of, if not the worst defense in college football. They gave up 46 points per game (120th out of 120 schools) and 489 yards per game (117th). That is basically what UCLA did in this game, with 42 points and 492 yards of offense. At no point was the game in question, but the first quarter was a little sloppy.
Franklin ended up with 160 yards of total offense, Hundley scored 4 more TDs, two Bruins scored their first ever TDs in Darius Bell and Damien Thigpen and we even got to see a flash of Kevin Prince at the end of the game. Nothing overly flashy, just a decisive win over a team that was never in the game.
California Bears: [D: 1.0]
Needless to say, there are probably not a ton of plays from this game on UCLA's highlight reel of the season. This was ugly and my biggest critique from the "Eye Test" was abandoning the run game. Franklin rushed for 7 yards per carry, but only got 15 of them and Damien Thigpen only got two touches in the game.
I will likely mention this in every assessment, but this was the weirdest game of the season. Cal's defense was atrocious in 2012 (92nd in total defense and 95th in scoring defense) and somehow shut down UCLA's offense to just 17 points and under 400 yards. If these two teams matched up 100 times, UCLA would probably win 85 or so. It just wasn't going to happen in this one.
Utah Utes: [C+: 2.3]
This was the most boring game of the season on both sides of the ball; UCLA did not do anything special on offense. Another big play TD from Hundley to Shaq Evans for 65 yards. This game was the turning point of Joseph Fauria's season, as he had to step up following the injuries to Darius Bell, Jerry Johnson and Devin Lucien.
Hundley and Franklin both had okay games, nothing special. The interior offensive line did a solid job on one of the best defensive lineman in college football in Star Lotulelei. Overall, this grade feels right as UCLA was held well under their averages in points and yardage, but won the game with a 14-play, 6 minute drive for a TD in the third quarter.
Arizona State Sun Devils: [A: 4.0]
UCLA's offense balled out in this game against a solid Arizona State defense (41st in scoring defense at 24 points per game and 26th in total defense at just 350 yards allowed per game). The Bruins put up 45 points and nearly 500 yards to bounce back from a disappointing 4-week stretch. This game really marked the start of one of the most rewarding endings to a UCLA football season in my time as a fan. I put it concisely in the "Eye Test" from this game:
"Putting up 486 yards against a talented defense is always going to get praise.
Johnathan Franklin had a big day with 164 yards and had multiple rushing TDs for the first time since the Rice game. He paced the offense throughout and showed why he should be a workhorse for this offense and never get less than 20 touches in any game UCLA expects to win.
Brett Hundley also carved up an ASU pass defense that was ranked #1 in the nation before Saturday. Hundley's line of 19-29 and 274 yards doesn't look all that impressive at first glance. But the kid threw 4 TD passes and engineered a game-winning drive while down 43-42 with 1:33 left in the 4th quarter.
Obviously, the offense has had bigger statistical games. This game was more impressive than any other to me because of the quality of the defense that got torn up by UCLA. ASU is as fast as any defense in the conference outside of Oregon and as physical as any defense in the Pac-12 outside of Stanford. It's a good group and putting up 45 points and 500 yards against a good defense is going to get a good grade any time it happens."
Arizona Wildcats: [A: 4.0]
Don't need to remind everyone of how impressive this game was. UCLA was up 42-3 at the half. UCLA scored 66 points. UCLA put up 611 yards and it still felt like some points were left on the board.
Johnathan Franklin ran for a hard-earned 162 yards while breaking the UCLA school rushing record along the way on a TD run. Joseph Fauria was unstoppable while catching two TDs. Jerry Johnson, Jordan Payton, and Shaquelle Evans all had big catches and solid games. The offensive line was brilliant; Hundley had all day to throw and as a result went 23-28 and the team rushed for 308 yards. It was a damn near perfect game against a talented but bad defense.
Washington State Cougars: [C-: 1.7]
UCLA played worse in this game on offense than at the Cal game, the grade probably should have been lower if not for the fact that UCLA was up 44-14 late in the third quarter. This somehow turned into a one-possession game because UCLA's offense gained 39 yards in the last 20 minutes of the game.
The numbers weren't there for anyone. But more than either of the two skill guys, I think the struggles of the offense fell 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 a bad decision from Hundley 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. It was ugly, and again this feels low.
Southern California Trojans: [B+: 3.3]
I like what I wrote still. Don't know that I could say it better, so this is a cut-and-paste job from here out.
A little down on the season averages; but they were facing a well-ranked defense on a wet field in a high-pressure atmosphere. It was a good performance overall.
Johnathan Franklin left his mark on this rivalry with a huge game. 29 carries for 171 yards with 2 touchdowns along with 2 catches for 14 yards (one big 3rd and 14 conversion where he broke through 4 defenders to get the first down). Franklin took over the game when UCLA needed it most, notably clinching the game on a 29-yard TD run with 4 minutes left.
Brett Hundley started what should become the first of 3 victories for him against Southern Cal (I am resigning myself to the fact that seeing a RS-senior Brett Hundley is unlikely at this juncture). Had unbelievable poise throughout, stepping up in the pocket with a pass rusher barring down multiple times. Ended up at a solid, but unspectacular 22-30 for 234 yards and a TD, with 2 rushing TDs. He held on to the ball too long a few times that led to sacks; but that will happen with as good of a pass rush as Southern Cal brings to the table.
For the most part, UCLA kept it simple on offense. No flashy trick-plays, not a ton of swing passes once Southern Cal showed they had those scouted. Just good blocking up front and controlling the line of scrimmage.
Furthering that point, Hundley got the ball in the hands of his best players.
Joseph Fauria got involved early and often, scoring his 10th TD of the season and now has an outside chance of getting the First Team All-Pac-12 spot at TE.
Shaq Evans had the game of his life, with 8 catches for 114 yards. Jerry Johnson set the tone on the opening drive with a couple of tough catches for first downs and ended up with 4 total catches.
It was a very effective game plan by Noel Mazzone and it was executed well enough by the Bruins to result in a victory.
When you look at the number from this game, 406 yards, 38 points, 5 sacks allowed, only 3.4 yards per carry, giving up a defensive touchdown. It's a mix of good and bad. The good definitely outweighed the bad, even if the bad stuff nearly killed most of us.
Stanford Cardinal, Part I: [D: 1.0]
This game can be summed up in one sentence.
An elite defense beat the hell out of UCLA.
Aside from that basic truth, Brett Hundley held onto the ball too long, the Stanford pass rush got to Brett too often, the running game had nothing going for it, save for a few gutty runs by Franklin, most of which were erased by the glut of penalties on the UCLA offense.
The lone bright spots would be the impressive play of Joseph Fauria, catching his 11th touchdown of the season, a steady performance from both Jerry Johnson and Devin Fuller, and Shaq Evans catching his 3rd pass of the season for over 65 yards.
As frustrating as this game was to watch, there were enough bright spots to think that UCLA could play with and/or beat Stanford the next week in Palo Alto.
Conference GPA: [C+: 2.4]
This grade seems low at first glance; especially with how much better this offense was than last season's. It does make sense though because UCLA put up some ugly performances in conference play and those mar the exceptional performances in the Arizona, Arizona State and Southern Cal games.
Overall GPA: [B-: 2.7]
This grade seems weird because UCLA ended up ranked 20th in total offense, averaging 475 yards per game and 29th in scoring offense at 35 points per game. Looking closer at each game puts a damper on those numbers because UCLA put up 600 yards of offense in 3 games and 500+ in 2 others. Every team has some off days or games where they'll run into some dominant defenses, but the performances against Utah, Cal and Washington State are the sore spots on this overall grade. That group of three is one average defense and two bad defenses that held UCLA under 400 yards. There is a lot of room to improve next season and the sky is the limit with a quarterback as good as Brett Hundley.
Until next column, Go Bruins!