-Bumped. BN Eds.
Have you ever been watching a regular day of college football and seen a team like Georgia or Michigan State or Florida State beating a bottom-of-a-BCS-conference type team by 20 in the 3rd quarter?
Undoubtedly you have, and you probably do exactly what I do in those situations, turned the channel to watch better competition. Why waste your time with a game where the outcome is decided already?
For the first time in as long as I can remember, UCLA played one of those game as the team winning by 20.
When the nation wakes up and checks out the roundup of college football today, they'll notice 3 things.
1. USC lost to Stanford for the 4th time in a row. (couldn't resist mentioning that)
2. Notre Dame upset Michigan State (Big 10 really looks bad. Ohio State got worked by Cal and pulled out a win.)
3. Pretty much every other Top 25 team played the way they should have. (UCLA included for the first time since 2007)
The Bruins beat Houston 37-6. This was the first UCLA game I've seen live at the Rose Bowl since the famed UCLA-Arizona State shootout in 2005.
When I got home and saw UCLA-Houston highlights on ESPN this was the gist of the highlight:
"What do you think of the progression of Brett Hundley?"
"Each week he's gotten better and better. From the Rice game to Nebraska. Develops more each week."
Bizarre, right? What game did they watch? Oh, they didn't watch the game. They just saw the boxscore and the TDs they chose to put in the highlights.
Luckily, I watched the game live and at some point will watch the replay on TV in the next few days.
So, the Eye Test will be a little more harsh on this "meh" performance against the Cougars.
1) Is our defense prepared for each and every team we play?
Don't get lulled into a false sense of confidence with these grades because of this section. Fair Warning.
I was ecstatic at the way the defense played in this game. 6 turnovers. That's almost enough by itself.
Houston's offense had been very stat-hungry in their first two games against Texas State and Louisiana Tech. A lot of yards, pretty solid amount of points. They had trouble getting either against UCLA. Final stat-line might say 388 yards of total offense. But that is extremely deceiving. The Bruins had given up a total of 1 rushing yard through 3 quarters on Saturday night before pulling the starters.
Most of Houston's yardage came in garbage time against the 2nd and 3rd string defenders or on fluky big plays with no impact on the game.
1st Quarter: Pass for 23 yards because Aaron Hester slipped breaking down to make a tackle on what would have been a five yard catch. (Followed by a 3 and out)
2nd Quarter: Pass for 30 yards. I forget what happened there; but it ended in a missed 46 yard FG.
3rd Quarter: Nothing. Shut down Houston in every way. Forced 3 interceptions and a 3-and-out.
4th Quarter: 38 yard run. This was a great play-call. Cool with giving Houston credit here. Drive ended with Price's 3rd pick.
4th Quarter: 86 yard run. Aaron Wallace crashed on a zone read. Quarterback kept and ran around the edge. Second and third unit was on the field. Not going to hold that against the D in any way. Can't make me.
That's 177 yards of nothing. UCLA shut down this offense. Defense was ready to go from the start. They get an A+ (4.0)
2) Do we call offensive plays to catch our opponents off guard?
On the surface, our offense was really business as usual. 567 yards. Ran 101 plays.
Brett Hundley looked like an insanely talented freshman against Houston. 27-42, 320 and 2 TDs and completed passes to 11 different receivers (12, if you count swing passes). I'll take that any week gladly. If you QB does that, odds are you win about 70% of the time.
But, he threw two interceptions, lost a fumble (that should have been a pick-6 on a swing pass) and had one or two others taken back because of penalties (correct me if I'm mistaken with those).
I'm expecting Hundley to have rough patches, I'd rather they come against Houston than Oregon State or Southern Cal.
The place where this grade falls off for me is inside of the redzone, specifically within the 10.
Breakdown of redzone plays:
5 yard pass to Franklin, sack, Incomplete to Evans, Defensive holding on a pass to Joe Fauria, TD to Datone Jones (caught everyone off guard, so bonus points), TD to Jordon James, 4 yard run by Franklin, 1 yard run Franklin, incomplete to Jerry Johnson, 1 yard James, 5 yard 4th down conversion by Franklin, 1 yard Franklin, incomplete to Johnson, sack, Field Goal, defensive holding targeting Johnson, Kenny Walker 4 yard run/pass, false start Torian White, holding Torian White (think this was hands to the face actually; but called holding), holding Torian White, 12 yard pass to Damian Thigpen, Interception on a pass to Johnson, Steven Manfro 14 yard TD.
My father actually noticed before I did that Hundley tends to gets locked onto Jerry Johnson in the redzone and that worries me. Johnson isn't an amazing red zone target, to be honest. Not an insane jump-ball guy, despite his size. But he was where Brett looked first on most of the passing plays down there (excluding swing passes obviously).
If I remember correctly, Noel Mazzone's biggest criticism in his offense at Arizona State was their red zone performance and play-calling. He never had the array of weapons he currently has at UCLA, so I have faith that this won't be an issue for long. But it was an issue today, so the grade suffers for it.
Weighing the positive (tons of yards, 37 points, the time of possession difference) with the negative (turnovers, struggles in red zone, and, arrogant as it may sound, lack of a big time blowout) I end up with a B/B- type of grade. (3.0 barely)
3) Do our players look like they know what they should be doing at all times?
The defense was on point, playing almost exclusively out of their version of a Dime package (two DL, two OLBs, one ILB and 6 DBs). They played solid assignment football.
I'd like to give special shout-outs to Dalton Hilliard, Stan McKay and Aaron Hester for handling their business throughout. Hilliard broke up two 3rd down slants, McKay shut down the RB passing game (3 catches for 3 yards out of their RBs), and Hester locked up Houston's leading receiver for most of the game (5 for 59 out of Spencer).
Randall Goforth and Andrew Abbott were solid, if not spectacular. Hard-hat performance by both. No glaring mistakes anywhere in the secondary. The lineman were mostly Datone Jones (who was near dominant again) and Cassius Marsh (had a sack taken away because of intentional grounding). Both played well, as did Anthony Barr (another game, another sack) and Jordan Zumalt. Eric Kendricks continues to chalk up tackles and looked better in pass coverage on Saturday night.
Sheldon Price tied Tevin McDonald's school record with 3 interceptions. All of those were a result of knowing what he should be doing. The pick in the endzone, where Sheldon was covering the underneath receiver while the Cougar QB threw a corner route to the back of the endzone. Sheldon read the QB's delivery and knew to bail on his receiver and fly to where the football was going. Leaping pick in the back of the endzone. Outstanding play.
On special teams, I have to note that Steven Manfro had 55 punt return yards in a game, I remind everyone that UCLA had only 49 yards all season in 2011. Punt return team has done a great job this season and the White Mamba is bound to break a big one this year.
The offensive line had another solid game, aside from the mini-implosion Torian White suffered. Team put up almost 600 yards again. Thigpen and Franklin combine for around 200 yards rushing. Hundley was only hit a few times, mainly because he held onto the ball a bit too long not blown blocking assignments.
The gameplan was solid. UCLA moved the ball whenever and wherever they wanted and Houston couldn't do anything on offense most of the day.
Looking at the numbers, aside from turnovers, this game easily could have been 52-0 or worse. The players were certainly put in the position to run Houston out of the stadium, the plan wasn't the problem. It was the execution; but we'll get to that later.
UCLA gets a B+ (3.3) here from me. Solid, nothing to write home about.
4) Do our players play for 60 G-D minutes every game?
When is the last time that this section went without saying for 3 weeks in a row?
Has that happened in the brief history of the "Eye Test"?
Someone look into that.
But UCLA fans can be proud knowing that this team leaves it on the field. The second team offense, led by a poised Kevin Prince, looked effective. Solid running by Melvin Emesibe, who trucked a Cougar and got the sideline hyped in the 4th quarter. The defense saw a lot of young guys get serious run in the fourth quarter. Marcus Rios, Jeremy Castro (at corner), Ellis McCarthy (theory on his lack of playing time in the comments), and I saw Fabian Moreau for the first time I remember. Good stuff.
My personal feelings about the lulls the offense went into because of mistakes get thrown in here a little to drag the grade from an A+ to an A- (3.7)
5) Do our players execute?
Here is where that fair warning I was talking about should be applied.
Penalties. Turnovers. The big TD against the 2nd/3rd string defense.
The special teams were the best they've been all year. Jeff Locke continued to make the KOR team essentially just wind sprints for the 10 other Bruins (although I have to give props to David Allen for destroying #21 on Houston on every KO and still managing to finish through the end zone. And the Bruins Hawaiian kicker was flawless on the day. 3-3 on FGs and 4-4 on PATs. Locke also downed 4 out of 5 punts inside the 20, and the other might have been if Jeremy Castro (who closed out the game at corner, not linebacker) hadn't been demolished on his way to swat the ball back in the endzone.
The defense's big demerit comes on the TD run by Houston's QB. Aaron Wallace went away from his assignment to try for a TFL on the RB and cost UCLA a shutout. Only penalties were a personal foul on Anthony Barr (didn't see it, can't judge) and an offsides on Datone (forgivable). I'll throw in Aaron Hester's missed tackle I mentioned earlier, even if that is just part of football. He slipped while he was in perfect position to make a tackle. It happens. Those yards still count though.
The offense...boy. Starts off with a dumb penalty on Jerry Johnson for not being on the field on 2nd down, then not running past the numbers once he realized it. Ended the opening drive before it started. And three penalties in a row by Torian White left me speechless. Never seen something like that. And they were pretty blatant penalties (great officiating crew, by the way. What happened to the SPTRs?).
Hundley's mishaps all fall to this category as well.
As well as the fumble by Devin Lucien after an impressive catch and run.
As well as the egregious fumble, shoddy blocking on the edge, and holding penalty by Joe Fauria.
Tough game for Joe, glad to see him hold himself accountable on Twitter after the game though. Joe will be fine, he's the best TE in the Pac-12 (although those Stanford boys are outstanding). But, those bad plays all still count.
Overall, this aspect was the reason this game feels unsatisfying as a fan. That's why it suffers the most, the defense's play turns this into a barely passing grade: C- (1.7)
6) Do we have leaders on the field?
Leaders against Houston were there.
Johnathan Franklin with 168 all purpose yards. That was a NFL-type 100 yard game, with the Houston scheme completely revolving their scheme around slowing Franklin down. The 4th down conversion was a sure thing as soon as they brought The Mayor on the field to convert it. What more can you ask for from a leader?
Datone Jones and Cassius Marsh controlling the line of scrimmage. Again, Houston had 1 yard rushing as a team at the end of the 3rd quarter, with UCLA playing only two DL with Barr and Zumalt (occasionally Damien Holmes) acting as stand-up edge rushers most of the game. Both did a great job all game long.
Jeff Locke. Enough said right there. Scary that whenever UCLA's punter steps on the field, he is the best player on it.
Final Grade Card for Houston Cougars
Based on the discussion here is how it shapes up:
1) Is our defense prepared for each and every team we play? [A+: 4.0]
2) Do we call offensive plays to catch our opponents off guard? [B: 3.0]
3) Do our players look like they know what they should be doing at all times? [B+: 3.3]
4) Do our players play for 60 G-D minutes every game? [A-: 3.7]
5) Do our players execute? [C-: 1.7]
6) Do we have leaders on the field? [A-: 3.7]
Houston GPA: 3.23
Just a little worse than the Rice game (3.27), obviously worse than the Nebraska game (3.48). Just like Nestor said, for perspective, the overall GPA at the end of the regular season was 1.61 last year.
The Bruins are on a 3 game winning streak while scoring 122 points. Last time a UCLA football winning streak with that many points scored in the first 3 happened was in 2005 to start the season.
That season saw the Bruins go 10-2.
That season was the last time before Saturday night that I had been to the Rose Bowl to watch UCLA.
That season the Bruins offense had a NFL first round draft pick at TE and one of the best RBs in the NCAA get drafted later than that because of unfounded doubts about his ability to translate to the next level.
That three game winning streak contained a blowout of Rice and an upset of a traditional Big-12 power.
Just pointing out some similarities that popped in my head while I finished writing this at 4 in the morning.
Go Bruins. Pac-12 starts this week against Oregon State. Score in 2005 against OSU? 51-28. Let's see if 2012 can be better than 2005.