Everyone has their own way of following UCLA sports. Some people go the season ticket route, some people travel to all the games, some people listen on the radio or find a way to watch the FIRST ROW. Mine has always been watching in my living room with my father, the guy who got me hooked on UCLA sports, Angels baseball and unsuccessfully tried to make me a 49er fan. The discussion between us prior to Saturday's game was telling of where we are at with our fandom of UCLA football.
I expected a 35 point win because that is what should happen with the talent difference and the way both team's seasons have gone. My dad said that he wished he could be as optimistic as I was because he's remembers the Dan Guerrero era in contrast to the history of UCLA football more clearly than I do. It's been a decade plus of UCLA finding some way to disappoint, some way to backslide after starting to climb out of the struggles, some way to avoid doing what the program needed to do (like having a full-size practice field or uniforms with UCLA stripes).
The Bruins did what they needed to do against Colorado on Saturday afternoon, winning 42-14.
The game looked like the score for the most part. Bruins had the Buffaloes outclassed in every facet of the game and it showed up on the scoreboard by the end of the game. I feel like it speaks to the heightened expectations on UCLA's program that I am not that impressed by UCLA winning this game by four touchdowns (should have been 5). This team has the potential to put up a hallmark type of season with the level of talent and the way the schedule breaks the rest of the way. This post isn't about the rest of the season though, it is about dishing out the grades for the Colorado game. So let's get to it.
1) Is our defense prepared for each and every team we play?
The Bruin defense had their most complete game of the season against a decent (at least coming into the game) Colorado offense. The Nebraska game had more exciting defense, there weren't any defensive touchdowns or big returns on turnovers. But it was a pretty impressive performance looking back at it objectively.
Forced 10 3-and-outs and two turnovers. The Bruins also turned away a Colorado drive that started in UCLA territory because of Brett Hundley's fumble and resulted in no points.
Held Colorado to 309 total yards of offense, including the Buffs' 80 yard TD drive to end the game against the UCLA defenders who made the travel squad and hadn't played yet.
12 tackles for loss, 4 more sacks (bringing the season total to 18, 4 more than all of 2011). Another monster performance by Anthony Barr. Datone Jones, Cassius Marsh and Seali'l Epenesa controlled the line of scrimmage throughout. Eric Kendricks looked much improved in pass coverage than he has at any point the last year and a half. I'll get into the secondary more later; but they had a solid game holding CU to 226 yards passing (with 42 and a TD coming on the last drive).
Defense played well. Can't complain. Good matchup for the D next week against California-Berkeley. Cal's WR core is probably the best that UCLA has faced so far, so it will be interesting to see how Martin, Spanos and Mora go about covering those guys. Grade for this game is a solid B+ (3.3). Would have been higher if Colorado were a better opponent.
2) Do we call offensive plays to catch our opponents off guard?
492 yards of total offense. 42 points. Another near-300 yard day for Brett Hundley, completing passes to 11 different receivers. Johnathan Franklin with another 160 total yards of offense, although it feels like he's getting jobbed out of 2 touchdowns a game.
The offense had a tough first quarter. Not going to get away from that with the big numbers at the end of the game.
The first drive started out with big runs from Franklin and seemed destined to follow the defense's good start with a quick score. Drive met it's first hiccup with a weird forward pass by Hundley that was actually a backwards lateral; but got called for a penalty because he was beyond the line of scrimmage. Luckily a big play to Jordon James to get to the 27 yard line took that away; but that was followed by a holding penalty on Jerry Rice Jr., a stuffed run by James and a fumble by Hundley at the 41 yard line.
The overall tempo of the offense was much better than against Oregon State, which might just be because of how good Oregon State's defense is.
I would like to see more touches for Franklin (only 18). That might be attributed to his shoulder issue in the second half; but he was on the field blocking after that happened. Something to look at. Both Damian Thigpen (who scored his first TD as a Bruin along with Darius Bell) and Jordon James looked solid against Colorado, though James dances at the line of scrimmage a bit too much for my liking.
I feel content but unimpressed with the offense's performance on Saturday, which seems a little short-sighted because they scored 42 points. The grade reflects that feeling at a B (3.0)
3) Do our players look like they know what they should be doing at all times?
The penalties continued this week, which put a small dark cloud over a nice game overall. 7 penalties for 69 yards actually lowered the season average, which is worrisome. UCLA is now tied for 102nd in fewest penalty yards allowed (a bad thing).
Slightly off topic, but this popped up out at me when looking a penalty stats on the NCAA website. 6 Pac-12 teams are in the bottom 20 schools in regards to penalties, including Oregon, Southern Cal, Oregon State, and our opponent next week in Cal (chance to be more yellow than gold on the field)
Both freshman tackles chimed in with a false start by Simon Goines and an illegal hands to the face penalty on Torian White. Jerry Rice got tagged with a pair of blocking penalties, one on a big punt return by Steven Manfro.
The defense's only penalty was a Sheldon Price PI call that was ticky-tack; but he got away with a bad one earlier in the game so things even out there. Secondary got beat a few times and got away with it because of Colorado's QB overthrowing a deep ball and throwing another ball out of bounds.
My thoughts on the DB situation. Dalton Hilliard and Stan McKay were on the field more in this game then they have been and the playing time of both has been increasing throughout the year, as it should. I know that Randall Goforth has a lot of fans and talented youth should excite everyone, but I'd put both of those guys a little ahead of Randall. Not much and Goforth should get a long look at corner if Price and Hester have any more issues and Andrew Abbott (who didn't have a great game) is going to stay at safety. All of the DBs should have a really short leash against a wideout like Keenan Allen (who is insanely talented and definitely an NFL guy).
Overall, this was a decent but unimpressive showing under this grading category. Grade reflects that with a B- (2.7)
4) Do our players play for 60 G-D minutes every game?
Easy grade here. The offense slogged through the opening quarter; but not because of a lack of effort. The defense played hard throughout and the special teams looked good.
Toughest games to show up for are games where the outcome is close to decided before the opening kickoff. UCLA showed up and handled business. They get an A here. (4.0)
5) Do our players execute?
Third down is the pivotal down in any football game. You can certainly overcome struggles on 3rd down (as UCLA has this year on offense) but, more often than not, if you win 3rd down, you win the game.
UCLA was on point on both sides of the ball in this game. The offense went 7 for 15 on 3rd downs (including a kneel-down to end the game on 3rd down), but even that only jumped the ranking up to 103rd in the NCAA. Want to shout out Jerry Johnson, Jordan Payton, Joseph Fauria, Shaquille Evans and Darius Bell for catching passes to convert in this game. Those are big time plays and having multiple guys to trust on that down is a good thing for Hundley.
The defense did a great job on this down and has all season, ranking 13th in the country on 3rd down defense. Only 22 conversions out of 78 attempts. That is a far cry from last season, where 10 yards cushion was given on 3rd and 6 more times than I'd care to think about. One of Colorado's two conversions on the day actually led to a turnover, as Tevin McDonald came up with a big strip after Randall Goforth gave up a big completion late in the game (good coverage, just a better play by the wideout).
Winning the turnover battle is always a big deal, and UCLA took care of that after Hundley's fumble early in the game.
Big shout out to Dalton Hilliard and Stan McKay again in this game. Hilliard forced a big fumble to knock CU out of UCLA territory on a picturesque form-tackle and played well all game. Stan McKay came up big with another interception this week, after a tipped pass by Eric Kendricks.
Also noticed the blocking downfield by the receivers and running backs today. Always nice to see that, and that should continue with the depth at WR leading to fresh players being on the field all game. Rested players block tired players. That's the way football works.
Good job here; but again the penalties sting a bit and the fumble and the sloppy early play by the offense lower the grade as well. Feel like this was the best UCLA has done in this category in a couple games, so the grade ends up at a solid B+ (3.3)
6) Do we have leaders on the field?
Brett Hundley has been better than even the most optimistic Bruin fan could have imagined so far this season. He's 18th in the nation in passing yards per game with 294 yards per game. He's thrown 11 TDs to just 3 interceptions and has scored 4 more times on the ground. The numbers speak for themselves and he is contending for an All Pac-12 first team spot at the point in the year.
Anthony Barr and Damien Holmes need to be shouted out on the defensive side of the ball. Barr was a constant presence in the backfield and in the running game. He is developing into one of the best defenders in the conference. Has unreal closing speed on the edge and is making strides in run defense. Bright future if he keeps working as hard as he has been.
Holmes is an enigma to me. He's obviously a leader, team captain and emotionally on the field. He's had some issues in the beginning of the season at ILB, mostly in pass defense. He had to start at OLB this week because of Jordan Zumalt's scooter accident (feels odd typing that). Did a damn good job with 5 tackles for loss and 3 sacks (though I feel it should be 2.5 because he and Barr split one).
Question has to be what do you do with him going forward. I would move him back to ILB and keep Zumalt on the edge. This game might be a jumping off point for Holmes and we'll see a bump in his play inside next to Kendricks. I'd hesitate to move Zumalt inside because he's reckless and probably the most physical/aggressive player on the defense. That works at OLB; but leads to issues in the run game at ILB.
But there were definitely leaders in this game on every side of the ball, including a couple guys I didn't mention here. Good job leads to a good grade: A- (3.7)
Final Grade Card for Colorado Buffaloes
Based on the discussion here is how it shapes up:
1) Is our defense prepared for each and every team we play? [B+: 3.3]
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-: 2.7]
4) Do our players play for 60 G-D minutes every game? [A: 4.0]
5) Do our players execute? [B+: 3.3]
6) Do we have leaders on the field? [A-: 3.7]
Colorado GPA: 3.33
For perspective, the overall GPA at the end of the regular season was 1.61 last year. That brings back bad memories all by itself. Just a little better than the Rice game (3.27), a little worse than the Nebraska game (3.48), and a huge step up from last week's ugly loss to Oregon State (1.62).
This is a quote from the Eye Test last week: "Next week at Colorado has to be a statement type game. If that game isn't over by halftime, it'll be a disappointing game. I could be happy with being 4-1 through the first five games if the Colorado game is a blowout."
It wasn't a disappointing game despite not being 100% over at the half, but it ended up being what we should have expected it to be. Feel pretty confident in saying that game was a B+. The team showed up, did what it needed to do. Didn't exceed expectations or perform at an unprecedented level. This should be the new norm against teams UCLA is better than.
End of the day, UCLA is 4-1 and 1-1 in Pac-12 play. Ranked in the AP poll again at #25. Big game at California-Berkeley is next up. My expectations for that one is a good win; but a very competitive game. Like a 28-14 NFL-type of win. 5-1 at the halfway point would be pleasant and it is realistic.