Bumped. Nebraska game was so awesome that it's worth more than one "Eye Test." We will end up averaging the scores from this post and this one. GO BRUINS. - BN Eds.
In case you were busy last night, you may be interested to hear that UCLA played a football game last night on FOX against a traditional college football contender.
If you didn't watch, conventional wisdom tells you how the game probably went.
And I know what you're thinking:
"It was Nebraska."
"We were starting a redshirt freshman at QB and freshman at Center and both Offensive Tackle spots."
"UCLA's defense gave up some big plays against Rice's QB and, surely, Taylor Martinez and his stable of very talented Tailbacks ran wild all over them."
"I'd be happy with just a moral victory."
Coach Jim Mora and the Bruins had thoughts of their own. To hell with moral victories, only real ones count.
UCLA outplayed #16 Nebraska for 4 quarters.
4 full quarters in the backdrop of a very red Rose Bowl crowd.
UCLA's offense put up 653 yards on the vaunted "Blackshirts" D of Nebraska.
UCLA's defense held Nebraska to 1-11 on 3rd Down Conversions.
UCLA's special teams...well, Mr. Fairbairn made two FGs and looked solid on all his extra points (momentarily overlooking the two misses). Jeff Locke might be the best punter in California on any level of football. Steven Manfro netted close to half as many PR yards in one game then the whole PR team had all of last season (23 yards-49 yards)
It was a battle throughout; but the Bruins held off Nebraska in the 4th quarter to pull out a 36-30 victory. This moves UCLA to 2-0 for the first time since 2009.
But this isn't strictly about results on the field, it's about the "Eye Test". So let's get to that after the jump with some analysis from yours truly.
1) Is our defense prepared for each and every team we play?
If you look at this from a strict numbers standpoint, I can't justify making this grade insanely high. The Bruins ("Goldshirts"?) gave up 439 yards of total offense and 7.2 YPC on the ground. By themselves, those numbers aren't acceptable.
But that is the great part of an "Eye Test", the numbers don't have to line up with my grade. The defense played at the most intense level that I can remember a UCLA defense ever playing with. Nebraska will wake up as bruised, sore and groggy as they would have against any team they'll face in the Big 10 this season. From the secondary (Randall Goforth & Andrew Abbott) to the linebackers (Jordan Zumalt & Anthony Barr) to the D-Line (Datone Jones) there were big hits delivered on every drive of the game from somewhere.
The defense was prepared for Nebraska's zone read, but were sketchy on execution a few times throughout the game. Most notably, a 92 yard TD run by Taylor Martinez where Eric Kendricks gave Martinez a lane big enough for TJ Simers' inflated sense of self-importance to run through. But the scheme was there and, more importantly, the adjustments were there in the second half and in the fourth quarter.
Due a combination of my strict grading standards and my elation at this victory, I'm giving the Bruins defense a solid B+(3.3) on this topic.
2) Do we call offensive plays to catch our opponents off guard?
This one is going to be fun.
Again, strict numbers standpoint. 653 yards of total offense.
Brett Hundley's stat-line in his first home game at the Rose Bowl: 21-33, 305 yards, 4 touchdowns, no interceptions, and 12 carries for 53 yards. Completed passes to 8 different receivers.
Jonathan "The Mayor" Franklin (I think I like that better than Jet-Ski) became the 7th UCLA RB to rush for over 3000 yards in his career with one hell of a game: 26 carries, 217 yards, 3 catches for 59 yards and a touchdown.
My reasoning for this being an A+ (suspense ruined, so sorry) instead of an A- or an A is because Nebraska actually had to use a timeout because they weren't ready for what UCLA's offense was doing. I genuinely cannot recall that ever happening before.
So, this is an easy A+ (4.0).
3) Do our players look like they know what they should be doing at all times?
As opposed to last week, there weren't any glaring special teams miscues. Kickoff returners held onto the ball. Fairbairn missed two FGs, but made two others and all 4 of his extra points and none looked close to being blocked, which is a marked improvement for him and the FG team. I wasn't crazy about the personal foul by Dalton Hilliard on the kickoff return by Nebraska at the end of the game; but he was just being aggressive.
On offense, the only real mistake was the Jordon James fumble early in the game. That would have been a big deal if the defense hadn't forced Nebraska to punt after 4 plays on the ensuing possession.
Defensively, it is and will be tough all season to accurately grade this because of the disparity between last season's scheme and this season's. The balls-to-the-wall mentality of aggressiveness is more than likely going to lead to a couple big plays every game and more personal foul type of penalties throughout the game.
Speaking of penalties, let's go through those.
1st quarter: 1 for 10 yards (Joe Fauria holding)
2nd quarter: 1 for 10 yards (Steven Manfro holding that negated a Hundley rush for a first down on UCLA's last possession of the half).
3rd quarter: 2 for 30 yards (Damien Thigpen personal foul for kick-catch interference. Judgement call that made a big-time statement about the mentality of UCLA. Aaron Hester person foul for a facemask. This was the worst penalty of the game for me. Negated a 3rd down stop, happened on the opposite side of the field from the pass attempt, and led to Nebraska getting a FG to tie the game at 27.)
4th quarter: 6 for 60 yards (False start by Jeff Baca, block-in-the-back by Tre Hale after the safety, another false start by Baca, holding by David Allen on a punt (he legit tackled the guy he was blocking), the Hilliard personal foul on a KO Return, and the very ill-advised PI by Aaron Hester)
Those are from the play-by-play, so I don't know how anyone got 11 for 126 because there aren't spot fouls in college football and can't be anything but 5 or 10 or 15 yard increments of penalties unless it's half the distance to the goal (which there was not on UCLA to my knowledge).
Mostly explainable penalties. Not anything to overreact to, in my opinion. Aggressive teams get more penalties than normal. Whereas last season penalties were usually poor execution or leadership or composure, these penalties were mostly just kids getting after it (aside from Hester's two penalties, which were disappointing in an otherwise good game from the senior).
Just to account for the penalties and the turnover and yardage given up on defense, I'm dropping this from an A to an A- (3.7).
4) Do our players play for 60 G-D minutes every game?
Not difficult to throw out an A here. Defense was pretty relentless with putting pressure on Martinez. If being arm's length away from a sack counted, our defense would have had about 20 on the night. It's not possible for an offense to put up 600+ yards in a close game and not have played hard the whole time.
My personal favorite reason for this grade doesn't have a huge impact on the outcome of the game; but is a meaningful tidbit that I've taken away from each of the first two games this season. The kickoff team, without a single exception on any kickoff this year has all 10 (obviously excluding Locke) players running through the endzone. It's not a big deal; but it shows that they are bought in to going hard every play, even when Jeff Locke is kicking most of them out of the endzone. Has never failed to make me grin every time.
Easy A. (4.0)
5) Do our players execute?
Another near-dominant performance from the offensive line needs to be noted. Nebraska is a good team with a good defense and the combo of Torian White, Xavier Su'a-Filo, Jake Brendel, Jeff Baca and Simon Goines (along with efforts by substitutions Alex Ceachir and Greg Capella). After two games, UCLA is 3rd in the country in total offense. I'm giving about 70% of the credit to those guys. Real impressive.
From the skill positions guys on offense, aside from the fumble, I don't remember a miscue. No drops that I remember, no interceptions, no costly decisions. Good effort, great results.
The defensive backfield really stepped up with the absence of Sheldon Price (like it or not, he's probably the best corner on the roster). Andrew Abbott played well adjusting from starting at safety to starting at corner. Tevin McDonald put in another blue-collar performance and had a big fumble recovery. Randall Goforth may have dropped two interceptions; but he did lead the team in tackles and performed at a high level for a true freshman starting his first game.
Front seven got after it. 8 tackles for loss, two forced fumbles, three pass breakups and a lot of highlight reel type hits. Jordan Zumalt had his best game as a Bruin, Anthony Barr continued his progression into a powerhouse type OLB, Eric Kendricks played a great second half after a mildly disappointing first half (got sucked in by the zone read on Martinez's 92 yard run), Damien Holmes looked much better, Datone Jones was a man beast and the rest of the DL did a solid job against a very good Nebraska offense.
If anything, it feels like this game should have been more one-sided. Outgaining a team by over 200 yards, winning the time of possession by 15 minutes and only winning by 6 points doesn't feel right. Granted, I would never complain about dominating a top 20 team and winning the game; but this is too peculiar to not recognize.
Scoring points on only 4 out of 7 chances (I'm taking out the end of the game knees at the 10 yard line) inside the redzone is alarming and will no doubt improve as UCLA's young kicker gets more comfortable.
For that alone, A- (3.7)
6) Do we have leaders on the field?
Take your pick on either side tonight. There are a ton of candidates, aside from the obvious ones like Hundley and Franklin.
Jordan Zumalt was a terror in this game. Did he still give up a couple big gains on the edges because he is overaggressive? Definitely. But he set the tone, early and often.
Datone Jones. He has played the two best games of his career to start this season. Every thing he was said to be last season and before his injury the year before, he has been against Rice and Nebraska. His safety in the 4th quarter was the defining moment of the game in my eyes. Wouldn't have made that play last season. Hope he continues to improve each week because he has every tool in the world to be a quality 3-4 DE in the NFL.
The offensive line, despite rolling out three freshman, set the tone all night. 56 rushing attempts for 344 yards. XSF handled his business and was a monster pulling from LG. Jake Brendel was outstanding, outside of stepping on BH's foot at the end of the game. Both freshman tackles have been so impressive in both games. Props to Adrian Klemm for kicking the hell out of all the big guys in spring ball and especially at San Bernardino. Those up-downs paid off in a big way.
Easy A here. (4.0)
Final Grade Card for Nebraska Cornhuskers
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? [A+: 4.0]
3) Do our players look like they know what they should be doing at all times? [A-: 3.7]
4) Do our players play for 60 G-D minutes every game? [A: 4.0]
5) Do our players execute? [A-: 3.7]
6) Do we have leaders on the field? [A+: 4.0]
Nebraska GPA: 3.78
Cumulative GPA (through 2 games): 3.53