The Pac-12 regular season is officially underway, and following a narrow victory at Utah, UCLA is 1-0 in conference play.
1. Initial Impressions?
IE Angel: 4-0 overall and 1-0 to start off Pac-12 play. This is where I think we all expected to be, but I feel better now that UCLA is actually here. Nice to knock off a much better than expected Utah team, that has a good chance to finish 2nd in the South. Road games and most conference games are tough, as watching Ohio State, Stanford (at home), Georgia, LSU, Oklahoma (at home) and South Carolina (at home) showed.
DCBruins: Our defense is underrated. They kept it together despite the offense failing to capitalize and a pick six.
Nestor: Elated to be 4-0 but I think we are tadbit over-ranked at number 11. The way we are playing we rank somewhere in the 15-20 range. I am particularly worried about OL (after it looked good in the first two games), and how our OC will make in-game adjustments against well coached and well drilled teams like Stanford and Oregon.
UCLAluv: Relief! I was really nervous about the game and for good reason I guess. I was really happy that the team pulled out a win, but I felt like I was in some kind of parallel universe. The o-line and offense having trouble. The d backs providing most of the energy. I think this was a difficult place to get a win and it will really help our team going forward.
AHMB: The last three road trips to the state of Utah resulted in 31-6, 44-6, and 59-0 defeats, and UCLA probably had the better team in each of those contests. I expected a competitive game, and that's exactly what we got. Utah played well enough to win, and in years past, they would have won that ballgame.
ACHILLES: (I only saw the second half, but here goes.) Showed a lot of tenacity in a close, back and forth game.
Bellerophon: Honestly, I'm impressed. For years, our Bruins have been atrocious when they've travelled to Utah, whether they were taking on the Utes or BYU. Likewise, we've managed to consistently lay an egg on Thursday night games. So, when the schedule came out and I saw a Thursday night game in Utah, I was not feeling too optimistic, especially since this year's Utah team is much improved from last year's squad. Was it a pretty win? No. A dominating win? No. But it could end up being a season and program defining win, as our Bruins have finally seemed to get over both our Utah and Thursday night curse.
2. The Good
IE Angel: The defense after the first quarter. Touched on it in the Eye Test, but Utah struggled after those two touchdowns. The need for adjustments are frustrating at first, but Lou Spanos does a nice job figuring out opponents on the fly. Brett Hundley's leadership as well, overcoming his first real adversity of the season (terrible snaps, eye injury, pick six to tie the game, unscouted blitzes throughout the game, losing a starting left tackle) to go down and clinch the win when it was needed.
DCBruins. We have not been scored on in the third quarter this season. Are you kidding me? This is not a one man show either. In words I did not think I would say before the season, I am not sure if Anthony Barr is our best defender. I mean he still probably is but this is not a one man defense.
Nestor: Thursday night was a coming out party for our secondary. Honestly, I was very surprised how they kept us in the game with not only their picks, but the way they blanketed Utah receivers (particularly Anderson) after the first two drives. Perhaps some of that had to do with the pressure from our front-7, particularly Mr. Barr. Also, loved Perkins' game. It will be interesting to see how he follows against Cal and beyond.
UCLAluv: The defense and especially the backs getting to feel some success. The pressure really helped to throw the Utes offense off and provided great joy to our d backs. We have a team, not a player and that is true on both sides of the ball. Also, that they found a way to win even when it looked bad!
AHMB: The defensive play, especially in the second half, was outstanding. However, what really stands out to me is the drive after Hundley threw the ill advised pick six. The offense had put together a few ugly drives in a row, but once Hundley the pick, the team seemed to rally around the adversity and put up 3 points. That drive was the key to the game, in my opinion,.
ACHILLES: Paul Perkins had a nice second half after James got hurt.
Bellerophon: The defensive secondary really stepped up their game. Obviously, the easy statistic to point to is the six interceptions, but it was much more than that. Their coverage was excellent, and with a few isolated exceptions, our guys weren't getting burned like we used to see when the Toast Twins were our starting corners. The kids are young, but the talent is clearly there, and we're beginning to see the dividends of Mora's recruiting.
3. The Bad
IE Angel: Pretty much the whole game out of the offense. Running game was mostly a non-factor. And the injuries suck. Losing Torian White for the season will be a real test for the rest of the offensive line. Also, despite his ineffectiveness, not ideal to lose Jordon James for any period of time.
DCBruins. This one is easy, Center Jacob Brendal. I hate to pick on a guy but I think Hundley had a great game as a shortstop. He was constantly fielding bad hikes by Brendal I really thought Brendal should have been benched. I hope he plays through that but if we lost the game it may have been in part because of the center's snapping, words that should never be uttered.
Nestor: Penalties - I am sick and tired of them. I don't really care about the explanations at this point. They just need to stop. I thought we had solved the issues a bit during the Nebraska game but it hasn't been pretty. We also got lucky. As bad as the SPTRs were we got away with couple. Not sure if folks noticed how Cassius Marsh was jawing after plan on the Utah sidelines. If someone can pull up the replay, he may have made a gesture. That stuff is not only dumb but totally unacceptable by a senior and for all the talk of discipline and culture change, I am disappointed that it's still happening.
UCLAluv: Snapping, penalties, and injuries. James is having a really good year, but others can carry that role. Torian White is so valuable, he's a beast, and we will miss him.
AHMB: The snaps were obviously bad, but I'm going to give the entire offensive line a pass on the game due to the fact that Torian White went down and put our line in flux. Losing our starting LT for the season is a big deal, and that is the most disappointing aspect of the game to mel. Goines and Benenoch are going to have to step up and play ball.
ACHILLES: Losing Torian White.
Bellerophon: Pretty much the entire offense. When your defense gives you SIX INTERCEPTIONS and you end up only winning by one TD, that's not good (to say the least). When your defense hands you that kind of advantage, you should be walking away with the game, not fighting it out to a nail-biting conclusion and having to field on-side kicks. Mazzone better get his unit up to speed quick, because Oregon and Stanford won't give UCLA that kind of leeway to stay in a game.
4. Game's Most Valuable Player(s)?
IE Angel: I'm going to cheat and say the linebacking core. Eric Kendricks, Anthony Barr, Jordan Zumwalt and Myles Jack. Combined for 27 tackles, 3 TFLs, 2 sacks, 2 interceptions, 2 credited pass breakups and lots of good film. Zumwalt seems like an odd fit, but he was the reason the first interception happened and filled a lot of gaps against the run. Barr and Jack are obvious inclusions and Kendricks was a tackling machine as always.
DCBruins: Myles Jack. He probably does not deserve it but I saw something special in him in this game. He reminded me of Carnell Lake, a college linebacker good enough to play safety in the pros. I am excited to watch the defense now. Also the kid gave away a 99.99% touchdown to do the smart thing and fall at the end of game for the .01% chance he gets hit from behind and fumbles.
Nestor: Since everyone is going with Mr. Jack how about combination of Mr. Perkins and Anthony Jefferson. Perkins b/c I loved how the RS frosh stepped up in difficult circumstances with so many key plays. As for Jefferson - I am loving how he has emerged. The moment he had during Nebraska game when he recovered a key fumble and then rushed to Mora to give him the ball with a huge hug was a tearjerker in the mold of "Friday Night Lights." They he comes out in SLC with two picks. Good stuff after all that he has been through since arriving at UCLA as one of Neuheisel's blue chip recruits.
UCLAluv: I agree with others: Myles Jack and the other LBs. I'd give it to the whole core of linebackers. They are great to watch.
AHMB: Myles Jack played amazing, but I'm going to go with Anthony Jefferson and Paul Perkins. Jefferson played the best game of his injury plagued career. He's suffered through some pretty devastating injuries, and his experience will prove invaluable for our young secondary. Paul Perkins showed me a lot on Thursday. He should be the offense's bell cow going forward. He runs hard, doesn't dance, and he obviously has good chemistry with Brett Hundley. It may have gone unnoticed by the announcers, but Perkins did not juggle a single hand off despite having the mesh disrupted by low snaps all night. (Note - Nestor and I came up with these answers separately.)
ACHILLES: Jack and Jefferson.
Bellerophon: The entire defensive secondary: Ishmael Adams, Fabian Moreau, Anthony Jefferson, Randall Goforth all played huge on Thursday and, despite being the weakest link in the defense on paper, they really showed they can play in a tough environment.
5. Honorable Mentions?
IE Angel: Brett Hundley, Cassius Marsh, the secondary (Anthony Jefferson, Fabian Moreau, Ishmael Adams, Randall Goforth), Xavier Su'a-Filo.
DCBruins: The interception by Adams (or was it Jefferson) when he knocked it out of the Utes receiver hands, rolled and kept possession. That was the best play by the secondary which had a great game.
Nestor: Brett Hundley. Do I need to say more here given the posts I have blogged since Thursday night? :-)
UCLAluv: Moreau was really valuable. He seemed to be everywhere. The other backs who seemed to find the right spots to be in and were implementing the tip drill to perfection.
AHMB: I'm going to go outside the box here and say Brett Hundley. He held together a patch work offensive line, dealt with low snaps that often bounced before he got the ball all night, and fought back after a major error and won the game. He showed a lot of toughness and leadership.
ACHILLES: Ish Adams
Bellerophon: I know everyone wants to shower Hundley with love, but I wasn't that impressed with him against Utah. He played so-so and he made some really stupid plays (read: that pick-six gift to Utah). So, I think our entire LB corps deserves the nod here, along with Caleb Benenoch, who really did a great job having to fill in for the injured Torian White.
6. What we hope gets addressed against Cal next, next week?
IE Angel: Penalties. Seems to easy, but that is still an issue. Also, a quick start on both sides of the ball would be welcome.
DCBruins: Running Back rotation. James likely won't play. Not sure Thigpen should play and if so just to give him a feel to get him ready for the next big games. I don't like Manfro as a traditional running back. That only leaves Perkins and Malcolm Jones. I would like to see Malcolm Jones as the #2 back. He could have a future for UCLA as a short yardage back.
Nestor: Few things. First, anxious to see how the revamped OL performs against the Bears. Really hoping they can use Saturday to gel before the upcoming hellish roadtrip. Second, I'd like to see more consistent pressure from front-7 -- from the get-go. Third, hopefully Mazzone will show better ability to do in-game playcalling and personnel adjustments than we have seen in the first four games. Fourth, as mentioned before I'd like to see a full account from Mora on Hundley's health given the hit he took on Thursday night.
UCLAluv: See the bad above. But I think DC is correct. The right running backs don't seem to be in at the right time. Must I say it, Malcolm Jones needs to be in against powerful teams. MJ needs to be in against any team.
AHMB: I want to see the line play a good game. They're going to have to be good the rest of the season, and the staff will have a couple extra practices after last Thursday's game to get them ready for next weekend.
ACHILLES: Shore up the oline.
Bellerophon: I want to see the offense establish itself and dominate a very porous Cal defense. I want to see the running game establish itself and to see the carries spread out among Perkins (50%), Thigpen (25%), and Malcolm Jones (25%). What does that mean? It means Steven Manfro is on the bench unless it's special teams time. That's what I want to see.
7. The Extra Point.
IE Angel: Getting a 5-0 start (after a strong showing at Cal to avenge last year's embarrassment) headed into the toughest slate of any team in college football (at Stanford, at Oregon in consecutive weeks) is what we all wanted to see this year. It'll show whether this team has grown into a real contender for a National Title or if we'll keep winning Pac-12 South titles and going to the Alamo Bowl.
DCBruins: Hundley is the team MVP. He is amazing but the fact of the matter is the defense is the better unit.
Nestor: The similarity to 2001 season is a little scary. IIRC we also started 4-0 that season and had two games coming up. First, a game at the Rose Bowl against an atrocious Bears team (Tom Holmoe's last year), followed by a forgettable road trip to the Farm. Let's hope things work out the way it did against the Bears that year but then we have a different outcome v. the Trees.
UCLAluv: My friends that I went to the Cal game with last year were at the game. I am so glad that they had a better experience. The two little ones were crying last year (can you blame them)! This time I got a wonderful video of them jumping for joy!
AHMB: Most of the interceptions came off tips, but I do think that our secondary is improving every game. That has to do with their improvement, but I think there are two other key factors. First, Myles Jack has the ability to play the run and pass equally well, and he has solidified the linebacking corps. Second, the defensive line rotation is impressive. Our line can wear down opponents because there are so many fresh bodies capable of playing at a high level. If the secondary catches up to the first two levels of the defense, this squad could be scary.
Bellerophon: I'm hoping Myles Jack lays a few vicious hits this upcoming Saturday, just so I can keep yelling "that fool just got JACKED!" at my TV during games.
Feel free to fire away with your own answers!