I think it's fair to say that I tend to be one of the more objective bloggers on BN. I'm that way in life as well, it's easy for me to not overreact in the moment. I'm level headed.
This 38-33 loss to Arizona State was frustrating for me. I yelled a lot. I swore a lot, which I hate doing at a TV screen in a situation I have no control over. I was not objective in the moment.
1.) Is our defense prepared for each and every team we play?
Not even a little bit out of the gate, but definitely in the second half.
ASU had just 85 yards in the 2nd half on 27 plays (3.14 yards per play). That is absolute dominance and it looked that way.
But you know what ASU did in the first half? 352 yards on 50 plays. That is 7.04 yards per play. That is a sieve and it also looked that way.
I'm willing to overlook the fact that Myles Jack, UCLA's second leading tackler coming into the game, did not play a single defensive snap despite being healthy and only play around 35 snaps of offense. That was UCLA's gameplan. To trust the depth at OLB to overcome Jack's absence because the offense needed him.
I get it. I don't agree with it, but I get it.
Honestly, after watching it back again. Aaron Wallace and Kenny Orjioke did not play poorly. They carried out their assignments more often than not and didn't allow any big plays. Where Jack was missed was on his ability to make up for other player's and his own mistakes through sheer instincts and athleticism. There were a lot of mistakes to make up for in the 1st half.
The inside linebackers played terrible in the first half. Both Jordan Zumwalt and Eric Kendricks were getting caught up inside on read option plays and making Taylor Kelly's job so easy. At first glance, it looks like Anthony Barr or whoever the read guy outside may be is getting fooled by pursuing the RB inside. But that is how UCLA plays the read option. They trust Kendricks and Zumwalt to scrape outside and make plays on the QB on the edge. They didn't do that in the first half and missed quite a few tackles on Kelly.
Kelly ran for -3 yards total the last two games. In just the first half of this game, he ran for 84.
If just one of those two LBs play a decent 1st half, ASU might only score 2 offensive TDs instead of 4.
The secondary did a decent job overall. ASU was averaging around 295 yards per game passing and threw for just 225. There were breakdowns, but considering that Randal Goforth got thrown in at corner for most of the game, they did well against a good QB in Kelly.
Defense has to be praised for a dominant second half, but penalized for a terrible first half. C (2.0)
2.) Do we call offensive plays to catch our opponents off guard?
1. Failure to wear proper equipment on Randal Goforth and Darius Bell. This was 100% on the coaching staff for not being aware of both players being on the field at the same time. Just a lazy job there. I'm sure there is a specific coach in charge of that on the sideline who just didn't do his job. Negated a nice return by Goforth, but the bobbled snap, fumble and Anthony Barr fumble recovery happened on the re-punt. So this was a net positive, but unnecessary.
2. Holding on Alex Redmond turned a 2nd and 9 from the 9 to a 2nd and 19. Luckily, the Hundley to Shaq Evans TD pass happened on the next play, so this penalty also wasn't a huge deal in the grand scheme of things.
3. First play of a drive in the 4th quarter after UCLA's defense got ASU off the field quickly and the score was 38-33. Caleb Benenoch jumps forward and is called for a false start. Puts UCLA behind the 8-ball in a 1st and 15. UCLA overcame this initially but the drive ended with a 37-yard FG miss.
So penalties were basically a non factor in the game for 59 minutes of the game for both teams. Very well officiated game on both sides, I will give credit to the Pac-12 refs in this game for a job well done.
Then this happened.
4. Holding by Alex Redmond. Gave UCLA a 1st and 20 on the final drive of the game.
5/5a. Holding by Scott Quessenberry and illegal man downfield on Jacob Brendel on the same play. Negated a big reception by Grayson Mazzone (would have been his last as a UCLA Bruin as he was injured on the play) that turned a 1st and 20 into a 2nd and very manageable. Instead, UCLA faced a 1st and 30 and the game was essentially over.
Maybe you could argue that the Redmond hold was iffy, or that UCLA was unlikely to score on that drive anyway. The point remains that the offensive line got undisciplined at the most critical moment in the game and did so three times in less than 15 seconds of game time.
On offense, the pas protection was just in shambles all game. I don't know what they saw scouting to make them think their protection schemes were going to work, but they didn't at all. ASU must have gotten pressure on Hundley around 20 times in around 40 designed pass plays. That's a failure rate of 50%. Not due to blitzes (though ASU's blitzes were very successful), just poor blocking and protection schemes.
There was one sack where Jacob Brendel was uncovered and decided to help Redmond with an average DT instead of Scott Quessenberry against Will Sutton. Who coached that up? There is no way that anyone needed help more than the 270 pound true freshman against a first round NFL draft pick.
Another sack where Myles Jack was in on a 2nd or 3rd and long. He totally whiffed on an outside rusher and Hundley had to step up before his drop was finished, losing the passing window where he had an open target to try and scramble. He slipped and got sacked again.
I could detail each of the 9 sacks, but no one wants to deal with that. This entire scheme just makes the passing offense more complicated than it needs to be. The route schemes are so basic and they take forever to develop. Why is this the plan with a patchwork offensive line? Run quick slants, use the seam and post routes down the field (like on that 42-yard TD to start the game). I wish I had All-22 angles to really analyze what is going on with the passing game. How can it look so quick and decisive in the second half and so disjointed for the first 30 minutes? I'm at a loss.
The defensive scheme may have worked fine if it was executed better. I don't agree with the move of Jack to offense full-time in this game, but it would have been fine on defense if a couple of very good players hadn't played terribly.
Special teams was good as always, just poor execution on a couple of FGs. The coverage and return units continue to impress with regularity.
Overall, this was less of a problem than execution, but still not a good day. Last week was a B here, this felt like a C (2.0).
4.) Do our players play for 60 G-D minutes every game?
The game-plan backfired 1000% on UCLA in this game to start with. They were thoroughly outclassed by Arizona State on offense and defense for 30 minutes. It would have been easy to come out in the 2nd half and continue that level of play, and a lot of people probably expected that. It was not a positive vibe after 2 quarters on BN.
But UCLA came out and beat Arizona State 20-3 in the second half and nearly pulled off a huge comeback against a team that computers have ranked in the top 10 in the nation.
That does not excuse how embarrassing the first half was at home on Senior Day in the Pac-12 South game of the year.
UCLA is not always well prepared or a team that executes well for the majority of a game from start to finish. But the Bruins do not give up on games. That should be a given in college football and any competitive atmosphere, but it has not been for the last decade.
I don't buy in to this coaching staff as an elite group that should be given the benefit of the doubt.
I do, however buy in to this coaching staff having the entire team bought in to what they are trying to do.
The players made a lot of mistakes in this game and the coaches made huge, glaring mistakes in this game and throughout Coach Mora's two years at UCLA.
I feel cool giving this area a B (3.0) for bringing me back off the edge in the second half.
5.) Do our players execute?
Third down execution is crucial for UCLA's success this year on both sides of the ball. Being towards the top in the country on both ends has helped UCLA overcome many struggles throughout the year. The defense bends, but tightens up and makes plays at critical moments. 3rd and 6 can turn into a 1st down easily when Brett Hundley tucks and runs for a first or finds an open Shaq Evans or Jordan Payton.
ASU went 5-13 on conversions (4-12 on 3rd, 1-2 on 4th). That's roughly normal for ASU, whose success is predicated on tempo and getting chunks of yards on 1st and 2nd down. Can't say that the defense did a great job here and also can't say they did a poor job. Just average.
UCLA's offense really struggled, going 5 of 15 on conversions (3-12 on 3rd, 2-3 on 4th). It is no coincidence that UCLA's most successful 3rd and 4th downs came during the big comeback in the 3rd/4th quarter. (near touchdown on a 14-yard pass to Mazzone, short conversion rush by Jack, a rush for 10 yards by Hundley to set up the 4th down 18-yard pass to Eddie Vanderdoes, 15-yard run by Hundley after escaping instant pressure). On UCLA's other 10 attempts, the only success was a 4th down conversion to Evans on a slant (wish that route was run more often).
Aside from the conversions the standouts in execution that stick out are the two missed FGs (37 and 39 yards) by Ka'imi Fairbairn. There was debate in the threads on the exact reasoning for the misses with merits on both sides. On the second miss, Sean Covington failed to spin the ball and had the laces facing Fairbairn, a big no-no on holding. But Fairbairn seemed to be iffy on his form regardless. Fairbairn has been money from under 40 yards as a Bruin, so these misses came as a huge surprise.
The return units on special teams were outstanding. The blocking was near flawless and Ishmael Adams made the first player miss routinely, which is key for a big return. Big props to them.
On offense, there were issues all around. The pick-six is tough to get a read on. It's definitely a designed swing because of how quick the decision is made, but there was some level of miscommunication by Caleb Benenoch. There is no way he is supposed to allow Carl Bradford to run upfield untouched into the throwing lane on a designed swing. Normal pass blocking, sure you let him run because he takes himself out of the play. But on a swing pass, the defender can't get that far upfield or the play gets broken up. Hundley also missed a wide open crossing route in the first half with just a flat-out bad throw. Overshot his man high by a long shot for what would have been easily a 25+ yard gain. He was near flawless in the 2nd half, but needed to be better in the 1st.
The pass blocking was absolutely awful once Simon Goines went down and Xavier Su'a-Filo had to move to left tackle. XSF vs. Will Sutton was being won by XSF in that first quarter. Will Sutton vs. every other lineman was not pretty. The interior line was embarrassed on film by ASU's blitz scheme and just 1-on-1 battles. Easily the worst game that Alex Redmond has played this year.
Run blocking was actually very good watching the game for a second time. Myles Jack and Paul Perkins were productive running the ball throughout the game. Neither was tackled for a loss on 24 carries. That's impressive. Question is, how can a offensive line win the point of attack running the ball and get torn apart in pass protection? The ASU front-7 didn't switch.
Defensively, the inside linebackers were dreadful in pass coverage and the run game. It was worse watching it back on tape. Easily the worst combined game that I've seen from that group since Sean Westgate and Patrick Larimore went through their terrible slump at the same time in 2011. It was rough. They missed tackles, got fooled on playaction, got flat out beat on routes and were blocked far too easily. I expect better from Zumwalt and Kendricks.
Execution was a huge factor in this game. Will be one of the worst scores of the season here at a D+ (1.3).
6.) Do we have leaders on the field?
Final Grade Card for the Arizona State Sun Devils
1.) Is our defense prepared for each and every team we play? C (2.0)
2.) Do we call offensive plays to catch our opponents off guard? D+ (1.3)
3.) Do our players look like they know what they should be doing at all times? C (2.0)
4.) Do our players play for 60 G-D minutes every game? B (3.0)
5.) Do our players execute? D+ (1.3)
6.) Do we have leaders on the field? C- (1.7)
Arizona State GPA: C- (1.9)
For reference, last week's win over Washington came out to a 3.1 GPA and the victories over Nebraska, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico State, UC Berkeley, Utah and Colorado and losses to Stanford and Oregon were a 3.7, a 3.6, a 3.1, a 2.8, another 2.8, 2.9, 2.5, 2.0 and 2.0 respectively.
It isn't that reassuring, but UCLA has avoided putting up a total stinker of a game this season. This loss eliminated UCLA from any chance at a Pac-12 Title. This upcoming game against Southern Cal is a must win for UCLA and, perhaps more importantly, for Jim Mora.
If UCLA wins the next two games and finishes 10-3 with losses to 3 borderline top 10 teams, there isn't going to be a ton of disappointment around this season. Lose to Southern Cal and the fanbase isn't going to be real pleased with this staff.
Until next week, Go Bruins!