Welcome back everyone. This is the second in a series of posts breaking down the key to the game for each of UCLA's Pac-12 games this season. Last week, we took a look at the pivotal screen pass to Brandin Cooks that turned into a 46-yard reception taken down to the goal line en route to a Bruin defeat. That was basically a perfect playcall against a defense that was a little overaggressive and over reliant on press-man coverage in the secondary. The end result was UCLA ending up with their first loss of the year (3-1 overall) and a 0-1 start in Pac-12 play.
The same problem would not be present in Boulder against the Buffaloes. This game was pretty much a foregone conclusion unless UCLA absolutely tanked like they did against Cal (wait until next week).
On defense, the Bruins were too much for Jordan Webb and Colorado's offensive line. The Bruins racked up 11 TFLs, 4 sacks, just north of 300 yards allowed, an interception, a fumble recovery and several other close calls on potential turnovers. There isn't any one play that stands out more than the others defensively because it was essentially a beatdown from the first snap until the starters left the game.
The offense had similarly smooth sailing on the whole, but faced some struggles in the early going with a fumble from Brett Hundley and another drive-ending sack. The highlights were a beautiful pass from Hundley to Darius Bell for a TD and a dominant 9 play, 87-yard drive. UCLA clearly had the advantage physically and was working to realize that physical edge.
The score late in the second quarter was not indicative of what was going on during play on the field. Despite the clear divide in talent, speed and physicality, the Bruins were only leading by one score at 14-7. In games against less talented opponents, the longer that the window of opportunity is open, the bigger the chance is that the opponent is going to take advantage of the moment. All that UCLA needed to do was create a gap of more than one score and it was unlikely that Colorado would be able to create enough offense to get back into the game. Especially with how well the Bruins' defense was playing.
To their credit, the defense had just forced a three-and-out followed by a big 20-yard punt return by Steven Manfro to give the Bruins' offense excellent field position at the Colorado 43-yard line.
The drive got off to a lackluster start with a false start from Simon Goines, but quickly became promising. Back-to-back big plays on an 8-yard run by Johnathan Franklin and a 10-yard reception by Jerry Johnson put the Bruins in scoring range. Another catch and run by JetSki for 28-yards looked to be a for-sure touchdown, but he was knocked out of bounds at the 1-yard line, setting up a key 1st and Goal for the Bruins.
Positioning and Execution:
(The play here starts at 1:55. Thanks to puntingiswinning for uploading this. It is unbelievably hard to find good video of these games so I am very grateful.)
OL/DL & LBs:
What you have here is a little unusual for a goal-line type of play. The Bruins just line up with 5 offensive linemen. No tight ends. No random defensive players in the game. Just a 3-WR set with a fullback and tailback.
The Buffaloes respond to this by bringing an extra player down into the box and playing a 4-4 defense. Two DTs in the A-gaps, two DEs lined up outside eye of the tackles, two ILBs in pretty standard position at 5-yards deep and two OLBs (one of whom I believe is actually a stand-up DE, but that has no bearing on the play) showing blitz from both edges. This is not a defensive set that is hiding much. Colorado is banking on the Bruins trying to pound the ball in between the tackles with Franklin. As I remember, this is the style in which Colorado played the majority of the game.
As I said earlier, the Bruins are aligned in a 3-WR set. Two receivers down to the left side of the screen and one spread out wide as can be to the right at the top of the screen. What's interesting here are the players in the formation. Darius Bell is lined up in the slot. He had taken a lot of Joseph Fauria's snaps in the early going of the season due to struggles by Joe, so this wasn't surprising. Flanked outside of him was Jordan Payton, whose playing time was bumped up by the injury suffered to Devin Lucien earlier in the game. Finally, split wide to the right is Jerry Rice Jr., who I trumpeted as UCLA's best blocking receiver for quite some time. This was his best game as a Bruin with 3 catches for 30 yards and a lot of snaps overall. Just going out of my way to wish him all the best at UNLV and show appreciation for the work he put in as a Bruin.
The Buffaloes counter this look by going straight man-to-man on all 3 receivers. This again shows that Colorado is banking on UCLA running the ball up the middle on this play because the 3 corners are the only DBs on the field.
UCLA is in a confusing looking formation here, which is why I've designated a section specifically for this part of the play with no defensive counterpart.
First off, this is a shotgun, 2-back set with Brett Hundley lining up four yards behind Jake Brendel. On looks alone, the first question someone might have is why David Allen is in a 3-point stance just in front of Brett Hundley to the right while Franklin is a yard behind the pair to the left. I'll do my best to explain that formation here.
To the defense, David Allen is essentially just an extra offensive lineman to pick up one of the two blitzing OLBs. There is no way he can get the ball on this play and be a threat unless it is on a pass out of the backfield. The key to the play for Colorado is Franklin. His first two steps are the key to the defense's reads, especially to those two OLBs showing blitz.
That last thought will be a key to remember moving forward.
Analysis of Action during the play:
If you hadn't guessed already, this play results in a TD by UCLA. I'm not going to give away the actual result of the play here because it will ruin the experience of seeing it unfold. To be honest, this is the only play that I remember from this game outside of a TD by Jordon James. The fact that I got to analyze this specific play by coincidence is just an added bonus.
Anyway, let's get into the play so I can break it down for you all.
OL/DL & LBs:
I'm just going to take this block by block here to give each OL his individual credit on the play. For this group, I'd recommend watching the replays at 2:15 in the video, as well as the endzone angle immediately afterwards. Much better angles for the OL's blocks.
Goines' first step is lateral to the right here and he proceeds to try and turn the DE outside, doing a solid job. There isn't anything phenomenal or dominating by Goines on this play, just a good block. The only criticism would be one that I've always had on Goines and that is that he plays way too tall, would like to see more bend in his form. He also does a nice job (perhaps unintentionally) by cutting off the direct angle of the unblocked OLB to the right side. This is enough to make him a nonfactor in the play.
Jeff Baca/Jacob Brendel:
I list these two together because they combo block here, so they are essentially one player on this play. A combo block is more easily seen as double-teaming, but it is more complex than that. To put it simply, two players are responsible for one player on the line of scrimmage and another player on the second level. This will be easier to grasp while going along with the play,
Baca and Brendel are responsible for the DT to the right side of the formation, as well as the first LB to show up in either the A-gap or B-gap. At the snap, the two engage with the DT and get a solid amount of push. As the ILB to the right side reads the play and comes downhill to make a play, Baca scrapes off of the double team and blocks the crashing LB. Once Baca leaves, likely giving a verbal cue of some kind, Brendel is solely responsible for the DT. Both players do an above average job on the play. Good leverage, which coincides with one of my favorite parts of Brendel's game. He comes out of his stance so quickly after the snap, a key to being a center that primarily snaps shotgun. Baca is an NFL lineman, so this is a routine block for him that he makes look routine.
XSF's job on this play is to make sure that the DT to his inside doesn't get into the backfield. This is normally a simple block, but because Brendel is clearing out to the right to block the opposite DT, it becomes exponentially more difficult. There is really only one option here for XSF, and that is to cut-block the DT. The key to a good cut-block, in my opinion, is to get off the ball quickly and with good bend in your stance. There is no easier block to avoid than a bad cut, if XSF comes out of his stance tall like Goines does, this play gets blown up. If he is a half beat late on the snap he still probably gets the block, but the DT is a much bigger threat to disrupt the action in the backfield.
It just so happens that XSF is one of the best OL in the Pac-12, so he handles this block like a champ. Does he cheat a little bit by grabbing a hold of the DT's leg on the way down? Sure. But that is what goes on every play in the trenches. The job by the middle three players in the play are more important than the two tackles, which seems bizarre given what happens in the backfield on the play. We'll get to all of that briefly though.
Last but not least, we have young Torian White who is most likely responsible for the B-gap. The twist here is that the LB in the B-gap is way too deep to have an impact on the play and, in addition, takes too long to react to his read. What I see here is White doing a good on-the-fly switch by getting a body on the DE lined up outside of him. It is the worst looking block of any OL on the play, but it takes care of the job. My critique would be that White is reaching out with his arms at contact instead of getting his feet underneath him. I was guilty of the same thing a lot while I was a TE. The blessing of longer than average arms can be a curse as well. Very difficult to correct. That's why that DE is able to stand up White here, but Torian does a good job of holding his ground.
All in all, this is a great job by the OL. Even on a TD, there are places to improve and that is true of every level of football.
The WR and DBs have almost no impact on this play, but I'll address each briefly.
The most insignificant part of the play is the CB split wide to the right side on Rice Jr. No chance of doing anything and Rice makes even more sure of that by breaking to the outside on his dummy route and turning the CBs head towards the opposite sideline.
Jordan Payton is split wide to the left and just stock blocks his CB for maybe a second. He is peeking in the whole play, which he shouldn't be doing, but it is hard to resist looking in at what Hundley and Franklin pull off on this play.
The only DB that could have made a play on this TD was the one in man coverage on Darius Bell in the slot inside of Payton. Bell takes the corner out of the play by running a passable bubble route to the outside. The corner has to commit to that route and creates additional space from the slot to the offensive tackle.
For the outside part of this play, it was well designed by Noel Mazzone, well coached by Eric Yarber and well executed by the WR core.
The design here is a zone read. I'm sure that you all have watched the play by now, so you know the outcome. I'm just going to take it player by player in ascending responsibility for the end result of the play.
As I said earlier, Allen is a blocker on this play. At the snap, he breaks from the right of Hundley to the left side towards the OLB crashing behind Torian White. By crossing in front of the QB/HB exchange, Allen delays the read of the two ILBs that I talked about earlier. This puts the pressure of keeping the Bruins out of the endzone on the shoulders of the DL and crashing OLBs. It looks like Allen whiffs on this block, but that OLB should be unblocked on a zone read so that Hundley can make the decision of whether to keep the ball or give it to Franklin. If you pause the video at 2:00 or at 2:16 from the other angle, you see Allen is in great position to make this block, but pulls back at the last second. That has to be designed into the play. Oddly enough, Allen is probably the 3rd player on the offense to realize that someone has scored. The first is Hundley, the second is Jordan Payton who was watching the whole thing unfold while blocking and Allen was closely followed by Bell. I think Allen did his job on the play, though we all miss out on a hell of a collision with that crashing OLB.
Franklin sells getting the ball on this zone read hardcore. He ends up getting tackled by three guys, which is always a mark of pride for a running back running without the ball. There isn't much more praise that can be heaped on the season that Franklin had in 2012. This play is one that he got no publicity for, but helped seal a win as much as his run against Southern Cal did.
If you hadn't figured it out by now, Hundley scores on this play. A 1-yard keeper on a zone read. The key here is his read on the crashing OLB on the left side. The player is committed instantly to making a play on Franklin inside. That OLB has made up his mind about what the play is and, in his mind, he is about to get a TFL on a goal line stand. He was very wrong. Hundley sees this unfold and also sees that Allen is in position to screen the OLB away from the play if Hundley keeps and he takes the ball into the endzone for a 21-7 lead going into the half.
After going up by 14, UCLA and Colorado would trade possessions until the end of the third quarter, where UCLA rattled off 21 more points in around 6 minutes of play to turn a win into a blowout.
There was no real chance that UCLA was going to lose this game, but this play clinched that fact by putting the pressure completely on the lackluster offense of the Buffaloes and out of the hands of random acts by the football gods.
This key play serves a great example of the athleticism and smarts of Hundley, a reminder of how good the young offensive lineman could be at times last year and of why Colorado's defense was so bad last season. Next week we'll take a look at the debacle against the Cal Bears.