Key to the Game: A Look Back at the Key Play from UCLA vs. California

Bob Stanton-US PRESSWIRE

The third installment in a series looking at the key play from each UCLA Pac-12 game from the 2012 season. This week looks at the Bruins' 43-17 loss to the Cal Bears.

Welcome to the low point of this series, at least for UCLA. Everyone who followed the Bruins this season knows what I'm talking about before reading any analysis. The massacre at Memorial Stadium. The bloodbath at Berkeley. Or just the Cal game. 43-17 loss. Dropped UCLA to 1-2 in Pac-12 play and 4-2 overall, which looked like a bad record heading into the actually difficult part of the Pac-12 schedule for UCLA.

There was not a worse way to follow a complete domination of Colorado from the week before. You knew going into this contest that it was going to be tougher than it looked on paper because UCLA hasn't won at Memorial Stadium since 1998 and won't have a chance to get that monkey off their back until 2014.

What people forget about this game, myself included, is that UCLA was ahead in this game 7-3 at the end of the first quarter. Everything looked to be going to plan. The defense was bending but not breaking, mostly because of a seemingly unsustainable number of broken plays turned into gains by the athleticism of Zach Maynard and his impeccable decision making against man-coverage. Cassius Marsh was visibly having his best game of the season early on (check out the pressure and hit at 31:50 in the video below).

Setup:

The offense was moving the ball fairly easily early on, involving a ton of different receivers and looking like they were just about to explode at any point. The 2nd quarter started with two drives being undone by an idiotic personal foul by Shaq Evans (seen at 26:53 bottom of the screen of Evans arbitrarily throwing a slap at the helmet of a Cal defender), a backwards lateral by Hundley to Devin Fuller that missed it's mark (see it at 37:52 on that bizarre looking stretch swing pass screen type of play that worked maybe one time the entire season), a missed 46-yard FG by Kai'mi Fairbairn, a especially costly muffed punt after Fabian Moreau got driven into Steven Manfro (no one wants to see that again, so no time will be listed), and the last drive ended with a Brett Hundley interception of the season in the endzone on a missed route by either Ricky Marvray or Shaquelle Evans.

After all of those bad plays, UCLA was still only down 16-7 at the half. The 3rd quarter can be summed up with an ugly UCLA drive, rare bad punt by Locke, a quick Cal TD pass, a Hundley to Joseph Fauria TD pass, a long Cal drive for another TD pass to Keenan Allen, traded failed drives, and a UCLA drive that looked promising, but ended with a Fairbairn FG.

That led to the early 4th quarter with the game still undecided with Cal leading 29-17, the Bruins' defense forced another turnover (Cassius Marsh beasting again seen at 1:52:10).

The ensuing drive is where the game truly ended in my eyes, though there are many debatable plays throughout this game. Following a 2-yard run by Johnathan Franklin on 1st down, UCLA faced a 2nd and 8 at their own 29-yard line with 12:13 remaining in the game.

Positioning and Execution:


(The play here starts at 1:53:40. Thanks to CalBearsArchive for uploading this entire game minus commercials. It was ugly to watch but the easiest video to move through of any game yet.)

Route Runners vs. Coverage:

Doing this a little different this week because the primary focus is on the pass rush for this play. The receivers and the defenders in coverage don't have a huge impact on the play, so I'm lumping everyone not pass blocking into this category.

Ricky Marvray, Joseph Fauria, Shaq Evans, and Jordan Payton are split wide on this play.

Payton and Marvray are at the top of the screen, with Marvray in the slot and Payton just outside of the numbers. It is pretty clear that Cal is playing a zone here on defense, as the corner on Payton faces the QB to start. There is no immediate coverage on Marvray but because the Bears are showing zone, a hot route can't be an option in this scenario.

On the bottom of the screen, Fauria is aligned in the slot with an OLB shaded towards him, who apparently the announcers say is a DE. Again, zone eliminates the chance of any hot route here to Fauria.

Evans is basically on the numbers, with a CB giving him about 6 yards of cushion prior to the snap before moving forward at the snap to try and confuse Hundley into thinking they switched to man coverage. Same deal is going on with Payton and the CB aligned with him. It isn't an overly convincing sell by either CB, but whether it had a positive or negative impact is irrelevant. There is also a single high safety in the middle of the field and a second safety marched up just behind the linebackers shaded towards Marvray's slot position, but creeping up to a semi-obvious blitz position (which will be significant moving forward).

Backfield/OL vs. DL/LBs:

This is where the meat of the activity is going on. The Cal defense was throwing multiple looks at UCLA for the entire game and this was yet another unique look. The defensive line is two down lineman and a stand up DE outside of Xavier Su'a-Filo at LT (I don't recall exactly how he ended up out there in this game, but he was there almost all of the second half that I rewatched).

The second level is an even more nontraditional look. Towards Fauria there is a LB/DE just outside of the hashmarks. The ILB on the play is in a normal alignment, but then there are two extra players in the box that look like DBs (I'm assuming that they are playing a similar nickel LB role to the Stan McKay, Dalton Hilliard spot).

The backfield is just a straight shotgun set, with Franklin offset to Hundley's right side. To be more detailed with the offensive line player-wise, XSF is at LT, Ben Wysocki at LG, Jacob Brendel at C, Jeff Baca at RG and Simon Goines at RT.

Analysis of Action during the play:

The play here turn out to be a sack that Hundley gets stripped on and loses a ton of yardage on, turning a 3rd and manageable into a 3rd and 28. What I'm going to breakdown on this play is how the Bears managed to get the sack on the play.

Route Runners vs. Coverage:

The play doesn't go on long enough here for any real analysis on the routes on this play, but I'll dish out what I see.

Payton appears to be running a 10-yard hitch at the top of the screen, but the CB to that side has the zone covered completely. No option for Hundley there.

Marvray's route is interesting because he runs about 5 yards and settles down without a defender in his immediate area. This is the best option on this play, from what I can see. The nickel LB to the top of the screen is in a deeper curl/flat type of zone. He has eyes on Marvray at the snap, but is bailing out to get more depth. The quick pass is there because the walked-up safety and ILB to that side end up blitzing.

Fauria and Evans both look to be running deeper routes, Evans especially. The CB to the bottom of the screen has any out route by Fauria taken care of while the previously mentioned nickel LB in coverage looks to be shaded towards Fauria's half of the field. The nickel LB to the other side drops into a zone in the middle of the field, but has a lot of ground to cover in order to get to Marvray and is shaded towards Fauria anyway.

To put everything simply here, Cal's pass defense is allowing short routes over the middle on this play because they are counting on rallying to the ball if that happens. It is a big risk play because if UCLA pass protects well, someone is going to be open. Zone coverage with 6 DBs against 5 receiving options is going to have some holes.

What complicates things more than anything else for the Bruins on offense is having a designed Franklin flare out on a swing instead of using an extra body in pass protection. The LB/DE that was over Fauria appears to have responsibility in the flats, so he follows Franklin out of the backfield. If Franklin stays in here, the 4 WRs have a good chance of finding an opening in the zone.

Backfield/OL vs. DL/LBs:

I'll start with Simon Goines on the right side, then move to the left side of the OL and across to the major action in the middle of the line.

Goines is just matched up with a DE outside of him. Very traditional pass rush. 1-on-1, no further threats or responsibility. He does a good job. Strong base, good hands. There was no threat of this DE doing anything but being blocked on the play.

The standup DE just tries a straight up speed rush to the outside of XSF. Defender does a nice job, actually getting off the ball and to the edge before XSF can set his feet to wall off the defender. You could tell that XSF was rusty playing tackle in this game, but he did an admirable job overall. Even on this play, he gets enough of the DE to allow Hundley to get the ball off normally despite getting beat on the play.

Ben Wysocki is the least important blocker on this play, oddly enough. The safety that was creeping towards the line of scrimmage blitzes to Wysocki's outside. Wysocki gets beat on the play, as the safety was a little too quick for him to handle. Wysocki's presence on the field does have an impact on this play though, which I'll get to briefly. The real action on this play happens up the middle with Jeff Baca and Jake Brendel.

Brendel is semi-covered on this play by the Cal noseguard (the replay at 1:54:18 from the endzone camera shows this setup much better than the full field view), the ILB is also leaning towards the line of scrimmage and he is the more natural threat to Brendel. This is because, as a center, if you have two uncovered guards in a pass blocking situation, you are going to help the weaker blocker.

Jeff Baca has no immediate pass rushing threat to his side besides the DE outside of Goines. He should be able to handle the noseguard without a problem. He does a decent job at getting position on the noseguard, but runs into a problem because of what Brendel does on the play and the blitz scheme that Cal has called.

The entire key to this one play is the ILB Nick Forbes. This is a brilliant blitz call by Cal's DC that just happened to be called against a pass blocking scheme incapable of blocking it. Forbes stutter steps towards the line instead of going full tilt instantly. This causes Jake Brendel and Ben Wysocki to hesitate, Wysocki has to pick up the safety while Brendel is left in limbo because he can't help Baca with the noseguard until Forbes is accounted for.

At the same time the noseguard has slanted inside. This creates the reason why there is a sack. By slanting inside, the noseguard creates a makeshift pick that occupies Brendel. Forbes then wraps around the right side of Baca, where there is no running back to pick him up and no Brendel because he got caught behind the noseguard and Baca. Hundley has absolutely nowhere to go. Forbes is on his back before Hundley can make a move to escape and strips the ball away.

Aftermath:

The ball ends up kicking back 10 yards before Wysocki falls on it at UCLA's 8-yard line. Like I said earlier, this play leads to a 3rd and 28 situation. Unless you happen to be Freddie Mitchell against the Packers, this isn't an easy to convert situation.

The Bruins would never threaten again, and after one more Brett Hundley interception on UCLA's next drive it seemed as though the defense quit on the game. The defense allowed more rushing yards in the final 6 minutes then they did in the rest on the game combined. A 12-point deficit caused mostly by turnovers turned into a 26-point beatdown by a team that was 1-4 before this game.

UCLA dropped to 4-2 after this game and 1-2 in Pac-12 play. After a 3-0 start to the season, UCLA had fallen from surprisingly successful team to the same old Bruins. Luckily, this game was the absolute low point of the season and the rest of the regular season was much more uplifting and exciting. The next game, for example, against Utah was one of the best defensive performances of the season by UCLA.

That is also the game I'll be covering next week in the 4th installment in this series. Until next week, thanks for reading everyone and Go Bruins.

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