With the first week of Fall Camp almost over, it seems odd to be writing about the 2012 season. But if there is any game that can distract from the excitement in San Bernardino, it's the game against Lane Kiffen's Trojans.
After wins over Utah, both Arizona schools and Washington State, UCLA had just one hurdle left to clear for a successful first season under Jim Mora. Beat Southern Cal and the Bruins would win the Pac-12 South, get a semblance of revenge for the 50-0 embarrassment of 2011 and give themselves a chance at a berth in the Rose Bowl.
The Trojans came into the Rose Bowl at 7-3 (5-3), this was their last Pac-12 game. Having beaten Arizona State after losing two straight to Oregon and Arizona, Southern Cal had as much control over their own season as the Bruins did. If they beat UCLA, they were guaranteed a spot in the Pac-12 title game.
Needless to say, on a rainy day in Pasadena, the crosstown rivalry had a little more meaning than just what color the Liberty Bell would be painted.
The game couldn't have started off much better for the Bruins. Matt Barkley got picked off by Aaron Hester on their first possession and UCLA would build up a 24-0 lead on touchdown runs by Brett Hundley and Johnathan Franklin, a FG by Fairbairn and a touchdown pass to Joseph Fauria. Southern Cal would score on two touchdown passes by Barkley to wrap up the first half at 24-14.
The second half started out on the other extreme for UCLA, with a ridiculously bad and unlucky fumble by UCLA resulting in a recovered fumble in the endzone, closing the gap to 24-20 after a missed extra point. A drive by UCLA closed with a 3-yard touchdown run by Hundley, giving UCLA an 11-point lead to start the fourth quarter.
The fourth quarter started with a drive for the Trojans ending in an interception by Eric Kendricks and was followed by a Bruins' drive that went nowhere. The Trojans needed a big play to have a chance at pulling off a comeback. They got one from Marqise Lee (who had been masterfully contained up to this point in the game by the UCLA secondary, notably Aaron Hester) on a 3rd and 10 going for 39 yards. A big 14-yard run by Curtis McNeal followed and after that, Marqise Lee got open again for a 14-yard TD pass to make the game 31-26. Southern Cal successful converted their 2-point attempt on an absurd catch by Robert Woods (seriously, it's the play before the play I break down in the video, check it out).
31-28 with 7:22 left in the 4th quarter. UCLA ball. The UCLA offense hadn't moved the ball great in the second half, but needed to move the ball desperately. An 18-yard catch by Shaquelle Evans, a 10-yard run by Franklin and a 9-yard run by Hundley got the drive off to an exceptional start on the first three plays. A 2-yard run by Franklin got the first down at the USC 44. An incompletion to Jerry Johnson and a 3-yard loss by Jordon James (why on Earth was this carry not given to Franklin? And it was a bad play in general.) put UCLA in a tough 3rd-and-13 at the USC 47.
Positioning and Execution:
(The play here starts at 2:42. Thanks to puntingiswinning for uploading this.)
O-Line vs. Pass Rush:
The Trojans are in a 4-down front with 3 linebackers. A very odd way to attack a 4-WR look, but I'll get into that later.
Southern Cal was showing blitz heavily. Over Simon Goines, there was Morgan Breslin at DE inside-eye and an OLB on the line of scrimmage outside-eye. He was definitely going to need some help.
Jeff Baca did have a much easier look with a DT head-up. The Trojans middle linebacker was walked up over Jake Brendel in the middle of the field, but he was the sole uncovered lineman.
The left side has a more traditional look with the DT and DE both to the outside-eye of XSF and Torian White. Dion Bailey was outside of the DE, but was just there for show and was pretty clearly going to be dropping into coverage in some capacity.
The most interesting thing to note would be the set-up of the Trojans on the right side of the offense. It's not normal to have the DE and DT so close together unless there is going to be a stunt of some kind. Monte Kiffin used to do this every once in a while with Warren Sapp and Simeon Rice in his Tampa Bay days, to the left side of offenses. Coach Mora and Coach Lou Spanos have been around for the evolution of the Tampa 2 defense, so they would recognize this look.
WR/Backfield vs. Coverage:
UCLA is in a shotgun set here with 4 wide receivers, 2 to each side of the formation.
Shaq Evans is split wide to the right, with Devin Fuller in the slot.
On the left side, Jerry Johnson is the split wide almost on the numbers. Joseph Fauria is unusually close to the offensive lineman for being in the slot. The ball is on the right hash and Fauria is only a yard or so from the middle of the field. That is what creates the deceptive look of Dion Bailey seeming like a pass rushing threat.
In the backfield, Hundley is in shotgun, with Franklin lined up to his left side. Pretty basic setup there.
The Trojans counter this look with cornerback lined up on the two widest recievers. Shaq Evans is looking a press coverage. On the other side, the corner on Jerry Johnson is giving up more space with about 5 yards of cushion at the snap, Also, at the snap, you can tell that this will be zone coverage 90% of the time. The corner to Johnson's side is turned completely sideways towards the ball. This can be confused with the man look to the right side, but the combination of a 4-3 defense against 4 WR along with one CB turned completely inside makes it clear.
The Trojan safeties help with this read as well. T.J. McDonald is walked up towards the box at about 7 yards deep. He's over the top of Fuller in the slot.
The other safety is in the middle of the field, shaded towards the left side of the offense. But he is right in the center, clearly responsible for a deep third or deep half or potentially a single high. Clearly going to be in a zone before the snap though.
Analysis of Action during the play:
Obviously, this play ends up being a pass play. UCLA needed a conversion and this was actually a pretty low risk situation, barring a turnover. If you don't convert, then the best punter in college football pins Southern Cal inside their 20. Forces them to go the length of the field to score.
O-Line vs. Pass Rush:
The stunt here by the Trojans is a good attempt and they do get some pressure on it. I'll work from right to left across the defense.
Simon Goines/Jeff Baca/Jake Brendel:
This is the first time that I've grouped 3 players together in one of these breakdowns, but these are the three players whose gaps are being attacked by the stunt.
The OLB attacks outside of Goines. He doesn't do much of a pass rush here, so it ends up being an easy assignment for Goines. No qualms about his performace.
The DT does the same thing to Baca, trying to attack him to the outside. Both Baca and Goines do a nice job of sealing their threats to the outside, creating a nice passing lane in the middle of the field for Hundley. Baca handles the DT with little difficulty.
The two rushes to the outside were obviously to set up a 1-on-1 for Morgan Breslin while he is moving. One of the best pass rushers in the conference against a freshman center, albeit a very talented one.
Brendel gets a read of the defense quickly and is in great position when Breslin comes down to the A-gap. He handles Breslin at the point of contact, but does start to get driven backwards as the play progresses. You have to give Brendel props for eliminating Breslin from the play and foiling this stunt by the Trojans.
These three lineman all do a great job controlling the stunt by the defense.
XSF has a 1-on-1 matchup with the defensive tackle to his side. This isn't the best block of Xavier's season, but he does a decent job. At the snap, he's in solid position and doesn't give up the inside gap. The DT eventually gets a little separation to the outside, but XSF closes the gap thanks to a very good job to the outside of him by White.
The defensive end is outside here and all White has to do is keep him out there without giving up the edge. He gets helped out with a big chip by Franklin while Johnathan releases on his route.
Overall, the offensive line does a well above-average job here. Can't criticize anyone of them for technique or performance here. Protected Hundley, gave him two excellent throwing lanes and a clearly visible pocket to throw from.
WRs/Backfield vs. Coverage:
This is normally a Tampa 2 situation for Southern Cal and any Tampa 2 defense. The premise of the Tampa 2 is to create pressure with just the front 4 of a defense. It works to perfection if you have strong pass rushers across the board on the line. Once you bring an extra rusher, you mess with the responsibilities of the coverage unit. This isn't a big deal for defensive backs in the system because they're still DBs. Changing coverages isn't something that should slow down corners and safeties. Where it becomes an issue is for the linebackers, specifically for the middle linebacker. But I'll get to that later.
At the top of the screen, Evans is running a deep route, looks to be just a streak down the sideline to clearout the deep coverage. This is where Hundley looks for his first read. The corner lined up in press stays with him the entire play. For a traditional coverage on a zone blitz, the two outside corners can't get beat deep. They aren't necessarily covering a deep half or third, they just can't let the receiver behind them. Deeper than the deepest. I heard that far too many times over the years. It'll never get out.
The corner does a good job though and Evans gets no separation. I would have more confidence in the Trojans defense if Nickell Robey was still there. Why he declared for the draft is a mystery to me still.
Devin Fuller in the slot just runs a 5-yard curl. Not a particularly well-run route effort wise. T.J. McDonald comes up as the underneath defender to the top of the screen. He probably settled a little too early on the route, creating extra space downfield for the real threat. If he backpedals two steps instead of staying put, the chance of this completion happening dramatically reduces. This was Hundley's second read on the play, but only because he can see the coverage there as he is looking at Evans. Complimentary routes get complimentary reads.
On the bottom of the screen, Jerry Johnson is likely running a seam route. He runs a good route but gets covered up by Dion Bailey's zone drop to the curl area. The corner gives up inside position in his drop because he knows he has help to the inside. This is probably where Hundley looks to go with the ball as his last option. It'd be a risky throw though and would take a little longer to develop than the decision he ends up making.
I can't see the safety in the middle of the field, but it is safe to assume that he was not going to get beat deep. The decision of Hundley on the deeper route is dependent on if that safety shades toward Johnson's deep route or Evans'. He ends up towards
In the backfield, Franklin flares out to chip on the defensive end and becomes a dump-off option for Hundley. If he had needed to throw there as a final option, Franklin has a chance at a first down. He'd have to break a tackle by Bailey and probably the Mike backer, but he'd been doing that the entire game. I'll tie this route back into the story at the end of the play.
This leads us to the really interesting part of the play. Joseph Fauria in the tight slot to the bottom of the screen comes off the ball cleanly. Bailey doesn't get hands on him at the line of scrimmage and he is able to slip in between him and the Mike backer. Fauria then presses his route vertical to get past the first down marker. At about 8 yards, he breaks across the back of the Mike backer. This move gets him to the soft spot of the underneath zone in between McDonald and the Mike backer.
The reason why this soft was created is a combination of things. The biggest one is the decision of the Mike. #55 is Lamar Dawson. Dawson played MIke in a Tampa 2 defense. That means that on almost every single pass play, his job is to drop deep middle. If this were a traditional Cover 2 play, he'd be dropping deeper and this play doesn't happen the same way. But because this is a zone blitz, the linebackers lose a man to the pass rush, complicating Dawson's responsibility on the play.
He doesn't drop deep enough to begin with and, on top of that, he stops his backpedal and breaks a few steps forward to try and cover Franklin out of the backfield. That stop and then movement forward (2:45-2:47) makes this completion much easier.
In addition to Dawson's mistake, T.J. McDonald makes this throw possible by never moving. Look where McDonald is at 2:43 and a 2:47. He hasn't moved from where he started the play. An extremely savvy player might backpedal 2 to 3 steps and create space between himself and Fuller, tempting Hundley to hit the open player and trust him to get yards after the catch. McDonald does his job here, but makes it too easy on Hundley in my opinion.
Anyway, Fauria settles in between the defenders, Hundley steps up and makes a not great throw but a good enough one for Fauria to make a play. Big Joe goes down, gets his hands underneath the ball and brings it in for a 13-yard completion and a UCLA first down with just over 5 minutes left in the game.
UCLA would follow up this play with a 3-yard run by Franklin and a 29-yard run by Franklin for the touchdown, giving the Bruins a 38-28 lead. On the next Trojans possession, Southern Cal drove down to the UCLA 21-yard line before the sack heard around the world by Anthony Barr knocked Matt Barkley out of the game and ended his season. UCLA would run most of the time off of the clock on their next drive, with the score ending up in a 38-28 win over their crosstown rivals.
With this win, UCLA (9-2, 6-2 in Pac-12) secured a place in the Pac-12 Championship Game and their first 9-win season since 2005. Who exactly the Bruins would be playing in that game would be determined by their game the next week. In a very peculiar scheduling quirk, the final game of UCLA's regular season was against Stanford at the Rose Bowl. With a win over Stanford, UCLA was lined up for a game at Oregon (barring an extremely unlikely upset of the Ducks by Oregon State) and with a loss, UCLA was headed to Palo Alto for a rematch with the Cardinal.
We'll take a look at that matchup with Stanford next week in the 2nd to last installment in the Key to the Game series.