Grading out the finer details of UCLA's 42-12 victory over the Virginia Tech Hokies in the Sun Bowl to see if UCLA football is meeting expectations.
It seems like forever since I got to do one of these posts. The bowl process is pretty ridiculous when you give it serious thought. Almost 30 days in between games, and supposedly the bowl game is the most important of them all (definitely for BCS games, depends on the situation for others)? There is no other competitive sport that does such a drastic change of schedule, strictly for financial gains by the bowls and NCAA.
The Sun Bowl was well worth the wait though, with UCLA beat an 8-4 (now 8-5) Virginia Tech team soundly by a score of 42-12 to get UCLA's first 10 win season since 2005 (and, to be honest, the first legit 10 win season since the 90's).
Getting to listen to Verne Lundquist was an awesome change of pace, and I wish that UCLA had the SEC advantages that come with the CBS and ESPN hookups. Plus the vastly superior bowl tie-ins. Seriously, why is the Pac-12 not lined up against the SEC in any bowls? Ridiculous. The two best conferences should match up regularly.
Aside from that, it was a good day to be a fan of UCLA football. I hope the Eye Test is as good of a time, so let's get to the grades.
1.) Is our defense prepared for each and every team we play?
I'll preface this by restating that the Hokies offense is not good. By any measure, it is not a good offensive unit. So that fact slightly devalues any performance by the Bruins (even if they had shut out the Hokies, which is unrealistic).
Still, the Bruins defense balled out in this game. The only real flaws came on three plays in the first half, a 19-yard scramble by Logan Thomas, a 37-yard pass by Thomas (which was the single best throw any QB has made this bowl season I have seen, seriously) and a 25-yard run by Thomas that saw Myles Jack
attempt to tackle a ball carrier bigger than Anthony Barr by just running into his shoulder pads.
And then, just three plays later, Anthony Barr beat the left tackle on a pass rush, Thomas scrambled out of the back of the pocket and Jordan Zumwalt
Once Thomas was forced out of the game (props to Frank Beamer and VT's staff for not risking putting him back in the game), there was no way for the Hokies to expect to put together more than two scores.
In the end, UCLA allowed just 176 passing yards and 3.8 yards per carry on 38 rushing attempts. It was a good day for the Bruins defense, led by Zumwalt's best game of the year, Barr's pressure on the edge messing with the confidence of both quarterbacks (who combined to go 15-36 with 2 interceptions), the secondary playing sound team defense throughout and the defensive line being consistent in run gap responsibility and containing the pocket/generating pressure on passing downs. It was a team defensive effort and one of the best games of the year for this unit.
The second half was especially dominant, as the Bruins' defense only allowed one drive where VT had more than one first down. That one drive the Bruins still stopped VT, but Shaq Evans' fumbled punt gave VT the ball in the redzone, then UCLA stopped the Hokies again. Can't put any points on UCLA's defense that weren't created by an elite NFL throw by a QB who didn't make another throw close to that level in his 10 other attempts.
All around, great defensive effort. Can't find many flaws with how the defense played. Going with an A (4.0) here.
2.) Do we call offensive plays to catch our opponents off guard?
The offense, as was the case all season, had some tough stretches in this game. Looking at the raw numbers, it's a much better than average performance. 447 yards and 42 points against one of the best defenses in college football is outstanding on paper. More than twice as many yards as Alabama's offense put up on the same defense in week one.
The reality is a little less rosy though. 14 of those points were created almost entirely by the defense (Jack's TD return and Zumwalt interception return got UCLA to the 10-yard line) and the last TD was a deep ball (gorgeous as it was) with VT down 35-12.
did not have a great first half throwing the ball. It was fairly bad actually. He had missed throws, bad protection, drops, lots of bad things happened. Running the ball, however, he was near immaculate. Ran for 168 yards and 2 touchdowns, the vast majority reacting to a pass rush that was in his face most of the game (not anything unusual there).
By choice, or at least it seemed that way, he basically didn't try to run the ball in the 2nd half (actually lost 7 yards rushing on 4 attempts and two of those were sacks and another was a short scramble on a pass). His passing in the second half, however, was that of an NFL QB, which is a big part of what is frustrating about Brett in his time as a Bruin. He threw for 153 yards and 2 touchdowns (and also drew a pass interference call, props to Steven Manfro
as well) on 11 throws. He essentially had one incompletion in the 2nd half.
The rest of the running game was predictably atrocious against VT's front seven. UCLA had 17 carries from running backs for 2 or fewer yards. That doesn't count any rushes by either Brett Hundley or MIke Fafaul (who made a shockingly nice throw on a deep out to Logan Sweet
). That means there were 5 carries by running backs (or Myles Jack) that got 3+ yards. That's terrible, even against a great front line like Virginia Tech.
Overall, this wasn't a terrible day, especially considering the opponent. But not as good as the defense played. Go with a B- (2.7) here. An offense can't be built around a quarterback escaping a pass rush and running for 20 yards a pop and expect to win every game.
3.) Do our players look like they know what they should be doing at all times?
It really didn't seem like UCLA was penalized much in this game (it was a decently officiated game, in my opinion). But they ended up with 7 penalties for 70 yards (the Hokies had a startling 13 for 109, but UCLA got only 3 first downs as a result of penalties). In a 2013 UCLA Football season finale, I'll go through each one.
1. A holding call on a kickoff return that put UCLA at the 12 instead of the 22-yard line. The return game was pretty crappy all-around in this one, both punts and kickoffs, so this penalty kind of reflects the problems UCLA had on special teams.
2. Illegal procedure on the Bruins turns a 2nd and 10 into a 2nd and 15. Hundley ran for 18 yards on the next play, so this penalty had zero impact on the outcome or the drive in general.
3. Roughing the passer on Jordan Zumwalt. You can look at the clip above and go either way. I can see why they threw the flag, you won't get much protest from me. If Jordan does that in the NFL, it's a massive fine. This way it was just a first down and UCLA stopped VT anyway.
4. Offsides on the same drive as the Zumwalt hit. I don't remember who this was on (Vanderdoes maybe?). Regardless, the Hokies went nowhere on this drive. So, no impact.
5. Facemask that gave VT a first down (don't remember this play at all). It was a tackle for loss by Myles Jack, but I think that it wasn't on the tackle. 3 plays later, VT punted. So, again, no impact.
6. False start turned a 2nd and 9 into 2nd and 14. UCLA scored two plays later to go up 21-10. This was the best drive the offense had all game, don't feel like any penalty would have had an impact.
7. Facemask penalty on a kickoff return after UCLA went up 35-12. VT went nowhere on this drive, so this also was an inconsequential penalty.
Pretty easy to see why no one noticed penalties in this one. This is a perfect example of why penalties aren't a huge deal for a team. When your defense is getting stops on every drive, field position doesn't matter and neither do 15 yards once or twice a game. When a defense is a sieve, the penalties are disastrous.
Schematically, I loved what the defense did. Very simple but sound scheme. Didn't overthink how to perform against a bad offense or over-adjust the scheme when Logan Thomas left the game. Defense did their assignments and took care of business on almost every single snap.
Just one big play passing and that was much more due to that throw by Logan Thomas than the defensive scheme. Zumwalt dropped perfectly and Thomas threw a perfect strike just over his hand and in between a Bruin safety and corner closing on the route.
Offensively, there were far too many repeated attempts at running the inside zone play to the running backs. I would bet that the inside zone averaged around zero yards per play, certainly under 2 yards. It was clear after about 5 attempts that the interior line was not going to be able to handle VT's defensive tackles. Yet, the inside zone was still called throughout the game. It also took forever for UCLA to start exploiting the blitz happy VT defense with (shocking) slants behind the blitz and quicker routes to the edges. When UCLA did that, Hundley was a machine. Quick decisions and picking apart the Hokies. Noel Mazzone's play-calling and adjustments are baffling sometimes.
Special teams, one of the worst games of the year in the return game. Well below the average on punts and kickoffs. Everyone who returned looked shaky, as did the blocking on both. Punt and punt coverage were great as usual, credit there to Sean Covington
and crew. Kickoff coverage and the kickoffs by both Fairbairn and Covington were excellent as well.
Last game was an A- here, so a B+(3.3) feels right here.
4.) Do our players play for 60 G-D minutes every game?
Energy was here in this game. Could not have been a more stark contrast than the Holiday Bowl last season. The defense had to be charged up with Zumwalt flying around lighting Hokies up. The offense had problems at times, but the energy wasn't the problem. Can't go anywhere but an A (4.0) here.
5.) Do our players execute?
did not have a good start to the day. He missed a 36-yarder and hit a extra point off the upright (although it went through and was good). That's execution and he has to be better because the coaching staff is going to require that or his job is in jeopardy. I think he'll be okay moving forward, sophomore to junior year can be a big jump for kickers. But in this game, he could have cost the Bruins a close game, if not for the play of both offense and defense.
Defensively, I can't find a ton of issues. There weren't many missed tackles, aside from that tremendous run by Thomas. Not any big missed assignments that led to big plays. UCLA got two interceptions, 4 pass deflections and forced 15 rushing plays of two or less yards (about 6 rushes for no gain, which are essentially TFLs but not counted as such). It was a solid defensive game from an execution standpoint.
Exceptional day on third downs by the defense, VT went 3-17 on 3rd down. 14 failed conversions is something to hang your hat on. You'll win 95% of games where the opponent fails to convert 14 3rd downs.
Offensively, there were problems. The pass protection struggled picking up the 5-7 man rushes of the Hokies' defense, but Hundley was sacked just twice. No turnovers by the offense, though there was one pass that should have been intercepted.
The rushing was bad for almost every attempt, aside from Hundley's scrambles. The running backs were getting hit quickly on most carries, but they also made some poor decisions. On one carry in the first half, Paul Perkins
cut over the top of blocks instead of underneath and ended up losing a yard instead of gaining a couple. It ended up 3rd and 11 instead of 3rd and 7. Much tougher conversion that shouldn't have happened.
The passing game in the first half was a disaster. Drops, poor decision making, sailed throws, no-win route calls, total whiffs in pass protection, poorly run routes. No aspect deserves praise. It was difficult to watch and not think about all the points the offense was leaving on the board. Luckily, they total turned it around in the second half and looked phenomenal. But that first half existed.
One thing that deserves special praise is the blocking by the WRs, especially by Devin Fuller
and Shaq Evans on Hundley's 86-yard TD run. Coach Yarber has done some great things with that in his short time as the Bruins' WR coach.
The 3rd downs on offense were not great, going just 5 of 13. UCLA had 7 conversion attempts of 9 or more yards, which is a difficult down to convert. A lot of that can be attributed to the run game struggles on 1st and 2nd down.
Overall, the execution in this game was good but left a lot to be desired. Feel decent with a B+ (3.3).
6.) Do we have leaders on the field?
The seniors on defense. Just outstanding. Anthony Barr and Cassius Marsh
didn't have big statistical games, but played well throughout. Barr beat the Hokies left tackle at least 10 times in this game, but was never in position to get a sack. Barr was key in setting up lots of big plays throughout (Zumwalt's hit and Jack's pick six both started with Barr beating his man to force a broken play). Brandon Sermons
had a very productive and effective day at corner, and played a ton of snaps. Keenan Graham
got his 6th sack of the year, which tied for second on the team this season. Stan McKay
even flashed in the 4th quarter at safety.
Have to talk about Jordan Zumwalt though, the Co-MVP of the Sun Bowl. 10 tackles, an interception and about 4 hits that made the crowd and audience at home vocally react. He was impactful and definitely helped his draft stock moving forward. I'll miss watching all these seniors next year, and look forward to seeing some of them at the next level.
On offense, it was all Brett Hundley. Both of the tackles played pretty well, but without Hundley this might have been a one possession game for UCLA. Go or stay, I support Brett's decision and know that he'll make the right decision for himself. In this game, he overcame his problems and delivered one of the best running halves I've seen all year and then one of the his best passing performances in the second half. 4 TDs and 387 yards of offense. Enough said. He's the best on-field leader that UCLA has had since I've been closely following the program.
Going A (4.0) here.
Final Grade Card for the Virginia Tech Hokies
1.) Is our defense prepared for each and every team we play? A (4.0)
2.) Do we call offensive plays to catch our opponents off guard? B- (2.7)
3.) Do our players look like they know what they should be doing at all times? B+ (3.3)
4.) Do our players play for 60 G-D minutes every game? A (4.0)
5.) Do our players execute? B+ (3.3)
6.) Do we have leaders on the field? A (4.0)
Virginia Tech GPA: A- (3.6)
For reference, the win in the final regular season game over Southern Cal came out to a 3.9 GPA and the victories over Nebraska, Nevada, Arizona, Washington New Mexico State, UC Berkeley, Utah and Colorado and losses to Stanford, Oregon and Arizona State were a 3.7, a 3.6, a 3.1, a 3.1, a 2.8, another 2.8, 2.9, 2.5, 2.0, 2.0 and 1.9 respectively.
That grade feels right. Technically, that's a B+ in GPA terms; but I am giving UCLA a bump to an A- for the significance of getting to 10 wins. It's a big deal. I feel weird writing the last Eye Test for 9 months, From rewind through these games looking for missed blocking assignments and trying to figure out what safeties are doing off screen, all the way to just opening up 6 tabs worth of information and copy/pasting the questions and final grading sheet from the previous week's Eye Test. I'll especially miss all of your feedback. I started writing these at a tough time, I had just figured out I'd never play another snap of college football in my life. Huge void in my life and Nestor randomly asked in a comment thread if I wanted to write up the Eye Test for the Colorado game in 2011, then the terrible 0-50 game happened and I did that one. Then it became a regular thing in the 2012 season and went from there. Without your positive feedback (along with the grammar corrections and disagreements), I don't have any idea what I'd be doing with my spare time. I'm thankful you all gave me a positive outlet.
Anyway, the Eye Test is over until next season. Look forward to writing up after a decisive beatdown of Virginia, either after an impressive debut by Asiantii Woulard or a step towards the Heisman for Brett Hundley. Should be a fun, but long, offseason.