Going to be short and sweet here because this is the most content heavy Eye Test of the Year. Lots of words, details, obsevations, breakdowns and football stuff.
UCLA played Stanford on Saturday. They lost 24-10. They didn't score in the first half and finally allowed an opponent to score in the 3rd quarter. The offense produced basically nothing outside of the one very crisp touchdown drive in the third quarter. The defense played well again and has outperformed the offense by quite a bit on the season.
The Bruins basically switched spots with Stanford in the rankings because so many other teams lost. Everything after the top 4 is a mess, so no rankings can hold that much weight. Who's to say Fresno State couldn't hang with Miami after what the Hurricanes did against UNC. That kind of speculation is worthless right now, especially for the Bruins.
Jim Mora is still in search of a signature win as a college football coach. I don't count beating a depleted Southern Cal team at home or Arizona State on the road. Those are good wins, not wins that have any lasting impact on a program.
If Mora wants to take the next step as a coach, he needs to stop having his teams lay eggs on the national stage. Cal, Baylor and the first Stanford game last year were bad losses. The last two losses to Stanford have been closer, but it feels like the better team has won every time UCLA has played Stanford. That is not okay, long term or short term.
Let's get to the grades and put your reading glasses on because these are lengthy.
1.) Is our defense prepared for each and every team we play?
This is the only section where positive outweighs negative. So, if you want to feel better about Saturday, stop reading after this grade gets handed out.
Stanford came in averaging 404 yards per game and scoring 36 points per game. UCLA held them to 419 yards and 24 points. That might seem like just an average game, but that goes without recognizing the fact that Stanford ran 75 plays of offense. That is basically what Oregon does in a game with their offense. Against an up-tempo offense that makes sense, that is what you prepare for. But against a ground-and-pound, 60's NFL-style, power-I with 7 linemen in the game offense that is just an overwhelming amount of plays for a defense to defend against.
You might look at the box score and say, "Wow! Tyler Gaffney tore up the Bruins on the ground. They ran for almost 200 yards." I would say to that, "THEY RUSHED 50 FREAKING TIMES."
If you had told me that UCLA would hold the Cardinal under 4 yards per carry on the ground during my drive to the stadium, I would have guaranteed a win.
This game cannot be put on the defense. They held Stanford to 3 points in the first half despite being on the field for over 20 minutes. That's exceptional against any team, even an offense as un-explosive as the Cardinal's.
Somewhere to critique was that UCLA's secondary finally got beat down the field a few times. A missed sure-thing TD to Montgomery on the first possession was one. Several other big plays were in very obvious match-ups on big Stanford WRs against the 5'9" Ishamel Adams. Here is what I said in my offensive preview this week: "Stanford's WRs are big and Adams is not...he's been the most targeted corner this year...wouldn't expect that to change on Saturday with the size advantages on the edge."
Stanford's success in the passing game was predicated on this mismatch a great deal of the time. The ones that I saw: A play to Cajuste for a first down where Adams breaks outside in zone when he had no help inside, a 19-yard ball to Cajuste where Adams gets spun around with inside position allowing Cajuste to beat him over the middle, a play where Adams tackles Cajuste midroute and gets called for holding, 29-yard catch by Montgomery on Stanford's first drive where he just beats Adams, Kodi Whitfield's absolutely stunning 30-yard TD catch was on Adams,
Adams made up for some of this with his huge interception of Kevin Hogan, but it was probably his worst game of the year. That mismatch that was always present is something that could have been accounted for better during the game, but for the most part the secondary did a nice job and so did the defense as a whole. This grade is the best of any section in this game at an A- (3.7).
The defense deserved much better than what the offense gave them against Stanford.
2.) Do we call offensive plays to catch our opponents off guard?
(Warning: This is going to be a lengthy section with a great deal of criticism)
I normally start with raw numbers. But those are ugly enough that the box score tells the story. I'm just going to talk about the problems I have with this game, from my seat in the stands and especially from re-watching it on tape.
Three carries for 29 yards to start the game (a tough 4-yard gain, an explosive 17-yard run where he cuts hard and gets upfield on the edge and a 7-yard run ending in him trucking the hell out of a Stanford DB on the sideline). At this point everyone is thinking about how Noel Mazzone and Coach Broussard finally got the idea of how physical Malcolm runs and the different dimension he adds to the running game, especially against bigger defensive units like Stanford. Looked pretty promising right?
What happened from there? Malcolm gets taken out for Paul Perkins and does not touch the ball again until the third quarter (and then never again after the first drive). This is just unexcusable to me. It literally makes no sense to get that level of effectiveness from a player and take him out of the game. He ran 1 more play in the first half. Started the second half, played 9 plays in the second half and got 2 carries.
Couch Broussard and Mazzone need to answer for this. How can your most effective ball carrier plays less than 25 snaps? If Jordon James comes back (and I hope he does soon because the other backs look pretty pedestrian against good front-sevens), I am really worried that Malcolm might not be seen again.
The bread-and-butter of Mazzone's offense. It was extremely successful in this game when it was run (10-yard swing to Fuller, 8-yard swing to Perkins, 8-yard screen to Jordan Payton, screen to Devin Fuller for 2 yards, swing to Perkins for 1-yard that was 1-on-1 in space, 7-yard swing to Fuller, 6-yard swing to Thigpen, screen to Payton for 7 yards, no gain on a screen to Fuller with a great tackle in space)
Why did we go away from these? Or use them in such low volume? This is another game where Steven Manfro got no touches on the edges. Makes no sense to me.
The route concepts in the N-zone aren't complicated to cover (he sells this stuff online, not a tough gameplan for a DC to grasp). In this game, there were so many streaks from the inside guys with curls on the outside, why do this without a check down?
Brett scrambling is not the same as dumping off to Perkins or Manfro if the quick curl isn't there. On the only scoring drive for UCLA (the TD drive in the 3rd/4th quarter), the offense operated on 3 intermediate routes, a swing route to a RB and a designed check down to Payton for 7-yards. No other drives used the intermediate routes or the swing game in unison. That is why no other drive was successful. Not going back to this success cost UCLA a chance at tying up this game at the end and kept UCLA from ever being effective on offense throughout the game.
Intermediate passing game
The passing game looks totally devoid of any route concepts utilizing the intermediate range throws that Brett Hundley has excelled at for his career at UCLA. A sensational piece that shows just that can be seen here, so I don't know what the moronic ESPN announcers are watching. Last year Brett completed over 70% of passes from 15-19 yards. That number seems pretty close to where he's been this season as well. He is unbelievably accurate and has great ball placement skills in that range.
But in this game?
In this game there were a grand total of 6 passes at this range. One where Grayson Mazzone was open but didn't stop his route and settle in space, a 16-yard completion on a crossing route to Shaq Evans, 14-yard out to Jordan Payton from the opposite hash (NFL throw that not many college QBs can attempt), a back shoulder ball to Devin Fuller on the sideline for 16-yards, throw to Thomas Duarte where he slips and falls turning on his route (would have been a first down, turns out being an interception) and the deep comeback to Devin Lucien in garbage time that went for 26 yards.
A fluky interception and a bad route, both of which would have been completions. Other than that Brett hit on 100% of these passes for 72 yards. Why is this not a bigger part of the offensive scheme? Not having Darius Bell hurt a lot more than I realized in this game. He excels in this range and has all year. Duarte isn't quite as sharp as Bell yet, though he may be by December.
The only play where I noticed routes working together to create space outside of the traditional N-zone routes was on the Evans TD catch. Natural pick designed by an out route from the slot guy. Teams at every level of football do that. Why doesn't Mazzone? I am not sure.
Part of that lies with Hundley, who actually looked much better on tape than at first glance, not his best game but not nearly as bad as Cal last year. The majority of blame is within this offensive scheme that I am really afraid has no ceiling higher than what we saw last year. Just not acceptable to mismanage strengths like this. QB excels in quick decisions on swings and screens and in the 15-20 yard range of throws; but the majority of routes are either 5-10 yard curls and outs or deep balls on the sideline, which is a throw that Tom Brady struggles with and is inherently a low percentage pass.
I cannot stand coaches in any sport that are married to a scheme instead of to personnel. You should maximize the talent given to you as a coach, not fit them into your offense. Oregon does this, they finally recruited a QB who can make all the throws and they let him. That offense did not have the vertical threat they do now when Dennis Dixon and Jeremiah Masoli were running things. You make adjustments, you expand the scheme. Build to your strengths.
Noel Mazzone, Steve Broussard and Taylor Mazzone are officially on notice for the Eye Test. People read this and I can be as honest as possible every week.
I could go on for a long time, but this is the worst UCLA's offense has looked since the days of the Pistol. Really embarrassing. D (1.0).
3.) Do our players look like they know what they should be doing at all times?
Penalty watch: Game 6.
7 for 43 yards. Which seems like an improvement until you see just how costly the penalties were.
Per usual, each penalty gets an individual breakdown.
1. Jacob Brendel snap infraction after a tough run for a first down by Steven Manfro. UCLA's first drive. Puts the offense in a tough 1st and 15 after cruising to back-to-back first downs. Drive killer and UCLA would punt three plays later.
2. Caleb Benenoch with his false start for the game (3 for 3 in his young career) to open up UCLA's second drive. Stops the drive before it even starts as another 1st and 10 becomes a 1st and 15.
3. Fabian Moreau with a holding penalty on Ty Montgomery. Ball wasn't throw to that side of the field and there were only three routes run on the play, so he had help over the top. Dumb penalty by a guy overwhelmed by speed and reputation. Gives Stanford a first down in FG range instead of a 3rd and 1 outside of it on the Cardinal's only scoring drive of the first half.
(Not counted) Offside by Cassius Marsh. To be fair, followed with a TFL on the next play.
(Lucky call against Stanford that helps) Cut block that was totally legal that takes away a first down by the Cardinal. Great block that somehow is penalized. SPTRs at their finest. It does go both ways.
4. Holding penalty on Ishmael Adams matched up against Cajuste. He just tackles him on this play. Literally tackles him. Takes away a huge sack by Kenny Orjioke that would have taken Stanford out of FG range. Ends up getting an interception later on. But this was brutal and a dumb, dumb penalty. Not aggression, just a lack of discipline.
5. A total BS personal foul on Randall Goforth after Adams' interception. He just pushed Cajuste off of the top of Adams. This is a Pac-12 flag. No other conference throws this flag.
6. Another snap infraction by Jacob Brendel. Just twitched. Turns a 2nd and 5 into 2nd and 10. UCLA just forced a 3-and-out, gets the ball back. Perkins gets a nice 5-yard gain on 1st down. And Brendel negates it with an unfocused penalty. UCLA ends up having to punt, as a 3rd and manageable is much tougher after losing 5 yards.
7. A false start by Alex Redmond (and Caleb Benenoch as well) turns a 2nd and 2 into a 2nd and 7. UCLA again fails to get a first down after the defense forces a stop in the 4th quarter. This one was just ridiculous undisciplined and unfocused. Kind of checked out of the game after this one in the stands.
Aside from the penalties, pass protection was very lack luster, route running was either bad or poorly designed because there were lots of plays where nobody was open. Run blocking was actually not awful on tape, it was just underutilized and with the wrong personnel (get the guy averaging 6 yards a carry more carries).
Defensively, this was alright schematically. Most of Stanford's success on offense was the result of good play-calling taking advantage of natural mismatches and their offense executing their best plays. They attacked Savaiinaea once Kendricks was out of the game, they ran away from Anthony Barr and kept him from affecting the pass game through scheme and personnel.
This was below average, but not the worst game UCLA has had this year. Call it a C (2.0). Not good, not terrible. The penalties were costly and drive killers, but without that BS personal foul, 6 for 45 is a good penalty day in the Pac-12.
4.) Do our players play for 60 G-D minutes every game?
Shaq Evans giving up on a deep ball that would have been a touchdown is inexcusable. No play pissed me off more on tape than this one because I totally missed it live. A perfect deep ball that would have given UCLA the lead on the first play of the second half. How different would this game have been if Evans goes all out there and UCLA is up 7-3 after an 80-yard TD? You are coming out of the half, you know that you are running a deep route, how do you stop running full speed?
I would have taken him out of the game for the rest of the half. At least the rest of the series.
On defense and special teams the level of play was consistently high from start to finish. Isaako Savaiinaea stepped into more reps than he'd had all season combined after the Eric Kendricks injury and played fearlessly without missing a beat on special teams (he's on almost every unit). The defensive front-seven was getting worn out by Stanford's giant offensive line and running backs and still stepped up to stop Stanford and got UCLA's offense the ball with a chance to win in the 4th quarter three separate times. Their effort was an A+ for this game.
The offense does not deserve that much credit. I am not questioning the effort by the offense because that was there most of the time. But the conservative mentality needs to stop because it is holding UCLA back from being a top-10 team. This is not the NFL, playing not to lose will get you to at best the Alamo Bowl. Playing to win with this collection of talent (and I don't care about excuses of injuries on the offensive line with how decimated Stanford's front-seven is) gets UCLA to the Rose Bowl.
Has to be better. The piss-poor management of the offense and Shaq Evans' laziness costing UCLA a TD drags this grade down to a C+ (2.3) which is the lowest of the season easily.
5.) Do our players execute?
Execution flaws are all over a game like this. The offensive ones are too plentiful, but I'll recap enough meaningful moments of poor execution here to justify this grade. Overall, the defense did average here. Lots of yards after contact for Gaffney, but any back over 210 pounds is going to get those yards (insert Malcolm Jones comment here). Missed tackles weren't prevalent, but they were costly when they did happen. Offensively...let's just say there are some things to correct.
Examples throughout the game:
Poor route by Grayson Mazzone on a crossing pattern costs UCLA an easy first down.
Mediocre ball by Hundley and a failure to bring in a catchable (but far from perfect) ball on a toss to Paul Perkins that had a good shot at being a first down if caught.
Missed sack by Ellis McCarthy (who played well outside of failing to set the edge here) that gave Kevin Hogan a chance to scramble for a first down on Stanford's only scoring drive of the first half. Hogan's a big QB, so that isn't an easy play, but it has to be made in a game like this.
Missed fumble recovery on a terrible pitch by Kevin Hogan on an option in the red-zone. Kenny Orjioke does the smart thing to try and fall on the ball, but Eric Kendricks tries to scoop and score. The two gets tangled up and the ball squibbles away and Stanford recovers. Turnover there could have sparked a stagnant offense and would have kept Stanford scoreless in the first half. Damn oblong ball with crazy bounces.
Dropped pass by Jordan Payton that gets bailed out by a roughing the passer on Shane Skov.
Missed read-option read by Hundley after that penalty. If he pulls it, there is a huge running lane up the middle (like on his first touchdown against Nevada). Instead he gives and Damien Thigpen is tackled for a 5-yard loss. There was no linebacker there because Skov broke to the perimeter right at the snap. Easy first down, maybe more.
Terrible series that was 100% execution and not scheme failure. Simon Goines totally whiffs on a pass block that forces Hundley to scramble instantly without being able to look for anything quick. Then, two plays later, Alex Redmond just stops blocking a Stanford DE on a zone play and gets Thigpen tackled for a loss. Low snap by Brendel on the next play that disrupts the progressions of Hundley. Terrible throw by Hundley on the next play that hits Shaq Evans in the feet.
Next series: Caleb Benenoch gets manhandled by a DE and blows up a read option before it ever has a chance. Also a low snap by Brendel on that play.
Two breakdowns on one drive by Ishmael Adams to allow first downs (though he got an interception on the same drive, so it ends up being a successful series for him)
Shaq Evans giving up on a deep ball that would have been a touchdown. No play pissed me off more on tape than this one. A perfect deep ball that would have given UCLA the lead on the first play of the second half. How different would this game have been if Evans goes all out here? Yeah, I said it twice. Just to make a point.
First series of the 2nd half: The terrible, inexcusable quit-on route by Evans on the first play of the half (three times). A blown pass block by Xavier Su'a-Filo that should have been a sack, but Hundley gets away and gain 30. Malcolm Jones cuts to the wrong hole on a zone-read. Had a gap in the middle where he was 1-on-1 with Skov (would love to have seen that collision) and went one gap over where the was no space. Alex Redmond gets embarrassed by Shane Skov on a 6-yard loss. Ben Wysocki gets embarrassed by AJ Tarpley and costs Brett Hundley any chance to throw the ball on 3rd down.
On a 13-yard run by Gaffney, Myles Jack runs about 6 yards upfield instead of crashing down the play. A rare poor play in the run game by Jack.
Offensive series after Stanford's first TD: Snap without anyone prepared for it by Brendel that turns a 2nd and 3 into a 3rd and 7. Brett Hundley's interception to Shaq Evans. Should not have thrown this ball at all, but if thrown it has to be behind the safety not in between the safety and corner.
Dropped pick-6 by Randall Goforth. Great break after a pressure by Cassius Marsh, just didn't finish the play.
Bad scheme leads to a time consuming 16-yard run by Gaffney on 3rd and 2 in the 4th quarter. There was no one in the middle of the field at the second level. Zumwalt is manned up with Gaffney, but the positioning in the scheme makes him an easy block for the line and there is no one else before the safeties that could make this play.
Savaiinaea misses a tackle for no gain on 2nd and 4 that gives Gaffney 5 yards and a 1st down. Costs UCLA about 3 minutes of clock by not getting the stop.
Double team breaks by Brendel and Redmond as a Stanford DE breaks through and pressures Hundley on a huge 3rd down. Really simple stunt that confuses those two. Forces him to check down to Perkins for basically nothing. How 2 guys gets beat like that by a decent DE? I have no idea.
Sean Covington's crappy punt that goes 25 yards in the air before rolling another 9.
Last real series on offense: Terrible protection on 1st and 2nd down force Hundley out of the pocket and into low percentage throws, basically two throw aways. 3rd down is an interception as Duarte falls down on his route.
Garbage time possession: Interior line and Paul Perkins get beat on another really basic stunt, 4-man rushes against 6 blockers cannot end up in sacks. Trent Murphy beasts XSF at left tackle for a sack to end the game.
As you can see here. The lack of execution is simply pitiful. This is a D (1.0) simply because good things also happened that I didn't list.
6.) Do we have leaders on the field?
Final Grade Card for the Stanford Cardinal
1.) Is our defense prepared for each and every team we play? A- (3.7)
2.) Do we call offensive plays to catch our opponents off guard? D (1.0)
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? C+ (2.3)
5.) Do our players execute? D (1.0)
6.) Do we have leaders on the field? C- (1.7)
Stanford Cardinal GPA: C (2.0)
For reference, last week's game against UC Berkeley came out to a 2.8 GPA and the victories over Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico State and Utah were a 3.7, a 3.6, a 2.8 and 2.9 respectively.
This team has basically been treading water for all of October. Something needs to change quickly because Arizona State has played their way into controlling their own destiny in the Pac-12 South. Losing more than 1 game the rest of the way means no more chance at a Rose Bowl or a Pac-12 South crown.
Next week, UCLA heads up to Autzen Stadium to take on Oregon. In case you weren't aware, the Ducks are pretty decent. Won't be an easy matchup.
Until then, Go Bruins!