This is my first post with my username on the masthead, so I feel a little additional pressure upfront for this to be one of my better posts. First, I'd like to extend my gratitude one more time to all the front pagers, regulars of Bruins Nation and fly-by readers. Without the support from all of you, there is no way I would have stuck around to end up getting promoted (or whatever going from member to masthead equates to, I'm not 100% on the specifics there).
Now that I've taken care of that, I'd like to explain what this series is going to end up being.
I'll start out with an introduction to how I got this idea. In case you didn't know who I root for on Sundays, I'm a Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan. That's where my passion for football bubbled up along with the late 90's UCLA teams. Those Buc defenses were a thing of beauty for a kid to learn from. Hall of Fame players at every level of the defense. Far removed from the last decade, similar to UCLA's path to 2013. But I digress.
I read a lot of stuff over at Bucs Nation, great writers. Not quite BN's level; but some truly talented guys. One series of posts in particular got my attention. The "View from the Crow's Nest" (great example here) posts break down a particular play from each week that turned the tide from defeat to victory, or vice versa. The author, GurSamuel, breaks down the situation, the play from the perspective of the different position groups, and gives a summary of the aftermath of the play. He goes into far more detail with a lot more available information. The idea is to watch the play, then read through the post, then watch the play again (or 10 more times like football junkies will) and understand why the play went the way it did.
There aren't any all-22 camera angles available from UCLA vs. Oregon State (though if there are, I'd probably pay for them). So, where he has GIFs and charts and graphs, I have my own personal experiences, the annals of YouTube, and a certain way with words. I'm not the type to make too big of a deal out of excuses, so let's get into the nitty-gritty of this post.
(Note: No other post will be this long, but the wordy intro was necessary)
The first game I am starting out with is UCLA vs. Oregon State, UCLA's first Pac-12 matchup of the 2012 season at the Rose Bowl. Things were going unquestionably great, the Bruins were 3-0 with dominant wins over Rice and Houston and another exciting win over Nebraska. Oregon State had only played one game going into the contest, so it was unclear if the Beavers were a contender or had just happened beat an average Wisconsin team with a little too much hype.
The first half was a really ugly afternoon for UCLA's offense and it ended up being that way for the entire game. The Bruins were down 17-3 before a last-minute deep ball to Shaq Evans in the first half to cut the lead to 17-10. The offensive line looked lost throughout the game without Jeff Baca at right guard and the replacements on that side did a poor job against a solid OSU front-7.
On the defensive side of the ball, UCLA had done a good job on roughly 90% of the snaps. This is completely normal for a defense; it is usually just a manner of minimizing the effect of that 10% where something goes wrong in execution or on a bad matchup. Man-to-man defense makes it much tougher to do so, especially the press coverage that DC Lou Spanos employed throughout this game against Oregon State stud receivers Brandin Cooks and Markus Wheaton. In this game, that 10% turned into several huge plays throughout the game. Notably a quick slant that turned into a long touchdown and a deep route that was misplayed by Sheldon Price and Tevin McDonald both, also resulting in a TD.
Still, UCLA had battled back to be in a position to win this game late.
After closing the gap to 24-17 early in the 4th quarter, Oregon State faced a 3rd down and 4 from UCLA's 47-yard line. Getting a stop in this situation would give UCLA the ball back fairly deep in their own territory; but. after a 7 play, 75 yard drive that barely took 2 minutes, the Bruins' offense had settled into their only groove of the day.
If the Bruins' D could manage just one stop here, odds were pretty decent that UCLA would be in a position to tie this game in the 4th quarter. If the Bruins' don't get the stop, then the Beavers would be able to just keep burning clock until there was no time left for UCLA to mount a comeback.
After a 7-yard pass to Wheaton on 2nd and 11, the game clock is right around 12 minutes remaining. The Bruins switch up their personnel to match up against the Beavers 3 WR, 1 TE look on offense (pretty similar to the look on the video screen below), bringing in their Nickel package and taking the likes of Damien Holmes, Datone Jones and Se'ali Epenesa off the field for defensive backs.
Positioning and Execution:
(You're going to want to skip to about the 15:16 mark or so. Or if you want to watch the entire series leading up to the play, start at 14:45. There is some volume, so turn it down if you're at work.)
What you'll see here for UCLA is a slightly modified Nickel package that the Bruins used pretty frequently throughout the year. The front four includes two OLBs acting as standup DEs in Anthony Barr (lined up with the TE, but to the inside eye) and Jordan Zumwalt (in a 5 technique, outside eye of the right tackle) and two down lineman in Cassius Marsh (playing over the left guard) and, interestingly, Ellis McCarthy (playing a 3 technique, lining up on the outside eye of the right guard).
The Oregon State offensive line is pretty straight up here, with a TE to the left side.
In Oregon State's backfield, they have Sean Mannion lined up in a standard Shotgun set with Malcolm Agnew to his right side. Nothing complex, just the standard shotgun package you'd see in any game of Madden or NCAA Football.
For UCLA, the two player lined up at LB on this play are Eric Kendricks playing a straight MLB right over the center about 5 yards deep and Stan McKay playing the Nickel linebacker spot to the TE side to cover the TE in man coverage.
The Beavers have two WRs including Markus Wheaton to the right side along with a TE to compliment Brandin Cooks on the left side of the offense. I listed the TE in two sections, but I'll address his impact on the play in this section.
In the Bruins' defensive backfield, Sheldon Price and Andrew Abbott are aligned to the right side against Wheaton and the slot WR. Aaron Hester is in man coverage against Cooks, but a few yards off the line because he isn't able to play press with the TE aligned to the left as well. The two deep safeties are Tevin McDonald to the left side and Randall Goforth on the right, shaded over the slot WR.
Analysis of the action during the play:
I can give this away right now. The play ends up being an underneath screen to Cooks that goes for 46 yards down to the 1-yard line. So, I'm going to skip some of the little things about the analysis by letting you know what happens here, so I can just explain the action in the next few sections.
Every offensive lineman shows pass block at the snap, so the read for the whole defense is pass right away.
Starting from the right side and working our way over:
There isn't a fancy blitz here or anything (I really look forward to breaking one of those down for everyone in the future); it is just a straight 4-man rush in an obvious passing situation.
Zumwalt vs.. RT:
This is Zumwalt's default rush technique that I've seen, part of the reason why he is a better fit at ILB. Just tries to run around the tackle. The pass gets off pretty quick; but even on another play, this is likely a loss for Jordan. He just gets washed up the field and is a non-factor in the play.
McCarthy vs. RG:
Ellis does not look good on this play at all. The rush here is pretty much just straight ahead, it happens quickly, so it is tough to tell whether or not he was going to try and make some kind of a move. He gets off the ball alright; but then gets tossed aside as the RG releases up the field to go make a key block at the next level of the play. I'll get to that block later on. EMC was in for most of this drive and didn't look good or bad overall, just kind of a body. I have high hopes for him, but plays like this are why he rarely saw the field last season.
Marsh vs. LG/C:
Marsh takes a stutter-step to try and slow play his read, something that Cassius does quite a bit as a pass rusher. After the lateral step, he tries to speed rush and do a swim move to get past the Beaver's center. The left guard releases instantly to go make a key block on the second level, another play that we'll get to briefly. The center does a good job of selling his pass block on the screen to draw Marsh upfield before releasing to the second level.
Barr vs. LT:
This is my favorite part of this play because it gives a glimpse into how good of coach that Mike Riley is. Even by the fourth game of the season, Anthony Barr had coaches planning around him. Lined up inside of the TE, it is clear that Barr is coming after the QB on this play, mirroring the 5 technique of Zumalt on the other side. The LT does a great job of drawing Barr upfield by turning his shoulders towards the sideline and giving Barr a natural angle to the QB. Someone on the sideline knows that Barr is going to come upfield on this play, even if it means opening up a natural passing lane, because he would have a shot at a sack on a normal passing play. If you pause the video at 15:20, you see this lane open up for Cooks to come underneath and make it easy for Mannion to get him the ball.
So much hinges on this one spot. If Barr rushes inside instead of staying outside, then the passing window opens up later towards the middle of the field and gives the 2nd level of the defense more time to react and drive towards the play. Not to say that Barr did anything wrong on this play, because he didn't. That is what you do on a pass rush if a tackle turns his shoulders that much. Take advantage of the angle and go make a play.
The way it worked out here was ideal for Oregon State.
Malcolm Agnew on this play is lined up to the right side of Sean Mannion. Agnew flared out at the snap and was followed by EK. Pretty obvious that Kendricks was responsible for the RB out of the backfield on this play and he does his job pretty perfectly. Can't critique any of that.
Mannion takes a two step drop from the shotgun and dumps the ball to Cooks through the passing lane I brought up earlier. Pretty easy play for him as a QB. I like Mannion personally, feel like he's a perfect fit for what Oregon State does. Not going to wow anybody, but he isn't likely to be the reason behind many losses.
Stan McKay is another key to the play for the Beavers, lined up 6 yards off the line of scrimmage alongside EK. Not the key to this being a big play or not, but the key to the play being a first down or fourth down. He's in man coverage on the TE on this play and when the TE heads into the shallow flats, McKay has to follow him.
McKay makes a damn good read on the play. The only player to react quicker than him is Tevin McDonald (who is 15 yards deep on the play). He gets blocked because the LG gets a free release to him off the line. Easy for an athlete as good as Cooks to get around that block. McKay also gets chipped again after getting away from the RG by the center who was ambling downfield.
The two WRs to the right side are just running clearout routes. Take Abbott and Price out of the play by sprinting downfield. Both WRs get 15 yards downfield before either DB is able to recognize that the ball has already been thrown. Great job by both OSU WRs and you cannot fault either Price or Abbott for doing a good job of man coverage.
Aaron Hester is lined up in man coverage on Brandin Cooks on this play. At the snap, Cooks breaks flat down the line of scrimmage and Hester takes a shuffle along with him until seeing the TE head towards him. Hester sees this and does the only thing he can do, face up with the TE and try to remain unblocked to make a play downfield.
As a fan, I hate this. But as a former player, I love pick routes because that's essentially the only routes I ever got to run as a player and I got pretty good at them. Getting someone else get open is just as big a deal as getting open yourself. Without the TE doing a good job on this play, there is no play because Stan or Aaron break on the ball and make the tackle.
Tevin McDonald is the safety on the right side about 15 yards deep, I'd be able to tell you if this were a Cover 1 or Cover 2 if the play had gone on longer. Based on how Tevin reacted to the play, I'd say he was helping over the top on Cooks. He has the best read on the play of anyone on the defense, crashing down hard and actually getting to Cooks at the first down marker. If he bodies up Cooks and drives through him, it is probably a measurement for the 1st down.
But Tevin makes an absolutely atrocious attempt here. Pause at 15:22 to see the form on this tackle attempt. Pretty similar to the form on the hit that knocked Dietrich Riley out for over a season. Naturally, he misses this tackle and Cooks spins off him to the next level of defenders.
I'm not 100% on this because I cannot see him on the screen, but it appears that Goforth is the deep safety on the play responsible for anything over the top to the right side. He is shaded to the two-WR side and shouldn't be in position to make a tackle on this play unless something goes wrong. He comes up on the play alright after Tevin misses the tackle.
This is where that block from earlier comes into play. The RG that knocked McCarthy to the ground kept running to the second level and happened across Randall Goforth. As Cooks is trying to find a path upfield, the RG passes in his field of vision and Cooks slows up to allow the RG to take Goforth's legs out and opens a lane for Cooks to make it down to the 1-yard line and would have been in the endzone if not for the effort of Anthony Barr to be downfield making a tackle.
The Beavers end up getting a 46-yard gain and a 1st and Goal from the 1, but the Bruins actually force a fumble on 3rd and goal and end up holding them to a FG. Regardless of it being a touchdown or field goal, that score took a one possession game and turned it into a 10-point game with 10 minutes left. With the way the UCLA offense struggled, that was close to insurmountable.
The Bruins end up losing 27-20 after kicking a meaningless FG with 1:50 left in the game. It dropped UCLA from the group of undefeated teams and the loss got UCLA to a 0-1 start in the Pac-12. The loss effectively ended the initial honeymoon period with Coach Mora and showed just how important Jeff Baca was to the stability of the offensive line, especially the running game. It also put Oregon State on the map as a legit contender in the Pac-12 in 2012.
Alternate scenario time. I hate hypothetical's usually because they are never ending. But it's interesting to do in this particular exercise. Say the Bruins get the stop in this situation and pull off a comeback to win the game. UCLA undeniably starts off 5-0, still primed for the same slip-up at Cal. So the season probably doesn't turn out that different. UCLA probably ends up playing Texas in a bowl game instead of Baylor and would have had a much better shot in that game than against a Baylor squad that was one of the hottest teams in the country. Potential difference between 9-5 and 10-4 or 11-3. Kind of a big deal, but the season still would have been a success regardless.
Anyway, glad I could give you all a breakdown of one play out of 150 in a game. Let me know what your thoughts are on all of this. Open to suggestions on stuff to add in or try to include. Also, I'll try to answer any question you might have. Thanks for making it through all 3000 words of this if you made it this far.
Next week: I'll get into the 42-14 victory over the Colorado Buffaloes that featured a pretty dominating performance by both the offense and the defense against the worst team in the Pac-12.