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

Stephen Dunn

The fourth 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' 21-14 victory over the Utah Utes.

If recapping the game against Cal was the low point of this series, then the Utah game would be the most forgettable point of the series. I actually almost started writing up the Arizona State game because I had forgotten that the Utah game happened. This 21-14 victory at the Rose Bowl was a throwback to the excitement level of the Coach KD/CRN era Bruins. On a personal level, watching this game on television was a reassurance that I made the right decision as a fan to attend the Houston game live instead of this one. There is not a whole lot of puff to do for this piece, but it is my favorite breakdown of an individual play that I have done so far. So, let's get right into it.

Setup:

This game was not riveting television outside of an 8-minute stretch in the first quarter. UCLA scored on their second drive of the game on a dominating 13-play, 69-yard drive finishing off with a 12-yard run on a zone read by Brett Hundley. The UCLA defense responded by forcing a 3-and-out and Utah had to punt. This punt will not soon be forgotten in the minds of Bruins' fans because it was the infamous Manfro fumble-TD. Manfro backpedaled about 15 yards, muffed the initial catch, muffed a secondary catch on a bounce in the endzone. The end result was a 7-7 game. The Bruins would quickly respond with a 64-yard TD pass from Hundley to Shaq Evans to make it 14-7, where the score would remain into the 3rd quarter.

After a 4th down stop by Eric Kendricks and Dalton Hilliard, UCLA took over the ball at their own 34-yard line. The early going of the drive featured a few quick runs by Franklin and quick, short passes by Hundley until a seemingly costly 15-yard penalty by Ricky Marvray, set UCLA up with a 1st and 21 from the UCLA 36. A 6-yard pass to Fauria, a big scramble by Hundley and another tough run on 3rd and 2 from Franklin got UCLA across midfield and into Utah territory. The key play we arrive at is a 1st and 10 from the Utah 40, just outside of potential scoring range. The threat of creating a two possession game against a Utah offense that had been unable to put any type of drive together the entire game would effectively end the chance of a Utah win.

Positioning and Execution:


(The play here starts at 2:30. Thanks to LaFemmeBruin for uploading this. Unsurprisingly, this was the hardest game to track down video for so far because of the distinct lack of highlights.)

WRs vs. DBs:

For most of this information, I rewatched the game on the cut-up replays the Pac-12 Network runs daily. From the angle in the video above, you have a tough time seeing either side of the field outside of the hashmarks. So you will have to use your imaginations on a few things.

To inform you all of what is going on in those blind spots, this alignment was a pretty standard Shotgun look from UCLA's offense.

Two WRs are split to the right. Jordan Payton is split widest to the sideline and Shaquelle Evans in the slot alongside him. To the left side of the play, Joseph Fauria is at TE with his hand in the ground and Steven Manfro is lined up just inside the numbers.

For UCLA, and in the N-Zone offense in general, this alignment of Manfro indicates motion across the play at the snap. The Bruins did it a ton in 2012 and will do it this year as well.

The Utes counter this look with what appears to be a basic man-coverage look. The two cornerbacks to the right of the play are giving between 5-7 yards of cushion with a head-up look on Payton and Evans. Another corner is split out with Manfro also giving up about 5 yards of cushion.

Before the snap, Manfro heads in motion across the formation, ending up behind Hundley and Franklin once the ball is snapped, but I'll cover that specific action later on in the post.

OL vs. DL/LBs:

Both sides have a routine setup up-front. UCLA's lineman on the play are the starting group for most of the season. Simon Goines and Torian White are at the tackle spots, Jeff Baca and Xavier Su'a-Filo are at the guards and Jacob Brendel is at center. The only slightly out of place thing is seeing Fauria in a 3-point stance alongside White. He did not line up there a ton this season, which should have been a good indicator to Utah that this was going to be a run play.

Utah has a 4-man front with 2 linebackers and a nickel package in to compliment the 3-WR look from UCLA. There is a safety walked up just outside of the box about 6-yards beyond the line of scrimmage.

From the side angle, Utah has 6 defenders in a nearly straight line across the defense on the 2nd level each spaced about 4 yards apart. This can work out on most plays, but it creates a lot of lanes within those first 5 yards on running plays. With a running back as talented and shifty as Johnathan Franklin, this can be a problem.

Individually, the linemen are matched up in a simple way. There is a DE outside-eye of Goines on the right side, a DT in the A-gap between Baca and Brendel, Star Lotulelei is in the B-gap between White and XSF and another DE is playing a standup technique outside of Fauria. The standup technique is probably to stop Fauria from getting a clean release off of the line if this is going to be a pass play.

In the analysis I'll break down the role of each lineman individually, but that wouldn't serve much of a purpose in the setup section here.

Backfield:

Brett Hundley is just in a simple shotgun setup, with Johnathan Franklin a yard behind him and lined up to Hundley's right side. This isn't really an indication of anything for a defense by itself, but when Manfro goes in motion the obvious read for a defense is to key on the zone read between Hundley and Franklin. On a run or pass play, that is almost guaranteed to be the first action by the offense once Manfro shows motion. Just a basic principal in an offense like the N-Zone.

Analysis of Action during the play:

This is a zone read run that Hundley gives to Franklin for an 18-yard gain and is actually the exact same play that UCLA ran on the 3rd and 2 on the last play. That is what it ends up being. I always enjoy breaking these runs down because there are so many variables to how each play can turn out, but it always comes back to reading only one player on the entire defense. What that player does or doesn't do determines the rest of the play.

WRs vs. DBs:

I'll start with Jordan Payton and the corner over the top of him on this play. At the snap, Payton takes two or three stutter steps forward looking to stock-block a defensive back. The funny thing is that he is looking at the play and doesn't instantly notice what the corner has done. The corner bailed out at the snap, giving Payton nothing to do but run downfield and try to pick up someone if the play turns into a big run.

The corner over Shaq Evans is a little more committed to Evans in a 1-on-1 scenario. He stays square with Evans, looking to get hands on him before bailing out. The delay the corner takes in reacting to the obvious lack of a route by Evans is much more noticeable from the side angle. Franklin actually almost gets even with him downfield at 5 yards before he moves from his starting point. Not exactly the "fly to the ball" mentality that defensive coaches preach constantly.

The corner that was over Manfro stayed in place once Manfro went in motion, which basically eliminates him from the play. Though he does end up being the closest defender to Franklin once he goes down.

The safety is the one defender I can say 100% did his job well on this play. I'll touch on him more in depth in the Backfield section because is the only Utah defender to actually make solid contact with JetSki on this big gain.

OL vs. DL/LBs:

I promised individual breakdowns on this section, so here they are:

Joseph Fauria:

As I said before, Fauria is in a 3-point stance here with a DE to his outside. His job on the play is to wall off that DE. It's a tough job that is made insanely easier by the DE's position on the play. Basically all Fauria needs to do is turn his giant 6'8" to the left and plant his feet. He does this perfectly on the play and the DE is never a threat to do anything but dance with Fauria for 3-4 seconds. (Note the slight jersey tug and push at 2:34 that would never be called in any game)

Torian White/Xavier Su'a-Filo:

These two get combined because they have a singular job on this play. Block Star Lotulelei. This is not a job that one lineman can do very easily, which is why Lotulelei got drafted in the 1st round of the NFL Draft and would have gone top 5 if not for a nonexistent health scare. XSF and White get Star on the ground on this play, so they did their job flawlessly. No chance that Coach Adrian Klemm gave them anything but a full score when grading out this game.

Jake Brendel:

Brendel might have the hardest job on this play, but it turns into a simple block because of the over-aggressiveness of the Utah LB. As you can see at 2:31, the LB right next to the referee is Brendel's responsibility. That's a D1 LB with 5 yards of space to move in any direction. Brendel's quick steps off of the line, one of his best tools, are another key to this block. He gets out of his stance clean and gives himself a good position to make this block, no matter what the LB does.

It just so happens that the LB crashes into the A-gap almost right at the snap. Maybe this was a blitz; maybe it was him just trying to fill his gap. Whatever it was, it did not work out well for Utah. Brendel easily turns his hips and drives the LB out of the play to where Lotulelei is picking himself off of the turf.

Jeff Baca:

Baca has an NFL blocking responsibility on this play. It's him 1-on-1 with a big Utah DT to his inside. He has to wall off that DT and drive to create enough space for the zone read to work on the DE outside. If that DT drives Baca backwards, the initial gap for Franklin to get through becomes significantly smaller. Those two steps to his left that Baca gets from 2:32-2:33 are enough for an NFL RB to get around. It was easy to focus on the penalties by Baca this year, but he did things like this far more often than hold or false start. That's why he'll be playing on Sundays. If Franklin can turn this into a big gain, shouldn't be a problem for Adrian Peterson.

Simon Goines:

Goines has the key block on the 2nd level of the defense on this play. The DE to his outside is the read for Hundley, so he has to be unblocked. This DE also happens to be an NFL player from Utah's defense in Joe Kruger (6th round by the Eagles). I'll get to the Kruger's part of this play briefly, this is about Goines' block of the Utah LB to the right side of the defense. Goines faces the same situation as Brendel, but is not gifted with the LB running himself out of the play. This LB reads the play and shuffles across to plug the gap created by the DE being unblocked and the DT being driven to the left by Baca. Goines does a great job getting off the ball and completely engulfs the LB at the point of contact (at 2:33, the LB is actually not visible from the camera angle). Franklin is able to glide around this block pretty easily.

Overall, the offensive line and Fauria executed this play flawlessly. When 6 players block their responsibilities well, there is an overwhelming possibility that the offense is going to get some significant yardage. This was no exception.

Backfield:

When I broke down the zone read for a TD against Colorado, it was a great play because of the unbelievable deception of Brett Hundley and Johnathan Franklin at the point of exchange. This zone read is remarkable because of how well it is blocked. Joe Kruger knows exactly who has the ball at 2:32 on this play. He isn't blindly crashing down at Franklin; he is doing so because he saw the exchange.

The problem is the amount of space that Franklin has to avoid Kruger entirely. Pause the clip at 2:33 and note the triangle of blocks happening in front of Franklin. He has all of that space to get past Kruger. There is no threat to him at the 2nd level of the defense. It is just green in front of Franklin until he gets to the safety 15-yards downfield. Pause again at 2:34 for a view of all the green grass provided by those blocks. It's really beautiful to see if you appreciate blocking. That much space shouldn't exist on the 2nd level of any defense not doing an all-out blitz or Prevent coverage. Brett Hundley has the easiest gig on this play; all he has to do is just watch Franklin work with the space provided to him.

Once Franklin gets past the second level, he encounters the first real threat to a big TD-run, Utah's deep safety. The safety does an outstanding job on this play, crashing down 5-yards or so full speed, settling down his hips and feet and squaring up one of the best running backs in the country. Franklin spins off of him, but the safety catches enough of Franklin's lower body to trip him up after an 18-yard gain to the Utah 22-yard line.

Aftermath:

UCLA was in prime position to score on this drive, but briefly sputtered after getting this 1st down. Back-to-back incompletions on swing passes to Damien Thigpen and Jordan James both could have been losses of yardage for backwards laterals, but ended up just being a 3rd-and-10 for UCLA. Hundley picked up 9-yards on a scramble and Franklin picked up the 1st on a mildly ballsy 4th and 1 attempt by Coach Jim Mora. He'd score two plays later to put UCLA up 21-7. That would be the last score until a fluky late TD by Utah against a Prevent defense by the Bruins.

UCLA picked up the 21-14 win and moved to 5-2 (2-2 in Pac-12 play) headed into a bye week before a tough road game against a strong looking Arizona State team. It wasn't a flashy win at the time, but it numbed the memory of the Cal and Oregon State games a little bit. This game doesn't seem like the beginning of UCLA's hot streak in 2012, but in reality, it was. The upcoming slate against both Arizona schools, a late night game at Washington State and the crosstown matchup against Southern Cal looked imposing at 2-2 in Pac-12 play. Not many people were projecting the Bruins to win out that slate after seeing this win over the Utes.

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