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The "Eye Test": UCLA's Hopeful Start Despite a Shaky Half Against Rice Owls

Not a bad start for number 17. Not bad at all. Mandatory Credit: Brendan Maloney-US PRESSWIRE
Not a bad start for number 17. Not bad at all. Mandatory Credit: Brendan Maloney-US PRESSWIRE

Well we may as well give this a ride again. We tried this last year as we tried to organize our game impressions in six specific categories in a total packaged we dubbed as the "Eye Test." The idea here is when you beyond stats and take in a game based on what you saw with your own eyes, you can get a pretty good sense in terms of how the team actually played the game. This is one way for us to develop some kind performance metric to measure our season on a game by game basis that could give us some indication of the quality of the program Coach Jim Mora and his staff are putting together in their first season at UCLA.

In case you forgot we started this with Houston last year and then with IE Angel's help in last few games ended it with Southern Cal. In case you were wondering, the GPA for the Houston game last year was 2.05. Our overall GPA at the end of the regular season was 1.61. Oy.

Anyway, those weren't fun after what we went through year. Hopefully this will be a little different this year as we will get to experience a team that will improve week by week. If that takes place the improvement will be reflected in the grade - theoretically at least - and it will make this exercise a lot of fun. So with that let's get to the grades after the jump. You can share your additional feedback on these grades in the comment thread.

1) Is our defense prepared for each and every team we play?

Well hmm. Let's start with some numbers. Our defense gave up a total of 358 yards. 284 of them came in the first half. Coaches certainly made adjustments in the second half using a bit more nickel package and the results certainly showed.

Our guys settled down in a little in the second half but Rice was not the same with its backup QB after our defense knocked him out of the game. We had two big plays in the first half in Sheldon Price's pick and Damien Holmes' fumble recovery for TD that helped to maintain a little cushion going into the second half. We also recorded 7 sacks (!) - which is the half of our season total of 14 sacks from last season.

Still watching the first half was a little uncomfortable as Rice seemed to be doing a pretty good job of ball control, moving the ball effectively against our front-7. I guess you can argue that our D was getting burned because we were being overly aggressive (which is a welcome change in the mindset). We were also getting burned with stupid mental mistakes - issues we thought would be gone under this new coaching staff.

So I think we have a little mixed bag here. I do think our D looked all right in second half. But hat performance came against an outmanned inferior opponent which lost its starting QB. Our secondary - especially our senior CBs - seemed to be having same issues from last year with their covering techniques. I guess the glass half full view here is they were not lining up 10 yards from the LOS. At the same we have to give our D some credit for generating pressure, playing with a sense of urgency in the second half. I will go ahead and give their effort a B (3.0).

2) Do we call offensive plays to catch our opponents off guard?

Let's start with the number here because on paper they are pretty delicious to read. Bruins piled up a total of 646 yards. Brett Hundley's line in his first collegiate appearance was throwing 21 completions out of 28 attempts for 202 yards, 2 TDs, and that explosive TD run in his first snap as a UCLA Bruin. He did make some freshman mistakes that are to be expected, but there is not much I can really complain about the red shirt freshman. I'd say he caught Rice "off guard" in his very snap as a Bruin. LOL.

Jonathan Franklin put up some Heisman like stats with 214 yards in 15 carries with two huge rushing TDs. Hundley and Richard Brehaut completed passes to 10 different receivers, 6 of whom had 2 or more receptions. So in terms of numbers of Noel Mazzone got it done and the overall output would have been more impressive if not for 3 botched XPs and the bonehead personal foul in the closing mins of the game which cost us a pretty TD completion from Brehaut to Damien Thigpen.

That said I did get the sense at times the offense was stagnating a bit. Perhaps Mazzone could have woven in more vertical passing attack as we were moving it primarily with mix of screen passes and quick outs to our backs (hey, we didn't see much of those in recent years). I am guessing he kept it a little simple to ease in number 17 and we will get to see more wrinkles in the coming weeks. Overall, though they got the job done. For the season opener - given that we were breaking in a brand new QB - I will give this category an A- B+ (3.3).

3) Do our players look like they know what they should be doing at all times?

Well this is where we stumbled a bit on Thursday night. I am not sure what to say about our special teams. Three blocked XPs, fumble by Manfro (which was recovered by Jet Ski), and then having player running into our punt returner. That was ugly stuff.

I don't mind penalties for being aggressive. But some of penalties we had on Thursday night were just stupid personal foul mistakes that we shouldn't been seeing from a disciplined football team. I am hoping Mora and co. will address it this week because we are not going to be able to get away with making those mistakes next Saturday. I will give this category a B- (2.7).

4) Do our players play for 60 G-D minutes every game?

Yes. Our guys played hard every minute of that game against Rice. I didn't get any sense that our team was slacking off. There were some frustrating moments - especially in the first half - but it was certainly not due to lack of effort. This is pretty easy grading and I will go with a plain A (4.0).

5) Do our players execute?

On offense our guys executed pretty well through most of the game. There were some glaring mishaps which included the cringing drop from Manfro that cost us a TD, interception from Hundley and dropsies from Shaq Evans. However, I think those mistakes are correctable. I think Manfro may have been too fired up for his game.

What is worth mentioning here is that the line of Torian White, XSF, Jake Brendel, Jeff Baca, and Simon Goines held up pretty well. Again, we have to keep in mind that we are talking about Rice Owls here and at times they were only rushing three. But those guys executed well. They opened up huge lanes for our backs and found time for our freshman QB. Kind of fun to think that we are going to have the core of White, Brendel and Goines for three more years, including two of those with XSF.

On the defensive side we need to give a shout to Anthony Barr. Wowee (check the YouTube again). What a debut. He was simply outstanding and looked like a natural at OLB. Datone Jones also had perhaps his best game in two years. Conversely both of our senior cornerbacks - Sheldon Price and Aaron Hester - had bad games. We heard a lot about how these two were looking confident and good during Fall camp. If they don't get their act together I hope the coaching staff don't hesitate to bench them and try out the young talent right behind them in the depth chart.

I already talked about Hundley above. The mistakes he made didn't surprise me. He is a freshman. I like the possibility here and in terms of grade I will give this section a B+ (3.3) with optimism that it will get better from here.

6) Do we have leaders on the field?

Yes, easy. On offense not difficult to see that Johnathan Franklin is the leader of this team. Brett Hundley is probably not far behind and XSF is the stabilizer in our OL. It's a little unclear what is happening on the defensive side of the field. Perhaps Tevin McDonald and Andrew Abbott are the leaders of that unit but I am not completely sure. I'd love to see that leadership emerge from someone in the front-7. Perhaps that person will emerge in next few games. I will go with B+ (3.3) in this category as well.

Final Grade Card for Rice Owls

Based on the discussion here is how it shapes up:

1) Is our defense prepared for each and every team we play? [B: 3.0]
2) Do we call offensive plays to catch our opponents off guard? [B+: 3.3]
3) Do our players look like they know what they should be doing at all times? [B-: 2.7]
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? [B+: 3.3]

Rice GPA: 3.27

So that is consistent with how bluebland and many others felt the morning after the game:

I much prefer this somewhat sloppy, hiccupy combination to having seen the wrong answers to my questions above while winning 60-0. Doesn't make it perfect or great, but it does pass the eye test to me. (And this was a Pass/Fail game, not one where it's possible to earn an A.)

I am going to wait to see how the numbers look in next few weeks, game by game. At that point I think for better or worse the numbers will speak for themselves.