We saw what happens last season when Tom Bradley’s defense loses a few NFL-bound players to injury, and the Bruins can’t afford 2016 to be the sequel. We have to hope that Takkarist McKinley was being held out mostly as a precaution to not further aggravate his groin injury, and that Eddie Vanderdoes’s knee (the other knee than the ACL that was torn last season) comes back okay, because without those two on the defensive line, a unit that looked like it was going to be a strength of the team is going to be the primary defensive weakness.
Though Bradley dialed up a few blitzes this game, and Kenny Young got the Bruins’ first (and only, two games in) sack of the season, it’s pretty clear that no player can put pressure on the opposing quarterback like McKinley can. And unlike pass rush specialists Deon Hollins (who was limited) and Keisean Lucier-South, McKinley is stout at protecting the edge against the run.
While Vanderdoes was in the game, he was routinely blowing up whichever poor schmuck was assigned to block him, though still couldn’t do it all himself. With both guys out, the Bruins struggled to get off the field.
UCLA allowed 175 rushing yards on 5.0 yards per rush, and allowed UNLV to convert on 8-15 third downs, and 2-3 fourth downs. A defense that struggles to stop running quarterback Johnny Stanton is going to have an even harder time stopping Taysom Hill, who rushed for 87 yards on 13 carries for the Cougars against Utah last night. Let’s not even talk about Christian McCaffrey.
Bradley couldn’t solve the defensive woes last year after losing Myles Jack, Vanderdoes, and Fabian Moreau to injury, and I’m doubting that he can solve them if Vanderdoes and McKinley are out for any significant stretch of the season. Those two are the terrors of the defensive line. There simply aren’t players behind them who can match what they can do, at least not this season, and I’d be pretty surprised if the coaching staff would re-work the defense to fit what personnel is left without them.
We’ve only seen the first string play defense for about ten plays at Texas A&M. With Takk and Eddie (and everyone else!) the defense could still yet be good in 2016. Playing without three of PFF’s top graded defensive players from the season opener, Vanderdoes, McKinley, and Jaleel Wadood, the defense was underwhelming against UNLV.
Those Third-Quarter Blues
The offense last night scored touchdowns or ran out the clock on all of its drives, except for the three drives in the third quarter. Against Texas A&M last week the Bruins put up points in every quarter but one, the third. UCLA is being outscored 21-0 in that frame, while besting opponents in the others, especially the 4th quarter, when opponents are being shut out 29-0.
"Sports are weird," Rosen said, when asked about the accursed fifteen minutes of playing time that immediately follows half-time adjustments, locker room pep talks, and marching band performances.
I’m not sure the quarter has anything to do with it, more likely that the offense isn’t yet rid of mistakes enough to score on every drive, even against a team like UNLV.
There were fewer dropped passes, but there were dropped passes. There were fewer Rosen misses, but there were Rosen misses, especially deep. There was no Rosen bouquet toss, thankfully, though there was also no pass rush to harass the sophomore QB. An offense that had no penalties in front of 100,000 screaming Aggies was flagged seven times, by my hasty count, in the friendly neighborhood of Pasadena. And there was a bad fumble by freshman ball carrier Jalen Starks.
Those are enough mistakes to stall three UCLA drives in a game.
The fact that they all happened in the third quarter? Maybe it is "weird."
Josh, Comparing Yourself and Soso Jamabo to Matt Leinert and Reggie Bush Makes Us Uncomfortable
In practice this week, UCLA players praised Josh Rosen’s toughness for leading a 4th-quarter comeback against Texas A&M after being sacked five times and knocked to the ground on many others. If Josh seems to be playing just shy of what we all believe to be his potential as a quarterback, you still must appreciate his toughness.
Early in the second quarter, sniffing the red zone on a 3rd-and-ten, Rosen reminded us that, though he’s no burner, he has legs enough to run for a first down when his receivers are covered and the defense loses containment. Two plays later, on a 2nd-and-15 play, Rosen handed the ball off to Jamabo, who ran all the way to the left sideline, only to be greeted by a cadre of Rebel defenders.
Jamabo, like nails on the chalkboard to my "just run north and south" ears, took the ball several yards back in trying to flip the field all the way to the right sideline. With one last defender in position to tackle Jamabo for a major loss in the backfield, Rosen laid a block into the unsuspecting fool to pave the way for Jamabo’s touchdown, his second of three on the night.
It was the highlight play of the game for UCLA, though, let’s be clear that this wouldn’t work against a better defense.
After the game, Rosen and Jamabo laughed about the play and said they liked to compare themselves to Matt Leinert and Reggie Bush.
Were they supposed to be good or something? I don’t remember.
UCLA Is Underperforming By All Statistical Measures
If you’re like me and like to pay attention to, but don’t fully understand, advanced stats, you'll see that after two games the Bruins are by all measures underperforming against expectations.
Against Texas A&M, UCLA ended up getting 4.5 points from Vegas, was favored to win in S&P+ 29-27.5, and in F/+ by 0.6. The Bruins lost by 7 in OT, not meeting predictions in either method, and losing against the Vegas spread.
And for the UNLV game last night, Vegas closed with UCLA picked to win by 27, S&P+ predicted a 49.3-19.5 victory, and F/+ a win by 25. The Bruins again didn’t meet the predictions, winning by only three touchdowns, and not beating the spread.
Rosen doesn’t appear to be taking a step back, but also doesn’t seem to be taking a step forward. Last night he recorded a raw QBR of 81.8 and adjusted QBR of 75.5 against likely one of the worst teams the Bruins will face all year. That’s just about above average compared to his season output last year. Judging by adjusted QBR, Rosen put up better numbers in 5 games last year, worse in 8, and in raw QBR, was better in 4 games, worse in 9 last year.
We’re going to need to see the sloppiness on offense clean up, and we’re really going to need Takkarist McKinley and Eddie Vanderdoes suited up and down in three-point stances to reverse a worrying trend.