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Sunday Morning Quarterback: Better Defense and Clock Management Were the Keys to UCLA’s Win over Oregon

It was better defense from UCLA and two long drives by the Bruin offense that kept the Ducks’ offense off the field that helped the Bruins to victory.

NCAA Football: Oregon at UCLA Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday afternoon, the Bruin defense looked a lot better than they have all season long. There’s little doubt in that.

The reasonable question that should be asked following the game is: “Has the defense really improved or was the defense’s performance simply a matter of playing a bad football team?”

Of course, until the team actually plays another game, it’s a question that may be hard to answer. But, I think the real answer is probably the latter. Let’s discuss why.

For starters, the Ducks still managed to gain 246 yards on the ground. That’s 100 yards more than UCLA managed to gain all game on the ground.

Oregon only attempted 15 passes all game. As a result, they only gained 74 yards through the air.

The other reason the Bruins were able to win yesterday was because of the Bruin offense. Wait...huh?

Since the score was tied at halftime, let’s look at the second half.

In the second half, the Ducks ran a total of 39 plays. Their first two drives of the half resulted in punts from near-midfield. After the first punt, the Bruins drove 72 yards in 12 plays using 3:43 and the drive resulted in a J.J. Molson field goal.

After the second punt, UCLA drove 87 yards in just 7 plays while using just 1:39. Suddenly, the Bruins are up by 10.

Oregon’s third drive of the second half ended when Braxton Burmeister threw an interception which Colin Samuel caught at the 4-yard line. The Bruins drove 19 yards and punted the ball back to the Ducks who ran just four plays before giving UCLA the ball back just on the Oregon 40-yard line.

UCLA proceeded to take ten plays to score their final touchdown of the game. Of those ten plays, five of them were runs, two were incomplete passes and three were completed passes. But, none of that is as important as the fact that the Bruins ate up more than 4 minutes to run those ten plays.

And, the importance of this drive cannot be underestimated.

How often during the Jim Mora era has UCLA driven down the field and scored very quickly only to have the opponent respond just as quickly to win the game? The answer is extremely often, especially when Noel Mazzone was the Bruins’ offensive coordinator.

This time, the Bruins slowed it down and took their time with this drive. It’s a critical offensive component that has been missing under Jim Mora until now.

Then, as if to prove the touchdown drive wasn’t an anomaly, following a ten-play drive by the Ducks that resulted in a missed field goal, the offense did it again.

This time, they ate up even more clock by taking more than five minutes to drive 45 yards before turning the ball over on downs. This drive left the Ducks with just 41 seconds but down by 17.

Make no mistake. The defense deserves a lot of credit in yesterday’s win. They held the Ducks to just 14 points and they actually shut them out in three of the game’s four quarters. For this year’s team, that’s a marked improvement.

But, at the same time, the offense deserves a lot of credit, too, for those two time-consuming drives which ate up more than nine minutes of the final fifteen.

Speaking of the Bruin offense, it’s been a few weeks since we checked in on how efficient the offense has been. So, let’s take a look at how the team has been doing by looking at the team’s NeverKick percentage and related data.

When we last checked in on this information, the Bruins were attempting field goals about 22.6% of the time on fourth down while punting just over 51.6% of the time and going for it about 25.8%.

Now, after seven games, UCLA has attempted field goals just 20.45% of the time while punting 52.27% of the time and going for it 27.27%. It should be expected that the punting percentage would increase after the team lost last weekend against Arizona, but it’s nice to see the “NeverKick” percentage also jumping as well.

Here’s all of the season’s “NeverKick” data.

2017 UCLA Football “NeverKick” Data After 7 Games

Opponent 4th Downs FG Attempts FGA % Punts Punt % 4th Down Attempts Never Kick % 4th Down Conversions Conversion %
Opponent 4th Downs FG Attempts FGA % Punts Punt % 4th Down Attempts Never Kick % 4th Down Conversions Conversion %
Texas A&M 9 1 11.11% 5 55.56% 3 33.33% 2 66.67%
Hawal'l 1 0 0.00% 1 100.00% 0 0.00% 0 0.00%
Memphis 7 1 14.29% 5 71.43% 1 14.29% 0 0.00%
Stanford 9 3 33.33% 2 22.22% 2 22.22% 2 100.00%
Colorado 8 2 25.00% 3 37.50% 2 25.00% 1 50.00%
Arizona 5 1 20.00% 3 60.00% 1 20.00% 1 100.00%
Oregon 8 1 12.50% 4 50.00% 3 37.50% 2 66.67%
Total 47 9 19.15% 23 48.94% 12 25.53% 8 66.67%

It’s also worth noting that, after six games, it looks like the team could finish the season with fewer fourth downs and fewer punts than at any other time in the Jim Mora era.

Of course, the Bruins now move into what should be the toughest part of their schedule with Washington, Utah, ASU, Southern Cal and UC Berkeley yet to come.

Finally, today, let’s take one final look at the defense.

In yesterday’s “How To Watch” article, I cited a tweet from ESPN’s Kyle Bonagura from the middle of last week.

Yesterday, the defense only allowed 4.0 yards per rush. That is a substantial improvement. In doing that lowered its yards per rush average to 6.10 for the season. The UCLA defense is still dead last in the NCAA in Rushing Defense. They are ranked 121st of 129 teams in Total Defense.

So, there’s still plenty of room for improvement defensively.

Go Bruins!