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UCLA Finally Gets Back in the Win Column

Grading out the finer details of UCLA's 38-24 victory over the Oregon State Beavers to see if UCLA football is meeting expectations.

NCAA Football: Oregon State at UCLA Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

I’m going to be upfront with you all: this is probably going to be the shortest Eye Test of the year.

There’s a few reasons. For one, there wasn’t much of note in this game. Or rather, nothing has really changed from the past few weeks. The problems that existed back during the Stanford game still exist today. The good things (hi defense!) still exist as well. And me continually writing the same paragraphs week after week is just boring.

But it also doesn’t help that this game was, perhaps, the most on-script game of the season. To be sure, there were some problems, but I think at the beginning of the season, one could almost guarantee a victory over Oregon State where UCLA would let the Beavers stay close but never have the final result be in doubt, and that’s what happened.

So yeah, it’s going to be rather shorter than usual. Sorry if that upsets people, but I can almost guarantee the Eye Test for next week will be longer.

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

Raw stats: Oregon State’s offense only scored 17 points. The Beavers were held to 307 total yards, including 75 rushing yards where the Beavers were held to a minuscule 2.2 yards per rush. Oh yeah, and there was a defensive touchdown.

Really, this was another exceptional performance from the defense. You could argue that it was a better performance than against Colorado, if only because the Bruins only allowed OSU to two drives over 50 yards, only allowing 3 points on those two drives. The Beavers were able to score two touchdowns thanks to starting field position inside the UCLA 20. I’m liable to give the nod to the Colorado game, though, if only because Colorado’s offense is much better than Oregon State’s. If anything, this was the type of performance you’d expect from the Bruins at this point against a weaker offense.

That said, there were some causes for concern, and they’re mostly in the passing game. Oregon State, not really known for their passing offense, was able to throw for 232 yards on 22-34 passing attempts for 6.8 yards per pass. Oregon State has only exceeded those numbers once this year, so to have that happen against the 110th ranked passing offense should raise some alarm bells. That said, I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt to the scheme being designed to take away the OSU running game, and forcing the Beavers to try and beat them through the air.

So yeah, another dominant performance by the defense. It wasn’t Colorado-level good, but it was still very good, so an A- (3.7) feels right.

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

Umm, well....I guess?

I don’t necessarily believe this was a great outing by the offense, but it definitely was in the top half of the season, and you should take that sentence however you want.

The biggest news from this game is that UCLA broke the 100 yard rushing total for the first time since the game against Arizona back on October 1st. None of the running backs really stood out in this game; Bolu Olorunfunmi led the way with 65 rushing yards, while Soso Jamabo had the best YPC in the group with 12.0. If anything, the running back who looked the best was true freshman Brando Stephens, who again looked the most like Paul Perkins with his ability to be shifty in the backfield. But at this point, it’s hard to really get a gauge on the true talent of this group, if only because the schemes they’re playing in just don’t allow for the group to shine.

Mike Fafaul had one of his better games, throwing for 281 yards in securing his first win. The bigger problem is that the passing game could have been so much better had the receivers shown up, but that’s a problem for a different section.

If there was a comforting way to describe this game from the offense, it was that it was nondescript. That might sound bad, but considering how poor the offense has been this season, just having a game where the offense looked fine is a big step up. Now here’s to hoping they take a bigger step up this week. B- (2.7)

3.) Do our players look like they know what they should be doing at all times, and do they execute?

At one point in the 4th quarter, the Pac 12 Network aired something of a “highlight reel” to showcase all the wide receiver drops. It was bad. It was just so, so bad. The biggest issue might have been that even the most consistent receivers of the group, like Jordan Lasley and Darren Andrews, got in on the drop action. Jordan Lasley in particular had just a weird game, as he led all the receivers in yardage, but also had a few drops and that inexplicable fumble that was returned for a touchdown.

But the worst execution goes to the special teams. On a positive, JJ Molson was allowed to be the sole placekicker today, and he made every single one of his kicks. And, on a certain level, allowing Austin Kent to get in the majority of punts is a step in the right direction. But oh boy punt coverage. UCLA managed to join the list of teams to actually fall for a trick punt return. And it wasn’t one of those trick punt returns where the returning team runs a reverse. This was a trick punt return where the kicking team RAN THE EXACT WRONG WAY TO COVER THE PUNT. Not sure how this happens beyond just a straight inattention to detail.

Overall, this was a rather sloppy game, and not fun to watch. So I’m going C- (1.7) on execution. Point is this HAS to be better going into this Saturday.

4.) Do our players play disciplined and with exceptional effort for 60 minutes every game on special teams, offense and defense?

A look at the penalties on an individual basis (and sorry for not having exact times this week):

1st Q - Offsides by Eli Ankou. Jumped a bit early. UCLA still didn’t give up a first down, because this defense was ridiculous, but still not great when you had the offense in a 2nd and long situation.

1st Q - False Start on Conor McDermott. Jumped early, was bad.

1st Q - Holding on Nate Iese. Moved the extra point attempt back, which Molson made, so I guess as a positive Molson got some more experience with non-PAT field goals?

1st Q - Offsides on the kickoff. OFFSIDES ON THE KICKOFF. (This worked out ok for UCLA as Oregon State didn’t take the second kick past the 25, but still. It’s not that hard not to do).

2nd Q - Offensive Pass Interference on Alex Van Dyke. Didn’t really agree with the call, it looked more like the defender tripped up. Killed the drive regardless.

2nd Q - Holding on Conor McDermott. Again, he just hasn’t looked very good this year, and seems to be actively tanking his draft stock at this point.

3rd Q - Holding on Fabian Moreau. Got beat on a route, held the receiver to keep him from getting a touchdown. Not a great penalty to take, but considering the situation it was the right call. When given a choice between giving up a first down or a touchdown, give up the first every time.

4th Q - Holding on Conor McDermott. Just repaste what I put above up here.

4th Q - Defensive Pass Interference on Fabian Moreau. Moreau was just too physical, didn’t really give the receiver much of a chance.

9 penalties for 82 yards.

Remember earlier in the year, when UCLA was exhibiting much more discipline? Yeah, that’s not happening anymore. To be fair, 3 of those penalties were on Conor McDermott, who is just having a nightmare season after choosing to come back for his senior year instead of entering the draft. I think there’s still a chance he gets drafted just based on his measurables, but at this point he’s put out enough tape to expose his abilities.

Still, 9 penalties is too many, especially when 2 of them came on special teams play. This is a D (1.0) and again, UCLA has to be better this Saturday.

5.) Did the coaches put the team in the best possible situation to succeed?

Yeah, I don’t have much here again. The defense again did a terrific job, and I’m mostly ok with the idea of focusing on the run and forcing Oregon State to try and beat you through the air. And on offense, the biggest issues were execution, specifically from the receivers. You can argue that the continued drops were a coaching issue in leaving inconsistent receivers in, and while I’d normally agree, the fact that the most consistent receivers in Darren Andrews and Jordan Lasley also showed up in the dropped pass “highlight reel” speaks more to how off the unit was as a whole.

So instead of going into depth on this B (3.0) grade, I’m just going to make an impassioned plea to this coaching staff: go outside of the box against USC. Seriously, if there was a time to throw a curveball at a team, doing so against this USC team, in this game, with bowl eligibility still on the table, would be the perfect opportunity. But mostly, I just want my last time in the Rose Bowl in 2016 to be enjoyable, and a UCLA willing to try something new would definitely help that happen.

6.) Do we have leaders on the field?

Congratulations are in order for Mike Fafaul, who got his first win as a starting quarterback at UCLA. Hopefully getting that monkey off his back will allow Fafaul to play more within himself, as my armchair-psychology of the situation feels like Fafaul was pressing at times to make the plays that would lead to victory. Hopefully, getting the chip off his shoulder will lead to a more relaxed and steady Mike Fafaul next week. So between that and another strong defensive performance, I’m fine giving an A (4.0) here.

Grade Card for the Oregon State Beavers:

1.) Is our defense prepared for each and every team we play? A- (3.7)

2.) Do we call offensive plays to catch our opponents off guard? B- (2.7)

3.) Do our players look like they know what they should be doing at all times, and do they execute? C- (1.7)

4.) Do our players play disciplined and with exceptional effort for 60 minutes every game on special teams, offense and defense? D (1.0)

5.) Did the coaches put the team in the best possible situation to succeed? B (3.0)

6.) Do we have leaders on the field? A (4.0)

Oregon State GPA: B- (2.7)

For reference, the previous loss to the Colorado Buffaloes graded out to a season-low C- (1.6). Prior to that, the loss to the Utah Utes graded to a C+ (2.6). The loss to the Washington State Cougars graded at a C (2.1), while the previous loss to the Arizona State Sun Devils graded out to a C- (1.8). The victory over the Arizona Wildcats ended up with a B+ (3.2) grade. The loss to the Stanford Cardinal graded out to a B- (2.7). The victory over the BYU Cougars graded out to a B+ (3.3), while the win over the UNLV Rebels graded out to a C (1.9). The opening loss to Texas A&M graded a bit better at a C+ (2.6), and probably would be higher on review.

This is the first non-C grade since the victory over Arizona, and I guess that feels right. Certainly it wasn’t perfect, but just getting a win for once helps.

The Trojans come to the Rose Bowl on Saturday, though, and UCLA is going to have to give an A performance if it wants to win. I’m not very confident in that happening, but hope springs eternal.

Go Bruins!