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UCLA Achieves Perfect Duality against Colorado

Grading out the finer details of UCLA's 20-10 loss to the Colorado Buffalo to see if UCLA football is meeting expectations.

NCAA Football: UCLA at Colorado Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Let me start with a definition.

Duality - an instance of opposition or contrast between two concepts or two aspects of something; a dualism.

Why discuss duality? Because UCLA managed to achieve a perfect level of duality in Thursday’s game against Colorado. On one hand, you had the best defensive performance of the year; a level of play that would have been competitive against the best teams in college football. And on the other, you had an offensive performance that would have made some of the worst teams in FBS blush in its awfulness.

Greatness and horribleness. Light and dark. Yin and Yang.

UCLA managed to be at its best and its worst in this game, which is absolutely frustrating to fans. It’s even more frustrating to me, because now I must try and find a perfect balance in this grade. Please don’t hold it against me when the final grade feels higher than it should have been while watching.

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

Raw stats: 304 yards on 85 plays, an average of 3.6 yards per play. The UCLA defense only allowed 13 points (Colorado averages 33.7 ppg), 144 yards rushing (Colorado averages 208 ypg), and 160 yards passing (Colorado averages 266.4 ypg). Oh yeah, and 4 turnovers.

I’ve been saying that the UCLA defense had their best performance of the year against Stanford. That statement now sits in the past, able to gather dust, because THIS was the best performance the defense had all year.

This was just a completely dominant performance at all levels. Let’s start with the defensive line, which had their best performance of the year after struggling against Utah. Colorado isn’t that far off from Utah’s offensive line talent, so this really was a great bounce-back. In particular, Takkarist McKinley made himself a richer man with this game, in which he had a completely dominant performance. Officially, McKinley ended the day with 7 tackles, including 2 sacks, to go with a QB hurry. But the official box score doesn’t include all the plays McKinley affected just by getting into the backfield as quickly as he did. And the box score doesn’t tell you about that forced fumble, which was an absolute beauty of a play from McKinley to beat the right tackle with his speed, and then crush Sefo Liufau, forcing the fumble, then coming back to lay a big block on Jayon Brown’s fumble return. At this point, it would absolutely shock me if McKinley isn’t drafted in the first round, as he’s one of the most ready defensive ends in college football.

And this isn’t to say the rest of the defensive line was chopped liver. Jacob Tuioti-Mariner had one of his best games of the season, and looks poised to take over as one of the next top defensive ends once McKinley and Deon Hollins leave. Eddie Vanderdoes was his usual excellent self, routinely taking up multiple blockers and just being so talented that the opposing offensive line has to overcompensate to account for him. Eli Ankou had his best game of the year, actually popping multiple times on tape. Even the second string, including Boss Tagaloa, Rick Wade, Nick Terry, Deon Hollins, and Kesian Lucier-South, had great showings.

Then you move to the linebacker core, which again had a great bounce-back game. Last year, Jayon Brown had 18 tackles against the Buffalo, so he decided to do one better this year, recording 19 tackles (13 solo), 2 tackles for loss, and a fumble recovery. The easiest way to describe it was Eric Kendricks-esque. Kenny Young as well was back to his season form, recording 7 tackles and being an athletic menace whenever the Buffaloes tried to spread things around. Cameron Judge had an interception, and Josh Woods looked at his most comfortable.

Finally, let’s get into the secondary, which I’ve been critical of in recent weeks. As it turns out, having Nate Meadors back in the lineup definitely makes this unit much stronger. Meadors and Fabian Moreau are maybe the best cornerback tandem in the conference, and it allows Goforth to play back as a safety, where he recorded another interception. Jaleel Wadood, Adarius Pickett, and Tahaan Goodman all looked good in coverage, and even backup Octavius Spencer, who came in for a few reps, looked like he belonged on the field with the rest of the defense.

From a strategy standpoint, this was a clever plan of attack. Colorado has been very balanced this year on offense, but most of that success comes from an effective ground attack from both quarterback Sefo Liufau and running back Phillip Lindsay. The Bruins keyed in on that, limiting the Buffaloes to 2.8 yards per rush, and most of those rush yards were hard earned, as the UCLA defenders typically got into the backfield quickly. From there, UCLA was content to let Sefo Liufau, who isn’t a particularly amazing passer, try and beat them with accuracy and arm strength. There were a few good throws, but Liufau was kept to a robust 4.8 yards per pass attempt (just for reference, against Michigan’s top ranked defense, Liufau threw for 9.8 yards per pass attempt). In addition, the defense was able to bait Liufau into throwing his first, second, and third interceptions on the year.

So yes, this was easily the best performance by the defense on the year. They only allowed 13 points, with two of Colorado’s three scoring drives beginning in UCLA territory. Allowing 13 points in a road game should be enough to win any game. This was an A (4.0), and now the UCLA defense has a new standard to be graded against.

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

And now we come to our yang to the defense’s yin.

For as great as the defense was in this game, the offense was bad. UCLA had a whole bye week to prepare something, anything on offense, and the Bruin coaching staff used to put together their most conservative game yet. This game was literally a malpractice against all offensive coaching talent.

Consider this stat, which at this point in the season should be a fireable offense: UCLA ran 30 run plays compared to 29 pass plays. When you have one of the nation’s worst rushing attacks, you should be able to recognize the folly of going with a 50:50 pass:rush ratio, simply because you’re actively handicapping yourself.

Now, there is some perverse logic to running so much; according to S&P, Colorado had the 11th ranked rushing defense, and the 12th ranked passing defense. Among their weaknesses (of which there aren’t many) was a relative weakness on standard downs compared to obvious passing downs, and a surprisingly average havoc rating from their front 7. The point is, Colorado is equally good against the run and the pass, but success could theoretically be found by limiting the amount of obvious passing downs you found yourself in, and attacking the front 7. This would, theoretically, require a decent rushing attack to keep your offense on schedule. Notice the word theoretically, because UCLA’s offensive gameplan all year has seemed to rely on theoretical offensive ability rather than scheming to the available talent.

Which is to say: there is no reason to be running that many times at any remaining point this season. UCLA does not possess any of the required pieces for even an average rushing attack, and the continued insistence that they possess that ability is, I assume, baffling to people with even a rudimentary understanding of football.

The strategy employed in this game seemed to believe in two truths - that UCLA possessed a good rushing attack, and that Josh Rosen was still at quarterback and could make the kind of throws that someone with his talent level makes. The first "truth" was obviously a continued issue, but the passing game designs were much more bizarre. You would think that Kennedy Polamalu would have recognized by now that Mike Fafaul does not possess the same skill set as Rosen, and cannot make the same throws into tight coverage. When you combine that with long-developing routes run by receivers struggling to get open, you end up with a bad passing game.

This was bad, and the fact that it made the Arizona State game look good by comparison is maybe the worst part. The infinite monkey theorem states that, if given an infinite amount of time, a monkey hitting keys at random on a typewriter would eventually type up something like the complete works of Shakespeare, but I also believe it would take this monkey much less time to figure out a working offensive gameplan than it takes UCLA’s offensive coaching staff. F (0.0).

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

Well, this is an interesting section, to be sure.

Defensively, not much else to say really. Everyone did their job, and as a result Colorado had its worst offensive outing on the year. Pretty simple, really.

On offense, it was more of the same. An offensive line that struggles with the simplest of blocking assignments. A running back that struggles finding holes and being decisive. A quarterback missing throws. Surprisingly, there were only a few truly-dropped passes, but of course one of them would have resulted in a touchdown had Eldridge Massington actually caught the ball.

Really, this section is rather boring to write at this point, simply because it’s boring to write the same thing every week. At least UCLA has achieved a level of consistency in that regard?

The biggest execution issues, outside of the offense, was on special teams, and that’s where the grade for this section is going to take a hit. Normally I’d save special teams discussion for section 4, but considering there are a lot of penalties, I thought I’d move it up here to give this section more #content.

UCLA missed 3 field goals in this game. Well, missed isn’t completely right, because after making his first field goal (for a new career long of 48 yards), his second kick was blocked. The blocking effort on this kick was just poor, especially on the left side, where the Colorado defender came into the backfield unblocked. This affected Molson’s second miss, as the defender on the left side again came unblocked, which forced Molson to rush and push his kick to the right. At this point, Molson was subbed out for Andrew Strauch, who promptly missed his only field goal attempt. Playing musical chairs with the place kickers is awful, especially if you want to build up their confidence. And besides, the bigger issue was on kick protection, as an awful effort in the middle and on the left side forced some rushed kicks from both kickers.

Punt coverage was equally awful, as one would assume when you allow a punt return touchdown. Adam Searl ended up having to make a tackle on another punt, which unfortunately left Colorado with field position deep in UCLA territory. What I don’t understand is, again, UCLA brought in a freshman punter, and they’ve decided to roll with the older player instead of giving the true freshman valuable live reps in an essentially-lost season.

If there was a bright spot on special teams, it would be Ishmael Adams on kick returns, as he averaged 33 yards per return and did his best to set UCLA up for success.

So, with special teams in mind, this would take what would have been a C grade (for an averaged-out execution from both sides) and takes it to a C- (1.7). Sorry defense.

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:

4:26, 1st Q - False Start on Andre James. Pretty obvious. UCLA scores on the next play anyway, so this is basically the only penalty that doesn’t actively hurt the Bruins.

2:37, 1st Q - Holding on the punt return by Octavius Spencer. The worst part was that this penalty occurred away from the ball and had no affect on the return. Just a dumb penalty to take, but at least Octavius can take solace in not committing the dumbest penalty by a UCLA player in this game.

14:23, 2nd Q - False Start on Will Lockett. How one commits a false start on a punt, I will never know, but UCLA did manage this feat twice in this game, so kudos for innovating.

9:38, 2nd Q - False Start on Will Lockett. HE DID IT ON 2 PUNTS IN A ROW HOW DOES THAT EVEN HAPPEN?!? Be right back, gonna go sit in the liquor cabinet for a bit.

9:19, 3rd Q - Subsitution Infraction. UCLA was caught off-guard by Colorado deciding to go for it on 4th down, ends up giving up a 1st down with this penalty. Just an A+ job.

2:36, 3rd Q - Face Mask by Deon Hollins. Pretty obvious, Hollins just got caught by a scrambling Liufau and ended up going too high with his tackle, grabbing a solid amount of facemask in the process.

1:43, 3rd Q - Unnecessary Roughness on Jaleel Wadood. Here is one of the dumbest penalties of the day. Wadood makes the tackle, and instead of getting up, he tries to make a point and starts shoving Liufau around while he’s on the ground. UCLA absolutely lost composure on this drive, when they had seemed like the much-more disciplined team up to this point.

0:27, 3rd Q - Unnecessary Roughness on Jayon Brown. Same basic concept. No idea why Brown thought it was a good idea to continue hitting people after the whistle, but here we are.

12:10, 4th Q - False Start on Kenny Lacy. Sure. Why not?

11:10, 4th Q - Pass Interference on Randall Goforth. Of all the penalties, this is the one where the UCLA player had a case for it being a bad call. Goforth played the ball well on a 50/50 ball, and the referee bailed the Colorado offense out. Not sure how much else Goforth could have done here.

6:33, 4th Q - False Start on Kenny Lacy. Yep.

5:27, 4th Q - Holding on Nate Starks on the punt return. I didn’t really see anything on the tape to pinpoint where the penalty actually occurred, but either way it negated a really good return by Ishmael Adams at a point where UCLA needed any bit of luck to get points.

2:40, 4th Q - Offsides. On a punt. God this team is dumb.

13 penalties. 96 yards.

This was, very obviously, UCLA’s worst outing from a penalty standpoint by far. The ironic thing, of course, is that Colorado was by far the more undisciplined team, committing 4 unsportsmanlike conduct penalties and repeatedly giving UCLA’s offense first downs that they wouldn’t capitalize on. But considering UCLA’s own issues, they can’t afford any level of undisciplined play if they want any chance at winning.

But this was, again, an F (0.0). Both teams were undisciplined messes, which made this game an absolute chore to watch even once.

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

Well, I’m going to again have to split the difference on the grade here, because again, the defense had their best game of the year as a result of a clever scheme and game plan, while the offense had their worst game of the year for the exact opposite reason.

What is going to affect the grade is, again, special teams, because this was a ridiculously bad game from that standpoint. The jerking around of the kickers is going to get the coaching staff a D (1.0) instead of the C- that the players got, because the players aren’t the ones struggling to put together a coherent special teams game plan.

6.) Do we have leaders on the field?

Yeah, I might have to consider eliminating this section next year, because I’ve really just turned into an individual player highlight section, which is hard to grade.

On defense, the most obvious choice for leader was Takkarist McKinley, and its hard not to see why. He takes over games in a way UCLA really hasn’t seen in awhile. Kenny Clark was pretty good last year at taking over games in the 4th quarter, and other great UCLA defensive players have had dominant showings, but Takkarist McKinley has had multiple games this year where he just took over from beginning to end. Even in the loss to Utah, which was the defenses worst outing of the year, McKinley had a few series where he almost single-handedly stopped Utah from doing anything on offense. McKinley is going to get paid this year, and he absolutely deserves it.

Also, I’ll just highlight the much-maligned Ishmael Adams, who has quietly had a very good run of games with quality return play. It hasn’t been the best season for Adams, who has been dealing with injuries, but people, I think unfairly, focus on the bad returns from Adams instead of noting the overall good field position he has provided, so I’ll do that for him here.

I still want to see someone, anyone, step up on offense, but I have a feeling that the players who could (looking right at you, Jordan Lasley) aren’t given enough opportunity to succeed. So I’ll go with a B (3.0) here.

Grade Card for the Utah Utes:

1.) Is our defense prepared for each and every team we play? A (4.0)

2.) Do we call offensive plays to catch our opponents off guard? F (0.0)

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? F (0.0)

5.) Did the coaches put the team in the best possible situation to succeed? D (1.0)

6.) Do we have leaders on the field? B (3.0)

Colorado GPA: C- (1.6)

For reference, the previous 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.

That grade is the lowest of the year, which feels right. 8 games in, you’d expect some level of adaptation from an anemic offense, but UCLA just seems like that is a foreign concept.

Oregon State, our next opponent, represents UCLA’s best shot at a win over the final 3 games, and at this point, I’ll say who knows! Maybe UCLA wins, and gains some momentum that they use to upset USC and beat a vulnerable Cal to get to 6-6. I’m not confident in that outcome, but hey, this is college football, and crazier things have happened.

Go Bruins!