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The “Eye Test”: UCLA Football Showed Improvement Against Arizona State

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The Bruins looked better than they have in weeks, but it still wasn’t enough.

NCAA Football: UCLA at Arizona State Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Hello everyone!

I’m going to be honest with you all upfront. This is going to be a pretty bare-bones Eye Test. I’m getting sick and am trying to get better for the big game on Saturday. So, I’m conserving as much energy as possible and sitting here writing 6000+ words is not a great way to get better. So sorry if you’re looking for in-depth this week, but it’s going to be basic stuff.

Offense

Quarterback - Wilton Speight was really good in this game! 26-35 for 335 yards and 2 touchdowns was impressive on its own, but also considering the run game was not up to the level it had been in the past few months. Speight also did a good job of scrambling when necessary to pick up 1st downs and extend drives and he had a few moments where he evaded a surefire sack and got a conversion. The interception thrown was tipped at the line. As a result, it’s hard to necessarily blame him, though it should be noted that his throws up to that point had been on a bit of a lower trajectory, which may have contributed. That said, you have to like his decision making in this game, as he looked like the veteran QB many expected him to be when his transfer was announced. This was an A- performance and you have to like UCLA’s chances if Speight can keep up this level of play to end the season.

Running Backs - Honestly, I’m more surprised this kind of game didn’t happen sooner. ASU made a concerted effort to limit Joshua Kelley in the running game, gambling instead that Speight couldn’t beat them through the air. It resulted in Kelley only gaining 79 yards on the ground on 21 carries (3.8 YPC) and only having a long of 12 yards. Kelley also had 2 catches in the passing game for 17 yards, including a brilliant catch on a low throw by Speight that gained 13 yards, but he was mostly limited. Martell Irby also saw action, and didn’t get any run plays, but did ok at blocking (not great, but improved from last week) and caught a pass on a quick out. Considering everything, I feel a B for the running backs feels right. They did what they could and, while they weren’t as effective as they’d been in the past, they still did their job.

Wide Receiver/Tight Ends - Caleb Wilson, have yourself a game! Wilson was a clear matchup nightmare for the Sun Devils, as he destroyed them to the tune of 11 catches for 164 yards and 2 touchdowns. UCLA had 8 chunk plays of 15+ yards passing the ball in this game, and Wilson accounted for half of them. Wilson has two more games to solidify his NFL draft prospects and this is a great first step for him, especially with a quarterback who seems determined to get him the ball Wilson saw 14 targets, while the most any other receiver saw was 3.

Outside of Wilson, the receiving corps had one hell of a bounceback game here. Chase Cota and Michael Ezeike got increased play here and each had 3 and 2 catches for 32 and 28 yards, respectively. Theo Howard only saw two targets in the passing game, but he made both catches,and he took an end-around on the first drive 26 yards as well. Christian Pabico saw increased time and actually responded well, adding 3 catches for 36 yards. Interestingly enough, Demetric Felton saw his playing time diminished, as he caught his only target of the game for 3 yards. Devin Asiasi again only saw one pass thrown his way (ok, he saw two, but the second one was on Speight’s Hail Mary toss to end the game, so I’m not counting it), but he caught it and ran for 30 yards. With the running game sputtering, UCLA could not afford to have another nightmare outing full of dropped passes by the receiving corps and, thankfully, they rose to the occasion. This was an A, full-stop.

Offensive Line - When it comes to blocking, the offensive line was fine. Unlike in recent weeks, the strength in this game was the pass blocking, though part of that may have to do with the Arizona State defense loading up the box to stop the UCLA rushing attack. The line only gave up 2 sacks, but the second one was crucial.

Actually, let’s focus on that second sack really quick, because it was part of the sequence where the offensive line lost the game. UCLA started the final drive with no timeouts and a minute and a half to, at the very least, get in field goal range. The drive started well, with a 12-yard pass to Chase Cota who ran out of bounds and a 9-yard pass where Cota was unable to get out. There was still plenty of time left, which is when the following sequence occurred:

  • Speight sacked. Andre James got beaten like a rag doll from the snap, and Speight had no chance. Luckily, the Bruins were able to recover the fumble.
  • Christaphany Murray gets called for a false start. Not only does that result in a loss of 5 yards, but also a 10-second runoff. There is now 33 seconds left.
  • The penalty also means that the clock started again on the whistle. So, when Speight tried to snap the ball immediately to conserve time, Boss Tagaloa apparently did not get the memo. It led Andre James and Jake Burton to both jump and another false start and 10-second runoff.
  • Now with only 13 seconds left, the only thing Speight could do was snap the ball and attempt to throw deep.

Just a nightmare from the offensive line to end this and is the primary reason the line got a D+ for this game. There were other issues (Tagaloa got a snap infraction as well in this game, for example) but it was a big step back for the line and they’ll need to do better this coming week.

Overall - The offense overall played well. By themselves, they put up 21 points and could have put up more had execution been better, such as on the failed 4th down run attempt inside the red zone. But, frankly, this game also featured two of the best drives UCLA has had all year on both their opening touchdown drive and the last touchdown drive, where the Bruins looked like they could do whatever they wanted. The offensive line is going to drag this grade down, but I’m going to give the offense a B.

Defense

Defensive Line - This may be the first time I take into account outside information when considering the grades, but I am going to consider the fact that this same Arizona State team has been lights out on the ground in recent weeks, gaining 251 yards against Utah and 271 against Southern Cal. The Utah one in particular is eye-opening, as Utah is a solid defensive team. So I won’t grade as hard as I normally will.

But, still, 281 yards. Eno Benjamin was able to do whatever he wanted in this game, running for 182 yards on his own, while backup Isaiah Floyd chipped in 42 yards. And, quarterback Manny Wilkins was effective on QB keeps as well, chipping in 60 yards on 14 carries. So while I liked what I saw from the young guys like Atonio Mafi and Otito Ogbonnia and while Osa Odighizuwa continues to look like UCLA’s best defensive lineman and best bet at creating havoc on the line, I have to give this group a D+.

Linebackers - Lokeni Toailoa got a sack! That happened! Krys Barnes was second on the team with 11 tackles, and he actually was much better than he had been in recent weeks. He wasn’t necessarily at the level he had shown at the midpoint of the season, but he was certainly better than recent performances would indicate. But, again, 281 yards rushing. Same thing with the defensive line - I’ll consider past ASU performance, but this is again a D+.

Secondary - You know who did everything in their power to win this game? The secondary. One of the keys to the game was to try and limit how much damage N’Keal Harry would inflict and I felt they mostly-succeeded. Harry still got 100 yards on 7 catches, but the Bruin secondary did a good job of limiting his effectiveness. Elijah Gates defended a pass against Harry and Darnay Holmes’s pick six came on a slant intended for Harry. The safeties were not as good as they’ve been this year, but again Adarius Pickett led the team in tackles and Quentin Lake had a solid outing. This group really played well, so I’m giving them an A-.

Overall - I mean, it wasn’t the best game from the defense, but, considering what UCLA has to work with at this stage of the year and the tear that Arizona State has been on in recent weeks, I’m willing to grade on a bit of a curve. So we’ll give the defense a C for this game. You’d have loved to see more stops, or maybe not allow such long drives as often as they did, but there were some encouraging parts of this game from the defense.

Special Teams

Overall - Good news: special teams wasn’t a complete disaster in this game. It probably helped that Stefan Flintoft decided kicking the ball as far as possible was the correct strategy against N’Keal Harry, which made it so he had no punt returns. And in kick coverage, ASU was limited to one return of 22 yards. But UCLA did nothing when they had the ball kicked to them, and JJ Molson missed his one FG attempt, which considering the final score, ended up being important (though ASU also missed a FG attempt so we’ll consider this a wash in some aspects). So, for a thoroughly average game from the special teams unit, I’ll give them the thoroughly average grade of a C.

Coaching

Offensive Gameplan - Going off the playcalling in this game, it seemed like UCLA came out with a few main goals: take advantage of Caleb Wilson being better than anyone guarding him and run the ball to keep the linebackers and safeties honest. The running game didn’t have much success, but the offensive staff seemed to recognize that fact, along with Arizona State choosing to stack the box, which opened more things up for the pass game, So, it gets credit there. If I’ve sounded like a broken record in recent weeks, I’m sorry, but this again was a game where the gameplan was sound on offense. So, I can’t knock the grade too much, so we’ll go with a B+.

Defensive Gameplan - Similar thing as in recent weeks. With UCLA’s current depth, lack of experience, and inability to generate anything resembling pressure on a consistent basis, the Bruins chose to stay back a bit and play more contain on defense, which, honestly, was probably the smart choice, but it did let ASU dictate the terms of play in many aspects, especially in time of possession, as the Sun Devil offense was incredibly efficient on the day. But, again, I can’t put too much blame on the coaching staff for the tools at their disposal, so we’ll go with a B-.

Overall - The greater attention to detail in last week’s practices showed, as UCLA was much better when it came to execution, with minimal drops, fewer missed tackles, and a special teams unit that wasn’t a nightmare. That’s a positive.

The choice to go for it on 4th down was still the correct call. ASU just made a play to get a stop. It happens. UCLA did a similar thing on defense later in the game when ASU went for it on a 4th and 1.

The more puzzling decision was not going for it on 4th and 5 from the ASU 40 in the 4th quarter. Considering how the defense had played up to this point, giving ASU the ball back was never going to be the best decision and it played out exactly the way you’d expect, as the Sun Devils were able to march 80 yards and chew up 8:05 of game time en route to what ended up as a game-sealing touchdown. That the UCLA offense rallied on the next drive is beside the point — giving ASU the ball in that situation was the wrong decision.

In general, the coaching staff did a fine job, especially in fixing a lot of mistakes that had been seen in recent weeks, but, boy, that choice to punt still sits wrong with me. I’m going with a B- here.

Discipline/Execution

Overall - Seven penalties for 58 yards isn’t great, but what’s going to hurt this grade is that final sequence. I’m not going to post it again, but you can go back up and read it. But it was a clear breakdown of discipline at a time that the Bruins could ill afford it. So we’ll go with a D+ here.

Final Composite

Offense grade: B (3.0)

Defensive grade: C (2.0)

Special Teams grade: C (2.0)

Coaching grade: B- (2.7)

Discipline grade: D+ (1.3)

Final grade for Arizona State Sun Devils: C+ (2.2)

And, to recap, here are UCLA’s grades so far this season, along with handy links to the Eye Test for those games):

Cincinnati: C (2.12)

Oklahoma: C+ (2.2)

Fresno State: D (1.0)

Colorado: C (2.02)

Washington: B (3.0)

UC Berkeley: A (3.62)

Arizona: C (2.08)

Utah: D (0.94)

Oregon: D+ (1.34)

Surprisingly, even though I thought UCLA had an average game by the standards they’ve shown this year, I felt better about this game than I have about any UCLA game in weeks. Combine that with the current dumpster fire that is Southern Cal and I’m feeling more confident than I probably should be about the game this Saturday. We’ll see how that works out.


Go Bruins.