Hello everyone, and welcome to the first “Eye Test” of the 2018 season (and, coincidentally, the first “Eye Test” of the Chip Kelly era). For those of you reading this series for the first time, the “Eye Test” is a way for us to break down each football game played by the UCLA Bruins to determine how the team performed on an individual and team-wide level, while getting into the nitty-gritty details that lead to each result.
The “Eye Test” is broken down into 5 categories: Offense, Defense, Special Teams, Coaching, and Discipline/Execution. Each category is usually broken down even further, depending on my discretion (aka how much do I want to write about something). If you read the column last year, you’ll notice that Discipline has been expanded to include Execution - the reasoning here is that I’m trying to make more clear that silly mistakes would fall under this category, and I got tired of just counting penalties last year. I’m still not satisfied with that category at the moment, so if you have any suggestions for it, feel free to leave a comment.
With that said, let’s get in this thing.
Quarterback - Bruins fans have absolutely been spoiled the last 6 years. Brett Hundley was given a year to acclimate to the college game, after which he turned around and had one of the best 3-year stretches any UCLA quarterback has had. He was followed by Josh Rosen, who sandwiched an injury-filled sophomore year with 2 of the best statistical seasons in UCLA history. Both quarterbacks possessed the kind of talent that was able to will UCLA to victory, and I think their legacies are only going to grow going forward because this game saw UCLA’s QBs fall back to earth.
It feels a little ghoulish to discuss Wilton Speight considering the injury that knocked him out of the game, but he wasn’t very good in his time on the field. Speight completed 8 of his 12 pass attempts, but the throws were routinely thrown to bad locations, limiting YAC opportunities for the receivers, which is how Speight ended up with only 45 yards passing. He also possessed the lone interception of the night for the Bruins.
Dorian Thompson-Robinson, the heralded true freshman, was equally ineffective when he came into the game to relieve the injured Speight. Josh Rosen spoiled UCLA fans, who all forgot that most true freshmen quarterbacks do not look that good when they arrive on campus. DTR looked like a quarterback who had only started a year of varisty-level high school football, came onto campus in the fall rather than the spring like most highly-touted QB prospects, and was thrown into a game with almost-minimal prep time, which is basically what happened. Watching his performance, it became clear why Speight was chosen to start, as the game just looked too fast for him for large portions of the game. Obviously, the offensive line play did not help (more on that in a bit), but he lacked feel on many of his passes, looked flustered in the pocket and, most distressingly, displayed some real worrying troubles with ball security, including a fumble that led to a safety.
The good news here is that this is can be a good learning experience for Thompson-Robinson. Now, he has game film of what he did well and what he needs to improve on. That can do wonders for a quarterback’s development. But I’m also of the opinion that he really could use the redshirt year. The good news is that this is still possible. Thanks to the new rules regarding redshirts, a player can appear in 4 games and still retain his redshirt eligibility. Devon Modster, to me, should probably be the starter going forward, while Thompson-Robinson should get some play in a few more games to gain reps/film to further develop.
But, for this game, the quarterback position was a nightmare, and earned an D-. At least that feels like a floor for this unit.
Running Backs - Technically, UCLA running backs combined for over 100 yards this game, which looks pretty good on paper. But this unit had a ton of issues as well.
Well, most of this unit did anyway. Kazmeir Allen only got 5 carries in this game, but he absolutely made the most of them, including his 74 yard touchdown run that tied the game and gave the Bruins life. Even if you take that run out of his totals, Allen averaged 7.25 YPC on his other 4 attempts, which still would have led the team. He’s clearly the most talented back in this group and should be the starter going forward. He needs to clean things up in the passing game (such as when he turned the complete wrong way on a hot route that could have led to a big game), but he really should be getting a bulk of the touches from this group going forward.
Joshua Kelley was alright. He hit a few holes that were available and, as a change-of-pace back, he’d work out as a complement to Allen, especially as he showed some good hands when catching the ball. But he did struggle finding the holes at times.
Bolu Olorunfunmi, meanwhile, was a disaster. He accounted for 9 of the 21 carries by the running backs, and managed only 13 yards on those. Yes, the offensive line did not have a great game, but Bolu routinely missed holes and, generally, just looked lost on the field. At this point in his career, Bolu’s hot and cold routine is becoming problematic, especially if he’s going to earn that large of a share of the carries, and he needs to have his role lessened in favor of Allen.
Really, Kazmeir is the only reason this grade isn’t in the toilet as well, because his play was so good that it buoyed the RB grade up to a C. You’d like to hope this game helped the coaching staff decide to change up their rotations going forward.
Wide Receiver/Tight Ends - This is another weird situation where it’s hard to completely blame the wide receivers for their results in this game, but the unit, in general, didn’t cover itself in glory like you would hope.
Which is not to say there weren’t bright spots. Theo Howard (I am and always will be Team #FREETHEO) looked dynamic the few times he was targeted, catching 5 of his 6 targets and leading the team in receiving yards with 52. Had Theo gotten better throws or more of a focus, he really looks like he can be a difference maker this year. Caleb Wilson, again, looks fantastic, including a ridiculous catch where he had to adjust midair and tip a ball up to himself to make the catch, but, too often, he was overthrown, underthrown, or ignored while he was open. Wilson looked like a potential first-rounder last year and it feels like he should be a bigger focus going forward.
The true freshmen, Chase Cota and Kyle Philips, looked like true freshman, which is to say inconsistent, but you could see the flashes of talent. Philips, in particular, looked very good in his limited action and you can see big things for both guys down the line.
On the flip side, I think I’m done with the Christian Pabico experiment. Pabico is a shining example of what I consider a Practice Time All-Star — aka a guy who looks really good in practice, but fails to perform during the game. In this game, the big play was a dropped pass that Pabico could have taken for an easy touchdown, except it bounced off his hands. Cota too dropped a pass that could have gone for big yards, but Cota is also a true freshman. Pabico is a former walk-on senior who earned his scholarship, in part, because of his sure hands, yet my defining memories of him revolve around counting his drops (seriously, I went back through all of the Eye Tests from last year, and I talked about Pabico dropping a pass more than I did him having a good game by a wide margin). Pabico had to have been counted on as veteran for this unit, but he feels so unreliable during games that I’d rather just play the talented freshmen.
Overall, it’s hard to blame their lack of production on the group themselves. A few dropped passes, but the QB play did more to hurt the passing game than the receivers which, at the very least, is a new thing for UCLA. We’ll go with a B- here.
Offensive Line - Yeah....this wasn’t great.
Let’s start with the positives: Andre James looked fine at left tackle. He’s clearly better suited for the right side, but he’s at least serviceable on the left side and, with this offensive line, serviceable is a luxury. Michael Alves also looked good and seems to be developing well after his bright redshirt freshmen year.
Now for the bad stuff.
Justin Murphy, the grad transfer from Texas Tech, had a rough game. The right side, in general, had a rough game, but Murphy, in particular, seemed to be the guy Cincinnati keyed in on, as he was consistently losing battles with the Bearcats’ defensive line. Chris Murray seemed to take over as starting center in this game and he had some issues with his snaps being low at times and throwing off the QB rhythm, but he’s also a true freshman being thrown into the deep end in his first game, so it’s hard to be too upset with him.
There is, on some level, a need to point out that this unit was just left in a nightmare position, having suffered some extremely-poor recruiting in recent years combined with general attrition. Losing a first round left tackle and a 4-year starter at center was going to create an issue, but the two-deep shows that Jim Mora and company really did not have a plan with the offensive line. Hell, 6 of the 10 offensive line spots on the two-deep feature underclassmen. This unit is probably going to struggle all year and anything resembling positive progress should be hailed as a blessing.
But, at the same time, the Eye Test is designed to point out how a result occurred and so much of the offense’s problems can be traced back to the poor offensive line play in this game. The Bearcats were able to get into the backfield with ease, limiting running lanes and forcing pressure on UCLA’s quarterbacks almost-immediately. Wilton Speight’s injury came on a play where Speight was forced to scramble, and it happened way too often. While Thompson-Robinson’s fumble for a safety came on a play where four Cincinnati defenders were able to get into the backfield almost immediately. Yes, there were some good things, but I can’t in good conscious give this unit anything but an F and they absolutely have to be better going forward.
Overall - I have a separate criticism for the playcalling that you’ll see in a later section, but if we’re talking about the offensive players themselves, the biggest issue plaguing the unit was execution, particularly from the quarterback and offensive line units. The problems from those two units made it hard for the running backs and wide receivers to stand out and, while those units had their own problems, it’s hard to divorce those problems from the bigger problems with the previous two spots. So, the offense has to get a D+. At least there’s room to grow here.
Defensive Line - I thought the defensive line, in general, did a fairly good job. It’s very clear that this group really excels when they’re able to pin their ears back and get after the quarterback, but, in the run game, they did a fairly good job. Part of that has to do with the general setup of a 3-4 defense, in which the defensive linemen are required to engage the offensive linemen and let the linebackers make the plays and, on that end, they did their job.
What was more exciting was how well this group played in comparison to how young they are. If you looked at the two-deep, you saw the amount of underclassmen listed for the three defensive line spots (including 3 true freshman) and worried that they would have issues, but, in their first chances at actual game reps, the freshmen more than held their own and even flashed some of the talent that gives Bruin fans hope going forward. Atonio Mafi looks like a fantastic prospect at nose tackle, while Tyler Manoa and Otito Ogbonnia, forced into an increased role due to some injuries and suspensions, each looked like they belong, which isn’t a thing that happens with true freshman defenders all that often.
Finally, let’s give a shout out to Rick Wade who picked up where he left off in 2017 with a strong performance here. Wade forced the fumble that led to UCLA’s first touchdown and was, in general, just a menace.
Going forward, I’d like to see this unit become more of a force in the run game, especially considering the play of the next unit. And I think this unit will really benefit when Marcus Moore comes back from injury and a few guys come back from suspension, just so they have more bodies to rotate in. So, for this game, I’ll give them a B+. Really, it was a great opening performance from a unit that has a lot to prove.
Linebackers - I’m going to tell you all up front: this grade is going to be a C. Now let me explain: I don’t break the linebackers up by inside and outside, but maybe I should, because one unit was incredibly good while one was just as bad as we feared.
Let’s start positive first: Jaelan Phillips and Keisean Lucier-South really shined in this game and fully lived up to their 5-star billing coming out of high school. They were terrors in the pass rush game with Phillips essentially living in the backfield while Lucier-South held his own in pass coverage as well. These two played the majority of the snaps. So, it was hard to pull out anyone else for contributing, but Odua Isibor did record a tackle. Upsettingly, Mique Juarez did not get much of a chance to play in this game.
He may need to move to the inside, though, because this unit just struggled. We assumed there would be some problems once Josh Woods went down with an injury, but the inside linebackers, in general, would routinely miss reads or tackles which led to positive plays in the run game. Krys Barnes had a decent game in pass coverage where he registered 2 pass breakups to go along with his 9 tackles, but he was routinely getting swallowed up by the Cincinnati run blockers, which is a trend from last season that is unfortunately continuing here. Tyree Thompson and Lokeni Toailoa both had multiple mistakes in run coverage, which was not a great sign from two juniors. Maybe Je’Vari Anderson comes back from injury and provides a more steady hand on the inside or Bo Calvert gains some playing time and shines. Or, give Juarez a shot at the inside because the bar really isn’t that high at the moment.
Secondary - I thought the secondary would be good. I didn’t expect this level of play, though.
Starting with the obvious, Nate Meadors remains his usual, steady, talented self. He had one near-interception which would have been a pick-six had the wide receiver not made a great play to break the pass up and, in general, was a rock. Adarius Pickett coming back was a boon to the defense and he led the team in tackles with 15 (though that’s never a good sign when your safety leads the team in tackles and again speaks to the issues the inside linebackers had that Pickett was routinely up to help the run defense).
Moving down, Darnay Holmes seems to have taken the leap everyone expected would happen. Holmes registered 2 pass breakups and really showed that he could be the shutdown corner we all hoped he could be when he arrived in Westwood.
The best surprise was the play of Quentin Lake. On paper, Lake was the weak link of the secondary, not having the experience of Pickett, Meadors, or Holmes, nor the pedigree that Elijah Gates had coming out of high school. But, Lake did his dad Carnell proud with this performance. Lake registerd 9 tackles, including 1 TFL, and added a QB hurry as he was routinely sent into the backfield to help the linebackers in run support. He more than thrived. If Lake can keep this level of play up, he could be a stalwart on the back end for a long time.
Also, a shout out goes to Elijah Gates. Yes, he had a big missed tackle, but he was generally excellent when he was in the game and showed why he, too, was a highly-regarded corner prospect coming out of high school. With Gates, Lake and, obviously, Holmes, UCLA’s secondary looks to be in good hands for the foreseeable future. This group really deserves an A and I’m not going to take it from them.
Overall - Outside of the inside linebackers, the defense, in general, played rather well. At the very least, well enough to win this game. They took to the new aggressive scheme with gusto and, outside of a poor second quarter, they really had a fantastic game.
That second quarter was a problem, though. Part of it had to do with fatigue, as the UCLA offense was stalling out while Cincinnati switched their gameplan to a focus on pounding the Bruins on the inside with runs and a concerted attack on UCLA’s inside linebackers and the missed tackles were emblematic of this situation. Things cleaned up in the second half where the Bearcats only averaged 3.2 YPC, including a fantastic 1.8 YPC in the 4th quarter, but that second quarter was bad enough to drag this grade down to a B+. Still a great performance, especially after last year.
Overall - JJ Molson was only asked to take one FG attempt, but he nailed his 47 yarder with distance to spare. That’s a nice weapon to have in your back pocket.
Stefan Flintoft was capable in the punting game. I felt he struggled a bit early, but he got into a groove late, including a 57 yarder that sent the Cincinnati returner scrambling backwards and keyed a good flip of the field.
A special shout out goes to Darnay Holmes in the punt return game. He did not really do anything particularly good and even muffed a punt that he thankfully recovered (and led to Kyle Phillips coming in to fair catch a few punts as punishment), but Holmes clearly went to the Ishmael Adams School of “You Can’t Run it Back if You Fair Catch it”, as he took some shots from defenders when he probably should have just fair caught the ball.
Outside of Molson’s long kick, though, the special teams unit was competent, if not unspectacular. So I’ll go with a B here. They did their job, but did not necessarily flip the game decidedly in the Bruins favor.
Offensive Gameplan - Hello, and welcome to the section that has to be prefaced with the words “yes I know it’s early and the players do not necessarily fit the system.”
Now that those words were said, boy howdy, did this offense look awful.
Our initial hysteria over hiring Chip Kelly allowed us to gloss over the fact that he had been run out of the last 2 coaching jobs in many ways because his offense did not get the job done. There’s a lot of reasons for this like the differences between the college and NFL rules, higher level of athlete, aversion to getting a highly-paid QB hit repeatedly, but one reason Chris Brown went into when discussing Kelly’s hiring by the San Francisco 49ers was that the offense had become too predictable. Just take this quote from Philadelphia Eagles receiver Josh Huff after a game against the Cowboys:
Josh Huff said that when he lined up near Dallas sideline, there were times when he heard Cowboys calling out Eagles plays pre-snap.— Tim McManus (@Tim_McManus) September 22, 2015
That’s not good in the slightest. Brown’s article also showed other teams like the Falcons specifically shifting into alignments based on what the offense was showing, and routinely getting stops. Kelly deflected criticism of his playcalling at the time by stating that the offense wasn’t predictable, but rather that the players just weren’t executing at the level they needed to, which isn’t a good look no matter how you slice it.
Kelly had a lot to prove on his return to college and this game did not do him any favors. Again, “yes I know it’s early and the players do not necessarily fit the system” and there were clear execution issues, but the offensive gameplan and playcalling in this game were not at the level they needed to be at to secure a victory and, frankly, looked a whole lot like the offenses that got Kelly run out of the NFL. That’s concerning no matter how early into the Chip Kelly era this is.
Between this game and the spring game, we do actually have something of an idea of what Kelly wants to run, which is a precision passing scheme designed to methodically move down the field, interspersed with run plays to keep the defense honest. This is basically the same offense that Kelly ran in Philadelphia and San Francisco which, at least, made some sense at that level because you could reasonably trust the quarterbacks at that level to make those throws. Had Josh Rosen stuck around this year, I’d feel reasonably confident he could make this type of offense work (though I’d feel reasonably confident he could make most offenses work), but UCLA’s current batch of quarterbacks do not have that same ability level. Too often, throws were mistimed, underthrown, or overthrown, which disrupted the rhythm of the offense. One way to alleviate this problem is to call a series of easy throws, like screens to the outside, to get the QB in a rhythm, but that never came.
Similarly, at the NFL level, teams quickly realized what specific run plays were coming just based on the offensive alignment and, at times, it seemed Cincinnati was able to do the same thing. Yes, UCLA’s offensive line did not get anywhere near the necessary push required to have a successful run game, but, too often, they found themselves beaten to the point of attack as if the defense knew exactly where the run play would go.
Worse still was how predictable it all was. It got to the point in the 3rd quarter where I was able to call the play from the stands before the snap and, if I was able to do that, imagine what highly-paid professional coaches were able to do.
By the 2nd quarter, Cincinnati seemed to make a calculated gamble on defense that UCLA would not try to beat them over the top and focused on applying defensive pressure within 10 yards of the LOS and it paid off. UCLA showed a clear unwillingness to try to stretch the field vertically or, if they did, the offensive line just could not provide enough time for the play to develop. At the same time, Cincinnati was clearly betting that UCLA’s QBs could not beat them and they were right. Credit goes to the Bearcats for a smart gameplan on defense, but that Chip Kelly was beaten on that end in his first game against a lower-tier opponent has to be concerning.
One of the most fascinating things about football, in general, is how often coaches will routinely sabotage themselves in an effort to prove how much smarter they are than everyone else. UCLA fans have seen this plenty over the years. It was the basis of Noel Mazzone’s whole offensive scheme, after all. Now, I’m afraid we may be seeing it on some level with Chip Kelly. Kelly seems determined to prove that his NFL offense could work, despite not possessing the personnel to make it work. Worse still, he does not seem to be accounting for the personnel he does have in this gameplan or, at the very least, is grossly misunderstanding the talents of the players he possesses. Just to take the quarterback spot, if this is the system he is running, it would seem to make the most sense to play Devon Modster, who essentially ran a similar system last year with the Bruins and possesses a fantastic deep ball in his skillset, which would help spread opposing defenses out.
So, once again, yes it’s early. But what was presented has to be concerning and I’ve reached the point in my UCLA fandom that I can’t just automatically give a new coach the benefit of the doubt, even if they have the college pedigree of Chip Kelly. For this game, the offensive gameplan gets a D-, if only because there were some good playcalls that would have gone for decent yardage had the execution been crisper.
(And now let me quickly throw in some caveats for everyone just for fun. The high rate of short passes compared to run plays could be a tacit admission that the offensive line is not all that good at run blocking, which would be a good evaluation, but the poor QB play renders the decision moot. There was also a distinct lack of tempo, partly because all of the passing and incompletions tended to slow the pace down, but also I’m assuming because the offense just isn’t at that level yet in practice to properly implement it in a game. I also don’t think Chip Kelly was hiding anything in his back pocket for the Oklahoma game like people might have assumed. This, for all intents and purposes, is the offense he is going to run in 2018. Ok, that’s enough time to move on.
Defensive Gameplan - And, now, for the polar opposite, in which I gush over the defense one more time.
I absolutely loved this new defense under Jerry Azzinaro. We got things we haven’t seen from a UCLA defense in years, such as:
- Blitzs on obvious passing downs such as 3rd and long!
- Stunts along the line prior to the snap!
- Shifts to change matchups on the defensive line!
- Press coverage!
Seriously, it was a cornucopia of aggressive gameplanning that absolutely suits the talent on display in the defense. Again, this was the opposite of the offense, as it did what it could to let the stars of the defense shine (Phillips and Lucier-South put in 1-on-1 situations against the Bearcats’ offensive line, the secondary being given the opportunity to make plays) while doing what it could to limit the damage of the things they do not do well (safeties routinely coming up to help the inside linebackers in run coverage).
Here’s another fun thing to consider: this defense still isn’t at full strength. Marcus Moore, who broke out in a big way last year, still has to return from injury. There are a few other players on the defensive line who will help out upon their return from suspension. The inside linebackers....well, they’re in trouble, but some options exist to help this unit out. The point is that there is still room to grow for this defense.
I can’t even fully blame the defense for the woes of the 2nd quarter, as they got left on an island by the offense repeatedly in that period including the interception that gave Cincinnati the ball deep in Bruin territory. Encouragingly, the defense was able to adjust in the second half when the offense still had issues. I’ll take that 2nd quarter into consideration in the grade, but I’d still give this group and the gameplan, an A- for the game. Obvious caveats about Cincinnati not having a great offense apply, but this was such a 180 from last year that I can’t help but feel positive. This week may prove to be more of a challenge, but I’m still excited to watch this unit develop as the season progresses.
Overall - Let’s start with everyone’s new favorite debate: Was it a good idea to go for it on 4th down? You may be shocked to find that I comfortably sit on the “absolutely go for it” side of the debate. Personally, I find that punting on a 4th and 1 is cowardice of the highest order, and it shows zero faith in your offense to get a single yard. But, beyond that, I like the call just from an expectation-setting standpoint. If Chip Kelly’s goal this season is to change the culture around UCLA football, one easy way is to routinely go for it on 4th down. It lets the team know that the plan is to be aggressive in the pursuit of victory, while also acting as a potential catalyst for the offense to break out. The results of both plays do not matter when discussing whether a decision was good or bad. Otherwise, you could armchair away any decision based on the result. If there is a criticism, it is that the specific playcalls each time were not ideal, especially trusting a shaky quarterback to throw a hot route. The better playcall would have been a naked bootleg to the right side, giving Thompson-Robinson an option to pass or a lane to run for the 1st down depending on what the defense attempts to do.
One of the things I noted during the game was that the team (really, the offense) looked unprepared for what Cincinnati wanted to do. So what stood out more is what happened after halftime: the defense adjusted, the offense remained the same. That’s not a good combination, especially when your defense was really the one bright spot, while your offense really could have used some adjustments, especially once it was clear that Thompson-Robinson was going to be the quarterback in the second half and not Speight. Adjustments fall under coaching and the failure of the offense to change its approach is, again, a flashing warning sign.
This grade, which is a C, is rather disappointing, considering all of the hype Chip Kelly got when he came to Westwood. The fact that the offense looked that bad against a below-average opponent like Cincinnati is concerning, but more concerning is how the offensive gameplan seemed designed with an entirely different personnel group in mind and did not adjust for the realities of the roster. Square peg, round hole. Meanwhile, the defense experienced a systemic shift that better accounted for the talent at hand and put them in the best position to succeed. Good defense, bad offense - exactly like we thought would happen when Chip Kelly arrived.
Overall - This section is changing in part because I got tired of mapping out each individual penalty, but we do need to talk about them for a specific reason.
This is unfair of me to put a colleague on blast, especially our managing editor, but, in our Preseason Roundtable, Joe addressed the idea of cleaning up penalties by (rightly) pointing out that if UCLA got the same amount of penalties but ran a much higher amount of plays, then that should be taken into account. But what happens if UCLA runs the same tempo it had in previous years? Especially in an offensive system that needs efficiency to stay effective? The penalty problem would suddenly shift back to a state where penalties become even more important, as the offense in its current state cannot afford to be put behind schedule. Some of the penalties from the offense are things that can get cleaned up in time, such as the multiple false starts caused by a true freshman center.
But there were some more egregious things that need to be called out. Quentin Lake got a deadball unnecessary roughness penalty that, fortunately for him, was wiped out as part of an offsetting penalty, but it came after a big stop and was not what the defense needed at that moment (credit to the rest of the defense for pointing this out and credit to Lake for playing a clean game afterwards). More distressingly was the illegal substitution penalty at the end of the game. Coming out of a timeout THAT UCLA CALLED, getting this penalty was inexcusable and was, to put it in as diplomatic a way as possible, very Mora-esque. The penalty moved the ball close enough to the goal that Cincinnati finally felt they could go for the game-ending touchdown on a 4th down, which they succeeded at. That penalty falls on the players, but, even more so, on the coaches. Attention to detail is something that Kelly has preached so far, but in this scenario it was his staff that failed to pay attention and it directly cost the team.
I threw execution into this section in part because it falls into the same idea as discipline. With discipline, specifically penalties, a lot of tiny mistakes can add up to create a situation where you lose. Execution falls into the same idea and, in this game, there were clear cases where things were not executed properly. Missed tackles, dropped balls, poor blocking, bad throws...you name it, it happened. If this game did anything, it drove home that this is going to be a process that will take time. A lot of time.
The grade for this section is a D. Too many costly mistakes to discount entirely as youth or inexperience in a new system.
Offense grade: D+ (1.3)
Defensive grade: B+ (3.3)
Special Teams grade: B (3.0)
Coaching grade: C (2.0)
Discipline grade: D (1.0)
Final grade for Cincinnati: C (2.12)
If I’m honest, that grade feels rather high compared to how I felt on Saturday, but it’s a good example of how the Eye Test is designed to work. Specifically, everything gets weighted equally, whereas my feelings on Saturday revolved around how uninspiring and poorly-conceptualized the offense looked. Having the time to rewatch the game gave me more time to really give the defense its due, which helped the grade, but also crystallized some of the things I saw on Saturday.
Normally, I wouldn’t get on a soapbox here at the end, but I feel there are a few things I need to address. The first: we have to stop letting the hype cloud our thoughts. I feel like everyone was guilty of it, myself included, but we were so excited about the Chip Kelly era and what it could mean for UCLA football that we forgot just how many problems were left over from the Jim Mora era. So, when this first result came around, the facade came crashing down hard for people. This is going to be a multi-year process and Bruin fans are going to have to be patient and maybe learn to take any positive news they hear from practices with a grain of salt going forward.
But, at the same time, it is hard to get around the fact that this was not a good look for everyone involved. Chip Kelly had his naysayers, who believed the game had passed him by while he left or that his offense had been exposed by the NFL and was now vulnerable. This game did nothing but provide that group with more ammunition. UCLA Football, desperate to prove it could be a big time program, fell apart as it has for the past few decades, all while a nationally-televised broadcast repeatedly sent out pictures of an empty Rose Bowl, a continued sign of an ineptly-run program from the top level down. These are problems that have no easy answers (ok, the ineptly-run program part definitely has one) but point to a larger sense of apathy surrounding UCLA football.
You only get one chance to make a first impression and UCLA football and Chip Kelly in his return to college football did not make a good one. It’s time to see if they can improve from here.