In last season’s opener at the Rose Bowl against Virginia, true freshman Josh Rosen, taking his first snap at the college level, found Kenny Walker streaking down the field on a post route, wide open. Rosen launched a perfect throw, hitting Walker right on the hands without having to break his stride, but Walker dropped the pass.
The crowd at the Rose Bowl that day, however, let out a collective, impressed sigh: They hadn’t seen a quarterback sling the ball like that in a UCLA uniform since Cade McNown, who led the Bruins to their last Rose Bowl in the 1998 season.
Even though the pass was dropped, Bruin fans were delighted, and the play would be indicative to how the rest of the game would go to open the 2015 season: Josh Rosen threw brilliantly, and UCLA thumped Virginia at the Rose Bowl, 34-16, creating optimism about the season to come.
This year, in yesterday’s season opener at Texas A&M, in his first play from scrimmage Rosen would again find Kenny Walker streaking down the field on a post route, wide open. Had Rosen fired the perfect throw this time, the Bruins may have taken a 7-0 lead, an addition of four points that would’ve come in handy later in the game. But instead Rosen’s pass was badly under thrown. UCLA was bailed out by a pass interference call, but would settle for a field goal.
Again the opening play was indicative of how the rest of the game would go for Rosen and the Bruins.
Mistakes Were Made
In any one-score loss, or in this case a regulation-time draw, you can look back and find a few missed opportunities or mistakes that would’ve changed the outcome of the game had they gone your way. Yesterday, the Bruins had a plethora of mistakes, totally self-inflicted, to choose from. Really any one of which, had the play been executed, may have had Bruin fans singing a different tune today.
They came from just about all over.
They came from Josh. On his way down to the turf in the first quarter, instead of taking a sack, Rosen threw the football up in the air like a bride tossing out the bouquet of flowers to a crowd of unmarried women at her wedding reception. He missed Kenny Walker to open the game, missed Austin Roberts later in the game. After fumbling the snap in the 4th quarter, on a drive to potentially put the winning points on the board, he didn’t get his eyes up to see Justin Evans in his throwing lane. To name a few.
They came from the receivers. Oh, did they come from the receivers. When Josh did make good throws, his receivers couldn’t catch the ball. Most egregiously, in the 4th quarter, Rosen hit Alex Van Dyke in the hands, who popped the ball up to A&M safety Justin Evans, ending what would have been a scoring drive. Jordan Lasley dropped what would have been a touchdown pass. Austin Roberts, who otherwise had a great game for the Bruins, dropped a touchdown pass in overtime that would have sent the game to a second OT.
They came from the coaching staff. J.J. Moulson’s only missed field goal of the day came on a 48-yard attempt to end the first half, and it should have been, could have been, a much closer attempt for the true freshman if not for bone-headed clock management. With 7 seconds to go and the clock stopped after Soso Jamabo went out of bounds, the offense couldn’t get a play in and had to call their last time out to stave off a delay of game. There was enough time to gain a small chunk of yards, call the timeout, and set up Moulson for a closer try.
They came from the defense. But not nearly as many as the offense. Though UCLA only got called for four penalties in the game, all on the defense, two extended a drive that A&M would end in a touchdown. The Aggies were at the UCLA 33 yard line, when Eddie Vanderdoes was offside on a 3rd and 6, that A&M couldn’t otherwise convert. But did get the second attempt only needing one yard. And a defensive holding on Fabian Moreau (in his defense, a terrible call) that would give the Aggies a fresh set of downs at goal when they otherwise would have been forced to kick a field goal.
If the Bruins had inflicted even one fewer of their own wounds, perhaps they open the season with a tough win on the road against an SEC opponent. If they inflicted a few less, they might’ve won by 10.
Josh Rosen Wasn’t Good
"I played a pretty abysmal first half," Rosen said after the game. "Coach is going to try and be coach and console me and say it wasn’t all you, but I missed some incredibly key opportunities to take advantage of."
It certainly wasn’t all Josh’s fault, his receivers dropped passes and he was under pressure from the Aggie pass rush all game. He lead the 4th quarter rally to send the game to overtime, and threw for 343 yards on 7.46 YPA. But it still wasn’t a good game.
He completed only 56.5% of his passes, and tossed 3 interceptions to 1 touchdown (again, not all his fault), and recorded his worst Adjusted QBR (42.1) since the BYU game last season. Bruin fans hoped that BYU Josh would be the quaint memory of a true freshman still getting used to the speed of the college game, but BYU Josh showed up in College Station on Saturday.
"It’ll never happen again," he promised.
Rosen simply must be better under pressure this season, because he may find himself in that position a lot...
The O-Line Really Wasn’t Good
A&M’s defensive line may yet prove to be one of the elite units in college football this season, but even considering the level of competition, there’s no way around this, the offensive line was really not good.
Myles Garrett and Co. sacked Rosen five times, already tallying over a third of the amount of sacks that the UCLA line gave up all of last season. They put Josh on the ground 10 times, and hurried him 21 times over the course of the game.
The between-the-tackles run game that Kennedy Polamalu wanted to establish in his new offense this season was non-existent, and UCLA averaged only 3.13 yards per rush in the game. The big rushing gains came mostly from running outside the tackles. The interior of the line could gain no push in the run game. They did a bad job of protecting Rosen. For this unit, it’s difficult to find positives after game 1.
Were There Any Steps Forward for UCLA?
The defense looks pretty much the same as it was last year. There wasn’t much blitzing until the 4th quarter (which, hey... worked!), and the passing defense held Knight to a pretty pedestrian day, in fact. Perhaps the loss of Mazzone hurt this side of the ball, no longer practicing against an uptempo team in Westwood, as the defense looked totally gassed in the 3rd quarter when the A&M offense got the tempo going and strung together two drives for touchdowns while the Bruins were stalled on their offensive possessions.
Considering they were playing without their two best pass rushers, Hollins for the whole game, McKinley for most of the game, it’s hard to be too down on this side of the ball. Perhaps only because the offensive mistakes were so glaring.
Maybe the one real positive, a kind of step forward, were penalties. UCLA was only called for 4 penalties the entire game, a minor miracle in the Jim Mora era, and one of them was an invention of the referees. Though they seemed to all come on third downs to extend Aggie drives, 4 penalties for only 17 yards is amazing for this program.
It’s Only the First Week
For the first time in Jim Mora’s tenure at UCLA, the Bruins dropped a non-conference game, and will begin the season 0-1. But let’s all remember that this is only the first week. Take a deep breath. I certainly wore out the panic button yesterday afternoon as much as anyone else did. I’m no blind optimist here.
But maybe A&M is the surprise team in the SEC West this season, where everyone started out with a giant laying of the proverbial egg except for Alabama, and a close loss at Kyle Field is respectable.
Maybe Chavis's defense at A&M is the best defense UCLA faces all season, and the offense, after a tune up against UNLV, begins to run as efficiently as it’s supposed to.
Maybe the Bruins still win the South, another conference division that laid the egg yesterday. In fact, the only team that looked good this weekend in the division (and by looked good I mean, I certainly didn’t watch it) was — hold onto your hats — Colorado.
The division is winnable, and if the division is winnable, with improvement, the conference could be winnable, too.
Or maybe not.
Who knows... It was only the first week.