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The Eye Test: UCLA Makes Mistakes, Comes up Short Against Texas A&M

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Grading out the finer details of UCLA's 31-24 loss to the Texas A&M Aggies in the Bruins' 2016 season opener to see if UCLA football is meeting expectations.

NCAA Football: UCLA at Texas A&M Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

Taking over something is hard.

No, seriously. The Eye Test is one of those features we do here that people come to read. There’s a heavy burden that comes with taking over this column and I hope to try and live up to the standard that IEAngel set.

To compound the problem on a personal level for me, I was at this game sitting up in the top corner of Kyle Field. But I didn’t get back until Monday and I didn’t get to rewatch this game until Tuesday. So right off the bat, this column is late, and I apologize. (Ed. Note - This is even later because I was unable to publish it when it was finished. I was already at a Springsteen concert in Philly when it was completed.-JP)We shouldn’t have this issue going forward, but you’ll just have to bear with me for now.

As is, I really just want to launch into this thing without much of a foreword, just because it’s so late and I know you all want to see how badly I mess this up. Most of the format stays the same, though I have combined the execution section with another section,ad added a different section focusing specifically on the coaching, because in year 5 under Jim Mora, he has his players in, so now you can really judge the coaching and scheme without any excuses.

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

Raw stats: Texas A&M gained 442 yards (417 in regulation), with 203 on the ground and 239 in the air. At first glance, the rushing total isn’t a great sign, especially giving up 5 YPC. Yet the run defense looked much improved over last year, doing a much better job at the point of attack on the line.

The biggest issue came in the third quarter. A&M gained 198 yards in this quarter, going up-tempo and taking advantage of a UCLA defense that came out of the half flat. The Texas A&M staff obviously felt they could do this fairly easily, and UCLA really didn’t have an answer for this. Going forward, this could be a problem if the defense can’t force stops.

That said, the defense looked much improved in this game. A lot has been made of the lack of blitzing from the defense, but UCLA was able to generate consistent pressure from just their front four, which was more impressive considering Deon Hollins was out of the game with a concussion and Takkarist McKinley was out injured for most of it. UCLA occasionally threw a blitz in at times, usually with Jayon Brown as the blitzing linebacker, which works just due to his nose for the ball. Still, credit to Trevor Knight, who consistently made the right play in the face of pressure, utilizing his athleticism to create just enough of an opening to let his wide receivers break out.

The 4th quarter was, by itself, one of the most dominant quarters of defensive football in the Mora era. Here is how all of the drives for A&M went in that 4th quarter:

  • 4 plays, 24 yards, Punt (Carry over from 3rd)
  • 3 plays, 6 yards, Punt
  • 3 plays, 3 yards, Punt
  • 3 plays, 1 yard, Punt
  • 6 plays, 13 yards, Turnover on Downs (end of quarter)

A&M had a chance to put away the game after going up 24-9, and the Bruin defense held them to 47 yards the rest of regulation. Yes, it helps that Mazzone went into a conservative shell at this point, but that’s amazing effort and should be commended.

The defense also forced two turnovers, which led to a total of 3 points. Meanwhile, they held A&M to 0 points after a turnover. Defense also held A&M to 4-15 on third down attempts.

Still, it’s hard to overlook that third quarter, which was a mix of poor tackling effort (Goforth was the prime suspect on a few of these) and defensive breakdowns in the secondary allowing for big gains. Had UCLA come out with the same fire they had for the other 3 periods, I could see the Bruins holding A&M to under 20 on the road.

Have to give the defense a B+ (3.3) here. One quarter was really bad, but the rest was very encouraging going forward.

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

Let’s use this section to first talk about the offense. Coach Mora was very adamant through the spring and into fall that UCLA would not be running a pro-style offense, but rather a more multiple offense, and after one game, I can see where he was going with this. UCLA lined up in a variety of formations, from the power I, to shotgun, to the pistol formation (which surely gave some people nightmares when they saw it), to some more exotic looks. On a 3rd down run from Bolu, the team went with a three tight end look that wouldn’t have looked out of place had Stanford run it.

And here is where I also mention that there were some really well-designed plays. UCLA ran crossing routes to free up underneath guys. The receivers ran side routes that allowed the tight ends (in particular Austin Roberts) to wreck havoc in the middle of the field.

The UCLA coaching staff obviously saw something in the tape, because they kept attempting the deep ball. Walker really outran the coverage on the first two, and Rosen missed both throws (the first, an underthrow, led to a PI, while the second was an overthrow). The seam routes were also routinely open, with poor execution from both Josh (the underthrow to a wide-open Roberts was easily his worst throw of the day) and the wide receivers (Jordan Lasley possibly had a touchdown, but just dropped the ball) stopping these plays.

However, I’m dancing around the big elephant in the room, which is that UCLA constantly had no idea how to deal with the pressure from Texas A&M. This was especially egregious after the half, when UCLA came out with no adjustments to the blitz. You beat a blitz with passes into the open area of the defense that the blitzing player came from, and with screens to take advantage of the aggression. Instead, UCLA went with long-developing pass plays, which was compounded by poor blitz pickup, especially from Soso Jamabo.

The other big issue was the red zone. We obviously hoped that UCLA would become better at converting red zone opportunities into touchdowns with Mazzone leaving and anyone new coming in. That said, UCLA got into the red zone 4 times in regulation, only converting the trip into a touchdown once. Twice UCLA was forced into kicking a field goal, and the fourth time resulted in Josh Rosen’s second interception of the day. In every case, puzzling playcalling was the culprit as much as anything. The worst for me was the third field goal. Here’s how UCLA went once they got into the red zone with goal to go from the 10:

  • 1st down: Soso Jamabo run inside for 2 yards. This isn’t his game at all, and Bolu should have been the one for this play. Which made it more frustrating when Bolu immediately subbed in for Jamabo after this play. Poor personnel usage here.
  • 2nd down: Adams takes a sweep for 2 yards. Just a really bizzare play call. Adams didn’t get a ton of play, and he suddenly subs into the game only to shift into the backfield. Of course the defense is going to key on him, and the shift just ends up bringing more people into the box. That Adams gained any yards at all is testament to his athleticism.
  • 3rd down: Josh Rosen pass incomplete. Of course A&M was going to bring pressure, and the 2-point conversion attempt at the end of the game proved UCLA knew how to counter that. So watching Rosen try to force the ball towards the back of the end zone was just frustrating.

Make no mistake, this game was lost in the first half, when UCLA almost refused to convert anything into points. Throughout the game the offense showed spurts of putting things together and the fourth quarter was a frantic rush, but it’s really hard to overlook all the negatives here.

I’m going with a C- (1.7) just because it was so frustrating to watch live and didn’t become any better on rewatch.

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

Quarter breakdowns:

First quarter

13:56 - Fumble force was good technique forcing the runner inside (note Vanderdoes levels the dude right after). Good pursuit of the outside flat screen.

8:41 – Jamabo absolutely misses the block here. Then Rosen compounds the problem by throwing it while falling down. Just an absolutely bad effort all around.

8:18 Wadood absolutely blows up a stretch run. Amazing read. I audibly popped on the rewatch because I forgot how good this play was, and really stopped any momentum Texas A&M had gained from the interception.

7:39 – Beautiful delayed blitz, Knight throws off his back foot, luckily had a WR that Jayon had completely lost in coverage.

6:21 – Moreau has great coverage here, and you can see why people think he has NFL talent. Uses the boundary as a second defender and just rides the receiver out of bounds, perfect coverage.

4:05 – Jamabo misses a blocking assignment again, leaving McDermott to try and block a DE and a LB at once. Leads to a sack.

3:20 – Obvious draw called, not helped by Moala completely whiffing on the cut block.

0:17 – Great blocking by the line, Rosen has a full 3.5 seconds to find Austin Roberts sitting along 10 yards downfield. More of this would have turned the game.

Second quarter

13:11 – Taua absolutely breaks this play for Olorunfunmi, getting a great lead block on a incoming LB and letting Bolu take over. Also of note, Toran came in the game for Moala at this point.

12:38 – Wrong read by Rosen, has Roberts open on a crossing route. Instead tries to force the ball to Gentosi, who is a walk-on. The walk-on fetish continues.

8:20 – Tempo now leading to inside run gains. Only 5 in box on defense thanks to spread (this one is definitely a coaching mistake).

6:47 – Good read by Rosen to hit a crossing receiver. Combined with an illegal hands to the face by the defense, and this became a 25 yard gain and UCLA suddenly at A&M 35.

6:22 – Beautiful throw in the seam to Andrews from Rosen. UCLA really takes advantage of Garrett being out this drive, and Rosen looks very comfortable in the pocket.

4:49 – Inside run that Savaiinaea completely gets swallowed up on, letting the A&M RB get to the second level with blockers in front of him. A couple more missed low tackles.

3:07 – Brown comes in on a blitz, pressure breaks the pocket down almost immediately as every single defensive lineman wins their battle. Knight forced a throw off his back foot that still was only a fingertip away from the receiver. Dude had some amazing touch this game. Vanderdoes swim-moves a double team, forcing a 3rd blocker to come over, and leaving everyone else to easily handle their guy and get into the backfield. Really fun play to watch if you just forget the field position.

2:23 – Rosen makes a good decision, steps up into the pocket, and uses his stealthy athleticism to pick up yards.

1:52 – This play was just bizzare. First, Walker tries to get Rosen’s attention that he has 1-on-1 coverage with no safety over the top, as the other safeties have moved to help cover the 3 receivers to the top of the formation. Rosen completely misses this read, and then decides to hold the ball too long. Yes there is pressure, but Rosen misses this one before the snap even occurs. Play is also designed to be a quick read, but Rosen holds on.

1:30 – Just want to call out this punt, because Kent absolutely demolishes this punt and completely flips the field. Basically sets up Mazzone going conservative going into the half and gives UCLA the chance at a half-ending field goal.

1:15 – Good read by the defense to call Knight’s run. Brown and Young were in position to stop the run before any damage could occur.

0:43 – Real good stop by the run defense. Young shoots the gap and blows the run up in the backfield, giving UCLA a chance to get some points before the half.

0:16 – Kenny Walker finds a spot in the coverage, and then does the smart thing and just runs straight forward, getting 14 yards and stopping the clock. Walker was far and away the best receiver on the day, which was shocking to say after the fact.

Third quarter

14:40 – Walker again gets a quick pass, and immediately goes upfield to gain 15 yards. Just a good football play by Walker here where last year he would have tried to dance around his defender.

14:09 – Rosen absolutely misses this throw. No pressure. Roberts was wide open in the seam, and if he throws this even close to accurately, they get into the red zone at least, with the possibility of a TD. Point blank, Rosen cannot miss this throw, and the whole team goes on tilt.

14:02 – Roberts drops a pass, though he has no chance of doing anything with the play anyway. First of many drops from the receivers.

13:01 – Inside run for 10+ yards. Young completely whiffs on his run blitz, and the A&M LT is somehow able to seal off two UCLA defenders, which is something that absolutely cannot happen. Defense really came out flat-footed to start the half. UCLA then literally follows this up with a textbook run defense on the next few plays, with everyone holding their gaps and only minimal yards.

9:56 – Good coverage by Goforth on the fade. Sticks with his man, turns his head, and makes enough of a play.

9:50 – REALLY good coverage by Meadors on a second fade. Uses that OOB line as a second defender and just rides Reynolds out before he can establish himself in-bounds.

8:22 – 6 man blitz by A&M, and I’m upset I couldn’t screen-grab this from my TV because this is an awful job of blitz pickup by the offense. Moala is just immediately out of the play, thrown by the wayside by the defender. Two linebackers got a free rush on Rosen as Miller and Jamabo are forced to double-team an edge rusher. Lacy actually does a good job with his defender, and poor McDermott is put on an island and forced to choose which guy to stop. Play is just dead on arrival.

8:17 – Again, Austin Kent just booms a 42 yarder that Christian Kirk isn’t allowed to return it at all. That’s how you neutralize a big threat.

7:50 – Perfect coverage downfield, allows the 4 man front to really get pressure and force Knight to throw the ball while falling away. Pickett plays center fielder, makes the easy interception, and does a good job of absorbing contact. Really good effort all-around from the defense on this play.

7:06 – Just a poor effort from Jamabo, bad chip that does nothing, and the delayed blitz gets a free shot on Rosen.

6:59 – I don’t even know what to do with this play. A&M sends 6. McDermott and Jamabo actually do a decent job on the bottom of the formation with their defenders. The rest of the line does a bad job of blitz pickup, and Quessenberry is just on an island waiting to help Lacy (who actually blocks his man very well) while a second blitzing LB is able to get between Millerand Moala. Rosen gets all of 2 seconds before being hit again. The line really struggled, and this play was emblematic of that, with the offense doing nothing with the turnover.

3:47 – Myles Garrett just puts McDermott on roller skates and gets an easy sack. Not a ton of good film from McDermott in this game. Series is basically over before it can begin, until A&M gives up a first down with a late hit.

1:10 – Rosen actually given plenty of time, and has Walker wide open, just overthrows him. Again, another one of those throws you’d expect him to make, but not even the worst throw he made in the quarter.

1:01 – Not a drop by Lasley here, just good coverage. Also not a great read by Rosen, as he actually has time in the pocket, and decides to throw a short cross on 3rd and long.

Fourth quarter

15:00 – Brown absolutely blows up the run play, forcing a punt. Just made a quick move inside and got the RB low before he could pick up speed.

10:53 – Lasley makes a really good individual effort to get a 1st down on this play, including planting the first defender directly into the ground with a stiff-arm. Really hoping he can break out this year because he brings a physicality no one else in the WR group really has.

10:20 – And then right after I say that, Lasley immediately drops an almost sure-fire touchdown. Completely open and had beaten his guy.

9:35 – Rosen makes a gutsy throw, knowing he’ll take a hit to complete a 15 yard pass to Massington. Rosen really shone in the 4th, where he had struggled the previous 3 quarters.

8:58 – Good read to get the ball to Caleb Wilson open in the middle, who rumbles forward for 13 yards.

8:28 – Pass hits Van Dyke right in the hands, and a huge mental lapse leads to a tip-ball interception, killing a drive that probably ends in points. Van Dyke might have even had a shot at 6 on this one.

7:36 – GREAT defense by Moreau, almost had an interception as he read the route perfectly and jumped in front of the pass.

7:18 – Good read by Rosen to dump off to Jamabo for the sure-fire 10 yard gain in the flat here.

6:23 – Jamabo completely whiffs on his block, and Rosen takes a shot. Luckily UCLA recovers the fumble but oh boy was this a really bad block attempt on a day full of them by Jamabo.

4:27 – HELL of an individual effort from Olorunfunmi on the touchdown. Kept a low center of gravity and pinballed off a few defenders. The presence of mind to recognize that he wasn’t down and finish the lay was huge. I don’t think anyone expected this level of play when Olorunfunmi committed two years ago, but boy has he turned into a weapon.

2:34 – Good lord the defense took over in the 4th. 4 man rush with pressure almost immediately, JTM just completely beats the LT and forces Knight to roll out and throw the ball away.

2:27 – A&M tries an inside handoff and Young just sniffs the play out immediately, blowing the whole play up. Also I didn’t realize that McKinley had tried to come back into the game at this point. Yes he’s a star defensive end, but he was so hobbled by the end that, had A&M tried being aggressive here, he could have been a liability.

1:40 – Vanderdoes blows this play up almost immediately, just running right past the poor guard trying to block him. Brown continues pursuit as Knight tries to make a play happen, but he’s forced to throw into double coverage.

0:44 – Snap came before Rosen was ready for it (looks like Lacy brushed Quessenberry while getting ready to set, and that triggered the snap early). Rosen just doesn’t see the safety in coverage, who makes a hell of an athletic play.

0:28 – Goforth goes low, gets hurdled by Knight who gets out of bounds and gets a 1st down.. He really didn’t have a great game.

0:20 – Brown comes in on a blitz, but the outside ends both win their individual battles and force pressure right away, making Knight have to throw the ball away after backing up 10 yards.

0:14 – Oh look, Meadors with great coverage again. He just blankets the crossing receiver and makes the pass almost impossible.

0:07 – This is a damn impressive breakup by Pickett. Seals-Jones had that jumpball in his hands, and Pickett just got physical at the point of the catch to break it up. Also forced A&M to have to try a jump ball with 3 seconds, which UCLA defended properly.

Overtime

The 4th and goal was some bad contain by JTM, who just had a rough game overall, but he sold out on the RB here (if he doesn’t, and the ball goes to the RB, that’s a TD as well).

Roberts drops a third down pass that could have been a TD. Pass was extremely catchable.

General observations:

The defensive secondary, particularly Meadors and Moreau, played amazing against what should be the most talented receiver group they’ll face until Southern Cal. Meadors, in particular, was a force in this game.

Dropped passes really started killing UCLA’s momentum in the second half, as the offense would get rolling only for a big gain to be dropped or, even worse, tipped into an interception.

Rosen had down game. Yes his final line has a ton of yards, and he really balled out in the 4th quarter, but the first three quarters featured a ton of missed reads and poor decisions on his part. The first and third interceptions were absolutely his fault, and the first one in particular was the kind of play you’d hope Rosen would stop making now that he has a real QB coach. The worst part was he kept trying to throw the ball away after this while being sacked.

The linebacker group struggled a bit. The big runs were a result of the linebackers missing their reads or getting sucked in, and in coverage poor Jayon Brown was matched up against the faster slot receivers like Christian Kirk, just causing matchup problems.

Poor Soso Jamabo. He just got eaten up trying to do pass protection against the blitz. This is where having Nate Starks would have been a benefit, because he’s very good at pass protection, and having him not be there forced Jamabo (and Bolu to a lesser degree) into doing something he’s obviously not super comfortable with.

Gonna go with a B- (2.7) here. The mental mistakes really hurt, and the frantic fourth quarter doesn’t erase the first three quarters before that.

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:

6:21 1st Q – Boss gets drawn offsides by the head bob of the center. Not the first time this happens, but Boss at least has the wherewithal to stop the play before it starts by hitting the center.

11:38 3rd Q – Offsides on UCLA. This was a bad call, plain and simple. How the refs let the center get away with those head bobs is beyond me. UCLA gets lucky with the play being called dead, however. Turns a 3rd and 6 into a 3rd and 1, which A&M converts.

9:45 3rd Q – This play hurts. Brown immediately blows the play up with a blitz, Knight has to make a bad throw, Moreau is all over the coverage showing off his skill, and then the ref calls a really-poor hold on Moreau. On replay, I’m not sure how you even make that call, but it extends the drive and lets A&M get a touchdown they really didn’t deserve.

4:09 3rd Q – I’m going to scream watching this play. Tuioti-Mariner jumps offsides which, fine. Again, the head-bob throws him off, and at this point why the line isn’t watching the ball and is trying to read the snap counts just screams bad technique being taught. But then he commits the sin of stopping and standing around, allowing A&M to run a free play. If you’re going to jump offsides, make the refs stop the play by continuing. Just a complete mental mistake here by JTM.

Four penalties for 17 yards. This was the most disciplined effort from the team under Mora, and I don’t even truly blame them for any of the penalties considering what the A&M line and especially center was able to get away with. That said, the third offsides by Tuioti-Mariner really upset me, because if you’re going to jump offsides, you better make sure you force the referee to stop the play. Giving up a free play is just a bad mental mistake.

Effort wasn’t really much of a question in this game, and I have to reward the disciplined play with an A- (3.7).

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

In a word, no.

Defensively, things were fine. UCLA got beat here by an up-tempo attack at times, but the adjustments made throughout the game gave the team a chance to win late. The biggest issue was just missing those speed rushers for most of the game, but, even with their loss, the team was able to generate consistent pressure and held a strong offensive attack in check on the road.

The same can’t be said for the offense.

I keep coming back to the end of the first half, because it was so emblematic of the problems Polamalu had in this first game. It was so very obvious that there was no next play ready from the offense after Jamabo made an exceptional play to get 10 yards and out of bounds to stop the clock, and instead of running one more play to get closer, or at the very least line up the kick, UCLA is forced to call timeout. There were 7 seconds left and the Bruins had a timeout left and they couldn’t run a play. That’s just inexcusable no matter what level of experience you have.

And again, the offense seemed to have no plan to deal with the pressure the Aggies were throwing at them. It took till midway through the fourth quarter for the offense to finally start taking advantage of the open space in the defense. Again, that’s inexcusable, and you’d hope that Polamalu’s experience would have allowed him not to make these mistakes.

To continue on this, we need to talk about the offensive line. Yes, this is probably the most talented front UCLA will face all year. But in year 5 under Adrian Klemm, the line looked completely outmatched. Poor pass protection was the name of the game here, and I put that fully on the offensive staff for not fully preparing the team for this.

The offensive coaching staff really let the team down here, and I have to grade this really harshly. C- (1.7). Is it fair to punish the defensive coaches like this? No, but the offensive coaching was just that bad.

6.) Do we have leaders on the field?

On defense, you really have to look to Meadors and Moreau. When the team needed a play from the secondary, these two stepped up. Also have to shout out Vanderdoes, who looked like he hadn’t missed a beat from his knee injury, just being a constant presence in the backfield.

On offense, you have to credit Josh Rosen for not breaking after the first three quarters to rally the offense. Big offensive leader was Kenny Walker, who was the best UCLA receiver on the field. Also a shout out to Austin Roberts for really stepping up in a new position.

Really could have used the leadership more consistently throughout the game, though, instead of just in spurts. Have to give this a B (3.0).

Grade Card for the Texas A&M Aggies:

1.) Is our defense prepared for each and every team we play? B+ (3.3)

2.) Do we call offensive plays to catch our opponents off guard? C- (1.7)

3.) Do our players look like they know what they should be doing at all times, and do they execute? B- (2.7)

4.) Do our players play disciplined and with exceptional effort for 60 minutes every game on special teams, offense and defense? A- (3.7)

5.) Did the coaches put the team in the best possible situation to succeed? C- (1.7)

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

Texas A&M GPA: C+ (2.68)

In hindsight, that grade feels about right. UCLA played an average game filled with mistakes. That they came so close to winning peaks to the heart of the team and their ability to never give up, but you can’t play poorly for 3 quarters and magically expect to pull things out at the end. The football gods tend to punish you for those things.

This week UCLA will look to refine things at home against UNLV. Hopefully things look better.

Go Bruins!