Ok, here me out: UCLA was actually way better in this game than the final score would lead you to believe.
No, this isn’t sunshine-pumping. This is real. Obviously the defense had an outstanding day. I don’t think anyone can realistically argue that without devolving into hyperbole.
You might be asking "But what about the offense?" Well, the playcalling was actually rather good, and there were reasons for some poor play that weren’t really the fault of the offensive line. Really, the only big negative on the day was the performance of a certain star quarterback who is going through something of a funk.
That doesn’t mean this was easy to write. Far from it. This game was awful to watch multiple times, probably because I dislike defensive struggles so much. Give me offensive shootouts over defensive battles any day of the week.
Anyway, I know you all are eager to tell me how wrong I am, so let’s get into this.
1.) Is our defense prepared for each and every team we play?
Oh, what a difference a week makes.
Raw stats: 273 yards allowed, including a dominant 23 yards on the ground (rushing yards includes yards lost after sack, and I’m not going to bother using ESPN’s broken play tracker to try and correct that stat). BYU’s 250 passing yards came on a robust 5.1 YPP, with a long of 39 (that pass also did not result in points).
There was so much to like in this game. Let’s start with the debut of the 2016 starting defensive line, which hasn’t been able to play together outside of about 5 minutes of game time against Texas A&M. This isn’t meant to be a slight to the 2nd string, but Eddie Vanderdoes and Takkarist McKinley (and to a lesser extent Deon Hollins, who appeared to still be shaking off some of the rust from missing a few weeks to a concussion) are just difference makers on that line, both requiring 2 blockers to handle effectively. If you’re doing the math at home, that means teams end up gambling on putting one lineman in a 1-on-1 against Vanderdoes or McKinley, or use an RB or TE as an extra blocker. With these two taking up so much focus, it also allows the other linemen (Dickerson, Ankou, Hollins) to work relatively freely, plus opens up holes for pressure from the linebackers (more on this in a moment). In addition, the return of the star linemen means the guys who were thrust into a larger role before they were ready can go back to being contributors, allowing for better natural growth from these players.
In short, getting Vanderdoes and McKinley back and healthy is a huge boost to the defense.
Also, remember when I wrote this last week?
Hey this is new: UCLA loses contain and allows a QB to get a 10+ gain on a draw play. In this case, the blitz comes from Brown on the outside for some reason, and the middle of the field is left wide open as Goodman is stuck covering the RB. I can’t figure out why UCLA refuses to use a spying linebacker in the middle on situations like this. It feels very obvious.
Well look who read my mind! Jayon Brown is put on spy duty for a majority of the game, and the Bruin defense was able to keep the mobile Taysom Hill to -7 rushing yards. Kenny Young also had a very good game from the linebacker spot, handling some of the spy work himself when Jayon Brown got sent on the blitz.
Oh, did I mention there was more blitzing this game! Because there was! Defensive Coordinator Tom Bradley must finally feel comfortable with letting his exceptional secondary handle pass coverage, because UCLA was constantly sending in extra rushers from the linebacker slot and putting the secondary in one-on-one situations, which they handled admirably.
Need to point out that Randall Goforth did not play in this game (the shadow suspensions claim another victim), and in his place was Adarius Pickett. Honestly, Pickett is a much better player than Goforth at this point, and should get the bulk of the snaps across from Wadood, mostly because he’s a bigger safety who can comfortably play both the run and the pass
Overall, a really strong performance from the defense in this one. It’s hard to hold the two touchdown drives against them, considering one was aided by some questionable penalty calls, and the other came late where UCLA was content to give up yardage to keep the clock moving late (and for the record, BYU’s yardage without this garbage-time drive? 182 yards). Going to give an A- (3.7) for this dominating performance.
2.) Do we call offensive plays to catch our opponents off guard?
You know, during the game I wanted to say no to this. So I guess thank god that this column basically requires me to watch the game multiple times.
Here’s the thing about the offensive gameplan that needs to be said up front: if Josh Rosen has an above-average day by his standards, UCLA wins this game in a cake-walk.
No, seriously. The biggest problem in this game was Rosen continually making bad reads and occasionally poor throws. Take, for example, the little crossing route that Darren Andrews continually ran. That play was available about 6 times throughout the game, and Rosen only got the ball here two times. Rosen continually passed up easier throws underneath that would have extended drives, and went for bigger gains more often.
The other big problem was the lack of run game, but there’s a few different reasons for this occurring, and none of it really is the fault of play-calling. For one, BYU did a really good job of recognizing the run plays and continually had the box filled with 8 defenders for many of the runs. Honestly, BYU had this read perfectly so many times that either BYU saw something on tape that allowed them to diagnose the running plays before they even snapped, or BYU figured out UCLA’s offensive signs and called plays accordingly. It’s hard to really blame the offensive line for this, because, as it turns out, it’s hard to block 8 players with 5 linemen. UCLA’s big (relatively-speaking) run plays tended to come when BYU backed linebackers into coverage, so the solution might be for Rosen to read the defense and audible out a few times into passes, but I’m a bit loathe at this moment to put more on Rosen’s plate when he’s already having some issues reading pass coverage.
But again, this offense will only be as good as Josh Rosen’s play. Polamalu consistently had the right call, but Rosen consistently made the wrong read, or tried to force a play rather than take what was given. So I have to give the Bruins a B (3.0) here, because I can’t realistically hold Rosen’s poor play against the staff in a category about their play calling ability.
3.) Do our players look like they know what they should be doing at all times, and do they execute?
14:31 – Deon Hollins whiffs on the sack attempt, allows Hill to get free for a 39 yard pass play. Just seems like a play he’ll make later once the rust comes off.
13:54 – Good contain by McKinley to funnel the runner into the waiting arms of Jayon Brown.
13:12 – Great pressure, 4 man rush with a spy (Brown). Adarius Pickett makes a textbook breakup with his shoulder at the right moment. Beautiful play.
12:16 – Rosen is given 4 seconds in the pocket, no receiver gets open, which is a problem when you’re playing a team lacking in athleticism like BYU.
8:58 – Rosen gets a quick throw to Walker, who again goes upfield in a hurry. Biggest change from last year for him.
6:46 – Stretch run, Cameron Judge has great pursuit and contain, forces a loss. Lot of 3rd and long early for BYU.
5:17 – Interception is on Iese. Just lets the smaller linebacker take the ball away from him. When you talk about bad effort on catching from the receiver core, this would be example A.
5:11 – Spy on Hill pays off, as Brown is able to contain Hill on his scramble for no gain.
4:28 – Rick Wade is barely engaged by the tight end, gets a free run at the QB on the rollout, and sacks Hill for a loss of 13.
3:45 – Pressure forces a bad throw on the dump-off screen. Defense takes BYU outside of field goal range after the turnover, maybe their most impressive drive of the day.
0:06 – The back shoulder throw from Rosen is a bit off, but still a catchable ball that Adams lets go.
13:37 – So the problem with going to a power run set is that you need to block everyone, or run a play action to get other defenses to play it honestly. UCLA really hasn’t run play-action out of this 8 on the line set, so BYU plays run and gets a loss.
12:56 – Great blitz pickup by the line, and FULLBACK TOUCHDOWN CATCH. Real good execution for a touchdown.
11:37 – I love this play call. Brown gets to come on a blitz, changing up from consistently spying. Meanwhile Kenny Young remains as a spy, and when Hill breaks contain and heads to the outside, he makes a good play. This is Bradley playing with what he had done previously and mixing up looks. Forces a 3 and out.
10:19 – Coverage sack. Rosen gets 3 seconds, starts pump faking, and goes down. Credit to Rosen for not actually throwing the ball up this time like he did against A&M.
9:50 – Rosen forces a pass into triple coverage. Had plenty of time, just tried to thread the needle (also looked like he didn’t see the linebacker that dropped into coverage).
9:32 – Great pursuit on the outside pass. Wadood diagnoses the play immediately, runs in, and somehow forces contain to the inside from a starting position in the middle of the field.
8:56 – Interception is mostly just Adarius Pickett making a good play on the tipped ball. BYU receiver can’t corral the ball, and Pickett makes a good dive for the catch.
7:47 – There’s a hole here, but Kenny Lacy doesn’t hold his block, instead going for a chip on the stretch run. Makes it only a 3-yard gain instead of something longer.
7:08 – Poor effort by Massington. Ball is a bit behind, but Massington has to bring that in if he’s going to continue getting 1st string play.
6:57 – Whatever BYU wanted to do on this run, it’s blown up instantly by Vanderdoes blowing up a hole, then Rick Wade playing outside contain well to get a TFL.
5:44 – Again, I have no idea why BYU continually threw at Moreau. He just reaches in and knocks the ball out at the point of the catch. Adams muffs the punt but gets lucky and recovers. Not a great day for him.
4:08 – Rosen overthrows an open Adams. Would have converted the 3rd down.
3:33 – One thing I’m noticing: UCLA is willing to give up these little underneath routes to BYU. Seems to be scheme-based, because UCLA is tackling the receiver right away to limit YAC.
2:33 – McKinley has great pursuit on Hill trying a read-option, may have injured his groin in pursuit.
1:55 – Guess McKinley’s groin wasn’t as bad, because he overpowers his blocker with speed and technique (roll). Coverage downfield leads to the sack.
1:11 – Quick edge rushing from Hollins and KLS forces Hill to abandon the pocket almost immediately, and Ankou makes a play to limit the play to 1 yard.
0:24 – Jayon Brown (spying) decided to come in on a delayed blitz, gets right to Hill. Again, playing with what UCLA had previously presented. Hill manages to get the ball away.
0:17 – Refs miss offsides from Hollins. Brown actually starts coming in on a blitz, but gets blocked by the RB. Instead of reengaging, he drops back again, and confused Hill, who had decided to roll out due to the pressure, and Brown is able to make a good play.
15:00 – Good first down run, hole was between Miller and Iese, not inside. Then on the next play the BYU linebacker is able to shoot an inside gap and hit Starks in the backfield.
13:38 – I don’t know who thought running Adams on an inside handoff was a good idea, but I hope I never have to see that again.
11:55- Tahaan Goodman just makes a real good individual effort to break up the pass.
11:40 – Play-action pass to start the drive. BYU covers the options downfield, so Rosen makes the smart choice and dumps off to Griffin, who gets a first down thanks to some space upfield.
10:25 – Just great protection. Miller uses the BYU rusher’s momentum to push him past Rosen, who steps up in the pocket just a little and delivers a strike to Kenny Walker, again the most consistent receiver.
9:05 – Just a great play from Rosen. He knows he’s going to take a hit from the unblocked rusher (and Jesus McDermott way to just do nothing on this one), and hits Lasley who was the hot route receiver thanks to the rush. Gets the yardage for the first.
7:35 – Rosen makes the right read again, hitting Andrews open on a crossing route. From there, Andrews uses his speed to just beat BYU’s secondary to the corner, and a good block from Walker downfield opens Andrews up for the last bit of yardage. Offense looked good on this drive, Rosen had some rhythm, and I assumed the route would be on. Oh boy….
5:27 – Meadors has perfect position on the jump ball, and gets held from behind on the jump. Not called, borderline OPI, but I understand why the refs didn’t call it.
5:19 – Only time all game Hill breaks contain, and it’s mostly a scheme issue. Both Brown and Young get dropped into zone coverage, with Young playing the middle. Unfortunately, it leaves Hill room to the outside for a good gain.
3:58 – Great individual effort by Brown to break up the play-action pass play. Also this is a look I want UCLA to utilize more often. If you’re going to throw in a power set, you need to throw out of it sometimes, otherwise the defense will just play run constantly.
2:30 – Rosen has time, rolls out, and instead of dropping the ball off to an open Iese in the flat or a streaking Bolu in front of him, he tries to force the ball to Ish. Ball is instead overthrown and almost intercepted. This would be a theme for Rosen in the half, trying to force bigger yardage instead of taking what the defense is giving him.
2:22 – Throws like these are why NFL scouts dream about Rosen. Josh has a completely clean pocket and plenty of time to just drop the ball into Iese streaking into a hole in the zone for 29 yards. Just great execution all around.
1:40 – Designed rollout to Rosen’s left, and throwing to his left. Hard to understate how impressive this throw is for Rosen to make, rolling left and throwing across his body to deliver a strike to Andrews.
1:07 – Great blitz pickup by Nate Starks, gives Rosen enough time to find Adams down the field. Adams then uses his athleticism to pick up 5 more yards and get the first.
13:40 – Not sure what happened on this kick. Just looked like Molson didn’t account for the field positioning. True freshman specialists are going to make mistakes, and luckily this didn’t cost the team, but it did give BYU momentum that the defense would almost-immediately snuff out.
12:50 – UCLA actually brings a blitz, sending 6 and forcing Hill to roll out almost immediately. Two things pop up on this blitz to me. First was that the interior linemen took away any shot at Hill going up the middle by just clogging the lanes. Second was Jayon Brown staying down and not jumping early, which didn’t allow Hill any shot and moving up-field. Forces a throw-away and punt.
11:49 – Really bad decision by Rosen here. Andrews is completely open on a crossing route that could have gone for 20 easy, instead Rosen forces a bad pass into triple coverage to Roberts that Roberts ends up having to play defense on.
10:31 – Thank god Hill isn’t a great passer, because Meadors absolutely bites on the pump fake. Luckily the resulting throw was really off-target.
10:24 – Great read by the defense on the screen attempt. Brown immediately sits on the running back, rest of line breaks through the blocking wall. Hill just throws it into the running back’s feet.
9:02 – UCLA sends 6, and a poor running back has to block Eddie Vanderdoes. He fails almost immediately, and Vanderdoes just clocks Hill as he throws. I have no idea why throws like this aren’t ruled intentional grounding, but Hill and the receiver obviously weren’t on the same page.
8:32 – Oh my god Hill just gets absolutely murdered on this one. McKinley turns the left tackle into a turnstile, Kenny Young comes off a blitz on the outside and beats the right tackle with a swim move, and Jacob Tuioti-Mariner just shuffles around the right guard. They all meet up at Hill at the same time. Honestly someone should turn this particular play into a math problem.
8:27 – GREAT play by Jayon Brown. Comes through on the blitz and forces a fumble, only unlucky part being UCLA not recovering the ball. JTM also beats both the right guard and the running back, forcing the guard into a holding penalty. Line really asserted itself throughout the game.
7:47 – And then a GREAT play by Jaleel Wadood. Fights through the receiver making a poor effort on the ball, and breaks up the play.
6:02 – Oh hey, it’s that little crossing route to Andrews that was open all game. Rosen sees it, and the Bruins gain twelve.
3:59 – Great route by Lasley. Comes back to Rosen, but makes sure to stay beyond the 1st down marker. Clock now continues to tick.
2:41 – High snap disrupts the timing on the run, leads to a loss on the play.
2:25 – What a time for a big punt from Austin Kent. 50 yards in the air, pins BYU inside the 10. Also Brandon Burton lays a big hit on the return man.
2:16 – People aren’t going to like this drive defensively, and I understand, because UCLA very obviously goes into a conservative defensive shell. That said, the defense accomplished its job with a two-score lead, and Tahaan Goodman almost ended the drive before it could really begin by forcing a fumble with a big hit. UCLA was rather unlucky with fumbles in this game (2 forced, 0 recovered).
1:26 – Again, thank god Hill isn’t a great passer, because BYU catches UCLA still setting up secondary coverage. Thankfully Hill doesn’t even try hitting the streaking slot receiver, and takes the 5 yard gain.
Compared to the past few games, dropped passes weren’t as big of an issue. Yes, there were some lapses from the usual subjects (Massington, Iese, Adams) but for the most part the receivers did a good job catching passes thrown to them.
This is the first game where I can say there wasn’t a broken tackle by the UCLA defense, or if the defender couldn’t complete the tackle solo, he held up the BYU player long enough for teammates to clean up the play. The defensive scheme in this game was really good, but it would have meant nothing had the defense, especially Jayon Brown and Kenny Young, not played with exceptional effort.
Really, the biggest culprit in failing this section was Josh Rosen. The offense relies so much on him making the correct reads and executing properly, and there was just too much poor play from Josh to really allow the offense to gain any rhythm.
I have to go B+ (3.3) here. Rosen’s poor play and some residual receiver issues shouldn’t take away from the really strong effort put forth in general, especially from the defense.
(Also, if you were wondering at home, this was basically 1/4th of my notes. I have a comment on almost every mundane thing and I hate how obsessive-compulsive I get during this thing. I also never have any idea how this section reads, so any feedback would be appreciated.)
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:
3:02, 1st Q – Darren Andrews finds the seam in the zone, gets a good pass from Rosen, and takes it for 35 yards. And then he undoes everything with a really bad unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Coach Mora rightly chews Andrews out on the sideline.
6:52, 3rd Q – Vanderdoes flagged for illegal hands to the face. Right call, Vanderdoes just gets his hand caught up on the rush. I’m pretty sure the official crew screwed up here by adding the penalty to the end of the play, because this wasn’t a dead-ball foul, so this should have been an either-or.
4:49, 3rd Q – Defensive holding called against Moreau. Doesn’t matter that the pass is uncatchable, because the hold technically happens before the pass. Flag just comes out late. Not a great penalty to take.
4:02, 3rd Q – This is a bad penalty call on Meadors. DPI called on a completely-uncatchable ball. Can’t fault Meadors for getting jobbed by the referees on this one.
1:30, 3rd Q – Holding by Kenny Lacy. Gets beat to the spot on the stretch play by the BYU defender and ends up grabbing the player. UCLA will get a 1st down in a few plays, but this offense really can’t afford to be put behind schedule at this point.
5 penalties for 49 yards.
Well, now I really don’t know what to believe anymore. It’s is crazy how much more disciplined UCLA gets on the road than at home. Just like the Texas A&M game, UCLA collected the majority of their penalties on the same defensive drive, allowing a touchdown, and two of them were rather questionable (like, I can make an argument that the Moreau holding was technically correct. The Meadors DPI call was just horrendous). Maybe the most interesting factoid from Penalty Watch 2016 is that UCLA has only had 1 penalty on the offensive line through 2 road games, including 0 false starts. Meanwhile, the one game at the Rose Bowl featured 4 penalties on the line, including 3 false starts somehow. Maybe the Rose Bowl really is a tough place to play in?
But through 3 games, UCLA is averaging 6 penalties a game, down from last year’s 8.3. That might not appear to be much, but it’s a huge improvement so far, especially considering how much more disciplined UCLA has looked in its two road tests in incredibly hostile environments. I don’t expect perfection, but such a marked improvement from last year should be rewarded. A- (3.7)
5.) Did the coaches put the team in the best possible situation to succeed?
I actually loved so much of what the coaching staff did in this game. I’ve covered a lot of the defensive adjustments in the first section, but let me just say again what a fantastic bunch of changes Tom Bradley made.
Offensively the staff was less effective in generating success, but again a good chunk of that can be placed on Josh Rosen. To both Rosen and QB Coach Marques Tuiasosopo’s credit, Rosen and Tui seemed to be communicating throughout the game, and Rosen didn’t make the same mistake two series in a row. Just to highlight this, in the 4th quarter Rosen missed a wide-open Darren Andrews on a short crossing route that would have gained about 20+ yards on 3rd and short, instead forcing a pass into triple-coverage. The next drive, UCLA again found itself in a 3rd and short, and this time Rosen got the ball to Andrews for a 12 yard gain. There was a lot of in-game development that wasn’t as noticeable with Taylor Mazzone as QB coach, which should really be obvious to everyone watching the games.
But I wanted to highlight a few decisions by the coaching staff that stood out to me. Taking directly from my notes, if you will:
1:19, 1st Q – Rosen given plenty of time by the line, allows Johnson to run a good route and realistically get a 1st down, though the referee crew decides not to measure or some reason. UCLA goes for it on 4th and converts on the run, but BYU couldn’t sub out in time, allowing UCLA to gain more yards via the penalty.
This has been an early theme for the Bruins when they get into proverbial no-mans land with 4th and short. ULA hasn’t hesitated to go for it on offense, and has consistently been rewarded, going 3-4 on 4th down so far this year (with the unsuccessful attempt being the 4th and goal in OT against A&M. This also doesn’t include the attempt in BYU, which was successful, except UCLA gained more yards via a BYU penalty so the play didn’t count). We used to lament the conservative decisions to punt in this area, and so far this year UCLA has decided to be much more aggressive, with good results.
0:02, 2nd Q – Want to give the coaching staff credit here. Adams is put back near the field goal to possibly return the kick, which is smart. Eli Ankou blocks the kick which renders the decision unnecessary, but it’s a good instance of being forward-thinking.
Between the Kick 6, and this year’s Kick 6 Part 2 during Houston/Oklahoma, there’s a growing recognition that teams can steal a touchdown on short kicks thanks to kick-blocking units usually being slower, bigger guys, and it’s great to see UCLA recognize this fact and try to take advantage of it.
5:27, 4th Q – The play is a nothing run for 2, but I wanted to point out how smart UCLA is being here. Ball isn’t being snapped with under 5 on the play clock. One of my biggest frustrations with Mazzone was UCLA constantly snapping the ball early in situations where they were otherwise trying to milk the clock. Great recognition of the situation by the coaching staff.
God this was so satisfying to watch. The UCLA offense under Mazzone was maddening for running an offensive philosophy late that obviously wanted to milk time off the clock and shorten the game, but would consistently snap the ball with 20 seconds on the play clock. UCLA went only 37 yards on their final real drive of the game, but they managed to milk 5:18 of game time and basically kill any chance BYU had of winning the game. That’s excellent clock management.
0:37, 4th Q – GREAT timeout by the coaches. Waited to see how BYU would line up, then called timeout to set up the onside kick reception. Extra benefit was the kicker not hearing the whistle and tipping off the play.
You can lament that UCLA even allowed BYU to get to a position to try an onside kick, but the coaching staff played this one perfectly, utilizing one of their timeouts to help scout BYU’s strategy, and then putting the players in a position to succeed.
Yes, there were some problems on the day, particularly the conservative shell UCLA went into at the end of the first half after calling two timeouts in an attempt to steal some points before the half ended, instead giving BYU time to try a field goal attempt, but overall the coaching staff did a tremendous job in a game that previous staffs (including those under Mora) would have bumbled through as incompetently as possible. Have to give a B+ (3.3) for a good overall job, and the hope that the staff continues this momentum against Stanford.
6.) Do we have leaders on the field?
Welcome back, Takkarist McKinley and Eddie Vanderdoes! It should be obvious how much better the defensive line, and defense as a whole, is when these two are in the game, and that’s a great sign of a leader: when your level of play can elevate the play of those around you.
On offense, I have to give a shout-out to Kenny Walker. This was his third week of consistently good receiver play, and for those of you who remember the Kenny Walker of years past, the 2016 edition has been a revelation. Walker has turned into a dependable target, coming in second on the team in receiving yards in 3 games behind Darren Andrews, who was himself the top returning pass catcher and is remaining his dependable self.
Have to give a B- (2.7) for this section, though, because the big leader of the offense was mentally not there for long stretches, and for the third week in a row a few of the team leaders (Randall Goforth and Soso Jamabo) did not play for "unspecified reasons" (read: SHADOW SUSPENSIONS). At some point I have to tart holding the team accountable for all the missing games.
Grade Card for the BYU Cougars:
1.) Is our defense prepared for each and every team we play? A- (3.7)
2.) Do we call offensive plays to catch our opponents off guard? B (3.0)
3.) Do our players look like they know what they should be doing at all times, and do they execute? B+ (3.3)
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? B+ (3.3)
6.) Do we have leaders on the field? B- (2.7)
BYU GPA: B+ (3.3)
For reference, last week’s victory 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.
During the game, I didn’t think the score would be all that high. Again, thank god this column requires a few rewatches to do, because in hindsight UCLA did so much right in this game, and it feels wrong to punish the team as a whole for the average play of the one guy who can really affect one whole side of the ball.
The line for the Stanford game actually opened up with UCLA as a small favorite, and ESPN’s FPI actually gives the Bruins a 56.3% chance of victory. After this game, I finally have an understanding of how that came to be. Stanford is untested (SHOTS FIRED), and UCLA is suddenly rolling on defense. The offense goes as Rosen does, and it’s hard to see a player of his ability not getting out of this current funk. UCLA actually has a chance to break the streak, but it will require a complete team effort.