That was an ordeal.
I spent my time from 11 PM Friday night until 9 AM Saturday morning at work thinking of whether or not I would try and get sleep before UCLA's game. I knew that Saturday was going to be the first big weekend of college football. The better teams in the SEC were finally playing one another and the slate across the rest of the country looked incredible. I decided to judge it off of the first game I turned on once I got home.
After I saw Texas A&M being hammered by Mississippi State, I figured it was just going to be that kind of a day so I went to try and reset my sleep cycle at around 10:30..
At 5:30 when I finally meandered into the living room, I was shocked to find out that I had missed one of the biggest series of upsets that I can remember in my time watching college football. Alabama losing to Ole Miss, TCU finally breaking through with a big win over Oklahoma in the Big 12, Mississippi State stepping on TAMU's throat, Notre Dame staying perfect against Stanford. Hell, even Texas managed to keep it competitive with Baylor.
I have rarely been more optimistic about the UCLA Bruins than I was about 30 minutes before kickoff. Everything felt right in my head. A top 5 and undefeated UCLA team against a depleted Oregon squad in the Rose Bowl. All of the issues that were glaring in the first three games of the season were about to be erased from the public's mind after 3 straight wins over quality opponents in the Pac-12 in the national spotlight.
Then the pick-6 happened. Then the 10 sacks happened. Then Brett Hundley saved the day despite all the issues during this game for another ugly win.
Then Utah ran off-tackle all the way down the field to take the lead right back. Then UCLA couldn't get Fairbairn a shot inside of 40 yards.
Then the clock ran out.
30-28 Utah. #8 UCLA 4-1. Right back out of the spotlight.
And my 2014 bubble popped.
There have been few games harder for me to separate emotion from when writing up the Eye Test. I have held out so much hope for this being the season I've dreamed of as a UCLA fan.
There are so many people here on Bruins Nation who have been dreaming of this season for much longer than I have. Talent everywhere, experience everywhere, a head coach you can see yourself believing in, a quarterback you wouldn't trade for anyone.
Is there a scenario where UCLA win 8 in a row to get to the College Football Playoff at 12-1 with a Pac-12 Championship? Of course there is. This is still arguably the most talented roster in the conference. If the first 6 weeks have shown anything, it is that no team in the Pac-12 is without serious weaknesses.
Stanford's offense is even more frustrating to watch than the N-Zone and Kevin Hogan is the exact same player he was in 2012.
Oregon's offensive line has made Marcus Mariota target practice for opposing pass rushes.
Southern Cal has Steve Sarkisian as their head coach, the most underachieving defense in college football (even more so than UCLA's) and depth issues across the board.
Arizona State has shown no signs of being competent on defense.
Utah has a QB controversy and if you have two, you don't have any.
Arizona needed a miracle hail mary catch to knock off UC Berkeley.
Washington, Oregon State, Colorado, Cal and Washington State are all seriously flawed teams on one side of the ball or the other.
But does anyone think this coaching staff can make it though the rest of the slate without being out-coached by a team with enough talent to offset the natural physical advantages UCLA has?
We will see.
Without further ado, let's get to the grades:
1.) Is our defense prepared for each and every team we play?
On paper this doesn't seem like all that bad of a defensive game and it was much better than I remember. Only 20 points allowed (take away the pick-6) and I would probably knock it down to 17 because of the 4 play, 8 yard FG drive Utah had in the 4th quarter after UCLA had an offensive series with three sacks.
9 drives of less than 25 yards, 6 3-and-outs (counting the 4 play, 8 yard FG drive). Held the Utes to under 40% on 3rd/4th down conversions. It didn't seem like it at the time, but the defense actually had 3 sacks and 9 tackles for loss in this game.
If I told you on Thursday that UCLA was going to give up 326 yards of offense and only two touchdown drives before this game, every single one of us would take that scenario in a second.
The criticism with the defense really comes down to giving up one explosive play (the 42-yard TD to Dres Anderson) and the final drive.
There is plenty to criticize, but I'm going to touch on those specific things later in the Eye Test.
This loss isn't on the defense though. As a whole and on a snap-for-snap basis, they did their part in this game. Grade reflects that B- (2.7).
2.) Do we call offensive plays to catch our opponents off guard?
As an answer to the direct question above, no.
UCLA had 9 drives out of 14 where the first play was just a basic handoff inside to either Jordon James or Paul Perkins.
Two others started with sacks on the first play. And the other two drives of the game were in desperation time for the offense, so they started with completions against 3-man or 4-man rushes.
The playcalling was so predictable that the Rose Bowl crowd actually let the offense hear it in the 4th quarter.
There were instances where the Utes were caught off guard, most notably on the 93-yard TD pass from Brett Hundley to Devin Fuller. But the Utes looked visibly prepared more often than not.
Another shining example of the Utes knowing exactly what to expect was on the interception return for a touchdown in the first quarter.
I wish that there was someone willing to go through UCLA's film this season (and last season, to be honest) and take every instance that the Bruins tried to run this hideous screen play where the running back does a terrible job selling a block and slips to the flats 4 yard behind the line of scrimmage and then Brett Hundley lobs the pass over three defenders. What scares me the most is that I don't think anyone being paid by the UCLA football program has done this. If they had, they would STOP RUNNING THE DAMN PLAY BECAUSE IT IS AN AWFUL, AWFUL PLAY.
The best case scenario for this play is generally a 4-5 yard loss and a massive hit taken by our running backs. The worst case was what happened Saturday night.
Make no mistake, it was a terrible throw by Hundley. But he's thrown great passes on this play and had it end up as a drive killer. The process was flawed and the result followed.
I will touch on Noel Mazzone's issues vs. Brett Hundley's later in the week, but just know that the offense was dreadful in this game. D (1.0).
3.) Do our players look like they know what they should be doing at all times?
If you have problems with the defense, this is where I would direct you to read.
The front seven was a hot mess on the scoring drives in this game. Deon Hollins, Owamagbe Odighizuwa and Myles Jack (and other players to a far lesser extent) lost contain on general running plays and on containing the quarterback on zone read plays (why haven't the Bruins figured out a more effective way to defend this yet? They have struggled for 3 years.)
The Utes had 2 running plays of more than 10 yards until the final drive of the game where the had 3 in one drive. Those gains were almost all a result of the defender on the edge crashing down inside or rushing way too far upfield instead of holding the edge.
That is a choke job. Plain and simple.
The defense in general continued a troubling trend (that is probably luck based to be honest) of being a step late in making huge play. Sacks and tackles for loss would shoot through the roof if the reads were just like a quarter second quicker.
Ishmael Adams fair caught a punt at the 6-yard line.
That actually happened in this game. How? I have no idea, but I damn near threw my phone at the TV when it did out of disbelief.
Aside from that, the special teams had another banner day. Coverage teams were good. The 13-yard punt return was more a result of punting out of the endzone than any problems in covering. You have to pack inside and hold off on releasing an extra count or two to stop any potential rush to block the punt. Hell of an open field tackle on an explosive punt returner by Priest Willis.
On offense, the players ran the plays okay. Knowing where to be wasn't why the offense faltered. There were some specific instances I could list, but no game is without those. So it would be redundant to nitpick just for the sake of having plays in this section.
As always, the penalties are taken on a play-by-play basis:
1. Deon Hollins starts a defensive drive with an offsides penalty, negating a decent result on 1st down. Shockingly, 1st and 5 proved easy to convert for the Utes and this was the Utes only touchdown drive of the first half. Is it possible the Utes score regardless? Sure, but giving an offense instant momentum to start a drive with a first down is going to end poorly more often than not. The first 1st down is generally the hardest to get.
2. Jayon Brown gets tagged for a hold on a kickoff return. This was not a block that impacted the return, as Brown looked to have gotten steamrolled and then pulled down the Ute kickoff coverage defender as he fell. What it did do was negate a return that gave the Bruins the ball on the UCLA side of the 50 and have the struggling Bruin offense start at the Utah 9-yard line. Again, shockingly, the ensuing drive did not result in points.
3. Fabian Moreau negates a 3rd down stop by not turning his head around in coverage and getting flagged for pass interference. This may have been a little ticky-tack, but if it were a Ute corner doing this to Jordan Payton every one of us would have wanted a flag thrown. Shockingly, this extended drive led to the Utes only other TD drive of the game.
This was the fewest penalties that the Bruins have had all game, but they managed to make all of them extremely meaningful instead of just a false start or a hold. I would also note that there were a few penalties declined by the Utes due to positive results on the play that outweighed the loss of penalty yards.
In general, this was a mess of a category and the grade D+ (1.3) reflects that. Even if the number of penalties weren't there, the impact of them was felt as much, if not more, than in previous 10 penalty games.
4.) Do our players play for 60 G-D minutes every game?
Effort wasn't an issue. The fight that the offense showed at the end of the game deserves praise as much as the choke job by the defense at the end deserves criticism. The poor play of the offense before the end of the game and the above average play of the defense before the final drive is the same type of situation.
I feel okay with a B (3.0) here.
5.) Do our players execute?
I'm going to get more in depth on the 10 sacks (that hurt to type) later in the week. But there was a blend of total failure on the edges by Caleb Benenoch and Malcolm Bunche, great blitz designs by the Ute defense, poor play design by the UCLA offense, indecisiveness by Brett Hundley, great coverage by the Utah secondary, failure to create separation by the UCLA WRs and other things.
These are the same issues that have been glaring for three years. Make an adjustment on offense. That is what coaching is. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.
On the upside, no memorable drops. Only the one turnover and that I put more on design than on the actual throw (it was a bad throw, but there is no reason to ever run that play because it has been an unequivocal failure throughout the season)
On the defensive side, the same problems I listed earlier apply to execution as well. Eric Kendricks needs to make tackles in space. Deon Hollins and Myles Jack need to be more disciplined on the edge. Owamagbe Odighizuwa needs to not run 4 yards straight up field on a running play in the 4th quarter.
To be frank, Myles Jack needs to look like Myles Jack at some point because he's been a far less impactful player on defense as a sophomore than he was in 2012.
There were a number of positives to take away from this game as well.
Brett Hundley was masterful throwing down the sideline again in this game and was as good as normal when the ball was able to make it out of his hand. Both running backs had positive moments. Jordon James looked electric at times, first time I have seen him look like he did at the beginning of last year. Why Paul Perkins disappeared in the 3rd quarter is beyond me and I doubt we will hear anything explaining about that.
Kenny Lacy looked better than Alex Redmond has looked. The interior line in general played up to snuff throughout.
The bad outweighs the good significantly. C- (1.7)
6.) Do we have leaders on the field?
There needs to be better leadership on the sideline.
Why is the offensive line full of 4* recruits with plenty of experience (outside of Kenny Lacy, who played the best of any lineman) still having the same problems picking up blitzes and just basic pass blocking? Why is no player at tackle better prepared than Caleb Benenoch, who is responsible for around 6-8 sacks this season?
Where is the accountability? Where are the adjustments on offense when it is clear that the line cannot protect the long developing pass plays?
When is the overwhelming talent on defense going to be unleashed? When is UCLA going to start delivering on all the hype that gets spewed out on The Drive weekly?
I'm not faulting any player here. This category is squarely on the coaches in this one. And they failed the UCLA Bruins football players in this game. F (0.0)
Final Grade Card for the Utah Utes
1.) Is our defense prepared for each and every team we play? B- (2.7)
2.) Do we call offensive plays to catch our opponents off guard? D (1.0)
3.) Do our players look like they know what they should be doing at all times? D+ (1.3)
4.) Do our players play for 60 G-D minutes every game? B (3.0)
5.) Do our players execute? C- (1.7)
6.) Do we have leaders on the field? F (0.0)
Utah GPA: C-/D+ (1.6)
For reference, the GPA in UCLA's previous victory over Arizona State was a B+ (3.4), which was the high mark of 2014 after the wins over Texas C (2.2), Memphis C (2.2) and Virginia C+ (2.5) all saw UCLA look exceptionally mediocre.
While both Virginia (4-2 and probably the 2nd best team in the ACC) and Memphis (3-2 with three blowouts wins and two very close losses to UCLA and #3 Ole Miss) look to be legitimately decent college football teams after 6 weeks and Texas looks as though they won't be a team the Big-12 will roll over in conference play, the Bruins have basically played one good half of complete football the entire season and still gotten to 4 wins.
There is time to fix things, but I don't know that I have confidence in this coaching staff to do so. We shall see.
Until next time, Go Bruins!