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The "Eye Test": An Auspicious Beginning To 2015

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Grading out the finer details of UCLA's 34-16 victory over the Virginia Cavaliers in the Bruins' 2015 season opener to see if UCLA football is meeting expectations.

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

*Cracks knuckles and neck*

*Turns on DVR recording of UCLA-Virginia game*

Welcome back to the Eye Test, everybody. I missed it almost as much as I missed watching the UCLA Bruins play football. I hope you all felt the same.

As I was driving out to tailgate at the Rose Bowl with my father after making the mid-20's mistake of staying out drinking in LA until 3 in the morning, I started tapping into my useless vault of meaningless sports information about my first UCLA game I attended at the Rose Bowl.

My father didn't recall the specifics, just that we made the mistake of parking about three miles away from the Rose Bowl and that UCLA. My memory was clearer. I remembered it being a shootout. I remembered how big my eyes felt as I was walking through the tunnels to the stadium seating.

Using the marvelous technology that we all now possess in our pockets, I looked up the box score and read off numbers. Mercedes Lewis scored 2 touchdowns. Maurice Jones-Drew (still just Drew at the time, as the tragedy with his family hadn't occurred yet) did MJD things. Spencer Havner and Jarrad Page held their own on a remarkably underachieving defense that featured at least future NFL players but was one of the worst defenses in the nation.

What I did not remember and had a bit of a jaw-drop moment over was Drew Olson throwing for 510 yards and 5 touchdowns.

My Pop Warner team lost in the championship against Moreno Valley the next day, which I didn't handle great. Then, when we traveled to Kingman to play my final Pop Warner game two weeks later, I had the luxury of not having to suffer through the railroad spike to the brain of a game that was the 66-19 loss against Southern Cal. Somehow playing in 25 degree weather was an improvement over seeing that atrocity.

So, you can imagine the smile that popped onto my face when I saw that Josh Rosen had been named the Walter Camp Offensive Player of the Week and, more relevant, saw who the last UCLA player to win that award on offense was. Drew Olson in 2005 to Josh Rosen in 2015.

My first UCLA game and my most recent one, both spent with my biggest role model and one of my closest friends. I appreciate symmetry.

This sort of stuff is always written about much better by gbruin in his Morning After posts, no one comes to the Eye Test to read my stories. You want football jargon, so football it will be.

Let's get to the grades:

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

The starting defense allowed 263 yards on 60 plays. That 4.38 yards per play, which is dominant. Overall, you can add an 8 play, 75 yard touchdown drive and eliminate a 2-yard loss on a kneel down; but this is the Eye Test and garbage time stats get tossed out when they are irrelevant to the broader scale of the game.

This was a great defensive game plan by Tom Bradley and it was executed exceptionally well by the defensive line and secondary. If I had to break it up unit-by-unit, the linebackers would probably be a B- or so, but the other two groups would be A's.

The interception by Adarius Pickett was a dope play to see live. From my seat, I had the perfect angle to watch Pickett play a centerfield role and break on that pass like it was a sinking line drive in the gap. The only person on the field who might have taken a better route to that ball was Coach Martin, who promptly got hit on the sideline by Pickett after the catch was completed.

Eddie Vanderdoes might have played his best game as a Bruin, which made the news of the torn ACL all the more depressing. He was a force up front. Hope for a quick and full recovery for the 2016 season. His performance reminded me a lot of how dominant Owamagbe Odighizuwa (I miss typing that name already) was in the Virginia game last year. That game vaulted Owa back into NFL draft discussion as a serious prospect instead of a case of injury undoing potential. EDV will get his chance to explode in 2016.

Kenny Clark was similarly impressive, but I missed a few of his splash plays in person. Looked great on film.

Randall Goforth, Fabian Moreau, Jaleel Wadood and Marcus Rios all played well in the secondary.

Myles Jack was Myles Jack in pretty much every way he can be Myles Jack. Splash plays, reckless plays, needless taunting at times.

Deon Hollins picked up a sack. There was a lot to like in this game.

Give the defense an A- (3.7). That is what the D got last year in this game for scoring 3 TDs, but the yards per play was almost a half yard better in 2015 and there was no 2nd half letdown (thanks to the offense for actually moving the ball this year against the Hoos, helps when you only play 60 competitive snaps as a defense and not 85 snaps.).

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

Raw numbers are where I always start here.

503 total yards on 71 offensive plays. That's 7.1 yards per play which is a far cry from last year's abysmal output against the Cavaliers. Granted, UVA lost all their starters at linebacker, their best defensive lineman and an All-American safety from last year's squad. No matter who is or is not on the field, if you're putting up 7 yards a pop, then you are going to struggle to find complaints about production.

The running game's stats look better on paper than they do on film. 152 yards on 34 attempts. That total is unfairly reduced by a bad snap by Brendel in the 4th quarter that cost UCLA 19 yards and then by 2 kneel downs at the end of the half that take away 3 yards. The real raw total is closer to 175 on 31 carries, which is a rock solid 5.6 yards per carry.

This is where I might expect to get some blowback on why I don't take away the 80 or so yards that Soso Jamabo and Bolu Olorunfunmi put up in the 4th quarter. The answer is simple, those yards were against Virginia's starting defense and were emblematic of a team closing the game running against a stacked box with authority. Those pair of big runs by Jamabo still count.

I've now made it well into the offensive section without mentioning Josh Rosen. While that may have felt a bit odd, you can get settled in because there is going to be a recurring theme in these next few sections of the Eye Test. That theme is going to be something along the lines of "Holy s***, how can an 18-year old do that?", but with a bit more of an analytical vibe.

Josh Rosen.

Wow.

I was optimistic, I have been emphatic about Rosen being the clear choice for the starter since Asiantii Woulard transferred to USF. I saw nothing in San Bernardino to make me think differently.

I did not see this coming. Like at all.

The raw totals are great, but not eye-popping like that Drew Olson game was on paper.

28-35 for 351 yards and 3 touchdowns is impressive as hell, but there were probably 5-10 games on that level around the country this weekend. Malik Zaire of Notre Dame ran Texas' secondary off the field, Baylor's QB threw 5 TDs, Bowling Green's QB lit up a top flight SEC-level defense in Tennessee.

It wasn't the numbers that mattered, though. It was the look of Rosen.

Footwork was phenomenal. Pocket presence was phenomenal. Ball placement was phenomenal.

He throws a catchable, pretty ball, nowhere near the power that Hundley had on his throws, but the ball got exactly where it is supposed to on somewhere around 32 of the 35 pass attempts.

I caution everyone to avoid comparison to Brett Hundley's performance in this offense because of how night and day their skill sets at QB are. If anything, compare this start to Brock Osweiler's first full game at Arizona State in Noel Mazzone's offense. Much more similar skill sets, big arm talent and frame, sneaky athleticism. Bruin fans should remember it pretty well, because it was Osweiler coming in after a 1st quarter injury and proceeding to light up the Pistol offense of the Bruins.

27-36 for 380 yards and 4 touchdowns and another rushing TD. Looks pretty similar if you extrapolate Rosen's numbers into a shootout type of game instead of a pretty thoroughly UCLA-dominated victory.

The difference is that Osweiler was 20 years old and had already been sprinkled in throughout the season. He was eased into his role, Rosen was thrown to the wolves.

Overall, I have to give huge props to Noel Mazzone for the game-plan he threw at Virginia. I think the only time I sighed about the offense was when Myles Jack got brought in to run the ball around the goal line after Perkins had carried UCLA all the way down the field, including converting a huge 3rd and 1. Even there though, that is the situation I have always said is the only place I want Jack to touch the ball. Short yardage situations and around the goal line. So, I can't criticize the offense too much (I will touch on what I can take issue with later on). I think Mazzone, Rosen, and the offensive line earned this A- (3.7). I cannot say that I remember handing out too many A's to our offense over the years. The only reason for the minus is not finishing drives to make this an on-paper blowout.

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

General Observations:

  • Adarius Pickett balled out on the kickoff coverage team. Made both tackles on the two attempts Virginia made at running back the kicks that Kaimi Fairbairn put in the end zone. Both drives started inside the 15-yard line. Promising start for that whole unit.
  • A great deal of the early struggles running the ball can be attributed to Virginia's safeties being 10 yards maximum from the line of scrimmage and also the linebackers being super aggressive in fitting against the run instead of honoring the threat of passing. Not a ton of mistakes by the offensive line, just too many bodies to block.
  • UCLA's defense played a legit 4-3 look for quite a few snaps in this game. Mostly with Aaron Wallace at Sam, Myles at Will and Kenny Young at the Mike. Looked solid for the most part, but it was weird to see UCLA in that front when it wasn't a Nickel situation. I like the willingness to experiment from Bradley there.
  • I missed watching Randall Goforth return punts. He's so slippery with the ball in his hands. His bigger punt return was well blocked also.
  • The screen pass to Perkins was pretty much a perfect screen pass. Great situational timing on the play call, well blocked, good sell by Perkins on slipping out of the backfield, good job by Kenny Lacy lead blocking. Could have been a TD if not for a great tackle in space by a UVA defender.
  • The conversion on 3rd and 5 to Thomas Duarte on a deep out to the sideline. Beautiful progression and throw by Rosen. Took Hundley until his redshirt sophomore year to make that throw and Hundley had more arm strength than Rosen. That's an NFL-level throw and play.
  • The TD pass to Devin Fuller was a foregone conclusion at the snap. UVA was showing straight man coverage and UCLA motioned into a pick play. Something they did not use enough of last season. Nice to see it in the first game.
  • TFL on a screen pass to Mossi Johnson was mostly just a great defensive play by the UVA corner.
  • On UVA's most explosive play of the game, I would put all of the linebackers at fault. Their drops in coverage here are terrible. I don't know what Deon Hollins is doing dropping into zone coverage, but he shouldn't do it anymore. Kenny Young doesn't try to reroute Cameron Butts as he goes past. There are three LBs within 5 yards of each other, which should never happen. Just bad, bad, bad.
  • Eddie Vanderdoes make a tackle for a 1 yard gain on 1st down after Myles Jack's 2nd horse collar. Not a play that would jump out at you, but it should be when you realize he was the backside defensive end on an off tackle run with no cut back and that he shed three blocks in less than 2 seconds while pursuing laterally.

As always, the penalties are taken on a play-by-play basis:

1. Taylor Lagace with a block in the back on a punt return. Happens on special teams. Nothing to be too concerned about.

2. Holding on Conor McDermott on a play where Rosen escapes the pocket to the left side and McDermott is trying to stay with his block and holds a little bit as the defender chases Rosen. Not an egregious error, but an avoidable one.

3. The horse collar tackle by Myles Jack. Pretty cut and dry when you watch it in slow motion. Myles has a pretty firm grip on the inside of the collar of Mizzell and then pulls him by it after the tackle is already made. It's a great way to tear someone's knee up and there's no excuse for doing so, especially since Myles was in great position to just make a normal tackle.

4. Pass interference by Fabian Moreau on a 3rd and 8. Tough spot for Fabian. He really had nice coverage, but it was such a bad throw by Johns that it forced a bizarre adjustment on the ball for the WR that put Moreau in the way. Not much he could have done to avoid the PI there.

5. Horse collar tackle or a facemask on Myles Jack on a 3rd and 9. Could have been called for either. This is just bad form again by Jack. Was not in a spot where he needed to go high. Just bring your hips and make the tackle.

6. False start on Cameron Judge. Made a 4th and 7 into a 4th and 12. Not a huge deal.

7. False start on Bolu Olorunfunmi in the 4th quarter. Got caught leaning forward. Freshman mistake. Likely won't happen again.

I will add some more thoughts on the 2nd half later in the week to keep this post as "short" as I can.

UCLA did well here in this game, though. B+ (3.3) is deserved.

4.) Do our players play for 60 G-D minutes every game?

There was no issue here. Really this has never been an issue under Coach Mora. Thinking of retiring this category of the Eye Test for something more pertinent to the current teams issues. Share yours thoughts on the potential for that in the comments.

I'm open to analyzing anything from a team, coaching, offense, defense or special teams perspective. Wouldn't mind doing a strictly special teams section, to be honest. Or maybe something on disciplined play as a team. Just spit-balling.

But the grade here is an A (4.0).

5.) Do our players execute?

General Observations:

  • Third snap of the game. Eddie Vanderdoes and Kenny Clark blow up three interior lineman by themselves to get a combined TFL. The lineman all end up on the ground and about three yards behind the line of scrimmage. Not how you want a 3-on-2 to go on offense.
  • Kenny Young blows a coverage for a 19-yard gain on the first drive trying to stay with Taquan Mizzell. Pretty much does the exact same wrong thing he did earlier in the drive. Stops his feet way too soon and gets caught leaning outside on a route where Mizzell is breaking over the middle. Not a good opening series for Young.
  • Eddie Vanderdoes takes on a double team on the 2nd and 22 in the 1st quarter. Holds his position and plugs the middle of the field. Such insane leverage and power. Not sure how you can replace that.
  • Brendel, Lacy and McDermott all get blown up on 1st down on the 2nd offensive drive of the game. Tough for Perkins to do anything with a stretch play when McDermott is 5 yards in the backfield, Brendel and Lacy are both beaten to the outside and there is an unblocked linebacker fitting the cutback lane.
  • 2nd string linebackers and most defensive lineman came in the 3rd series of the 1st quarter and held up great. Jayon Brown, Isaako Savaiinaea, Cameron Judge and Kene Orjioke all looked solid and that is a huge plus for this defense if they can give the starters a blow in game like this where UCLA is scoring quickly. There's a reason why Alabama's defensive player's stats never jump off the screen, they rotate their talent a ton. UCLA isn't quite on that level yet, but is headed there.
  • NFL-level play by Vanderdoes after the 28-yard pass from UVA. Slips through a double team, pursues down the line and makes a solo tackle for a minimal gain on 1st and 10. Impressive as hell.
  • The play that Myles Jack makes to stop UVA on a 3rd and 3 in the redzone was a WOW! play. Shoots a gap, strong arms a crashing right tackle so easily and makes a perfect tackle. The player who makes that play should not ever do the stupid extra stuff that Myles does.
  • The TD pass to Duarte was unfair. Pass was flawless, and the catch was as impressive.
  • Kenny Young got beat by Mizzell on the exact same route in the mid-2nd quarter. Just a couple plays after a flawless fit to the outside on a run play. Young is certainly not Eric Kendricks or Myles Jack in man coverage. His issues will be a thing teams will plan to exploit moving forward unless it is corrected.
  • Takkarist McKinley blows up a run on the play after that. Shoots a gap and blows up a pulling guard. Sacrificed his stats for the team. That's what run fits require and what great run defenses do.
  • The whole drive at the end of the first half was amazing to watch. Rosen never looked more comfortable than he did on this drive. Even when he got stuck with a TFL and a sack on a 1st and 2nd down, he stepped up and made an outstanding throw on 3rd and long to get the Bruins in FG range. I think that pass to Eldridge Massington was the best throw he made all game. 18-yard deep out from the opposite hash on 3rd and long with 40 seconds left in the half. Not a play a freshman QB is asked to make real often.

Some observations about the dropped passes, sacks, fumbles, interceptions and missed tackles:

  • Kenny Young missed quite a few tackles in space in this game. The first was on the 2nd play of the game. Young is in the right position on a swing pass to the wide side of the field but stops his feet way too soon instead of getting to the ball carrier. He has to dive to try and make the tackle and misses and UVA gets 10-yards and a first down.
  • Kenny Walker's drop on the first play. Enough has been said about that. Perfect protection against a blitz, perfect footwork and throw by Rosen, great play-call. Missed a 75-yard TD on the opening snap on offense. Tough to recover from, but Walker did later in the game.
  • Deon Hollins makes a gorgeous move on his sack, catches the LT lunging and dips underneath, bending to get the edge and then closes down on Matt Johns with his speed. That'll get you a sack anywhere, anytime.
  • Missed tackle by Fabian Moreau when he is in perfect position on the first horse collar tackle by Jack. I'm still not sure how Moreau missed the tackle here. Does everything perfect and it is suddenly unable to finish. Odd.

I will have more thoughts on the 2nd half specifics a bit later in the week because I don't want this article to be more than 5000 words. Overall though, the offense and defense were solid. Special teams were solid as always aside from a missed FG (50-yarder wasn't likely to make it anyway) and a couple penalties. B (3.0) seems about right.

6.) Do we have leaders on the field?

I'm going to give a shout out on this section for both the offensive and defensive lines.

Conor McDermott, Kenny Lacy, Jake Brendel, Alex Redmond, Caleb Benenoch as well as Nate Iese and Chris Clark at tight end and Paul Perkins in pass protection.

Eddie Vanderdoes, Kenny Clark, Takkarist McKinley, Deon Hollins, Eli Ankou, Kene Orjioke, Matt Dickerson, Jacob Tuioti-Mariner.

All of them balled out for most of the game. The interior makes everything easier for the more flashy guys that people's eyes are always drawn to.

I would like to throw a little rain on this parade of praise though because the Bruins flat-out need better leadership from Myles Jack. I will be the first person to defend trash talking because I do that constantly when playing any sport and did so my entire playing career, even when I had no business doing so. There are people that perform better with that mentality. Jack knows there is always a camera on him on the field. While that weird "forward pass or not a forward pass fumble recovery" review, Jack went out of his way to go right up to the UVA sideline about 15 yards away from where the play was and kept doing the "first down UCLA" arm point over and over and over right in front of the UVA players. I was astounded that he wasn't called for taunting there.

After being called for two costly personal fouls, he got rewarded with getting carries on offense and also got to go out to try and field the kickoff return to open the 2nd half (which is something that no one seems to have noticed because it ended up being a touchback). I just don't understand why that happens. It sends a confusing message to feign concern about penalties, but then have no consequences for a player committing them repeatedly.

A horse collar tackle isn't an "aggressive penalty", it is almost 100% of the time an issue of discipline. There is no tackling technique where grabbing around the shoulders is preferred. If you can grab that high, you are close enough to get lower on the ball carrier. UCLA is an undisciplined football team on the field and has been for the entirety of Mora's time here. At some point, it needs to be rectified.

No one is asking for a sudden turnaround to become a top 20 program in those statistical categories. That's unrealistic with UCLA's style of play. But, there is no reason to be the most penalized team in the country every year.

Bump it down to a B (3.0) for these still being an issue in year 4.

Grade Card for the Virginia Cavaliers:

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? A- (3.7)

3.) Do our players look like they know what they should be doing at all times? B+ (3.3)

4.) Do our players play for 60 G-D minutes every game? A (4.0)

5.) Do our players execute? B (3.0)

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

Virginia GPA: B+ (3.45)

For reference, the GPA last year against Virginia was a C+ (2.5) mostly boosted up by an impressive defensive performance against a bad offense.

This was a two-way performance by a team that actually looked the part of a top-10 team. Beating a team you are much better and doing so in such an impressive way on the field is a good start. Looking forward to seeing what this group does in Las Vegas this Saturday and also excited about doing so with a huge contingent of the Bruins Nation community.

The UNLV Rebels looked surprisingly competitive against a Northern Illinois team has been a 10+ win team multiple times in recent years. Talent should make that a non-factor, but don't underestimate the chance of a sleepwalking start against a team like that. I have confidence the Bruins will handle their business so that I can have as good a time as possible on what might be my last non-working weekend until the holidays.

As always, Go Bruins!