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The "Eye Test": Bruins Turn Slow Start Into a Statement Game

Grading out the finer details of UCLA's 41-21 win over Nebraska to see if UCLA football is meeting expectations.

Eric Francis

Following this post by gbruin is one of the toughest assignments I've had as a writer at any level.

That's a damn near flawless piece of work that puts not just football, but life into perspective. The tragedy that took place last Sunday was difficult to contextualize. I'm still having trouble with it because it brought up a lot of emotions that had been unchecked for me in a long time.

In the spring of my junior year of high school, Aaron Finfrock passed away in a motorcycle crash. I know that name likely means nothing to anyone reading this; but bear with me. Aaron had graduated from my school several years prior after being an All-CIF running back and leading my high school to a CIF Championship as a sophomore in 2001. Up until that day I had never had to deal with death in my life. I'd had dogs pass away and distant relatives, but nothing tangible. When I came to school and heard that Aaron Finfrock had gotten hit by a truck riding his motorcycle, I did not know what to do.

This was an invincible guy in my eyes, the upperclasman that drove me to lunch every once in a while, the football star who had affectionately picked on my friends in the hallways, the goof-off that occasionally dropped by to dominate freshman in games during PE. He was a friend and a guy that every athlete in the school respected and looked to for advice.

He was a legend at our tiny school. As much a part of the school and football program as the jerseys, coaches and lights.

And in a flash he was just a memory.

I was young, so I dealt with it as best I could and leaned on the people closest to me. My family, myself and, probably most importantly at the time, my team.

When I read about Nick Pasquale this week, all I couldn't help but draw back to that time in my life. The memorial service that week bringing together rival schools and players all united in the memory of a great human being. The number of the former player written on the cleats and tape of those who'd known him. The renaming of the football field to commemorate his legacy.

Not everybody on that team knew Aaron, just like I'm sure not every Bruin knew Nick as well as they'd liked or at all. Being years apart in age or having 90 other teammates is just unavoidable. But that memory is a uniting force.

It's there for everyone. The emotion is there.

In a situation like that, all you can do is your personal best to honor the memory. Coach Wooden's rule applies in life and in death. I've been reading these quotes all week and they've made things easier. And, even if they aren't aware, the Bruins lived those words and philosophies this week.

I've always felt that I honored Aaron as best I could personally and our team did the best we could on the field to honor his memory (still the last team to make the playoffs from my school).

I know that the UCLA Bruins did their best this week to honor Nick Pasquale, score of the game aside.

This "Eye Test" almost seems like a secondary deal this week because the way that the team and coaching staff handled everything was admirable. The way Nebraska handled everything was just as admirable and that program has developed a special place in my heart as a football fan. Even Southern Cal honored Nick with a moment of silence before their game.

The fact that UCLA beat a ranked team on the road 41-21 and scored 38 unanswered points to end the game aren't as important as those things.

But the 60 minutes of play on the field still happened and need to be addressed. Life moves ever onward and getting through this "Eye Test" is just another step in moving forward with life as a part of the Bruin family (I feel comfortable saying I am a part of this family now, though I understand if others do not). It will be a bit of a catharsis for me and I hope it can do that for anyone reading as well.

Anyway, let's get to the grades.

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

The end result numbers are pretty overwhelming here. The Cornhuskers are a top 30 offenses, maybe top 20. And UCLA held them to 3.0 yards per carry (42 attempts), 5.8 yards per pass attempt (35 attempts), 331 total yards, and just seven points in the last 45 minutes of play. On top of that the Bruins forced 4 fumbles on the day and somehow only recovered one (a statistic that is almost guaranteed to go our way in future games).

That is dominance on paper.

After rewatching the game, Nebraska had one drive in the entire game where they looked like a better team than UCLA, a 17 play, 92-yard drive to go up 14-3.

The other two scoring drives were nearly sure thing scoring drives before the defense even stepped on the field. A drive starting at the 28-yard line after a Hundley interception and a drive starting at the 26-yard line after a snap hit Sean Covington in the facemask.

Jordan Zumwalt was basically schemed into playing Eric Kendricks position all game and was making tackles from sideline to sideline. Anthony Barr played at a very high level in the second half, looking like the freak of nature we'd gotten accustomed to last season. I loved how much better Cassius Marsh played in this game compared to last year's contest. Chased down quite a few runs from the backside. The secondary looked strong most of the game, though Taylor Martinez is not the greatest passing threat they'll face.

I think that the defense probably outplayed the offense in this game. Strange as that may seem given the final score. I feel totally comfortable giving the defense an A (4.0) for their level of play in this one. If they play at this level all season, UCLA can beat any team on their schedule including Oregon and Stanford.

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

Nebraska's defense is not a great group. They gave up 600 yards to Wyoming. So the huge numbers that the offense put up aren't that surprising. They are still impressive to look at. And more meaningful than those against Nevada just due to the Cornhuskers' superior talent level and size.

504 yards. Almost 12 yards per pass attempt. 9 different receivers with a catch. 210 yards rushing. 41 points.

Great look.

Brett Hundley was great and I'll touch on his success later on.

The running game was not effective in the first half, as Jordon James looked timid and indecisive as the Nebraska defensive front-seven collapsed the edges very well. He seemed to have reverted back to the unimpressive runner that was visible in 2011 and 2012. In the second half, he often looked like a different back as he got over 100 yards for the second straight game with 22 carries for 105 yards and a touchdown.

However, a big chunk of that was on a big 38-yard scamper. Outside of that run, he had 21 carries for 67 yards. That isn't going to cut it against defenses in the Pac-12. I still have my doubts about James as a 15+ carry back and would like to see Malcolm Jones, Steven Manfro and Paul Perkins get a lot of looks against New Mexico State. And hopefully, Damien Thigpen will be back by the Utah game to help out in a big way.

One thing I would like to praise here is the play-calling inside the redzone. Very inventive and I love using the bigger Y guys like Phillip Ruhl, Nate Iese, Thomas Duarte and Jordan Barrett down there. Especially if they have to be accounted for in the passing game. It just opens up a variety of options for this team. The strength of this team is depth (scary thought considering where UCLA was a few years ago) and it should be utilized.

This was a good showing by the offense, but the turnover and poor start to the game bump this down to an A- (3.7)

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

The offense is a bit of a negative here because of the brutal start to the game and Brett Hundley's costly interception. Whether or not that was a miscommunication with Shaq Evans or not isn't known at this point, but it was a bad decision. Hundley also was almost solely responsible for two sacks caused by holding on to the ball for too long.

Don't take this out of context, Hundley and the entire offense were fantastic almost the entire game. But it was not a game without flaws.

On defense, the only real glaring breakdown was on the first touchdown pass by Martinez. Brandon Sermons got roasted by Christian Enunwa (who is scary talented). There were other mistakes, but that will always be the case at any level of competition. The other touchdowns weren't because of positioning or play-calling, they were just good offensive efforts. The second TD to Enunwa was a brilliantly schemed play-call to get him open over the middle with a natural pick and beat the linebackers with speed. Their last touchdown was Fabian Moreau getting beat in man coverage by Kenny Bell, who is a All-Big 10 wide receiver.

I'd like to see a fast start for once out of both sides of the ball, but the sum of the whole 60 minutes is a well above average result.

On the penalty side of things, I had to check at least four times; but UCLA really only committed 3 penalties in this game. Three flags for 21 yards.

A meaningless false start at the end of the game on Torian White (who along with Simon Goines had very mediocre games at the tackle spot).

A pass interference by Myles Jack (iffy, but the right call). That one hurt a bit because it negated a stop on 3rd and 6 on that 92-yard drive.

And another pass interference on Anthony Jefferson late in the game on a meaningless drive.

That was such a huge step up from last week. Overall this is better than last week and last week was a B+, so I ended up with an A- (3.7).

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

The sluggish start is the issue here. After Nebraska went up 21-3 in the second quarter, the level of play is unquestionably outstanding. The process of getting to 21-3 still occurred, so it isn't possible for this grade to be an A like it normally is.

Coach Mora wasn't willing to make excuses for the slow start, but I think some of them are moderately valid. The 9 AM start. The hostile environement. The overwhelming emotion of dealing with the loss of a teammate. Those are factors that existed in the game.

The level of play in the last 38 minutes or so are off the charts, but the first quarter happened and that 92-yard drive by Nebraska happened as well. For that reason, this gets bumped to an A- (3.7).

5.) Do our players execute?

This is where I expect a little criticism in the comments. The special teams play here was not good. If UCLA had lost this game, this is where the finger pointing would start.

Sean Covington had a perfect snap hit him in the facemask. He was prepared, he had his hands in position and it hit him in the face. That gave Nebraska outstanding field position and lead to points just as much as Steven Manfro fumbles on punt returns did last season.

Ka'imi Fairbairn started the game strong with a tough 44-yard FG accounting for some crazy side-to-side wind. After that it was not a good day outside of extra points. A 46-yard miss, that was somehow called a make (awful officiating continues to be a running theme for Pac-12 games) and a not-even-close 55-yard FG miss at the end of the half.

On the defensive side, there weren't a ton of missed tackles and they did an outstanding job of keeping Taylor Martinez in the pocket. Martinez had -12 yards rushing after torching the Bruins on the ground last year. The blown coverages in the secondary on the touchdowns happen to teams, but were still unsettling. Brandon Sermons should get less and less playing time as Priest Willis works his way back from injury. Forcing 4 fumbles in one game (and they were all forced) is exceptional. Somehow, Anthony Barr got credited for forcing the fumble on Jordan Zumwalt's huge hit of Martinez. I hope that will get fixed because that was probably my favorite play of the game.

The offense executed well most of the game. The tackle position was lackluster, but facing a talented Nebraska front-seven. The fumble and interception by Brett Hundley were not ideal. Have to take care of the ball if designed QB runs are a big part of the game-plan. I don't see that being an issue with Brett because he hasn't fumbled much in his career, but it still happened and would have been devastating if it had been recovered by the Cornhuskers. The wideouts had a drop by Grayson Mazzone, but were solid throughout blocking and catching.

Because of the special teams miscues, the grade here is the lowest of the "Eye Test" but still a solid B+ (3.3).

6.) Do we have leaders on the field?

The leader that meant the most in this game only played one game as a Bruin and that was against Nevada.

And that is Nick Pasquale.

The leaders on the field deserve recognition as well.

Brett Hundley started off shaky, something he attributed to the emotions before the game. After that start though, he looked like a quarterback that will be playing on Sundays next season. He really was that good. After watching the game for a second time, he was unbelievably composed in the pocket on nearly every play.

The leadership in the offensive line came from Xavier Su'a-Filo (putting together week after week of phenomenal tape for pro scouts), Jacob Brendel (might already be the best center UCLA has had in my time watching the Bruins) and true freshman Alex Redmond (who is just a mauler up front at such a young age).

On defense, the defense was held together by Cassius Marsh and Jordan Zumwalt in the early going and Anthony Barr and Myles Jack were outstanding in the second half. The linebacking core at UCLA looks as good as any group in the country. That is biased, but also coming from a guy that watches an absurd amount of college football on a weekly basis.

This is without question an A+ (4.0). Might be the gold standard for grades in the future.

Final Grade Card for the Nebraska Cornhuskers:

1.) Is our defense prepared for each and every team we play? A (4.0)

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? A- (3.7)

4.) Do our players play for 60 G-D minutes every game? A- (3.7)

5.) Do our players execute? B+ (3.3)

6.) Do we have leaders on the field? A+ (4.0)

Nebraska GPA: 3.7

For reference, last week's game against Nevada came out to a 3.6 GPA.

UCLA will be headed back to the Rose Bowl for their next game against New Mexico State. I'm a little bummed that Dewayne Walker left to go coach in the NFL before this game happened. Would have been a nice story. With or without that, this next game should not be close at any point. New Mexico State is not good and UCLA might be great. If UTEP is putting up 40 points and 550 yards, this should be ugly. The grading scale will be much tougher for that game because it is an easy test.

Until next game, Go Bruins!