Welcome back to football season everyone. It has been way too long since I've gotten to write one of these. I've always much preferred writing these after wins, so a 58-20 victory over a more than capable Nevada team works out great for me as a starter post.
As others have noted in their recaps, this game has a lot of similarities with last year's opener against Rice. The biggest difference to me is that Nevada is a team that can win their conference and Rice was a team that maxed out at 6 wins.
Side note: I recently went on an absolutely absurd road trip with a group of my closest friends. We spent a week in a Honda Civic driving around the western half of the United States. From the Inland Empire to Minneapolis to Kansas City to St. Louis and all the way back to California. 7 days, only 3 nights in a hotel and one stop in Las Vegas. I preface this with the fact that I don't gamble. Not a moral thing or a legal thing, I just have never understood the appeal. As a couple of my buddies were at the Craps table, I wandered over to the sports betting area of a casino to watch the games that were going on. For some reason, I checked out the over/under bets for college football wins. I saw that UCLA's line was 7.5 wins. In my mind, there was no way I can see UCLA winning less than 8. I'd seen camp in San Bernardino, I'd seen them play last year and rewatched every game during the offseason. I looked at my wallet, still full of the money I had for the next 6 days of our road trip and I made an investment on the Bruins. $100 on the over.
After Saturday night, I am already looking forward to my next free trip to Las Vegas.
Getting back to the game from this weekend...
Everyone who has posted before me has covered that it was a rocky first half at times and that the second half was a flat out domination, but the "Eye Test" looks at things a little bit closer. It takes a look at the preparedness of the defense, the predictability of the offense, the awareness of the team on and off the field, the level of intensity throughout the contest, the execution of the players in their assignments on all 3 sides of the ball, and the leadership of the players in action.
It's a more thorough way of determining where UCLA is at in each game. Grades are awarded on a standard 0.0-4.0 (F-A) scale and averaged together at the end of the piece for an overall GPA.
Without further adieu, let's get to the grades.
1.) Is our defense prepared for each and every team we play?
If the "Eye Test" were done in a semester system for each half, I would need to average out a borderline passing grade with a Dean's List level grade. Fortunately for the Bruins' D, it is a cumulative system with the whole game being evaluated as one.
The first half started off well with a short drive by Nevada stalling out after one first down. The next three drives alternated between punts for Nevada and field goals for Nevada. Going into the half up 17-6 would have left a little to be desired, but no one would have been concerned. That is where the next drive comes into play. After a Hundley-to-Evans TD, Nevada got the ball with 2:15 to play and drove 81 yards in two minutes to make it a 4 point lead instead of 9 points.
The problem on that last drive was the Bruin pass defense giving up way too much underneath to Nick Fajardo. Making him dink and dunk down the field is one thing, but giving up 8, 13, 8 and 7 yard catches moves a team down the field quickly.
The second half was a different story. Nevada was a top 10 offense last season that returned their best player and QB as well as their top 3 wide receivers. That team is going to get yards on any defense outside of maybe Alabama. UCLA held them to just 353 yards of offense and 20 points.
That's a great performance objectively. Giving up 100+ rushing yards to a QB is concerning. I am also not crazy that half-time adjustments creating a different level of play has become the norm. With the talent on hand, this defense should be able to play at that level at all times.
Adding together a dominant second half (under 100 yards and only a garbage time TD) with a slightly lackluster first half (250+ yards, several costly penalties and a few too many missed tackles for my liking) averages out to a B+ (3.3). The good outweighs the bad by a lot.
2.) Do we call offensive plays to catch our opponents off guard?
For the criticism of the defense's patches of struggle in the first half, none are really there for the offense.
The running game was spectacular. Even against a bad defense, putting up 345 yards after losing your all-time leading rusher is noteworthy. Jordon James deserve a ton of credit for looking All-Pac-12-ish, but all of the backs looked good. Paul Perkins is built so solid for a redshirt freshman. Steven Manfro shows a lot of burst and will be a much better player this season. Malcolm Jones looked like a force running the ball and catching it out of the backfield. He was so physical. Even Roosevelt Davis looked like a guy that can warrant some touches.
Brett Hundley was great. He threw for 274 and 2 touchdowns and rushed for 63 and 2 more touchdowns. His throwing and reading through progressions was visibly different than last season. The touchdown pass to Evans was especially great.
The receivers were great. All 12 guys that caught passes looked good doing so. Fuller is much faster, Devin Lucien and Jordan Payton looked good. Shaquelle Evans looked like an NFL receiver. All of the Ys and running backs out of the backfield had no problems.
The offensive line was dominant and they should have been. Overall, the offense was exceptional. Putting up 58 points and 647 yards will always warrant an A (4.0).
3.) Do our players look like they know what they should be doing at all times?
Offensively, I can't critique a ton here. The offensive line was superb in picking up stunts by Nevada's defensive line and kept Brett Hundley sack-free. The only sack was Jerry Neuheisel willingly running out of bounds instead of throwing the ball away on a pass play.
Defensively, the reaction to the zone read was troubling early on. Anthony Barr and Cassius Marsh both notably failed to keep contain on Fajardo multiple times. That'll need to be better against guys like Taylor Martinez and Marcus Mariota later in the year. Fajardo is probably a better runner than Martinez, but the Nebraska QB is a far superior passer, which will limit how much the secondary can support the run during the game in Lincoln. Overall though, the defense did pretty well.
The place where UCLA struggled was a far too familiar one.
This was the section where I addressed the problems with penalties last season. Unfortunately, it looks like I have to do that again this year.
12 penalties for 93 yards in Week 1.
Let's go through them one-by-one.
A delay of game was the first one (which is baffling in this offense). It didn't slow down a scoring drive, so this will likely be one of the only delay of games we'll see this season.
The next one was a personal foul on Randall Goforth cutting Fajardo's legs out of bounds. It was questionable (never got to see a replay, thanks Pac-12 Network) but turned a 27 yard run into a 42 yard gain.
#3 was an offsides on a FG attempt by Cassius Marsh. To me, the refs need to keep the flag in their pocket on FGs unless something egregious happens.
That was followed by a defensive holding on Brandon Sermons giving Nevada a first down instead of a 3rd down on their first TD drive. Very costly, but a good call.
The third quarter was an absolute mess in this department despite being dominated by the Bruins.
An illegal man downfield on a weird lateral that wasn't a lateral, an offsides on Anthony Barr that negated a TFL, an offensive pass interference on Grayson Mazzone that took away an impressive run after the catch for a TD by Devin Fuller, an upsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Cassius Marsh, another offsides by the defense (i think it was on Deon Hollins).
That's six penalties in one quarter. UCLA will not win quarters 20-0 doing that in the future. All of those are easily avoidable except that illegal man downfield.
The fourth quarter was cleaner but still frustrating. Another illegal man downfield and a false start on Thomas Duarte (only lineman should false start, never wide outs).
That has to be better in the future. The overall level of play was good in this section, but the penalties drag this down to a B (3.0).
4.) Do our players play for 60 G-D minutes every game?
This team's intensity level was at a crazy level throughout the game. I'd like to especially note the high level that the younger players came in with after the game was decided. It was noticeable that the 2nd and 3rd string Bruins were playing at a different level than the Wolf Pack in the fourth quarter. Members of the media are apparently having difficulty counting the exact number, but 15 true freshman played last night and all of them looked like they belonged. The effort and intensity was there from the opening kickoff to the final whistle. This grade can only be an A (4.0) and sets a high bar for the rest of the year.
5.) Do our players execute?
The offense was solid here. The offensive line dominated a smaller Nevada defensive line throughout, there were not any drops that I recall, the only turnover was a missed exchange between Jerry Neuheisel and Melvin Emesibe.
All of the running backs looked decisive and quick. Brett Hundley missed on a few deep balls but was excellent and looked so much stronger running and throwing. Ball has extra zip now, will be fun to see throws that he couldn't make last season.
On the defensive end, the biggest problem is handling the zone read. There were too many big plays by Nevada on it. Big runs by Fajardo and his running backs of 27, 19, 14, 14, 11 and 10. Six big runs when the talent level up front is so vastly different is not acceptable.
Overall, the defense did well in pass coverage. Ishmael Adams got beat on mismatches a few times, but how do you expect a 5'8" corner to out-jump a 6'5" wideout. Not going to happen real often. They weren't tested often and almost never beyond 15 yards, so that'll be something to keep an eye on against Nebraska.
The special teams was steady. A Ka'imi Fairbairn missed field goal was a tough one. It had the distance but went wide. He came back with a no doubter from 40 and looked powerful on kickoffs along with Sean Covington. The coverage and return teams looked good as well, outside of a bobble by Steven Manfro on one kickoff.
Overall this was above average and close to great execution. I'm a tough grader, so this is a B+ (3.3).
6.) Do we have leaders on the field?
Brett Hundley looked so composed throughout as long as he isn't asked to slide. Offense performed well right from the start and looked great throughout.
The offensive line played as well as you could have hoped. Xavier Su'a-Filo was outstanding and clearly the leader on the line.
With two potential first round picks on offense, leadership should not be an issue.
Anthony Barr probably shouldn't have played. He looked like a guy that hadn't practiced in a week. Tough to be a guy that leads by example if you're limited in the example you can provide. Eric Kendricks picked up where he left off last season, playing at a high level.
Cassius Marsh also played at a lower level than I expected, both on the field and in committing a stupid personal foul. Word of advice that I never followed myself: refs always catch the second guy, just be the first guy on the next play.
The young guys deserve a shoutout as well, so I'm going to just list out the true freshmen that made their debuts last night. Myles Jack, Deon Hollins, Alex Redmond, Isaako Savaiinaea, Cameron Judge, Tahaan Goodman, Eddie Vanderdoes, Kylie Fitts, Kenneth Clark, Caleb Benenoch, Sean Covington, Thomas Duarte, Jalen Ortiz, Darren Andrews and Jayon Brown.
Bright futures from those guys. Scary good recruiting class.
Got to give the leadership grade an A- (3.7) as a ding to the defense's struggles with penalties from a leader in Cassius Marsh.
Final Grade Card for the Nevada Wolf Pack:
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? A (4.0)
3.) Do our players look like they know what they should be doing at all times? B (3.0)
4.) Do our players play for 60 G-D minutes every game? A (4.0)
5.) Do our players execute? B+ (3.3)
6.) Do we have leaders on the field? A- (3.7)
Nevada GPA: The actual GPA is a (3.6), but I'm rounding the corresponding grade of B+ up to an A- because that feels right.
Next week the Bruins are off before heading to Lincoln in two weeks to play Nebraska. Two things that must improve: the penalties and the defense's execution on the zone read. I look forward to seeing that $100 investment move closer to a free trip to Vegas.
Until next game, Go Bruins!