The last time that the UCLA Bruins defeated a top 10 team.
UCLA has lost 24 out of 25 games against top 10 opponents since 1998.
In a conference as deep and talented as the Pac-12, the barrier between a 7-9 win team and a Pac-12 Champion is the ability to win those game. I can say with complete certainty that UCLA will not ever reach a Rose Bowl without beating a top 10 team.
It just cannot happen.
In Eugene on Saturday, the same story played out in a different way. UCLA had a statement game served up. They failed to take advantage of opportunities: a fumble in red zone, turnovers, 3-and-outs, a blocked punt, good kickoff returns, an officiating team that allowed UCLA's aggressiveness and physicality on defense go unpenalized.
The chance was there and, like this program has 24 out of 25 times in the BCS-era, UCLA failed to deliver a win in a big game.
Being (unofficially) officially eliminated from any chance of a BCS Championship Game bid with their second loss of the season presents a chance for fans of the Bruins to take a snapshot in time at the program under Jim Mora in his second season.
The Bruins are a team that is good enough. Good enough to beat mediocre teams with their talent alone. Good enough to hang around with top 5 programs if one side of the ball plays great even if the other side plays dreadful. Good enough to win the Pac-12 South and the Alamo Bowl or the Holiday Bowl.
The Bruins are also a team that is not good enough. Not good enough to go on the road and beat a top 10 team. Not good enough to win the Pac-12. Not good enough to deserve the endless praise of a "culture change" and "team on the rise".
This is a team that is reaching the bare minimum of passing expectations. Is anyone really happy with 9 wins and annual losses to Stanford and Oregon? Is beating Arizona State and Utah or a depleted Southern Cal team what the UCLA Bruins should hang their hats on?
UCLA is better than that and should strive for it.
Now that I've covered the big picture, let's get to the grades.
1.) Is our defense prepared for each and every team we play?
I am really tired of this being the only positive column every week. But that is the reality of the situation.
Was anybody not excited at how the defense played for the vast majority of the game on Saturday?
Oregon ended up with 42 points and 555 yards. That looks bad but does not tell the story of the game.
With their numbers going into the game, UCLA held them 100 yards under their average and more than two touchdowns under their scoring average.
The scheme in the first half was absolutely outstanding. With Anthony Barr basically playing DE the entire game, the zone read keep by Marcus Mariota was mostly neutralized and allowed UCLA's front seven and Anthony Jefferson to focus on DeAnthony Thomas and Byron Marshall.
The secondary did a nice job against Oregon's passing game, only allowing four plays in the air over 15 yards. While Oregon is not a pass-first or even a pass-second team, Mariota is an NFL prospect and UCLA's defensive scheme turned him into a dink-and-dunk passer at just over 8 yards per attempt (which dropped Oregon's season total under 10 YPA and is very solid, but looks amazing in the box score next to UCLA's YPA).
The UCLA linebacking core was on another level in this game. Looked the best that I have seen a group of collegiate linebackers look. Anthony Barr, Jordan Zumwalt, Eric Kendricks and Myles Jack combined for 31 tackles, 4.5 TFLs, 2 sacks, a blocked punt, a forced fumble, a recovered fumble and 10+ plays that made announcers, casual observers and scouts go "Wow!".
All of those guys could play at the next level. I genuinely believe that.
For all of what I listed, the fact that this was Oregon's worst offensive game of the season and the position that the defense put the UCLA offense in throughout this game, the defense gets a B+ (3.3). And that actually feels low, but I can't give a team an A- for a 42 point, 500 yard game even if those numbers are deceiving.
2.) Do we call offensive plays to catch our opponents off guard?
Last week I ended this section with: "I could go on for a long time, but this is the worst UCLA's offense has looked since the days of the Pistol. Really embarrasing. D (1.0)."
This week was actually worse.
I'll start with a positive (or as positive as I could get with this performance). The running game looked good for the most part. 219 yards on 52 carries (4.2 YPC). That is aided by Brett Hundley's couple of big scrambles on passing plays.
Once again though, the ball distribution was just puzzling. Paul Perkins played okay, but had 9 carries that went for 2 or fewer yards because the running lanes were bottled up. That's nearly half of his touches producing nothing for the offense. Meanwhile, Malcolm Jones had just 3 such carries on his 12 touches.
The coaching staff clearly has a much higher volume of knowledge to work with then any of us do, but the Eye Test showed and has shown all season that Malcolm Jones looks much better than Perkins running the ball, especially when the box is stacked with defenders. Jones should be getting more touches because he is consistently productive and appears to be a better pass blocker than Perkins (though Paul is more than capable pass blocking).
Something is just not making sense there.
The passing game is just beyond words in this game. The receiving core was poor in just about every facet of being a receiving option. They created no separation, made nobody miss in space, did not block well on screens and dropped a couple passes.
They were also not helped by Brett Hundley, who had the worst passing game since a game where Darius Bell and Clayton Tunney played meaningful snaps at QB in 2010.
13-19 with 2 interceptions for just 64 yards. 3.4 yards per attempt. Sacked 3 times. Just atrocious.
The "young" offensive line actually did well. Scott Quessenberry was very solid in his first start, Caleb Benenoch and Alex Redmond continued to improve as they get more reps and Jacob Brendel looked normal. It could be argued that XSF played the weakest game on the line, but his only real problem was pass blocking at LT.
1 drive over 41 yards in the entire game. 3 meaningful first downs in the second half (2 more in garbage time).
Just awful, even more so than a week ago. D- (0.7)
3.) Do our players look like they know what they should be doing at all times?
Just 5 penalties for 59 yards in the best officiated game that I have seen in the Pac-12 this year (though it was with the group of officials that UCLA seems to never get for some reason). Oregon also had 5 penalties for 50 yards. Called right down the middle with a lot of leeway on both sides, was officiated like a mid-2000s game instead of a modern passing era game.
I'll go through each like always:
1. Holding on a kickoff return, started UCLA at the 15 instead of the 25. It was a pitiful 3-and-out anyway, so this had zero impact.
2. Holding on either Benenoch or Redmond on a rushing loss of a yard by Perkins. Went from 2nd and 11 to 1st and 20. This was actually one of UCLA's 2 scoring drives, so it was also meaningless.
3. Pass interference on Anthony Jefferson after he got beat by Bralon Addison. May have been a touchdown, may have been overthrown. Either way, this penalty is better than the possibility of a touchdown. Oregon fumbled on the next play without scoring. Actually a smart penalty after a poor coverage mistake.
4. Holding on Devin Fuller on a swing pass to Thomas Duarte (questionable playcall). Went from a 3rd and 7 to a 2nd and 17. Unsurprisingly, UCLA punted on this drive.
5. Personal foul on UCLA's defense on Oregon's final scoring drive. Didn't see this one, but the game was already over. Had no impact.
The penalty issue was solved by good officiating. Shocking.
On defense, I again praise the scheme put together by Lou Spanos and company. They schemed Oregon into UCLA's strengths, the linebacking core. It was masterfully done in the first half and held together in the second half for much longer than it should have considering UCLA's offense was giving Oregon the ball back by the time the Bruin defense sat down.
Once again the special teams played well, coverage units continue to be outstanding. No punt or kick return threat should worry any Bruin fan with the way those groups are playing. Stay in their lanes, fly to the ball and finish tackles.
So, mostly positives from the penalties, special teams and defensive side of the ball. Then there is the N-Zone.
Run blocking pretty solid against a talented Oregon front-seven. Pass blocking much better than against Stanford. The lineman did a nice job overall.
The skill position players were mediocre at best across the board. No wideout deserves praise based on their play. No elusiveness, almost no broken tackles outside of Brett Hundley's scrambles and Malcolm Jones being a load. Poor blocking on the edges, a couple of missed blitz pickups by backs. It was not a pretty game for the N-Zone, very similar to how Arizona State's offenses looked in big games while Noel Mazzone was there. Vanilla scheme and playcalling in a matchup against a team as fast and talented as the Oregon Ducks is not going to get you anywhere.
The offense drags this down a lot based on the way the defense and special teams played. C- (1.7)
4.) Do our players play for 60 G-D minutes every game?
Somebody in the comments noted that this section should include coaching and I am normally not one to forgo the traditional criteria, but this week feels special.
The offensive coaching staff was not prepared for this game and also failed miserably to make adjustments in the second half. Oregon is a better team than UCLA, one of the best in the country (only teams I would consider close to 50/50 shots to beat Oregon on a neutral field would be Alabama, Florida State, Stanford, Baylor and Texas A&M [I believe in Johnny Manziel against anyone]). That being said, how can a top 20 offense not move the ball more than 40 yards on any drive in the second half?
The defense played hard all the way through, but eventually broke down on Oregon's last two possession. Allowing 96 rushing yards after the game was all but decided. What bothered me more than anything was the offense's last drive. Running the ball 6 times with no urge to score.
That is the most irresponsible thing that a coach can do to his players. Run the risk of injuring an offensive starter while giving up. If you just want to end the game, kneel. Don't send Malcolm Jones and Paul Perkins and Brett Hundley charging into defenders with a 42-14 deficit. That's worse than giving up, it's trying to trick your team into thinking you aren't giving up while risking their health.
I hate that like I hate teams running draw plays at the end of the half. There is virtually no outcome that is a positive. Grade here is more on the coaches than the players and is the new low for the year. C (2.0)
5.) Do our players execute?
Start with the offense here.
Turnovers and third/fourth down conversions.
2 bad interceptions by Brett Hundley. The first interception could have been intercepted by two different Oregon players. Interceptions were returned for 43 yards and Hundley threw for 64. Those numbers are eerily close.
Offensive third down attempts: one by one.
1. 3rd and 5. Incompletion to Jalen Ortiz that gets bailed out by a pass interference call.
2. 3rd and 1. 4 yard rush by Paul Perkins
3. 3rd and 3. 10 yard completion to Jordan Payton
4. 3rd and 5. Incompletion to Shaq Evans, disrupted by the pass rush but took too long to develop like all passing plays that aren't swings in this offense.
5. 4th and 5 from the 45 yard line with the game tied, Sean Covington punts to the 9. UCLA had so much momentum and this is a low risk 4th down against Oregon. Ended up losing this "field position" because all a team has to do is get one first down on their next drive to cancel it out. Does it really matter if Oregon starts at the 45 or the 9 yard line? They're going to score at least 35 points regardless, this is not the NFL where TOP and 4th down conversions can risk your job. Jim Mora is unbelievably secure in this job, take some risks.
6. 3rd and 1. Malcolm Jones rushes for 7 yards. Very physical run.
7. 3rd and 8. Jordan Payton for 6 yards (his last catch of the game). I liked this play because it was another clear 4 down situation and this made the attempt 4th and 2. Also, IT WAS A PASS OVER THE MIDDLE OF THE FIELD.
8. 4th and 2. Paul Perkins rush for no gain. This was an atrocious play call. They were trying to confuse the middle linebacker by motioning Devin Fuller over the top of the formation, but no one in the Pac-12 respects that threat because Fuller hasn't done anything to earn that acknowledgement. The linebacker stayed put and stuffed the play.
9. 3rd and 7. Brett Hundley sacked.
10. 3rd and 4. Brett Hundley rushes for 33 yards on a broken play.
11. 3rd and 6. Brett Hundley rushes for 7 yards.
12. 3rd and 4. Brett Hundley passes to Thomas Duarte for an 11-yard TD pass on A PASS OVER THE MIDDLE OF THE FIELD.
That was the first half. UCLA was 7 of 12 with one non-conversion setting up a manageable 4th down and another decision to punt. That is a very good half and the same type of execution that has made UCLA's offense effective this season. As bad as the game ended up for the offense, they actually were relatively successful in the first half. What happened?
13. 3rd and 1. Malcolm Jones rush for 3 yards.
14. 3rd and 5. Steven Manfro rush for 1 yard. This was another really questionable play. Trying to confuse the defense with the motion to Devin Fuller again that no one bit on. When Oregon didn't bite the first time, you would think that Noel Mazzone would scrap this set, but I guess he'll need to look at the tape to realize that.
15. 3rd and 6. Brett Hundley strip sacked as Caleb Benenoch gets roasted by Tony Washington. Luckily Benenoch fell on the fumble to let UCLA punt instead of giving Oregon the ball in the redzone.
16. 3rd and 7. Brett Hundley rush for 5 yards. Had no chance to make it, but there was literally no option to throw to.
17. 3rd and 4. Completion to Shaquelle Evans for 6 yards. Down 21-14, this was essentially a must-score drive for UCLA that got off to a promising start.
18. 3rd and 20. After the Evans catch, a 3-yard loss on a swing pass to Ortiz (who for some reason got targeted as many times in this game as he had all season) and a sack of Hundley got UCLA into a 3rd and 20 from midfield. Hundley preceded to force the ball to Evans on a post with safety help. Easy interception, probably a situation where 10 yards is better than trying to get all 20 at once.
19. 3rd and 5. Incompletion to Devin Fuller. Dropped for a first down, not a perfect pass but hit both hands with room to work. A drag pattern that has been a sure thing conversion on 3rd downs this year for UCLA.
20. 3rd and 6. Incompletion to Jordan Payton.
21. 3rd and 5. 9 yard run by Perkins in garbage time.
The second half was rough. Just 3 conversions out of 9 tries with an interception, a dropped pass, a missed block by an offensive lineman and a bad play-call.
That's poor execution leading to poor results.
The defense was solid in the first half as well, holding Oregon to just 4 out of 9. Those 4 conversions were also the only reason that Oregon wasn't shut out in the first half.
Those 4 tries:
1. 4th and 14 from the 26. Fake punt successful for a 66 yard run that was one of the biggest momentum swings of the game. The third down before was a strip sack by Anthony Barr that was a bounce away from being a turnover (Damn you, oblong ball.). The mentality of a team that will run this after nearly turning the ball over is a winning one. Confidence in your team in any and every situation.
2. 3rd and 7. Mariota complete to Josh Huff for 8 yards. Kept a drive going to start the 2nd quarter.
3. 3rd and 5. 3 plays after the other conversion a 40 yard TD run by Byron Marshall. Anthony Jefferson got blocked on this play by an Oregon WR, great downfield block turned an 8-yard gain into a TD. Those blocks weren't there for the Bruins.
4. 3rd and 7. Mariota complete to Huff for 31 yards. Not a scoring drive but Oregon's biggest passing play of the game.
If the defense executes just a bit better or if the special teams were fully focused in (absolutely gorgeous setup and playcall on the fake though, lots of credit to Oregon, no one fakes in that spot) then Oregon probably is down 14-7 at the half.
Oregon faced just 5 third downs in the 2nd half and coverted 4 (2 in garbage time).
All that being said about the defense, they forced two fumbles, blocked a punt, recovered a botched snap, created 7 TFLs on a team that only allows 4 per game and stopped a 4th down conversion in the redzone.
I would put the defense at around a B or B- and the offense at around a D but the offenses is weighted more heavily because the offense was a top 10 unit in the country in 3rd down conversion rates. C- (1.7)
6.) Do we have leaders on the field?
Final Grade Card for the Oregon Ducks
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? D- (0.7)
3.) Do our players look like they know what they should be doing at all times? C- (1.7)
4.) Do our players play for 60 G-D minutes every game? C (2.0)
5.) Do our players execute? C- (1.7)
6.) Do we have leaders on the field? C+ (2.3)
Oregon GPA: C (2.0)
Note: this is a 1.7 without the defense's grade.
For reference, last week's game against Stanford came out to a 2.0 GPA and the victories over Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico State, UC Berkeley and Utah were a 3.7, a 3.6, a 2.8, another 2.8 and 2.9 respectively.