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The "Eye Test": Jerry Neuheisel Steps Up To Beat Texas in Texas

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Grading out the finer details of UCLA's 20-17 victory over the Texas Longhorns in the Bruins' "neutral site" game at AT&T Stadium in Arlington to see if UCLA football is meeting expectations.

Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Apologies to everybody for the Eye Test being a few days late. Made the drive out to Texas with my father and got back late Monday night and wasn't able to really re-watch the game until Tuesday night.

The UCLA Bruins took me on the best rollercoaster ride that I have ever been on while watching a sporting event live. I was furious, I was disappointed, I was hopeful, I was ecstatic, I was showered with beer, I was hugged by probably 15 random strangers who happened to be wearing blue. It would have been tough to ask for a better finish from the standpoint of a fan in the audience

This is probably the hardest Eye Test that I have had to write because separating emotion from this game is damn near impossible. Even four days later, it feels too raw to be unbiased.

This is my best shot at it, so let's get to the grades:

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

322 yards on 64 plays (5.03 yards per play), 17 points allowed. That is not a bad game. It certainly isn't a good game.

Texas' one explosive play was a 33-yard pass on 4th and 8. This was a frustrating play both live and on replay because UCLA had been pressuring Swoopes with a 4-man rush the entire drive. UCLA goes soft and rushes 3 instead of continuing to pressure a QB that had been a non-factor in the game outside of short, quick passes. I wasn't surprised when Swoopes completed the pass because I am a big believer in the saying that "the Prevent defense only prevents you from winning." DBs can't be expected to cover WRs for 8 seconds downfield, it just isn't likely to happen.

No other play went for more than 16 yards. Part of that was Texas' offensive gameplan, but another, bigger part was the play of the secondary (despite not having 2 starters for the entire game and a 3rd for most of the 2nd half).

Instances with more than 4-man rush on pass plays:

It is really tough to tell on this for the Texas game because the Longhorns were basically running a slightly different version of the offense UCLA went to with Jerry Neuheisel in the game. Out of Texas' first 21 pass attempts, 14 were going to be impossible for any defense to get a pass rush on (8 were passes thrown almost immediately, the other 6 were designed rollouts). On the 6 plays that it was possible for UCLA to get an actual pass rush on, the Bruins got pressure (either a sack, hit or hurry) on 5. The one that UCLA didn't get pressure on was the huge 4th down completion (33-yard gain) where UCLA rushed only 3 in order to have 8 in coverage.

Pressures on pass plays (not complete):

  1. Eddie Vanderdoes gets his first sack of the season on the opening drive. Fantastic inside rip move on the Texas LG, then he pancakes the center (basically bent him over backwards) by converting speed to power.
  2. Eddie Vanderdoes does a solid job forcing Swoopes out of his normal routine on a rollout to the left. Deon Hollins pursues and gets credit for the sack by pushing Swoopes out of bounds, but it was more of a coverage sack than anything that a pass rusher did. 3-man rush on this one.
  3. Deon Hollins gets off the ball lightning quick and forces Swoopes to scramble. Ends up a 1-yard gain.
  4. Deon Hollins gets off the ball quick again and beats the RT inside right away. Gets in Swoopes' face and makes him scramble, he completes the pass for 8 yards and a 1st down. Hollins does actually make contact on this play, counted as a QB hit.
  5. Getting a little redundant now. Deon Hollins gets off the ball quick and would have gotten a sack if not for a holding penalty. He draws the flag, but the hold allows Swoopes enough time to get rid of the ball and that throw ends up drawing a flag on Fabian Moreau for defensive holding. Waste of a pass rush here.
  6. Kenny Clark blows up a screen pass, forces an awful, rushed throw that is nearly intercepted by Adams. Gets it to 4th down and 8.

The pass rush needs to be more productive. I believe that 100%, but there isn't any pass rusher playing poorly at this point. Owa wins 1-on-1 battles, he's just weirdly slow off the line. Deon Hollins might have the best get-off of any rusher in the Pac-12, but isn't finishing with sacks. Kenny Clark, Ellis McCarthy and Eddie Vanderdoes are interior rushers that perform well, but pass rushes always count on pressures from the edges.

I'd give the defense a B- (2.7) in this game. Passing easily, but still not performing to the level of their talent.

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

Considering that Texas was just coming off giving up 40+ points and a ton of rushing yards to BYU in Week 2, this offensive performance seems mediocre at best on paper.

20 points (7 set up by a 45-yard punt return), 443 total yards, just 226 passing yards (and only 178 yards on 30 attempts by Jerry Neuheisel).

A dreadful 6.6 yards per attempt in the passing game (5.9 for Neuheisel, 12 for Hundley's 4 passes).

A potentially devastating turnover by an otherwise effective Jordon James.

10 more plays resulting in tackles for loss or no gain allowed (and another erased by a UCLA personal foul penalty).

3 more sacks allowed (though all were in the 1st half).

On the other hand, it seems unfair to punish the offense for only scoring 20 points in this game after losing Brett Hundley. Because the offense is not capable of being the same without Hundley.

The offense should have played much better, no matter who was at QB.

There were points left on the board just from the two drives that Hundley was in the game, even though the 2nd ended with a long Kai'mi Fairbairn FG.

A 31-yard run and a 44-yard pass were nullified by dumb mental mistake type of penalties. Both of those plays would have put UCLA inside of the 25-yard line. If UCLA's red-zone scoring over the past two seasons is any indication, at least one of those drives would have ended with a TD, perhaps both. A quick 14-0 lead or, perhaps more likely, a 10-0 lead sets a much different tone over the course of this game. That would have been a huge boost to the defense, would have quieted down the overwhelmingly pro-Texas crowd. Instead, Texas was allowed to hang around for the 1st quarter and, eventually the entire game.

Another drive that went into Texas territory later in the game was shut down by a personal foul penalty on Mossi Johnson. The drive ending in Jordon James' fumble was deep in Texas territory, keeping more points off the board.

I have to praise Jerry Neuheisel for providing one of the most exciting endings to a UCLA football game in a very long time. He was steady and composed for nearly every play, played within his physical limitations (outside of one dreadful throw downfield that should have been intercepted), and, most importantly, never turned the ball over (every QB gets lucky once in a while, that INT should have happened, but it didn't).

There are positives to glean from this game, especaily from a leadership perspective, but the offense underperformed. Not the fault of the scheme or the players, just the fault of circumstance. I still have to grade and a B- (2.7) feels right.

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

Some general observations:

  • Owa does an outstanding job reading screen on a 3rd and 8 on Texas' opening drive. Intelligent play for a defensive lineman to recognize that the blocker is giving him a free release and then instantly break outside to make the play. Nearly a TFL (went for no gain).
  • Myles Jack is a hot mess as a running back outside of his untouchable athleticism. He has absolutely no clue what is going on outside of him holding on to the ball. 1st down on Hundley's last drive of the game (mid-1st quarter), he gets a pitch for a sweep to the right side. He runs into the back of his blockers, not in the way that runners hide behind lineman to find their way to a hole, he's just running his ass off and hoping to make something happen. He gets away with it most of the time because he is so freakishly talented physically.
  • Patience of Paul Perkins running the ball was impressive. First play after Hundley left the game is a stretch to the right side. Texas' defense reads it well and flows outside maybe a little too quick. Perkins sees that edge isn't going to be there, gets an outstanding seal on a DT from Jacob Brendel and cuts back to the middle for 5 yards instead of losing 2.
  • Eli Ankou got picked on a big run by Texas. The 22-yard run by Malcolm Brown was right at Ankou and he got moved out pretty easily.
  • Jaleel Wadood is a steady presence in the run game. Has great instincts moving forward. Extremely bright future for Wadood. Will be interested to see how the battle to replace Anthony Jefferson next season works out. Both Wadood and Tahaan Goodman have proven that they are going to be very good defensive backs and that they already are to an extent. You would expect some confusion with a true freshman and sophomore calling things in the secondary, but they were in good position the whole game. No coverage breakdowns, not that Texas would have taken a shot deep anyway.
  • The offensive line as a whole looked solid run blocking. The pass blocking issues are still there, the blitz pickup issues are still there. But they can run block effectively. Some mistakes, sure. But there were a lot of positives to build on moving forward.
  • The WR blocking had to be great in this game and it was. Devin Fuller is sneakily powerful blocking in space, Thomas Duarte does a nice job using his size, Jordan Payton is and always has been good out there.

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

  1. Personal foul on Malcolm Bunche for a facemask on the third play of the game which negated a 31-yard run by Brett Hundley that got UCLA deep into Texas territory early. UCLA would get another 1st down on the drive, but this was a drive killer. If UCLA goes down and scores on the opening possession after that huge play by Hundley, who knows if Texas is mentally able to hang around.
  2. Illegal formation on Caleb Benenoch for lining up way too deep at tackle. This is the correct call and it was every time they called it, and the refs would have been justified to call it more often if they compared to where Buche is at LT. This doesn't count as a penalty, because Texas got called for a facemask on the same play. But the result was a 44-yard pass to Jordan Payton (on a drag route over the middle) that took the ball to about the 25-yard line (and inside the red-zone if the facemask penalty gets added). Instead, the down gets replayed because the UCLA offensive line was lined up incorrectly.
  3. Devin Fuller gets flagged for a hold on a kickoff return after Texas tied the game up a 3. He had already tried to get Ishmael Adams to stay in the endzone, then when Ish took it out (and got tackled inside the 20), Fuller made a mental mistake. Forced Neuheisel to start inside the 10 on his first solo drive in charge of the offense. Not ideal.
  4. Another illegal formation on Benenoch. Gets declined because it was a 1-yard loss on the play anyway.
  5. Another offsetting penalty as UCLA's pass rush forces a bad throw by Swoopes, but Fabian Moreau squeezed the Texas WR out of bounds and is flagged for defensive holding (correct call). Texas also holds Deon Hollins as he rushes past the RT to force the bad throw.
  6. Personal foul on Mossi Johnson on an already unsuccessful play (1-yard loss on a screen to Devin Lucien). Turned a 2nd and 11 into a 1st and 26. Deflated a promising drive that could have turned into points, UCLA had the ball on Texas' 38 and was suddenly on the other side of the 50. This was a deserved penalty also, Johnson hit a Texas player well after the whistle for no reason. Not dirty, just trying to block after the whistle.
  7. Excessive celebration on Owa after the Bruins stopped Texas on 4th down in the 4th quarter. No one had a problem with this one, mostly because about 8 other guys could have gotten the same penalty.

Better here than the previous two games, but the offensive line is still allowing way too many free rushers in the pass and run game, the penalties are still an issue, almost certainly took points off the board. Going with a B (3.0).

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

This one is pretty unquestionable on the offensive side. Having to perform after an injury took away Brett Hundley for about 85% of the contest.

The defensive side had to overcome injuries to Randall Goforth (for the entire game, prepared), Anthony Jefferson (for the entire game, surprised) and Fabian Moreau (for most of the 2nd half, surprised).

Feel cool with an A (4.0) here.

5.) Do our players execute?

Some general observations:

  • On the first series, UCLA's offense successfully executed a screen pass to a running back. Blocking was sold well, Paul Perkins did a great job reading the blocks downfield and, more importantly, of leaking out of the backfield without being instantly sniffed out by the Texas linebackers.
  • Texas got the ball out so ridiculously quick on their passes on the opening drive (and just in general). Passes were a rollout with a near-instant throw to the flats, a swing pass to a RB, taking advantage of Priest Willis playing off coverage by running a quick slant on a 2nd and 5 for a 13-yard gain, a tunnel screen to the inside that went for 10 on 2nd and 18 and a HB screen that was sniffed out instantly by Owamagbe Odighizuwa. The only throw that took more than a second to develop ended in a sack.
  • The 45-yard punt return by Ishmael Adams was sprung by three outstanding blocks by Priest Willis (on the right gunner), Cameron Judge (after running about 40 yards downfield and decleating a Texas defender) and Jayon Brown (smartly got his head in front on a chip down the sideline, would have been easy to block in the back there and he pulled up). Outstanding.
  • The TD pass was a thing of beauty. The pass protection, the route and catch by Jordan Payton, the pump and throw by Jerry Neuheisel. One of those moments that looks just as good on tape as it did in person.

Some observations about dropped passes, sacks, fumbles, interceptions, missed tackles or other negatives on either side of the ball:

  • Alex Redmond gets tossed aside by Malcolm Brown (who, to be fair, is an All-American level defensive tackle) on a 2nd and 5 on the opening drive around midfield and gets Brett Hundley sacked for an 8-yard loss. Put the final dart in the disappointing ending to a promising opening drive. This was just a lineman losing a 1-on-1 battle. Happens to every football player sometimes, but far too often on this offensive line.
  • Jacob Brendel got his face crossed by Brown on a read option to Paul Perkins. Hundley makes the correct read, the DE stays at home, but Brown is waiting for Perkins as soon as he gets the handoff. These problems are the biggest reason why the interior run game has struggled this season. Just can't have this happen.
  • Malcolm Brown gets pressure again, this time against Scott Quessenberry on a 3rd and 3. Hundley evades it and picks up the first down running the ball, but this is another borderline sack (probably is a sack with most QBs).
  • On the play that Hundley got injured on (3rd and 9 from the UCLA 24-yard line), Malcolm Bunche got burnt around the edge. Forced Hundley into scramble mode before the routes had developed. He gets the first down, but lands weird diving for it. We all know what happened next.
  • 2nd sack of the game, the first with Jerry Neuheisel in. It is a 2nd and 9 at the Texas 26-yard line. Safely in FG range. This play is just a disaster across the board. It is a 5-man rush with 6 in protection (James swings for a pass but Nate Iese is in on the left side for support). That shouldn't be a problem, but Caleb Benenoch runs upfield at the snap like he thinks it is a running play, which allows the DE to come upfield to eliminate the swing pass to Jordon James that Neuheisel is throwing to. No lineman actually blocked anyone on this play.
  • Caleb Benenoch gets his face crossed by a blitzing linebacker on a read option. Neuheisel makes the right read because the DE stays at home, but Perkins is hit just after getting the handoff because of a mistake by Benenoch. 3-yard loss.
  • The very next play, Scott Quessenberry whiffs on a pull and allows a defensive back off the edge to make a TFL on Perkins. This could have been a big gain on a 2nd and 13 because it was really well blocked outside of this mistake. Texas was able to decline a penalty on Benenoch for lining up illegaly.
  • The next play, 3rd sack of the game. Pretty much all on Paul Perkins. Has a 1-on-1 blitz pickup off the edge on a defensive back, doesn't see the blitz and steps towards the line. Finally sees the blitz, but it is too late and he takes down Neuheisel before he can make a read.
  • Fumble by James is just a fluke thing really. He has the ball tucked high and tight, maybe he should have had a 2nd hand on it, but the Texas defender makes a great play to knock it out. Shouldn't distract from the fact that James produced every time he touched the ball. Mostly because the run blocking was much improved in this game.

Again, probably the best game of the year in this respect. Not nearly as good as UCLA should be or needs to be, but a marked improvement. Going with a B (3.0).

6.) Do we have leaders on the field?

Starts with Jerry Neuheisel's performance at QB. It wasn't pretty, it wasn't flashy. But it was what UCLA needed in this game. Seeing another Neuheisel come into a game they shouldn't have played in and lead UCLA to victory is hard to top as a feel good story.

Paul Perkins had an electric game that deserves praise as well, along with the offensive line in the running game.

Defensively, I would shout out Jaleel Wadood, Priest Willis and Tahaan Goodman for playing nearly every snap at a high level and making the losses of Randall Goforth, Anthony Jefferson and (for most of the 2nd half) Fabian Moreau. The talent level and depth of the secondary shined in this game.

Erick Kendricks and Myles Jack were good as always.

The special teams as well, Fairbairn drilling a 47-yard FG, Ishmael Adams returning the punt in the 4th quarter, Cameron Judge, Jayon Brown, Priest Willis, Roosevelt Davis and all the other special teams stalwarts that get less hype than they deserve.

Have to go A+ (4.0) here.

Final Grade Card for the Texas Longhorns

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? B- (2.7)

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? A (4.0)

5.) Do our players execute? B (3.0)

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

Texas GPA: B (3.0)

For reference, the GPA for last week's win over Memphis was a high C (2.2) and the Week One win over Virginia was a C+ (2.5) that looks better now that the Cavaliers have beaten a ranked opponent in Louisville (who is not a world beating squad by any means, but still a consistently good college football team).

The Bruins have a long way to go to be considered a national contender after the lackluster start to the season, but this game was a step in the right direction. The next game is against Arizona State in Tempe (UCLA's third road game in 4 games to start the season, great scheduling there) but the Sun Devils will be without Taylor Kelly. That should have been a win already, but now without Kelly UCLA has no excuse to not start Pac-12 play 1-0.

Until next time, Go Bruins!