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The “Eye Test”: UCLA Football Left Dazed and Confused in the Desert

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The defense found some new lows and the offense wasn’t as perfect as it needed to be.

NCAA Football: UCLA at Arizona Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Offense

Quarterback - Welcome to the continuing saga of Josh Rosen coming back to Earth and playing like a college quarterback is supposed to play, and the Bruins being caught with their pants down because the apparent gameplan was titled “Operation Let Josh Rosen Carry Us and Do Nothing to Help Him”.

Again, this is not to let Josh Rosen off the hook; he still threw 3 interceptions, and none of them were particularly good decisions. That first interception in the end zone was a bad idea as soon as Josh even looked in that general direction, and even though he got hit as he threw and that affected the pass, it feels obvious on replay that the pass would have been intercepted no matter what. In the past few games, you could rationalize a few of the interceptions as being tipped passes or bad routes by the receivers, but these were all bad decisions.

I’m not going to ding Josh for not throwing a touchdown pass, as the Bruin run game was more-than servicable once the team got inside the 10, but he did miss on some clear touchdown passes deep. More worrisome was the return of Rosen’s bad habit of holding onto the ball too long. Part of that might have to do with losing his favorite security blanket in Caleb Wilson, but Rosen just doesn’t seem to trust his receivers as much as he did earlier in the season.

For this game, Josh is getting a D. While I think you could make an argument that this was an F performance (and believe me, we’re going to get to more than a few of those), but for me it ties back to the ultimate problem with this UCLA team - the construction and strategy literally requires a perfect performance from Rosen to have a chance to win, and that’s just not a good strategy.

Running Backs - You know what has been a surprising bright spot in this sea of sadness that was this game? The rushing attack!

Soso Jamabo continues to look like a different running back than he was last year, more confident in hitting holes, and adding a surprising power aspect to his running style that has caught opponents off-guard. Jedd Fisch has also added some wrinkles to the passing attack to get Soso out in space where he can do damage, with the results paying dividends. This week even featured successful screen passes for the first time in what feels like forever for a UCLA team, and Soso ended up second on the team in receiving yards in this game as a result. Jamabo did have a bad fumble to start the game, but he recovered well, and that was a good sign for UCLA’s emerging feature back.

Jalen Starks was a revelation in this game. Taking on an increased workload after Soso’s fumble, Starks more-than delivered, gaining 63 yards on 10 carries and getting a touchdown. Starks had already cemented himself as UCLA’s go-to back for short yardage situations, but this game proved he could be a great change-of-pace back to pair with Soso. Hopefully the ankle injury isn’t serious (Jim Mora alluded that he could be back this week) and we get to see more of this pairing.

Bolu Olorunfunmi actually had the best day of the running backs from a yardage standpoint, though I’ll be honest and say that they felt like empty yards more than anything. Bolu gained 75 of his 102 yards on 3 run plays near the tail end of the 3rd quarter, when it felt like Arizona was momentarily taking their foot off the gas. Still, it was a good outing for Bolu, who has had a rough go this year in general.

Overall, this was a great game from the running backs, who realistically gained over 200 yards as a unit (the stats continue to count sacks as rush yardage lost instead of pass yardage lost, which continues to make no sense), and if you’re looking for any positives from this game, this would be the biggest one. A-.

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends - The biggest question for the offense coming out of the bye week was who would step up and fill in the role of Caleb Wilson and the answer was....well, nobody really, and that might be a problem.

Jordan Lasley was the most-targeted receiver by far in this game, and he ended up catching 6 of his 11 targets, leading the receiving group with 77 yards. He wasn’t able to break any big play, and was really weak in general in this game. His first quarter was an absolute disaster, featuring 3 drops, and offensive pass interference, and a near-taunting penalty.

What’s worse is that Lasley remained in the game, to the point that he was a major focal point of the passing attack, while Theo Howard apparently sits in the dog house. Howard only saw 3 targets in the game, and while he caught all 3, they were all on simple bubble screens rather than deeper routes. Inconsistent personnel usage and punishment is a running theme for this team, if it wasn’t obvious.

Darren Andrews was incredibly quiet in this game, only catching 4 of his 7 targets for a paltry 37 yards. It felt like, now that Caleb Wilson is gone, opposing defenses focused on containing Andrews, and they’ll continue to do so unless the other receiving options on the team step up.

Wilson’s replacements did not necessarily have a great game. Austin Roberts only saw two targets, one of which he caught for 28 yards, but he was a non-factor. Jordan Wilson got some play but did not do anything in the passing game. Caleb Wilson provided a huge weapon to exploit in the middle of the field, and while Roberts and J. Wilson don’t possess the same skillset as Caleb, UCLA really has to show a willingness to utilize their remaining tight ends.

This....was not a great game from the receiver group. Losing Caleb Wilson is hard, but getting subpar performances from the remaining receivers makes UCLA’s strategy even harder to implement. C-.

Offensive Line - You know what was also surprising in this game? The offensive line did pretty well! Part of that might have to do with Arizona being undersized in general, but the UCLA line was able to do whatever it wanted for a good majority of this game.

I’ve lamented the struggling run blocking for much of the season, but this game showed that, at the very least, this group understands the basics of the concept, and can even execute a successful run blocking scheme. With some younger guys on the line in Andre James and Michael Alves, that’s a big deal, and a game like this is something they can build on in the future as a unit.

Pass blocking was very good for the first half, but in the second half Arizona started to implement some stunts and exotic looks from their front 7, which led to Rosen getting hit and sacked more than you’d like. All of that said, they weren’t the problem in this game by a long shot, so I’ll go with a B here.

Overall - The biggest issue for the offense this game was the passing attack having all sorts of problems. Part of that may have to do with the loss of Caleb Wilson, but Josh Rosen looked average, and the receiving corps did not step up. That’s a problem, but with a half-way competent defense, that could be negated. The effectiveness of the run game is going to bring this grade up to a B.

Defense

Defensive Line - Nope. F.

Linebackers - Nah. F.

Secondary - Nothing. F.

Overall - Seriously, this is an F, because what even can I say at this point? The Bruins gave up 457 yards of offense on the ground. I’ve talked about how this unit has continually underperformed, and this last game was the nadir of that point. It’s not that this unit lacks talent, but rather that that talent consistently plays well below their talent level, is constantly out of position, and looks like they’ve never seen a running quarterback in the entirety of their time playing football. There’s no point wasting time on this group if they’re going to play like this.

Special Teams

Overall - JJ Molson missed his one field goal attempt from 45 yards, and to be honest he shouldn’t have been out on the field for that attempt to begin with, considering the circumstances of the game in general. But he still missed, so that’s going to affect the grade.

Stefan Flintoft actually didn’t punt much in this game, surprising as that might seem, and he averaged 47 yards on his punts, with a 50+ yard punt in there. Not bad at all.

This game actually featured the best punt return of the season, with Adarius Pickett taking his only return 41 yards. See, we can find bright spots here. It’s too bad Darnay Holmes is starting to go backwards with the few kickoff return attempts he takes.

Kick and punt coverage was fine. Overall, a C- thanks to the missed FG attempt.

Coaching

Offensive gameplan - I was afraid after the Colorado game that UCLA might try to slow the game down in general as a way to help the defense out, which I believed would be folly and hurt the offense because the defense would still be trash no matter what tempo the offense goes with. So I was pleasantly surprised to see UCLA go back to mixing up tempos and playing their style of football in this game. The struggles of the offense weren’t Jedd Fisch’s fault, so I’m not going to ding him too hard here (especially since the overall grade is going to be real bad), so we’ll go with a B here.

Defensive gameplan - There was a gameplan? F.

Overall - I mentioned this in the postgame writeup, but this game was eerily similar to the Arizona game from 2011. That game came after a bye, and the Bruins looked completely unprepared, almost as though they hadn’t practiced for two weeks.

If there was a positive, it’s that at the very least the offense looked like it gave a damn. The defense remained completely unprepared, to the point that I am almost convinced UCLA prepared as though Arizona was going to throw 70 times. Seriously, at some point someone on UCLA’s coaching staff is going to learn that opposing teams are allowed to run a zone read with their quarterback, and subsequently learn how to defend it, but I’m not optimistic since it hasn’t happened in the 6 years Jim Mora has been at UCLA.

I don’t have much more to say about the coaching in this game. It was an absolute failure. F.

Discipline

Penalty Breakdown - I’m not doing this. There were 7 of them for 80 yards. That’s all you really need to know. But at least there wasn’t a targeting this game!

General comments - Discipline includes being ready to play, and on that level this entire defense was undisciplined from the word go. It’s a failure on the coaching staff not to have this team prepared, and it’s a failure not to have them ready to play.

I also alluded to it in the offense section (aka the only section where my patience for writing it lasted longer than 10 seconds) but the way the coaching staff punishes players with playing time is so arbitrary at this point that it borders on insane. The offense I talked about, but even on defense, you have guys who clearly make the same mistakes over and over, and rather than use the bench as a teaching tool, they’re left out there to continually make those mistakes. It’s beyond stupid at this point. Discipline gets a D- (only because there wasn’t a fight this time, thank god).

FINAL COMPOSITE

Offense grade: B (3.0)

Defensive grade: F (0.0)

Special Teams grade: C- (1.7)

Coaching grade: F (0.0)

Discipline grade: D- (0.7)

Final grade for Arizona: D (1.08)

For reference, the last game against Colorado graded out to a C+ (2.19). We gave the Stanford game an Incomplete because it was so bad. The game against Memphis graded out to a C (2.18), while the game versus Hawai’i graded out to a B (3.0). The opener against Texas A&M graded out to a C+ (2.26).

This grade, once again feels accurate. To have this team, coming out of a bye week, look that unprepared, would be grounds for termination at a school that actually gave a damn about football. Thank the heavens Dan Guerrero is here to keep cashing those checks.

Go Bruins.