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The “Eye Test”: An Uneven Performance Against Colorado Answers No Questions

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The Bruins head into the bye week with some things to build on, but also with issues to work out.

NCAA Football: Colorado at UCLA Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Programming note: I got real sick last week, and by the time I was good enough to write again, we decided to skip the Eye Test for Stanford, if only to spare me additional pain. So, after thinking it over, I decided to give UCLA a grade of Incomplete for that game, if only because only one half of the team showed up for that game.

Offense

Quarterback - Josh Rosen wasn’t the best in this game. That feels ok to say, right? I don’t know what was the problem in this game, but if I had to guess, Rosen seemed to be pressing more than usual. He had time to throw often, but more than a few of his throws, especially on deeper routes, were underthrown.

Let’s take an early throw, for example. On a 2nd and 1 on UCLA’s opening drive, Rosen came under center, and recognized that Colorado was going to bring pressure, which meant he would have single coverage on Lasley to the outside. But instead of delivering the ball in stride, or even long, Josh underthrew the ball, which gave the defender time to recover and make a play.

Or, let’s take a look at Rosen’s biggest mistake of the night: his lone interception. Josh wasn’t rushed on the play; he was given 4 seconds in the pocket and even got the ability to roll to his right for even more time. But instead of throwing deep, the pass was underthrown, giving the safety enough time to recover and undercut the receiver for an easy interception.

To be fair, Rosen’s numbers were still pretty good - he still throw for 372 yards and a touchdown, and would have had even bigger numbers had his receivers not dropped a few passes. But this was an off night. It happens. And every time UCLA needed a long drive or to put up some points, Rosen was able to deliver, and that’s pretty important. So we’re going with a C+ here, which again speaks to how good he has looked this season.

Running Backs - UCLA appears to have settled into a running back gameplan, for better or worse. Soso Jamabo has taken over lead back duties over the past few games, which honestly makes sense at this point; he’s been the most consistent running the ball, has gotten much better in pass protect, and is a solid receiver out of the backfield. The biggest problem Jamabo has, besides what appears to be a lingering back injury that flared up a few times in this game, is that he really doesn’t possess any of the traits you’d like to see in running backs; he doesn’t really have breakaway speed, is rather tall and has a high center of gravity, and he’s much leaner, so he isn’t as punishing on repeated runs. But to get into his game today, it was rather unspectacular. Jamabo only averaged 3.3 yards on his 21 carries, and looked more like the tentative runner from last year. To be fair, the offensive line did struggle in opening up holes, and on more than a few plays, Jamabo was forced to run a long way to even get back to the line of scrimmage. Jamabo did add 2 catches, including a nice grab for 10 yards, but at some point the Bruins are going to need to learn how to run a screen that doesn’t get Jamabo blown up almost-immediately.

Jalen Starks has settled into a solid role at fullback, and the fullback dive has become a useful weapon for the Bruins in short-yardage situations. He only has 44 yards on the season on 16 carries, but that speaks more to how much they trust him to pick up a few yards when needed. Well, that and his 3 touchdowns, one of which came in this game.

The big question in this group may be who becomes the change-of-pace back. Right now, I’d lean towards Brandon Stephens in that role, as he’s looked good in limited playing time. While the bye week should help Jamabo heal up, I’d love to see Stephens in an increased role, if only to keep Jamabo fresh the rest of the season.

On the outside looking in at this point is Bolu Olorunfunmi, and I can’t say I blame the coaching staff. Bolu has just had a rough 2017, and for a player that lacks the natural talent that some of the other running backs possess, that is a huge problem.

Overall, not a bad game from this group, and you’d really like to see them grow during the bye week and become a reliable weapon for the offense. We’ll go B-.

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends - Jordan Lasley really had a good game. 7 catches for 146 yards, and he should have had a touchdown, but the #Pac12Refs ruled him down at the 1. Whatever. He still had a few drops, but Lasley took advantage of the few YAC opportunities he got.

Darren Andrews was very good. I’m just gonna copy and paste this every week at this point.

The biggest question for the Bruins going forward is how they will go about replacing Caleb Wilson. Wilson was lost for the season due to injury (even though he still managed to impact this game to the tune of 6 catches for 65 yards), and his combination of size and skill made him a real threat for this offense, as he was able to line up as an in-line blocker while being a mismatch for any poor linebacker forced to cover him. We’ll probably see more Austin Roberts, who is a big body and has flashed breakout ability in the past, but he’s not a great blocker, so he’s more of a giant mismatch receiver. I’d also guess that Jordan Wilson is going to get a bigger role, as he has a similar body type to Caleb, but he’s going to need reps to get up to the level that the other two tight ends are at.

The rest of the wide receiver good was unspectacular. Theo Howard appears to be operating in the doghouse after his Stanford performance, while Eldridge Massington, who saw increased play thanks to Howard’s lack-of play, was unimpressive. Overall, going to go with a B here, and thankfully the bye week gives the coaching staff time to find a Caleb Wilson replacement plan, and to possibly fix Theo Howard.

Offensive Line - Pass protection from this group was very good, easily the best it’s been since the Hawai’i game. Rosen was given ample time to throw, and this game might not have been as close had he looked better, so I don’t have much to criticize here.

Run blocking was, as usual, another story, as this group really resembled their 2016 incarnation in that regard. Poor Soso Jamabo had to fight just to get back to the line of scrimmage on more than a few runs, as Colorado was able to immediately get into the backfield. Losing Najee Toran in the second half certainly didn’t help, as Poasi Moala was forced into an increased role, but this group just struggled throughout.

So we’ll split the difference, and go with a C. Very good pass protection, very bad run blocking. Average overall.

Overall - This was the offense’s worst performance this season by a country mile, and while the overall grade is going to end up at a C, I want to put this in perspective a bit.

Right now I’m talking about how the worst performance of 2017 was a game that ended with 467 yards of total offense. Do you know how many times UCLA got to that number in 2016? Only 4 times, and 3 of those came in the first 5 weeks of the season. Meanwhile, this is the first time the Bruins have had less than 500 total yards on offense all season. So yeah, it wasn’t a great outing, but this offense has been on an absolute tear to start the year, and seems to have the ability to flip the switch whenever it needs to.

Defense

Defensive Line - UCLA continued its sack-less streak, which I think is unfair because the official scorer decided to write a Kesian Lucier-South sack on the first drive of the 3rd quarter as a team loss.

But that streak continues in part because the UCLA defensive line couldn’t finish tackles behind the line of scrimmage. To be sure, the defensive line was able to generate more pressure than we’d really seen all season, with Rick Wade in particular having a great game. But I lost count of how many times that a UCLA defender would have an opportunity to bring Colorado QB Steven Montez (or others) down in the backfield, and would fail to do so. There was one particular reverse in the 3rd quarter that the UCLA defense had played perfectly, but 3 tacklers whiffed and Colorado ended up with a nice gain (and yes, I know that one of the guys to miss was linebacker Josh Woods, but there were also 3 linemen in the backfield who had an opportunity to stop the play and missed).

I also want to point out an interesting wrinkle that UCLA tried out this game, by utilizing Kesian Lucier-South in a stand-up role at different spots along the line. The idea is that Lucier-South could drop back into pass coverage or rush from different positions. It’s clever in concept, but in practice just led to KLS being easily blocked too often to be of any use.

Overall, I though the line actually had a pretty decent game. There appeared to be a focused effort to limit Phillip Lindsay in the run game, which worked, as Lindsay was held 83 yards on 19 carries, but Montez took advantage of that and chunked the Bruins for big gains. Going forward, I’d really like to see the line complete their plays behind the LoS, but we’ll give them a B- on the day. Definitely an improvement on last week.

Linebackers - Kenny Young had a nice game overall. Part of that has to do with getting some clean looks to make a tackle, rather than getting blocked out of the play, but at this point, with this unit, we’ll take what we can get. Unfortunately, a lot of Colorado’s ground-game success via Steven Montez could be directly attributed to Kenny Young and Josh Woods misdiagnosing the zone read play repeatedly. For some reason, they kept crashing into the pile rather than play both options, and it kept leading to the team getting burned.

Krys Barnes was the only other linebacker who saw significant game time, but he didn’t make much of an impact. And considering how many drives Colorado was able to sustain thanks to misplays by the linebackers, I have to go with a C- this week. That’s still one of their better performances of the year, for what it’s worth.

Secondary - You know, 243 passing yards is the second-most this secondary has allowed all season, so on the one hand, this group didn’t do a bad job.

On rewatch, however, there were a ton of problems.

First, let’s start with an obvious: Darnay Holmes’s ejection put the group behind the 8-ball early. The thing is the call was completely correct, and even Jim Mora, he of endless targeting complaints, seemed to recognize that fact. I want to chalk this up to being a true freshman, but after 5 games, it feels more obvious that the Bruins have a fundamental problem in how they approach tackling.

Holmes’s absence meant a lot more Denzel Fisher, and he had a rough game. At this point in the season, you’d have to hope that some of the new cornerbacks are starting to stand out, because trotting Fisher out there to struggle week in and week out is not a winning formula. Colin Samuel looked ok, in particular having a decent pass breakup, and maybe you hope he translates that into better practice performances and an increased role.

Both Adarius Pickett and Jaleel Wadood did fine when asked to help out the run defense, but showed some struggles in the pass game. Still, it was nice to have both of them on the field for an entire game for the first time since A&M.

But this grade is going to be lower than this would have you believe, because on rewatch, it became more obvious that Colorado could have had way more passing yards had their receivers not decided to roleplay as last year’s Bruin receivers. This unit really got bailed out by some poor play by the Colorado receivers, and the supposed strength of this defensive unit really can’t afford to look bad. We’ll go with a C- for this week.

Overall - On the one hand, this was clearly a better effort from the defense. There was more energy, more of a sense of urgency that you really wanted to see from this team after last week’s defensive disaster. That’s the kind of response you want to see, and it’s encouraging to see it.

But on the other hand, this performance didn’t assuage any fears about the defense that have existed this season. Colorado’s offense still ran for 191 yards, and more distressingly should have given up much more in the passing game if Colorado’s receivers would only catch the ball. Linebacker play improved, if only because it would have been hard to be as bad as they were last week. So we’re going to give the defensive players a C+, mostly because I’m a nice person. Never let anyone tell you I’m not.

Special Teams

Overall - Before I even get into the actual kicking stuff, I have to respectfully disagree with Joe regarding Colorado’s decision to go for a fake field goal near the end of the half. Or specifically, to go for that fake field goal attempt. On average, your kickers aren’t usually your more-athletic players on the team, so throwing a naked screen pass to one normally isn’t a great decision. It also isn’t a great decision against a defense with a lot of speed like UCLA has, as evidenced by the fact that Kenny Young was able to close out on the Colorado kicker as the ball was getting to him behind the line. I have no idea what Mike MacIntyre and the Colorado coaching staff thought they had seen in tape prior to this game, but that feels like coaching malpractice.

Ok, now for the rest of the special teams.

J.J. Molson went 2/2 on field goal attempts and hit all 3 of his extra points, a nice bounce back after the blocked attempt last week. He’s having a much-better 2017 after a rough 2016, though he hasn’t really been tested from defense yet this year. Part of that is due to the UCLA offense being much better, to be sure, but he’s only missed one kick so far, after going 12/20 last year. Also, fun fact, he’s already equaled the number of extra point attempts that he had all of last year, and is only 18 points behind his 2016 total with 7 games to play. That’s not bad, and again a good sign of how successful the UCLA offense has been on the season.

Stefan Flintoft averaged 39 yards on his 3 punts, unspectacular, but the Buffaloes also had 0 return yards, so we’ll take it.

The return game was average, though it’s hard to say how much losing Holmes for the entire game affected kick returns. Coverage teams did fine containing the Colorado return game.

At this point, going with a B+ feels fine. This is mostly because the team has had struggles in the return game, and while the offense has been good enough that the increased benefit of better field position hasn’t hurt them, you’d still like to see that get better.

Coaching

Offensive gameplan - This was a weird game for the offense, and that extends to the offensive playcalling. I don’t think it was bad, per se, I just think it failed on a few key points. For one, Josh Rosen’s struggles were pretty evident in the first half, and offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch didn’t adjust to help his quarterback settle down. This was odd, if only because something similar had happened in the previous two games, and Fisch switched to a bevy of shorter routes to get Josh more comfortable, which paid dividends later in the game. Instead of repeating that formula, Fisch seemed comfortable enough to let Rosen work his way through it. It was an interesting decision, and while the Bruins ultimately won, it was still an odd choice.

The other failure, from my point of view, is that the offense compromised too much to accommodate the defense, and it showed. UCLA seemed determined to drag out more than a few of their drives, all in an attempt to limit the time the UCLA defense was on the field. The problem here is that a) the UCLA defense is not good, so it really doesn’t matter how long they’re on the field, and b) doing so led to the offense looking out-of-sorts. Like I said, this was the first time all season that the Bruin offense had under 500 yards of total offense, and the group just looked out of sync for large stretches of this game. If you’re the pessimistic type, you see that struggle and worry the coaching staff take the wrong lessons from this game, because let’s face it, it wouldn’t be the first time. So, much like the offense itself, we’re giving the offensive playcalling a C.

Defensive gameplan - So, here’s the thing; the defense actually did some new stuff this week. I mentioned what they tried to do with KLS on the line, but they also did things like play more press coverage, and sent the linebackers into the backfield more often. Does that mean it was necessarily successful? Well, no. More than anything, it looked like the team was trying to execute concepts that they had only spent a week practicing. But the thought was there?

More than that, it really appears that Jim Mora is starting to take more of an active hand in the defensive scheme. Press coverage and Cover-1, which is what we saw the secondary in for most of the game, is more of a hallmark of a Jim Mora defense rather than a Tom Bradley defense, and (armchair-psychologist here) he seemed more involved whenever the defense was on the field. I don’t know if this will lead to a turn-around, but the changes we saw this week were a step in the right direction, and the bye week will allow the defense time to figure out how to better execute on those concepts.

On the negative side, and this is pretty big, but at some point a UCLA defense is going to have to learn how to defend a zone read. It hasn’t happened yet while Jim Mora is here, and if I’m an opposing coordinator, I’d probably just run a healthy amount of zone reads because this team seems to be pathalogically-unable to defend it. So we’re going to go with a C+ this week.

Overall - If I have a big fear coming out of this game, it’s that the coaching staff will see that slowing down the offense led to a better defensive effort, and decide to continue this style going forward, because they’d be taking all the wrong lessons from it. The strategy led to a rough outing from the offense, while the defense was helped out by Colorado miscues more than solid defensive play. That can be a recipe for disaster if it continues past this game.

Overall, this wasn’t a bad game for the coaching staff. They were much more aggression in their playcalling, from more exotic defensive looks to a few more attempts on 4th down than we’d be accustomed to. The last offensive drive of the game was a master-class put on by an offense that knows it can do whatever it wants, whenever it wants, and that’s a good ace to have in your back pocket. But I’m also not sold on the overall strategy in this game, so we’ll go with a C this week.

Discipline

Penalty Breakdown - A look at each of the penalties committed by the Bruins:

15:00, 1st Q - Illegal block by Scott Quessenberry. Went low on a linebacker a full 5 yards downfield. Not even sure what Quessenberry is doing here, but not a great start for a unit that had 2 chop blocks the week prior.

5:31, 1st Q - Targeting on Darnay Holmes. Led with the helmet, right call. At some point Jim Mora needs to figure this out because this is now a team-wide issue.

1:32, 2nd Q - Illegal Substitution. This was an egregious error by the coaching staff, especially because this penalty happened AFTER A TIMEOUT. Seriously, how hard is it to have the right personnel on the field? Does anyone on the defensive staff want to be paid at this point?

1:32, 2nd Q - Defensive Holding on Denzel Fisher. Pretty obvious penalty, and it won’t be the last on Fisher in this game.

13:07, 3rd Q - Personal Foul on Jordan Lasley. Weird that Lasley would commit a completely unnecessary hit like this after the play was essentially over. Wait, did I say weird? I meant completely unsurprising. It was a cheap shot, and took out the Colorado defender for the 3rd quarter. That’s just not a good look no matter how you slice it.

7:09, 3rd Q - Defensive Holding on Denzel Fisher. Another obvious one.

5:33, 3rd Q - Defensive Holding on Denzel Fisher. I guess Fisher decided this was a good time to recreate the famous front of the boat scene from Titanic, with Fisher assuming the role of Jack.

10:13, 4th Q - Delay of Game. Offense just got lazy. To compound the penalty, Quessenberry would snap the ball early immediately after, almost leading to a turnover.

6:46, 4th Q - Illegal Block in the Back on Will Lockett. Not a great penalty to take considering the situation.

Results: 9 penalties for 85 yards.

General comments - So on the one hand, 9 penalties is not good, no matter how you slice it. But 3 of those were made by the backup cornerback who was thrown into the game when the starter was ejected. Holmes’s ejection remains part of a larger trend that is going to hurt the overall grade, because players seem to be having issues with not committing a targeting penalty, which doesn’t seem as hard to do as this team would make you believe.

The worst penalty to me, by far, was Jordan Lasley’s personal foul. It was a completely unnecessary hit, a cheap shot, and the fact that Lasley stayed in the game after doing so is incredibly infuriating. It doesn’t matter how good you are - if you do something like that, you should see the bench until you realize how bad that kind of thing is. It’s a weird thing where guys can never see the field after a bad game while others stay on the field despite bone-headed penalties.

Add on to all that a few penalties caused by the coaching staff (that illegal substitution was especially egregious), and this game was not a good look from the discipline department. So we’re going with a D+ here.

Finally, one last comment that I swear isn’t actually effecting the grade here. I was ok with the team celebrating after the game. Yeah, it looked a little weird to have that kind of celebration after that ugly of a game, but I’m ok with it specifically because it was the first game back for the students. Having that kind of victory when students are at their highest support point of the year is important, and getting the students excited about football can have a trickle-down effect.

FINAL COMPOSITE

Offense grade: C (2.0)

Defensive grade: C+ (2.3)

Special Teams grade: B+ (3.3)

Coaching grade: C (2.0)

Discipline grade: D+ (1.3)

Final grade for Colorado: C+ (2.19)

For reference, last week’s game at Stanford was given an Incomplete. 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 feels right. The team did just enough to win, but it’s hard to say they really played up to the standard they’ve set in past games. Also, if you’re wondering why this game got a C+ while the Memphis grade, which was similar, got a C, it’s because this game ended in a win. That simple.

Go Bruins!