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The “Eye Test”: The Wheels Come Off Against Washington

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The Bruins put together one of the worst losses of the Jim Mora era.

NCAA Football: UCLA at Washington Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Offense

Quarterback - Josh Rosen in this game was....pretty average overall in this game. Honestly, he was pretty good in the first quarter, and started to fall off in the second. Coincidentally, the second quarter was when Washington was really able to start dialing up the pressure, basically parking Husky linemen in the backfield as soon as the ball was snapped. That actually leads to a pretty good point to make about defenses in general, and a point that should maybe be emailed to the entire defensive coaching staff: it doesn’t matter how talented the opposing quarterback is; if you get sustained pressure on a quarterback, you will affect them. So am I shocked that Rosen played worse once he was being hit on every play, to the point that he was making poor decisions just to avoid the chance of being hit? Absolutely not.

Though, we should also be fair here: once the Huskies started dialing up the pressure, Josh made some really bad decisions. If you’re looking for a particular play, his decision to throw across his body rather than run across the open field on a 3rd and 6 in the 2nd quarter was particularly egregious, and to his credit, Josh recognized it. Still, it exemplified where Rosen’s head was at at that point in the game.

Josh did get injured in the 2nd half of this game, so we did get to see Devon Modster in non-clean up duty, and he looked.....exactly like a redshirt freshman quarterback normally does. Let’s be honest here: UCLA has been extremely lucky the last 6 years to have Brett Hundley and Josh Rosen be as good as they were as quickly as they did, and Modster’s play in this game is more indicative of how redshirt freshman normally play, especially against the second-best defense in the country. I did like how his confidence seemed to grow the longer he was in, and his touchdown pass to Darren Andrews was a nifty little thing. If you want some positives from this game, it was that Modster got some solid experience against what might be the best defense he’ll face in his entire UCLA career.

Overall, the quarterback position wasn’t great, but there are some other things we’ll be talking about that definitely contributed to issues on offense more, so we’ll give the group a C.

Running Backs - On the one hand, I’m not surprised UCLA had a rough time running the ball in this game. Washington is incredibly good at stopping the run, allowing 71.63 rush yards a game, second in the nation to Alabama. Meanwhile, UCLA’s rushing offense, while definitely improved this year, is still only averaging 121.13 YPG, good for 109th in the nation. So this was a clear strength vs. weakness matchup, and it played out exactly the way it should. The three UCLA running backs did end up with 72 rush yards in this game, so that’s something, but the run game was mostly useless.

On the other hand, the running backs really didn’t bring anything to the table in this game. Their pass protection was rather poor, which really didn’t help a pass game that needed all the blocking it could get, while the running backs continually dropped screen passes thrown their way; Soso Jamabo and Bolu Olorunfunmi combined to go 0-4 on passes that targeted them. They needed to do something to prove they belonged on the field in this game, and that simply didn’t happen. D-.

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends - Last weekend, I saw this stat from Ian Wharton, an NFL draft scout for Bleacher Report, that I wanted to include last week, but the offense actually looked better, so I left it alone, but after this game, I have to post it:

For as good as UCLA’s offense has looked this season, the receivers have still had their share of brain farts, and this game was no exception, with UCLA receivers having at least 4 drops that I saw (full disclosure, I just stopped counting at a certain point. I needed to retain my sanity for basketball season, which technically starts this week).

The bigger problem in this game was that UCLA receivers struggled mightily to get open. Washington’s secondary came into this game banged up, but you wouldn’t know it, considering how easily they were able to blanket UCLA receivers. In fact, I’d say that 3 of Washington’s sacks were of the “coverage sack” variety.

The problem UCLA ran into in this game was that, with how poorly the offensive line played in this game, they were forced to commit more resources to pass protection, meaning, for example, that on one play UCLA had 2 running backs in the backfield to help block, leaving only 3 receivers out on routes, and those receivers just could not get open. You could maybe say that Jedd Fisch should have switched to quicker-developing routes to compensate, but even those routes were very well defended by the Huskies.

I also need to point out, at this point, that Jordan Lasley’s continued absence for discipline issues is going to help keep this grade low. Lasley is UCLA’s best big-play receiver, and yet in his senior year, with an offense that seems destined to highlight his abilities, he continues to apparently have the same disciplinary problems that have haunted him throughout his career. At this point, you have to say that having Lasley in the lineup is a bonus, but he just shouldn’t be relied up at this point for anything.

Overall, this was an awful game from the wide receivers, and they really need to step their game up going forward. F.

Offensive Line - Another stat from a weekend ago, courtesy of Ian Wharton:

Seriously, I have no idea how Josh Rosen has survived this long.

Against what will be the best defensive line UCLA will play all year, the Bruin offensive line looked completely, utterly outmatched. So much for all of that growth they’d shown the past few weeks.

Greg Gaines and Vita Vea really did whatever they wanted against UCLA’s interior, while the Huskies constantly showed different looks that the UCLA line consistently struggled with. By the time Josh left the game, Washington had amassed 4 sacks, 4 more QB hits, and 3 QB hurries, which feels rather low, because it felt like they managed to hit Rosen on almost every single drop-back. Given how poorly they played in this game, I’m not shocked Josh was knocked out of the game - I’m only shocked that he lasted as long as he did.

Combine it with a run game that just couldn’t move the ball, and this was an easy F for me to hand out. This has become a depressing game to watch.

Overall - The offense just did not play well in any sense of the word to win this game, which wasn’t that surprising considering that Washington’s defense is the closest UCLA will get to playing an Alabama-level defense going forward. Unfortunately, this offense needed to be great to give the Bruins a chance, and there were too many miscues for the team to be effective at a consistent level. We’ll go with a D+ for this game.

Defense

Defensive Line - Much like with the Washington defensive line, the Washington offensive line had their way with the UCLA defensive line, and by the end of the game the Huskies had racked up 333 yards on the ground. I don’t really have anything to add to these sections for games like this, because it’s hard to continually write “the talent on this team is not well-suited for a conservative, contain-style defense, and yet that’s what they’re continually asked to do, and continually fail to do.” Defensive line is getting an F+ this week if only because Osa Odighizuwa’s #ScoopnScore did provide me a small amount of joy when watching this game for the first time.

Oh, I guess this would be a good time to mention that I went on a mini-vacation, and tried to do my best not to watch this game live so as not to ruin everything else I was doing last weekend, and the Glendale Buffalo Wild Wings was apparently willing to accommodate me by putting the UCLA game in the corner, letting me enjoy the Ohio State/Penn State barnburner instead. Thank you, Glendale Buffalo Wild Wings, for being a friend to the crown.

Linebackers - You can basically repeat what I said up there for the defensive line in this section, but with the added line “Also this linebacker group struggles to diagnose plays, and really, really shouldn’t be put in a conservative defensive style because they make mistakes constantly.” Against a balanced defense, Kenny Young reverted to his early-season form, and even then he’s clearly the best linebacker on the field for UCLA. Take what you will from that statement. This was also an F.

Secondary - The secondary wasn’t challenged much, in part because Chris Petersen has smart coaches on his staff at Washington who know not to get cute when you have a clear advantage, in this case using your strong run game to attack UCLA’s porous run defense. In pass coverage, the secondary performed admirably, with Darnay Holmes getting his second interception of the season on a well-read piece of coverage. And, because I know people love to keep track of this, but there were no pass interference penalties committed by this group in this game. That’s a positive.

The biggest problem for the unit was in run support, as the safeties, and Jaleel Wadood in particular, struggled when asked to come help the front 7, but I also think this underlines just how poorly the front 7 have played this season that the secondary needs to play exceptionally in the run game to give this team any sort of chance on defense. So I’m not going to punish them too hard for that, and the secondary will get a C+ here.

Overall - The defensive scheme in this game wasn’t bad from a micro perspective; UCLA defenders were in position to make plays more often than not. The problem is that the UCLA defenders would routinely miss tackles, or take the wrong angles, or be caught flat-footed, and part of that is just poor play from the defense in general. Plus, again, Washington got 333 rushing yards, and really could have put so much more on the board if they wanted to, so this unit is getting an F this week. Again.

But as I’ve pointed out repeatedly, the defensive scheme just doesn’t work on a macro level. UCLA has a ton of athletes on this team; so many of Washington’s big plays should have gone for touchdowns, but UCLA defenders were able to chase down the Huskies and prevent them from scoring. But with this level of athlete, playing conservatively doesn’t do your team and the players any favors. This team needs to be aggressive, and maybe watching the Washington defense realistically do whatever it wanted against UCLA will finally clue the UCLA coaching staff into this amazing new strategy.

Special Teams

Overall - Between the linebackers and special teams in this game, it’s hard to understand how Scott White is still employed at the moment, beyond just waiting for the offseason before doing the deed.

The coverage unit was awful in this game, and single-handedly allowed for a shift in momentum. We’ve seen that J.J. Molson can kick touchbacks when he wants to, but for some reason UCLA seems dead-set on trying to pin teams further back by kicking shorter. The problem has always been that this is a gamble, especially considering that UCLA’s coverage unit has shown signs of being rather leaky (the Stanford game set off all kinds of red flags in this regard). So it boggles the mind that, against a team with two fantastic returners, UCLA would even give Washington the opportunity to return anything, yet here we are. In particular, Salvon Ahmed’s kick return following UCLA’s first touchdown completely swung momentum to the Huskies for good, as he was able to take the kick 82 yards and immediately set Washington up in the red zone.

UW Dawg Pound hosted a ton of the writers here for a Q&A, and I’d like to point out that at one point I wrote:

I’d expect the Bruins to do everything they can to deny Dante Pettis the ability to return a single punt, and if not then our coaches are actual morons.

Sometimes, it hurts to be right all the time.

J.J. Molson missed an extra point. Stefan Flintoft actually averaged 43.1 yards on his punts, which was nice, and maybe the only positive to take away for this group. D.

Coaching

Offensive gameplan - You know, even on replay, I don’t have a ton of issues with the offensive gameplan in this game. If you want to point at the obvious issue, UCLA ran too many long-developing route concepts considering just how easily Washington was getting into the backfield and disrupting plays, but the offense also had to overcompensate for that by only running 3-man routes, as extra blockers were required.

More often, the UCLA offense was killed by lack of execution rather than poor playcalling, especially from the wide receivers and offensive line. If one unit is underperforming, you can change your playcalling to compensate, as Jedd Fisch has shown in games like the Texas A&M comeback. But it’s much harder to do when multiple units are misfiring all at once. So offensive gameplan is going to get a C+ here.

Defensive gameplan - *walks up to mic*

*adjusts mic to be at the correct height*

“Hello, is this thing on?”

*does a quick mic check*

“Ahem...”

TOM BRADLEY IS TRASH

*drops mic, walks off stage*

F

Overall - Jim Mora challenged a clear catch late in the 3rd quarter rather than the questionable fumble by Devon Modster a play earlier. That, more than anything else, feels indicative of just how lost this coaching staff was in this game.

We’ve talked in the past about how Jim Mora can be outclassed by better coaches, and this game was really no exception, as Chris Petersen has turned Washington into a powerhouse while UCLA languishes. Petersen ran circles around the defensive-minded Mora and Tom Bradley, and Huskies OC Jonathan Smith utilized KISS in his play-calling, knowing he didn’t need to have Jake Browning throw the ball a lot to win this game. And on the flip side, the Huskies should have provided UCLA a blueprint on how to actually run a successful college defense: strong, aggressive front seven that masks their coverages and sends pressure from different locations on the field.

Honestly, I think I’ve laid out over the course of the season pretty compelling reasons why, at the very least, the majority of the defensive coaching staff needs to be let go, and even why Jim Mora’s time is up at UCLA. This team just isn’t getting better, and that’s as clear a sign as any that things aren’t working out. The coaching has routinely let the players down, and this game was something of a “Greatest Hits” in that regard. F.

Discipline

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

6:55, 1st Q - Personal Foul, Late Hit on Kenny Young. I actually think they got the call wrong, as this was more of a Roughing the Passer, but either way Young decided to make a selfish play and hit Jake Browning as he was going out of bounds. Extended a drive when the Bruins had gotten a 3rd down stop.

6:03, 2nd Q - Horsecollar Tackle on Kris Barnes. If you want the good news, the illegal tackle did save a touchdown. The bad news is that Barnes was in a position to commit the penalty only because Myles Gaskin got completely behind the UCLA defense.

7:52, 3rd Q - False Start on Najee Toran. Toran jumped just a half-second early, and considering how consistently the offensive line was getting beat, I don’t blame him one bit for trying anything he can.

5:07, 3rd Q - Personal Foul, Unnecessary Roughness on Jaelan Phillips. This was, not just completely unnecessary, but incredibly dirty as well, as Phillips kneed the Washington running back in the head after the play was over. Phillips is a future leader on this team, and he HAS to be better than this kind of play going forward, no matter how the game is going.

1:53, 3rd Q - False Start on Andre James. This seemed like a thing that tends to happen with a new QB, where the cadence isn’t as well-practiced as it is with the starter.

4:53, 4th Q - Offsides on Greg Rodgers. Jumped before the snap. This was in garbage time, but is the type of play this defense routinely makes year in and year out.

General comments - 6 penalties for 59 yards is actually well below UCLA’s average on the season, so hey, that’s a positive! And, if we’re being honest, penalty issues didn’t directly cause this loss!

But I’ve also mentioned that missed tackles, drops, and general effort also falls into the Discipline category, and boy did this team miss a ton of tackles and drop a ton of passes. In fact, the only part of this category they really excelled at was in the effort department - this wasn’t like the Memphis game where you could pull out plays where UCLA completely gave up on a play. That late defensive touchdown is indicative of the fact that this team refused to quit even when shown just how outmatched they were, so for this category we’ll go with a C-.

FINAL COMPOSITE

Offense grade: D+ (1.3)

Defensive grade: F (0.0)

Special Teams grade: D (1.0)

Coaching grade: F (0.0)

Discipline grade: C- (1.7)

Final grade for Washington: D- (0.8)

For reference, the last game against Oregon scored as a B- (2.72). The game against Arizona graded out to a D (1.08). The home 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).

Against the best team they’ve faced all year, even a competitive game would have done something to make UCLA fans feel a bit better about the rest of the year. What we got was, instead, one of the worst outings a UCLA team has put on in quite some time.

Go Bruins.