Quarterback - Opinion: Josh Rosen was masterful in this game.
Coming on the heels of a concussion suffered against Washington, and with actual dumb people like Brock Huard questioning his toughness on national television, it felt as though Rosen had a lot to prove (ok, not really, but people are really dumb and it’s never felt like Josh has been truly appreciated for what he has been asked to do for so long). The result: 25-45 for 381 yards and a touchdown, to go along with another rushing touchdown.
The crazy thing is that, for as good as that stat line is, Josh could have had a much better one had his receivers not dropped so many passes. Seriously, on a few of these passes, the only way Rosen would have made it easier for the receivers is if he had walked down the field and handed it to them. The dropped passes really hurt the offensive flow in the first half, and once they stopped in the second half, the offense really started to roll.
Now, to be a bit fair here, this was one of the best games from an offensive line in Josh’s 3 years at UCLA, and Rosen showed how great he can be if given a clean pocket, but even at times when ASU was able to get penetration, Rosen was very good at avoiding pressure, and was Aaron Rodgers-esque in the way he avoided some of the sacks. And, in a sign of how far his development has come this season, Rosen did a great job of taking what the defense was giving, hitting some of his check-downs for big gains, including passes into the blitzes on consecutive drives for big gains to Bolu Olorunfunmi and Giovanni Gentosi. The only struggles Rosen had were at the beginning of the game, but he settled down after those first few drives, so Rosen gets a well-earned A-.
Running Backs - UCLA ran for 192 yards in this game, but that came on a variety of running plays, from runs up the middle to reverses to a whole host of misdirection. For traditional running backs, Olorunfunmi got the bulk of the carries, going for 79 yards on 15 carries, while also catching 2 passes for an additional 79 yards. There wasn’t much more you could have asked for from him in this game.
Soso Jamabo saw his first action after sitting out the past few weeks with injury, and while he didn’t look 100%, he did enough to provide a different look from Olorunfunmi. Jamabo was kept on a tight leash, most-likely due to still recovering, but 3 carries for 19 yards and a touchdown isn’t bad by any stretch. Jalen Starks also added 3 carries for 14 yards, while Brandon Stephens had an ineffective 2 carries for 1 yard. Stephens really seems to have fallen out of favor with the coaching staff, and just seems to be running very tentatively. But, in general, this was a good game for the running backs, so we’ll give them an A-.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends - This group was something of a mixed bag in this game, so let’s try and break it down.
In the pass catching department, this group really struggled in the first half with their old nemesis: drops. There were between 5-9 drops in the half, depending on how generous you wanted to be in a given moment. The struggles of the offense in the first half can almost-solely be placed on this fact. Not great.
But Jordan Lasley is back, and looks just as explosive a target as he was earlier in the season! Maybe next year Lasley won’t come down with a mysterious case of the “undisclosed suspensions”, but when he does see the field, it becomes plainly obvious that he is UCLA’s best receiver. 7 catches for 162 yards and 1 touchdown is a fantastic stat line (that, again, would have been better had he converted a few of the drops into catches), and Rosen seemed to be happy to have him back, as he was targeted 11 times.
Rosen seems to have developed a similar level of comfort with Austin Roberts, as he did actually lead the team in targets with 12. Roberts had similar issues with Lasley regarding the drops, but he did end up with 6 catches for 45 yards, and did some yeoman’s work in the middle of the field in the second half.
Outside of those two, there were smaller contributions from everyone. 10 Bruins registered catches in this game, which may end up being the way forward now that Darren Andrews is gone. Theo Howard is probably the closest to replicating what Andrews brings, but their skillsets diverge enough that it’s not a clear 1:1 comparison.
The wide receivers also made a solid impact in the running game, as UCLA ran a series of reverses for devastating results in this game. Bruin receivers ran the ball 3 times for 74 yards, which ended up opening up the inside running game. That’s how you add a new dimension to the offense, and is going to help bump this grade up to a B+.
Offensive Line - This may have been the best offensive line performance of the Jim Mora era. UCLA’s offensive line just dominated this game from the word go, providing Josh Rosen with plenty of time in the pocket while creating holes in the running game that would have made Johnathan Ogden proud. I’m still most-impressed with pass protection in this game, because Arizona State has a very good pass rush that wasn’t able to do a damn thing. I really have nothing else to say here, this was magnificent. A.
Overall - Outside of the drops from the wide receivers, this was one of the best performances from the offense all season, which was especially good to see considering how many injuries have taken away major weapons this season. It’s nice to know that, heading into what is always the biggest game of the season, the offense looks to be firing on, well, not all cylinders, but as many cylinders as are left to fire. A-.
Defensive Line - Positives: Marcus Moore and Rick Wade had some stellar games. Moore in particular continued his fantastic run since entering the lineup against Oregon, and he has remained more than solid in containing the run in the read-option.
Negatives: 294 rush yards allowed, in part because the interior again struggled. ASU tried to run to the outside a ton for some reason, and those plays tended to get stopped fairly-easily, but runs up the middle tended to gain at least 5+ yards. I’m going to talk about this in a bit, but ASU did everything possible on offense to let UCLA succeed, and focusing on runs to the outside is not the path to success against UCLA’s speedy defensive ends and linebackers. So, total, we’ll give the defensive line a C+.
Linebackers - On runs to the outside, UCLA’s linebackers were able to take advantage of their speed and stop ASU for minimum gain. On runs up the middle, the linebackers struggled. None of this should be a surprise anymore.
I will say that Krys Barnes had maybe his best game as a Bruin. Barnes led the team with 12 tackles, and showcased some good pursuit when the play went away from him. He still struggles on those inside runs and dealing with diagnosing which gap is going to be utilized, but there were things to build on in this game. We’ll go with a C+ again in this category.
Secondary - UCLA’s secondary is the relative strength of the defense, so it really felt odd that Arizona State kept wanting to attack them through the air so much. Manny Wilkins isn’t a very good quarterback, and UCLA really can’t stop the run (as evidenced by ASU’s third touchdown drive, which went 75 yards and did not feature a single passing play), but the story of this game really was all the odd decisions ASU made.
That said, Nate Meadors continued to show just how good he is, finding a ball tipped by Marcus Moore and taking it to the house for a touchdown, and throwing in 2 more pass breakups. Adarius Pickett continues to look like UCLA’s best overall defender, doing what he could in run defense and adding 10 tackles total. Colin Samuel, who played a majority of the game in part because of Darnay Holmes’s first half suspension, threw in 3 more pass breakups, and had himself a great game in general. Even Mossi Johnson (filling in for an injured Jaleel Wadood) and Octavius Spencer had solid games. This unit was a a B for me.
Overall - So, here’s the thing: this grade is for how the defense itself played. Not how the defensive playcalling looked, or all of the boneheaded decisions ASU made; just how the defense played. And the defense played ok in this game. Certainly good enough to win with the 2017 version of the offense, as they only allowed 30 points while throwing in a touchdown of their own. That touchdown, for what it’s worth, completely changed the momentum of the game, so in total, I’m going to give this group a B-. We’ll get to the bigger, macro issues in a bit.
Overall - There was a missed field goal attempt, which had more to do with a bad snap that Stefan Flintoft couldn’t salvage than anything J.J. Molson did. Molson hit his other 3 field goal attempts, but for some reason Jim Mora didn’t feel confident in giving Molson a chance at what appeared to be a 48 yarder, choosing instead to take a delay of game penalty and punt the ball.
More distressingly, there was a blocked punt in this game, and this wasn’t a case of an exceptional special teams play from ASU. There were literally 6 ASU guys in the backfield compared to 4 UCLA players who had not run downfield immediately, and the result was an easy block for the Sun Devils. ASU did a lot to throw this game away, especially on offense, but the Bruins really dropped the ball on special teams. D.
Offensive gameplan - One of the things I love about Jedd Fisch is that he keeps utilizing trick plays rather than never using them again. Case in point, this game saw multiple reverses and another flea flicker.
Beyond that, there isn’t much I can say here that I haven’t said in the past. Outside of the Utah game last week, Fisch has been extremely good at calling the right plays at the right time, and mixing up what the offense does throughout the game. There’s levels of motion and complexity in this offense that all great offenses possess, and when clicking like it did in this game, this team can compete with anyone. A-.
Defensive gameplan - UCLA did nothing new in this game, and the ASU offense was able to run 98 plays at a 6 YPP average, so the defensive game calling gets a D-.
But boy howdy should Tom Bradley be sending Todd Graham and the ASU offensive coaching staff a gift for the multiple dumb decisions they made in this game.
The book on this UCLA defense is out: run the ball up the middle with consistency, and the damn will break in the second half. Don’t run to the outside, and if you must do so sparingly. Minimize your passing, but if you do pass, go deep to at least keep the safeties honest (and possibly to draw a pass interference penalty).
ASU really did none of these things.
Manny Wilkins threw the ball 37 times. Only 4 other opponents have thrown the ball 30+ times against the Bruins, and 3 of those games ended in UCLA victories (the 4th being the shootout loss to Memphis). Meanwhile, check out the passing attempts in these blowout losses:
Stanford: 24 pass attempts (split amongst 3 QBs)
Arizona: 13 pass attempts
Washington: 12 pass attempts (split amongst 2 QBs)
Utah: 22 pass attempts
All of these teams kept the passing as low as possible, and instead attacked the middle of the UCLA defense with a solid rushing attack. Arizona State has a solid rushing attack! They ran for 294 yards! But they did it on 61 attempts, for a 4.8 YPC, which is the third-lowest amount the UCLA defense has allowed all year (which, yeah, go ahead and rationalize that fact away now). Besides throwing the ball way too much, Arizona State was determined to run the ball to the outside, which is the kind of run play that UCLA actually thrives at stopping. The Bruins actually had 2 sacks and 5 TFLs in this game, in part because of these bad decisions.
So yeah, nothing changed on defense except for the opposing offense, and it showed.
Overall - I want to focus on a call late in the game, because I’m on the fence regarding it, and I’m going to use this space to work out my feelings.
In the middle of the 4th quarter, UCLA had driven down into ASU territory, and was sitting on the edge of field goal range. A field goal would have extended the Bruin lead from 10 to 13, but there was risk since it was at the edge of Molson’s known range. So, instead of kicking the field goal, UCLA took a delay of game penalty, and allowed Stefan Flintoft to pin the Sun Devils deep with an absolutely-beautiful punt.
On the one hand, the math would have ended with UCLA retaining a two-score lead regardless of whether they had succeeded on the field goal attempt or not. But on the other, instead of only needing a touchdown and field goal to tie, the Sun Devils would have needed to find the end zone twice, something they had only accomplished in the second half with the aid of a blocked kick.
I would probably say that, overall, this was the correct decision, but I think part of that is due to the benefit of hindsight in recognizing that the play worked. Arizona State took 4 minutes of game time to drive the length of the field, only to settle for a field goal, and after UCLA recovered the onside kick attempt, there wasn’t enough time left for ASU to even force a punt. So, once again, Todd Graham helped Jim Mora out by making the worst decisions possible.
But, for once, I’m going to leave the question of whether this was the correct decision or not to you all. As for the grade, I’ll average this one out, give a little bump to the offense, and end up with a C. Again, thank god Todd Graham was determined to make the worst decisions possible on offense.
Penalty Breakdown - A look at each of the penalties committed by the Bruins:
11:41, 1st Q - Holding on Mossi Johnson. Negated a real good return by Pickett, but also probably allowed the return to occur in the first place.
11:41, 1st Q - Personal Foul on Mique Juarez. This was originally called an Unsportsmanlike conduct, but was changed to a personal foul during the commercial break, a fact that I only knew because I was at the game. Unfortunately, I didn’t witness what happened, and Pac 12 Network, in its infinite wisdom, didn’t even bother trying to show what had happened. If I had to guess, I’d say that Juarez was probably continuing to block after the play was over, but I can’t be certain. Either way, this just compounded the bad situation that the holding penalty had put UCLA in.
6:16, 1st Q - Offsides on Marcus Moore. Tried to get a quick jump, just left too early. This did negate a 3rd down stop, and ASU immediately converted on the shorter 3rd down on their way to their second TD.
2:21, 3rd Q - Unsportsmanlike Conduct-Taunting on Colin Samuel. Added insult to injury on the blocked punt, but once again Pac 12 Network didn’t even bother trying to show what had happened. But the referee did say that it was a taunting penalty, and now I’m really wondering what trash talk you could possibly say when your team allows a blocked punt.
5:26, 4th Q - Delay of Game. Was taken on purpose.
General comments - 5 penalties for 39 yards. This seriously might have been the most disciplined game for the Bruins on multiple fronts.
Because, besides the real lack of penalties, UCLA’s defense did something amazing: they only celebrated when appropriate. There weren’t huge gestures after making a tackle 10+ yards downfield, or celebrating a clear penalty, or any number of bad decisions. I don’t want to point fingers, but not having Jaleel Wadood on the field definitely played a part here. I would still want Wadood on the field because he is a very good safety, but it doesn’t help his case that the defense looked much more composed with him out of the lineup.
There were still problems, of course. There was an Unsportsmanlike Penalty at a really weird time, but no Pass Interferences, or False Starts, or Targetings, and in general a really clean game. Which should be the expectation going forward. B+.
Offense grade: A- (3.7)
Defensive grade: B- (2.7)
Special Teams grade: D (1.0)
Coaching grade: C (2.0)
Discipline grade: B+ (3.3)
Final grade for Arizona State: B- (2.54)
For reference, the last game against Utah graded as a D (1.0). The road loss to Washington ended up as a D- (0.8). UCLA’s last victory over 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).
The offense absolutely carried this grade, and the defense was definitely helped by bad decisions from the ASU coaching staff, but overall, not a bad outing after a series of disasters.
The problem now is that UCLA technically goes on the road this week. Oh, and Southern Cal is the best team they’ll have played all season. Here’s hoping Jim Mora and staff have it in them to finally beat a Clay Helton team.