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The “Eye Test”: UCLA Encapsulates the Mora Era in Loss to USC

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Undisciplined play? Check. Fantastic quarterback play? Check. Questionable decisions? Check.

NCAA Football: UCLA at Southern California Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Just a head’s up everyone. With Jim Mora being fired on Sunday, and me being caught up with trying to make sense of all the twists and turns of that whole saga, in addition to dealing with a ton of projects in real life, I’ve decided to make this an abbreviated version of the Eye Test. Or rather, a version that ideally won’t take 4000+ words. Not everything is going to be covered - I’m just going to hit the highlights.

I hope you’ll understand, and thanks as always.

Offense

Quarterback - Oh, did you think I wasn’t going to spend time talking about Josh Rosen in this game? Because even with this being an abridged Eye Test, that was still going to happen.

Simply put, Josh Rosen showed exactly why should be the first quarterback taken in draft, if not the first overall player (just please not to the Browns). Rosen was unconscious in this game, putting the ball exactly where it needed to be and giving UCLA a fighting chance. Rosen not only hit the big throws, he also made smart decisions, repeatedly hitting his check-downs for good gains. Yes, there were a few mistakes, particularly his interception at the beginning of the second half, but overall this was one of his best games in a UCLA uniform.

I feel bad for Josh, in a lot of ways. I don’t think he’ll ever be as accepted as a great Bruin quarterback, because his teams never won big, but that was never going to be his fault. I can’t think of a single top quarterback that had to deal with three offensive coordinators in 3 years and still end up as a top prospect, while also dealing with a nonexistent running game, a lacking offensive line, and a receiving corp that is a coin flip when it comes to catching his passes. And all of this leaves out a defense that had vacillated wildly between pretty great and pretty awful between seasons. Josh sat through this and never complained, constantly standing up for his teammates, to the point where it always felt that he blamed himself more than his teammates for any mistakes.

Now, there’s always a chance that Josh Rosen comes back for a senior year (and if Cleveland has the top pick, boy that really would be something to consider), but if this is his last hurrah, all I can really say is thank you for all you’ve done while at UCLA. And give you this well-deserved A.

Running Backs - Take away the sack yards of Josh Rosen, and the running backs gained over 100 yards again in this game. Bolu Olorunfunmi got a lot of the recognition in the immediate aftermath, and he did run well before his injury, but the best running back was Soso Jamabo, who not only led the team in rushing with 62 yards, but also threw in 2 catches for 41 yards, and was very good in pass protect. A-.

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends - Jordan Lasley had himself a game, and the dude just seems to shine against the Trojans. 10 catches, 204 yards, and 3 touchdowns. He earned himself an A.

Unfortunately, the rest of the unit struggled. Theo Howard was mostly used in the outside screen game, and he ended up with 11 catches, but it felt like he could have been used more. Austin Roberts ended up with 70 yards on 6 catches, but he had a few drops, as did Christian Pabico. So in total, I’m going to give this unit a B.

Offensive Line - This wasn’t a great game for the offensive line. 4 sacks allowed isn’t great. The number of false starts weren’t great. Multiple chop blocks/clipping/general penalties negating big plays weren’t great. This unit had played well this season, but this performance just wasn’t going to get it done. D+.

Overall - I thought the running backs and (obviously) Josh Rosen played really well, while the receiver group was hit or miss, and the offensive line was a definite miss. The biggest problem, offensively, that UCLA had in this game was execution in the red zone. The Bruins ended up settling for two field goals (one missed), an interception, and a fumble, and that wasn’t enough to get it done. But they did play relatively well beyond that, so I’ll give the offense a B.

Defense

Defensive Line - This was their best game by far this season. USC only gained 153 yards on the ground, as UCLA’s defensive line did a great job of generating push. In addition, I thought this group did a fantastic job of containing Sam Darnold. The numbers say that keeping him inside the pocket instead of rolling out is the best strategy, and UCLA did that for the most part, as Darnold was unable to really get out of the pocket and make plays happen. Rick Wade (6 tackles) was phenomenal on the edge, Marcus Moore continued his strong play, while Boss Tagaloa had his best game of the season up the middle in controlling the game. I would have liked to see them convert more sacks on Darnold, as they got a hold of him a few times but couldn’t complete the tackle, but in general this was a good outing. B+.

Linebackers - Pretty hit or miss day from this group, which is actually an improvement. UCLA was committed to being aggressive against the run, and for the linebackers that required picking a gap and plugging it immediately rather than reading the play, and more often than not it worked. Kenny Young again led the team in tackles, and logged the solo sack for the Bruins, but he did struggle a bit in coverage and had some poor pursuit angles at times. Krys Barnes similarly played a decent game, and I think the change in strategy aided him the most, as he was able to shoot a gap instead of make a read, and for him right now less processing of the play is better. Keisean Lucier-South again looked fairly decent as the third linebacker, and now I’m left wondering what he does next year with a new defense, because he’s appeared better as a linebacker in the Anthony Barr mold (as he was originally brought in to be) rather than the pass-rush defensive end specialist he’s been cast as for most of his time at UCLA. I’ll give this group a B-.

Secondary - The secondary, for the most part, played great. Nathan Meadors continues to be the best cover guy on UCLA, and it felt like every pass Darnold tried throwing in his general direction was destined to be incomplete. Darnay Holmes got burned a couple times, but mostly held his own. Octavius Spencer.....well, he tried real hard, but it’s very clear at this point that Colin Samuel is a better corner than him, but Samuel’s torn rotator cuff (revealed by Jim Mora after the ASU victory last week) limited the amount he could play in this game. Adarius Pickett spent much of the game acting as a 4th linebacker, which also spoke to UCLA finally having confidence in the secondary enough to help the run defense, and Jaleel Wadood was fine as well, not missing tackles like he was in other games this year. We’ll give this group a B+ as well.

Overall - USC was really only able to put together 3 real touchdown drives, and that’s a credit, in part, to how well the defense played (and we’ll get to that other part in a second). The only thing this game really did is make me depressed in their other performances this season. Let’s give this group a B.

Special Teams

Overall - The UCLA defense held USC to 21 points. The offense put 23 points on the board. So how did UCLA lose this game? Well, reason 1 was special teams. I’ve been harping on them the past few weeks, but boy howdy did they outdo themselves in this game. The first punt was kicked the wrong way, and led to a punt return touchdown. USC also had a return of 59 yards, and in general averaged close to 30 yards on kickoff returns. J.J. Molson was short on a field goal attempt. This was just awful, and the inattention to special teams by this coaching staff, once again, cost them big. F.

Coaching

Offensive gameplan - Josh Rosen ended up with over 400 yards passing, while the running backs themselves gained over 100 yards, so I’d say the offensive gameplan was pretty good. UCLA also showed off a ton of misdirection, running reverses and fake reverses and double reverses more than a few times, and kept USC’s defense on their heels for most of the game. There was also great recognition from Jedd Fisch - USC was forced to go to a backup corner in the second half, and for some reason that corner ended up covering Jordan Lasley, which Fisch recognized and consistently exploited. That’s just smart coaching from a smart coach. The big problems on offense were execution, but I’d have liked to see better playcalling in the red zone as well. So I’ll go with a B+ here.

Defensive gameplan - Crazy how UCLA finally adopts my “Go aggressive on defense” strategy and has one of its best defensive games on the season.

But, much like last week, UCLA was again aided by a bizarre gameplan implemented by USC. It really felt like Tee Martin bought in to the Rosen vs. Darnold hype, and was determined to make Darnold look as good as possible. Problem is, Darnold isn’t at Rosen’s level at this moment in time, and the secondary is UCLA’s strength on defense. So instead of running at UCLA more often, USC ran close to a 4:3 run:pass ratio, and Darnold was only able to complete 17 passes, with not as many being downfield to keep the defense honest. From talking to my USC friends, this has seemed to be a theme for them in their worst offensive games, where they rely on Darnold too much and don’t trust the run game, so let’s give some credit to USC here. B for the defensive gameplan.

Overall - In a lot of respects, this game felt like Jim Mora playing the hits one last time. The offense looked great when it executed properly, the defense played with fire, and there were a ton of penalties and special teams miscues. I’ll give credit to Mora for having the team fired up to play the Trojans, but that’s also something that should have happened regardless, and the irony isn’t lost on me that, in a game that seems to have helped lead to Jim Mora’s early dismissal, the reasons for the loss could be laid at the coaching staff’s feet. So I’m going to give this a C-. A better coaching effort, especially on special teams and paying attention to the details, could have gotten this team a win.

Discipline

General comments - I’m not doing a penalty breakdown, because there 12 UCLA penalties for 100 yards, while USC threw in another 11 penalties for 115. This game was a nightmare from a penalty standpoint, and while there were some questionable calls both ways, the penalty issue did directly contribute to UCLA losing this game, as one touchdown was directly wiped off the board thanks to a clipping penalty, while a 50+ yard pass from Rosen to Lasley was taken off thanks to an illegal player downfield penalty.

There wasn’t as much needless celebrating, which was nice, though Lasley did get an unsportsmanlike penalty after one of his touchdowns, which was certainly something. Considering the sheer amount of penalties, plus how crushing a few of them were, I’ll give this section a D.

FINAL COMPOSITE

Offense grade: B (3.0)

Defensive grade: B (3.0)

Special Teams grade: F (0.0)

Coaching grade: C- (1.7)

Discipline grade: D (1.0)

Final grade for Southern California: C- (1.74)

For reference, the last game against Arizona State resulted in a B- (2.54). The loss to 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).

One last game of the season. Let’s see how interim head coach Jedd Fisch does.

And I still did over 2000 words. I guess that counts as abridged these days.

Go Bruins.