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The “Eye Test”: UCLA Shows Heart in Victory over UC Berkeley

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The Jedd Fisch Interregnum gets out to a 1-0 start, while we also ponder staff changes.

NCAA Football: California at UCLA Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Offense

Quarterback - In one half of football, Josh Rosen went 13-18 for 202 yards and 2 touchdowns. This game was never going to be close if he stayed in the game, because he was playing incredibly well. For him personally, he gets an A, so when this grade is a bit lower, you’ll at least know that was a result.

The big question for Josh now is whether he should play in the bowl game or not. Certainly leaving the game with an apparent head injury, even if it was a precautionary reason, ties into the dumb storyline that Josh is too fragile, so even the idea of him playing in a bowl game can possibly mean more for getting past that. But to play in a bowl game risks another injury, which is something that more and more players are starting to take into consideration. Consider Christian McCaffrey last year, or a few Texas players that are starting to make that decision now. My personal opinion is that, as long as the doctor says he can play, Josh is going to play, because that’s the type of person he is.

But you also have the question of whether Josh will come back next year, and that’s a bit more intriguing. Rosen certainly doesn’t have anything left to prove, but he’s always struck me as a guy who wants to learn, and Chip Kelly is one of the best offensive minds in the sport today. People constantly point to the running quarterbacks he had at Oregon like Marcus Mariota, but it should be pointed out that his offenses at Philadelphia worked pretty well even with pocket passers like Nick Foles and Sam Bradford. Rosen comes from a pretty well-off family, so money isn’t a factor in this decision, and you have to consider the chance to avoid going to the Browns could play a role as well (this is reportedly the reason Sam Darnold is considering staying as well, besides the fact that he would be exposed in the NFL JUST SAYING). So that’s something to look forward to.

As for the second half, Devon Modster came in and easily had his best game of the season. Things clicked for him here in ways they hadn’t in his prior outings, and he looked much more confident in his reads and throws. Of course, it probably helped to have deep threat Jordan Lasley for the first time, especially since the deep ball is one of Modster’s best skill, but Modster also did a good job of moving through the pocket and picking up first downs when needed. The game-winning drive orchestrated by Modster and Fisch was fantastic, and if Rosen leaves, I do think Modster will, at the very least, put up one hell of a fight for the starting job. That’s a great sign for the program going forward. Screw it. A for the quarterbacks.

Running Backs - Bolu Olorunfunmi got all of 2 touches before he fumbled after re-aggravating his injury, and while he came back late in the game for one more carry, he wasn’t much of a factor. Soso Jamabo was on his way to his best game of the season in the first half - 4 carries for 23 yards and 2 catches for 38 yards - until a targeting penalty took him out of the game in the second quarter. In an effort to extrapolate towards next season (which will be a theme in this Eye Test), Soso could have a really, really good year next year, while Bolu could become a new version of LeGarratte Blount.

With those injuries, the second half became the Brandon Stephens show, and he was pretty good! 20 carries for 83 yards and a touchdown to go with 3 catches for 35 yards is phenomenal for a back who has really struggled this year, and Stephens shows great awareness of where the holes would be and good decisiveness in hitting the holes quickly. He’s such a mix between Soso and Bolu that I almost expect him to break out in a big way next year while UCLA brings in some speedier guys to redshirt. Overall, the running backs get a A-.

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends - Jordan Lasley gets this group an A by himself. 12 catches, 227 yards, and 1 touchdown, his second game of topping 200 yards in receiving. It literally didn’t matter who was throwing him the ball or who was defending him, Lasley was going to catch it and make a play regardless. The question now becomes whether he comes back next year, as he is eligible for the draft and these last few weeks have to be tantalizing for NFL scouts, but it’s also tantalizing to think about how much of a monster he can be in the Chip Kelly offense.

Another guy who could do some big things next year: Theo Howard. I always got the sense that Jedd Fisch seemed to struggle with incorporating Howard into the offense at times, as he can be a bit streaky, but it’s hard to deny his combination of speed and vision in the open field, and I thought he still played well here. Howard isn’t a De’Anthony Thomas clone, but he can fit into a similar skillset and give Kelly a great weapon to use at the start of his UCLA career.

There wasn’t much else from this group. Eldridge Massington caught a few passes. Christian Pabico caught a few passes. Jordan Wilson caught a pass, and hopefully can find a way to break into the rotation next year when Caleb Wilson returns and Devin Asiasi is eligible to play (though one solution: move Asiasi to defense and let him be the elite defensive end he projected as out of high school). There are other weapons who didn’t see the field this year, and will be moving out of the program soon, as the wide receiver class currently recruited looks pretty talented, as long as they stick out. Should be fun!

Offensive Line - The offensive line allowed 4 sacks and 9 TFLs total. UC Berkeley has definitely improved under Justin Wilcox, far more than anyone would have guessed at the start of the season, but this was still a disappointing outing for the offensive line unit. One of those sacks directly led to Rosen’s injury, so we’ll take that into consideration in the grade. The good news is that, with a bowl game, the offensive linemen who will be returning next year will get some more practice and game experience, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see the team rotate a few more guys into the bowl game. But for this game, this was a D+.

Overall - 30 points is above Berkeley’s season-average of 28.4, so credit to the offense for still managing to put up enough points to win despite changing quarterbacks midway through. There were some bumps, but I really liked the effort shown here, and the execution was some of the best we’ve seen all year, especially on that game-winning field goal drive. So I’ll give this group an A-.

Defense

Defensive Line - UCLA did allow 216 rushing yards, so this wasn’t the best outing, but I thought this group looked generally fine? The best thing I can say was it was real nice to see all the youth on hand. Jaelan Phillips, Marcus Moore, Boss Tagaloa, Greg Rodgers, Chigozie Nnoruka, Rick Wade, and injured guys like Osa Odighizuwa (I assume he’s injured since he didn’t play in this game) are going to provide a nice, youthful base to whatever defensive line Kelly decides to go with. But in this game, there were some struggles. The biggest issue was the line not completing sacks, which was a theme this year. It really felt like the line expended most of their energy getting past the offensive line, which left them without enough energy to complete the play. It probably says a lot that the lone sack of the game for the Bruins came on a play where Jaelan Phillips was allowed to run straight at QB Ross Bowers’s blindside unblocked (though I will admit to being pumped about Phillips’s post-sack celebration on the sideline, where he knocked over a trash can while pumping his arms, and then got on a bench to get the crowd going while the coaches tried to remind him that the offense was on the field now). So let’s go with a C+ for this group.

Linebackers - One last regular season game, one last disappointing outcome for the linebacker unit, but at least this game featured a new wrinkle. Cal decided that attacking UCLA’s secondary in the passing game was probably a bad idea, but attacking the linebackers in the middle of the field was probably a decent option, and the Cal passing attack consistently threw to the middle of the field for chunk yardage. I’m interested to see how a new linebackers coach changes things up for this group, because there is talent, but it has just seemed lost for so much of the year.

In a positive bit of news, Kenny Young led the team with 15 tackles, the only player to break double-digits, and has really had a decent senior year, all things considered. I don’t think he gets drafted per se, but I can definitely see Young catching on as a practice squad player just on the reputation UCLA linebackers have accrued in recent years. The linebackers get a D here.

Secondary - I started laughing during my rewatch of this game, because I was able to confirm something I had noticed while in the Rose Bowl: UCLA finally showed enough faith in their corners that Adarius Pickett was, more often than not, sitting in the box as a 4th linebacker on almost half of the plays. Whether that was effective in stopping the run was....well, it wasn’t, but at least it was something new. Pickett is going to be a big defensive leader this year, and you could tell how much of a competitor he was when he was forced out of the game with a shoulder stinger. Nate Meadors is going to have one hell of a 2018, as he continued his fantastic 2017 with another solid outing. Darnay Holmes, meanwhile, had another hot-and-cold outing. The good news is he’s still a true freshman, and I expect him to make a leap next year.

Oh, and right now let’s give a special shoutout to departing senior Jaleel Wadood. Wadood was at times infuriating, especially with his over-the-top celebrations, but it’s hard to deny how much of a leader he was for this team, and he helped bring 4’s Up to UCLA. He won’t go down as a Bruin great, but he’ll definitely remain a great Bruin, and he deserves a thank you. Enjoy the bowl game, Jaleel.

Secondary gets a B.

Overall - The defense definitely struggled for 70% of the field, but almost like clockwork, the Golden Bears would get inside the UCLA 30 and begin to struggle. Cal only scored 2 touchdowns, and was forced into 5 field goal attempts, which was enough for the UCLA offense to get the victory. That’s not something I’ve been able to say that often this year, so on that note alone, I’ll give the defense a B.

Special Teams

Overall - The good: J.J. Molson was nails on that game-winning field goal attempt, and you have to assume that will be a big confidence booster for him going into next year, as the coaching staff showed a ton of confidence in him hitting that kick.

The bad: the return game was, in general, poor. Pickett only returned two punts and gained a total of 4 yards, while Mo Osling made the poor decision to field a kickoff at the 2 yard line as it was going out of bounds, and his momentum carried him out at that spot. The good news is Chip Kelly’s teams were known for their strong special teams play, so hopefully this unit can turn it around, but this was a C.

Coaching

Offensive gameplan - The overall section is going to be devoted to who should be kept going forward, so let’s use this section to grade Jedd Fisch’s job as head coach, which was: fine.

Honestly, it’s hard to judge anyone taking over the head coaching job on an interim basis, especially on a short week where you also have to deal with the team working through their emotions of having people celebrate their head coach being fired. That’s not easy, so on that front Fisch did extremely well. And, in-game, you can definitely see that this was a learning experience for Jedd Fisch. The offensive struggles at times can more easily be attributed to Fisch being spread too thin, though they did enough to win the game. And you had some time-management issues, especially near the end of the game-winning drive where Fisch was forced to call a timeout with 8 seconds left to prevent his QB from snapping the ball and potentially not being able to get a kick attempt off, but between an interim head coach and a backup QB this wasn’t very surprising. And, most importantly, Jedd Fisch got the win and is now 1-0 as UCLA head coach, and gets to coach a bowl game. That’s a cool thing. The offensive gameplan is going to get a B here, but when you see the A in overall, know that it’s for getting a win with all of the uncertainty swirling around the program.

Defensive gameplan - This was, also, fine. It wasn’t great, but it was the ultimate showing of the bend-don’t-break defensive philosophy of Jim Mora and Tom Bradley. Again, UC Berkeley was forced into 5 field goal attempts, which directly led to the victory. There was some more aggressiveness (like Pickett sitting in the box almost the entire game) and the corners were allowed to play more press and single coverage, so I feel ok giving this a B as well.

Overall - Here’s the A. Now let’s get to the fun part.

The question of course is which coaches will be retained by Chip Kelly. While I can understand wanting a clean break from the Jim Mora Era, I can easily see more than a few of the position coaches sticking around, and I’ll rank them in order of most likely.

Let’s start with Angus McClure. Of all the coaches, I think McClure has the best chance at sticking, for a few reasons. For one, McClure’s understanding of UCLA’s academic requirements and admissions is priceless. UCLA fans wouldn’t be able to claim a kinship with Takkarist McKinley had it not been for Uncle Angus, and for a guy like Chip Kelly who reportedly dislikes recruiting, keeping on a recruiting coordinator who is that well-versed in getting guys into the school is invaluable. It’s one of the reasons Angus was kept on after Rick Neuheisal was fired. Another reason? His positional adaptability. McClure switched from offense to defense when Jim Mora was hired, and it wouldn’t be out of the question for McClure to switch back over to offense under Kelly (possibly as TE coach because I assume Rip Scherer will return back to his admin role at UCLA). But finally, one last reason will be thanks to the NCAA. Starting in January, teams will now be allowed to have 10 coaches on staff, up from the 9 currently allowed. The common belief is that most teams will use that spot for a dedicated recruiter, which would fit Angus perfectly. You can then stick him as a TE coach, which is less-intensive, and keep him as Recruiting Coordinator.

Then you come to some borderline cases in Demetrice Martin and Jedd Fisch. For Coach Meat, I think there’s a decent chance he sticks, as he’s a tireless recruiter who is in line for another great defensive back class, and while people love to point out that his defensive backs almost-never turn around, it’s also hard to ignore that UCLA’s pass defense has been consistently good to great over the past few years as more of Martin’s recruits have entered the program. As for Fisch, things become more complicated. Chip Kelly calls plays himself, so you don’t need an offensive coordinator for that, and the common perception is that Kelly might tap his former OC Mark Helfrich for the position. But Fisch is also a smart guy, and Kelly might choose to keep Fisch to help refine the passing game, which has traditionally been the weaker aspect of his offense. Kelly certainly respects Fisch, and he’s very well-regarded in coaching circles, but it also might come down to whether Fisch gets a head coaching job when the coaching carousel stops spinning.

Then you come to other guys on offense like Jimmie Dougherty, DeShaun Foster, and Hank Fraley. There are guys Kelly could bring in, especially his former offensive line coach Steve Greatwood, but it’s going to come down to fit and comfortability with Kelly. Dougherty in particular appears to be a great recruiter, and of these three, he’d be the one I’d bet on staying (though I do think Foster also has a decent shot at sticking around as well).

Finally, Scott White and Tom Bradley are gone. That seems simple at this point. Sal Alosi, I assume, will also be gone, but that’s more so that Kelly can further implement his changes to conditioning in the program.

Discipline

General comments - Much like last week, I’m not going to do an individual penalty breakdown, but that’s because it’s hard to extrapolate anything from it in this particular game. You can’t blame Jedd Fisch for those disciplinary issues, as he only had 4 days to work with the team as HC, instead of the entire season. But on another level, the 7 penalties (for 64 yards) were all over the place as far as far as the reasons. Josh Rosen got an intentional grounding. Nate Meadors committed a huge holding on a third down on Cal’s last touchdown drive, except that holding wouldn’t have occurred had UCLA’s defensive linemen gotten to the quarterback quicker and completed the sack. There was a holding on a kickoff, and more-distressingly an unsportsmanlike conduct on a punt.

What I will say is that it was nice to see the team so focused on getting a victory. Losing a head coach, and playing a game 5 days later, could have broken this team, but credit to the coaching staff and the team leaders for rallying for the W. That’s not something many teams can do. So that’ll upgrade this grade to a C+.

FINAL COMPOSITE

Offense grade: A- (3.7)

Defensive grade: B (3.0)

Special Teams grade: C (2.0)

Coaching grade: A (4.0)

Discipline grade: C+ (2.3)

Final grade for UC Berkeley: B (2.94)

For reference, the last game against Southern California graded out to a C- (1.74). The victory over 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).

That grade, honestly, feels right. UCLA really did play one of their most complete games of the season, and while the grading was a little lenient at points, you have to consider the outside factors that affected the team. And while we’re now in the Chip Kelly Era, the Jedd Fisch Interregnum will get one more game in late December.

Go Bruins!