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UCLA Football: Hawai’i Post-Game Roundtable

The writers and editors of Bruins Nation discuss UCLA’s 56-23 victory over the Rainbow Warriors.

Hawaii v UCLA Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

1. I think before the season, most of us would have said that the defense would be solid to great, while the offense would be a work in progress. After 2 games, it appears the opposite is the case. What has surprised you the most about this?

AnteatersandBruins: I think the inability to stop the run and allow the opposition to make huge plays, even on third and long, was astonishing. I know we were playing fairly beat up by the end of the Hawaii game, but they still should not have put up the points they did.

Markybcool: I’m not sure that was what exactly what I was thinking. I was worried about the youth on the defensive side of the football, and just as importantly the lack of size on the defensive line. I mean KLS is listed at 235. So, in my opinion, we are going to continue to see struggles stopping the run.

DCBruins: I don’t think this game answered questions about the running game. I guess we can say with some confidence that doubts about Rosen are being erased. But I still think the running game is a “work in progress.” On the defense, some of the run defense problems may be due to bad defense calls. I am more worried about the injuries which will definitely make it a work in progress.

Dimitri Dorlis: At this point, the defense being poor against the run makes sense. I wrote about how that’s a feature and not a bug of Tom Bradley’s defensive philosophy, and we just forgot about it last year because there was a ton of NFL-ready talent on the defensive line. So if anything, it’s been more surprising that the offense has been this good, this fast. Fisch might not last in Westwood long, because this turnaround is going to get him a head coaching job.

Joe Piechowski: The defense’s struggles stopping the run has been the most surprising. That said, I think the defense still has the opportunity to prove that they can stop the run. Against A&M, it appeared that the team was running primarily a nickel defense. I think we’re going to start seeing more of our base 4-3 as the season progress. Of course, the tendency seems to be to use the nickel against teams that like to pass, but Coach Bradley may have to resort to playing the nickel in true passing situations only to balance out the defense.

2. The offense has looked fantastic since the second half of last week’s game. Besides Josh Rosen, what has impressed you the most about their run?

AnteatersandBruins: The receivers have been on point. Some of their circus catches have not only been amazing, but entertaining. In addition, Theo Howard has already almost doubled his yardage from last year (although they seemed to pull him every time he did something right last year…) and Caleb Wilson has proven himself useful as both a receiver and a passer! Jedd Fisch is mixing it up and I don’t find myself able to predict what they’re going to do next.

Markybcool: Jedd Fisch putting together game plans that cater to the strengths of the personnel groupings. The play calling in the Hawaii game was once again superb, and watching receivers finally making plays has been a great thing to see as well. But again, the OL putting in work to give Rosen time is the key to everything.

DCBruins: The receivers. Last year, there was a problem with drops. This year, it seems like they are catching those passes.

Dimitri Dorlis: The adjustments in play-calling. Gone are the days of “Here is what we want to do, and we’re going to do it whether it works or not,” replaced by an offensive coordinator who recognizes both his teams strengths and the opponents weaknesses, and runs an offense to take advantage of it. That’s how you end up with the Bruins attacking the middle against A&M, and working the outside against Hawai’i. The run game has also improved once we started passing-to-run, rather than run-to-pass.

Joe Piechowski: The offensive line has done a better job protecting Rosen and we’re starting to run the ball better, too. The running game continues to be a work in progress, but, as long as it keeps improving I’ll be happy.

3. The Bruins ran for 132 yards and a 5.1 average, after a season in which they averaged 2.9 YPC. Did the Bruins actually get better running the football, or is Hawaii just that bad?

AnteatersandBruins: I’m going to be optimistic and say we’re better. We have at least two guys on the offensive line now playing out of position and that isn’t helping. But on short yard plays in the red zone, we’ve been able to punch it in when last year we were settling for field goals.

Markybcool: I think when you have the threat that UCLA has under center, there has to be some hesitation by the LB’s to come up and fill the holes, especially the way Coach Fisch likes to utilize his TE’s. I would also say that the level of competition also played a role as well.

DCBruins: Hawaii is bad and we passed to set up the run. Hawaii had to sell out for the pass and take their chances with our running game. I am sold on Rosen and the receivers after two games, but the running backs still have a lot to prove.

Dimitri Dorlis: Passing to set up the run is, honestly, the correct choice with this team, and something that can pay off down the road. If you can get the opponent to sell out to stop the passing game, that makes running the ball easier. So I’d say the running game got better, just because the strategy got better.

Joe Piechowski: There’s no doubt that running game is a work in progress and that we passed to set up the run. That said, Hawai’i’s defensive strength is the defensive line. So, the fact that we ran the ball better is a good thing. But, there is still much room for improvement.

4. The final score hides the fact that, for the second week in a row, the defense did not have that great of a day. What has been the most concerning thing so far?

AnteatersandBruins: Again, we need to stop the run. We seem to be able to get to quarterbacks that hang onto the ball too long, but you won’t find that much in league play. Stanford, Southern Cal, Washington...they’re going to run all over us if we can’t fix this.

Markybcool: On Saturday, for me, it was the inability to pressure the QB. Hawaii was behind the entire game and dropped back to pass 35+ times, and during the first three quarters we didn’t have a single sack. So I did not feel on Saturday we were able to get to the QB at all, and Brown’s passing numbers show that he had some time to throw the ball.

DCBruins: Mark and Ant make a good points. The other problem to me is injuries. I am not sure we have the depth we should, especially at linebacker.

Dimitri Dorlis: Defensive line play, in general, has been concerning, but it isn’t their fault. It’s a group asking to fill in for three NFL talents and replicate their skillset right away, and that’s just never going to happen. So more than anything, the concerning thing is that Tom Bradley hasn’t really adapted his defense to accommodate the personnel he has. That’s a major problem and needs to change.

Joe Piechowski: I’m concerned about the reliance on the nickel defense. I think we need to focus more on playing our base defense and leave the nickel for third and long situations.

5. While there have been some issues defensively, has there been any bright spots?

AnteatersandBruins: Darnay Holmes and Jaelan Phillips are in full beast mode on every down. These guys don’t play like freshmen.

Markybcool: Ditto, Holmes and Phillips are going to probably go down as UCLA greats and 1st round NFL picks. Both of their skill sets are off the charts.

DCBruins: I like our secondary. They make plays and are doing a good job generally. I think we will need to put more pressure on them to cover the possible weaknesses in the defensive line by blitzing but they look pretty good.

Dimitri Dorlis: Going into the season, the secondary looked like a major weapon, and they have been through 2 games. It’s just a strong, talented group, and got deeper after this game thanks to a bunch of players getting experience.

Joe Piechowski: It seems like forever since we last had a defender with a Pick Six. Now, the reality is that Randall Goforth had one last year, but we used to seem to get them or, at least, interceptions on a regular basis. The fact that Darnay Holmes had a Pick Six on his first interception was definitely a bright spot.

Now, if we could just pick it off more often!

6. The Extra Point - Sound off!

AnteatersandBruins: Darnay Holmes is going to run one back this year, just you wait and see. We finally have someone that can get good field position after a kickoff or punt, and we aren’t constantly calling for a fair catch.

Markybcool: The last two games have shown me that Jedd Fisch was a great pick-up for the UCLA coaching staff. I think that he has brought a sense of confidence in the offensive unit and has teamed up well so far with Rosen. The real work is coming soon for the coaching staff, but the tune-ups so far have have looked good for Fisch.

Lastly, Rosen when given time, might go down as the second best quarterback to ever walk the halls of UCLA. Most definitely he is the best QB to ever walk the halls of the Wasserman Football Center!

DCBruins: I am worried about the concussion problem. I was sick watching Wadood stagger around like a drunk at closing time as he tried and fail to stand up after being concussed. We need these guys and, more importantly, they need their health.

Dimitri Dorlis: The specialists have yet to be really tested this year, and that’s realistically a good thing, but the little we’ve seen has shown a more-confident J.J. Molson and Stefan Flintoft performing up to the standards we’ve become used to from UCLA specialists. We’re going to have a game at some point this season where their performance will become critical, and I’m much more confident than I was before the season that they’ll pull through.

Joe Piechowski: The Pac-12 has not done enough to improve the officiating. David Coleman doesn’t appear to be the right guy to fix it because he’s now in his third season and they are still terrible. He needs to go.