Sigh. Let’s just get this over with.
I thought Austin Burton was perfectly fine in this game. He threw a good ball, seemed to make good reads in the passing game, and was a willing runner when he needed to be. Most importantly, Burton looked like a player who had ample experience playing the quarterback position. He didn't look frazzled, but competent, and that’s exactly what you want from your backup. There was the fumble on a scramble early that was a bit worrying, but other than that he did a good job of protecting the football.
It’s important to stress though that, after this game, I can absolutely see why Chip Kelly would continue to use Dorian Thompson-Robinson as his starting quarterback. Burton is definitely a good player, but DTR has a higher ceiling, especially when it comes to his arm strength and athleticism and, in the midst of another lost season, it makes more sense to give the player with a higher ceiling more chances to develop. If UCLA was actually looking to win games this year, I think you could make more of an argument for Burton, but at this point, give DTR all the reps you can.
Running Backs: A
This is officially the Demetric Felton show until further notice. After bizarrely barely seeing the field last week against Arizona, Felton was all over the place in this game. He had 11 carries for 111 yards, including a 75-yard touchdown run, to go with nine catches for 55 yards. Felton averaged 8.3 yards per touch, which is insane, and another point against Chip Kelly that he almost refuses to find different ways to get him the ball.
Let’s also not forget Joshua Kelley, who was again a workhorse in this game. Kelley ground out 74 touch yards on 21 carries, but he was hurt by a lack of explosiveness, only breaking one run for more than 10 yards. But I can’t hurt this grade all that much - Kelley’s struggles had more to do with the offensive line than anything he did.
With Felton taking up so much space on offense (he saw 12 of the 37 total targets on passes), there was a bit less room for the receivers to impact the game, but they overall did a fine job. Kyle Phillips had a quietly solid game; I didn’t realize it until afterwards but he ended up with seven catches for 71 yards and averaged 10.1 YPC. He also had some excellent catches under pressure and seemed to be Burton’s favorite target with his nine targets leading the way for the receiver corps. Beyond that, there weren’t really many opportunities for the receivers to make huge plays; the offense only had six chunk plays in the pass game, two of which were from Phillips, while Jaylen Erwin made both of his catches count for solid chunks of yards. I don’t think the receivers are truly to blame here, but it would have been helpful if they had broken more plays.
Offensive Line: D+
Oregon State’s defense picked up eight tackles for loss and three sacks in this game, so it’s hard to see much room for growth in this grade. Honestly, I wish I had access to some yards after contact stats, because a basic rewatch of the game confirmed my initial feelings that Kelley’s struggles in the run game began in part by how often he was hit or had to make a move in the backfield. The line struggled to generate a push against the Beavers’ defensive line which is about par for the course on the season. The nice thing was that UCLA was a little better in pass protection; they weren’t close to their high mark of the season in the Washington State game, but it was better than last week, where their struggles eventually got DTR knocked out of the game.
The offense was mostly fine in this game? As much as the offensive line is still struggling, the Bruins found success and were able to move the ball with Burton at the helm. After the first two drives where it felt like Burton and the offense were trying to get their legs under them, UCLA scored on five of their last eight drives. Even considering that Oregon State’s defense is not good, that’s still a solid success rate, and it’s the best the offense has looked outside of their 20 minutes of lucidity against Washington State.
Run Defense: D-
This has been the strength of the defense and, considering how the pass defense has looked this year, that wasn’t exactly a high bar to clear. So, to watch the struggle in this game was more than a bit disheartening. Teams don’t really need to run against UCLA to find success on offense, but if the defensive front is going to struggle and get pushed around by Oregon State, then it’s not a good sign moving forward against stronger rushing attacks like Stanford and Utah.
Pass Defense: F
I got nothing for this group anymore. In fact, I am passing on this until further notice. Luckily, since I’m passing on the UCLA pass defense, I know it’ll be successful.
Oregon State’s offense is definitely improved, but when you allow an opponent to go for 7.7 yards per play, you did not do a good job. Worse, UCLA struggled like this despite the Beavers running the ball against UCLA’s “strength” more than they passed against the gaping wound that is the UCLA pass defense. Frankly, the worst thing this team can do at this point is the exact same thing they’re doing. I’d rather watch them try something new and fail than do the same bad thing over and over again and, honestly, I’m done trying to keep this grade higher than it deserves to be.
Thing I probably knew but really only hit me on rewatch: UCLA only punted one time in this game! Huh! Wade Lees had a solid punt, going for 43 yards. So, that’s nice. JJ Molson finally made a field goal at the Rose Bowl, which now ties him with the Unpaid Intern on the year, which is also something of note. The return game looks much improved over last year.
Really, the big thing hurting this grade was the dropkick that Oregon State recovered. The coverage team seemed completely unprepared for the possibility, which I understand on some level because how often do you really see a dropkick. Still, it completely shifted momentum and allowed the Beavers to steal an extra possession that they immediately cashed in on, digging a 21-point hole that the Bruins were never able to recover from.
Offensive Gameplan: D+
Definitely not the worst gameplan we’ve seen from the offense this year (hey Oklahoma game!) but it was pretty conservative, relying a lot on the running game and efficiency to carry the day, which is fine in a vacuum, and was maybe the smart decision with a backup quarterback. But the problem was that UCLA refused to shift away from this, which was problematic because:
- Austin Burton proved he could capably run the offense.
- The UCLA defense proved it was uninterested in showing up to the game.
- Oregon State was up 21-0 with 8:59 left in the first quarter.
That last point is maybe the most important. Once Oregon State raced out to a huge lead, I expected a shift back to the pass-happy offense that got UCLA back into the game against Washington State, but nope! Even late, with the Bruins driving down 17 heading into the 4th quarter, Chip Kelly almost insisted on running a slow methodical drive that resulted in a touchdown (good!) and killed 6:38 from the clock (bad!), leaving only 8:39 left in the game. You can go on slow drives if you’re winning and want to kill the clock; Oregon State literally went on a similar drive immediately after UCLA to push their lead back to 17 and ice the game. But if you go down big, it makes time a premium, so to waste it because you’re seemingly afraid to push the ball down the field is the worst choice you can make.
Defensive Gameplan: F
Again, I have nothing left for this. Maybe if the defense does something new, I’ll come back to this section.
Maybe the most damning thing I can think of in this game was how much more Oregon State seemed to want this game. You could tell from their body language that the game meant a lot after so many near-misses, while UCLA’s players seemed to go through the motions. One of a coach’s primary jobs is to motivate his players and get them to play hard for him, and it’s hard for me not to read into body language and see a team that looks defeated, especially on defense. Chip Kelly was never going to be a warm-and-fuzzy player coach like Jim Mora, but you can get past that if you’re winning. UCLA is not winning; in fact, they are losing and looking awful and unprepared while doing so. I never thought we’d be at this point with Chip Kelly.
Generally, this was a very clean game from a penalties standpoint. Only two penalties on the game, though both ended up being substantial, with the first penalty directly leading to an Oregon State onside kick, while the second stuck UCLA with poor field position. If there’s solace, it’s that both of those penalties came in the first quarter. So, the Bruins played a clean game for the final three quarters. That’s not bad.
The execution had more issues, especially on the defensive side. The usual missed tackles and poor positioning was present and, while I don’t really question the effort on display, I am starting to wonder what exactly this group has been coached to do. It’s the only way I can explain this group getting so much worse since the Jim Mora era, which was already showcasing a poor defense by the end.
Offense grade: B (3.0)
Defensive grade: F (0.0)
Special Teams grade: C- (1.7)
Coaching grade: F (0.0)
Discipline grade: C (2.0)
Final grade for Oregon State Beavers: D+ (1.34)
For reference, here are the grades UCLA has received this year:
Honestly, I am so excited for the bye week, but not because I think things will get better. If anything, this is generally how the team is going to look going forward. No, I’m happy there’s a bye week just so that I can take the week off and figure out some new ways to write about the same mess.