It’s over. This season is, mercifully, over.
There will be more postmortems over the next few weeks, but that was my immediate thought as I walked out of the Rose Bowl on Saturday. This season has been trying for UCLA fans, and we’re now entering what is shaping up to be a critical offseason for Chip Kelly’s tenure.
I’ll have a season-long Eye Test in the next few weeks, so I’ll save any discussions of what the future holds for these units till then , but for now let’s break down this final game.
This is, perhaps, a more charitable grade than Dorian Thompson-Robinson deserves in this game, but I’m not sure that he was fully healthy entering the game to begin with. UCLA’s gameplan seemed to eschew the QB runs and scrambles from DTR that had become more common in recent weeks, instead opting for more traditional run plays and quarterback drops in the pocket. Frankly, that just does not play to DTR’s skillset at this point in time, and asking him to do things that he struggles with repeatedly is a recipe for disaster.
That said, there were still some mind-numbingly bad plays from Thompson-Robinson in this game, especially once any sort of pressure appeared. And while it is absolutely fair to note that UC Berkeley was able to get pressure seemingly at-will thanks to another disappointing performance from the Bruin offensive line, it is more than a bit disconcerting that in 12 games DTR never learned to not run straight back in an attempt to avoid pressure. And again, while it is again fair to note that the UCLA offensive gameplan did DTR no favors by once-again reverting to long-developing passing routes instead of quick passes to combat the Berkeley pressure, DTR took a few sacks where he had ample opportunity to just throw the ball away.
Running Backs: B
Shout outs for the final time to Joshua Kelley, who did what he could in spite of a host of factors all working against him. I have a feeling that his hurdle of a Berkeley defender on UCLA’s first touchdown drive of the game is going to live on in highlight packages for a good while, and while his 19 carries for 76 yards doesn’t seem like a lot (despite averaging a solid 4.0 YPC), it did put him over 1000 yards for the year, which isn’t an easy thing to do, especially considering the state of everything surrounding him.
Demetric Felton was a non-factor in the run game, but his seven catches for 60 yards highlighted just how miscast he was as a secondary back in this system, instead being a strong slot presence that is a threat every time he touches the ball.
UCLA made a concerted effort to get another wide receiver involved, as Chase Cota had his best performance since the Washington State game, going for six catches for 70 yards. Beyond him, it was the typical tandem of Devin Asiasi (eight catches for 99 yards) and Kyle Philips (five catches for 68 yards) doing their usual damage when able to. Those three actually form a solid nucleus for the passing game, and while you’d hope they have a bigger impact, this wasn’t a bad performance against what has been an excellent Berkeley secondary.
Offensive Line: D
It’s maybe a bit concerning that the offensive line did not look notably improved from how it was in the first game of the season, but that’s where we’re at here. Berkeley was able to get six sacks in this game, and probably would have had more than eight tackles for loss had Joshua Kelley not been rather adept at fighting through hits and getting back to the line. In general, the line had issues holding up to the sustained pressure, and once Berkeley realized they could consistently generate pressure without having to send extra bodies, the game was essentially over. It certainly did not help that Boss Tagaloa got hurt in his final game, but at least we got to see what the backup and potential future of the center position is going to be for the Bruins in Sam Marrazzo.
On the one hand, UCLA actually gained 401 yards on the UC Berkeley defense, which would be considered a good offensive day against the Bears. But the Bruins really struggled to get things going in most of their drives, and were especially done in by a combination of poor line play and poor quarterback play. That’s going to stop most teams from seeing success, and it definitely stopped the Bruins from being successful.
There’s a larger discussion to be had about running a ball control offense despite not having the development at key positions required to be successful, but that’s for another time.
Run Defense: D
Credit to the UCLA defense: they found a new way to struggle this week, as UC Berkeley was able to run over the Bruins to the tune of 182 yards on 36 carries. Chris Brown Jr. was an absolute force for the Bears, averaging 6.2 YPC on his 18 carries en route to 111 yards and two touchdowns. The Bruins allowed seven chunk runs of 10+ yards, which is rough sledding for what was the relative strength of the unit. It really felt like this unit wore down as the game progressed, which is backed up by five of those chunk runs taking place in the second half.
I will point out that the run defense absolutely missed Krys Barnes, as despite his flaws he had developed into UCLA’s best linebacker, especially against the run. Bo Calvert saw his first action of the year after being suspended for most of the season, and he looked the part of a rusty linebacker who struggled on the inside.
Pass Defense: D-
Honestly, if Chase Garbers was one of the top quarterbacks in the conference, this game would have been nowhere near as close, but thankfully Garbers has some flaws that prevented Berkeley from really blowing this game up.
That said, he really had his way with the UCLA secondary, and in a way that would be concerning if this was a midseason game, but has become all too common at this point. One wonders how much the loss of Quentin Lake really affected this unit, but the truth is that every single player regressed from where they were last season. Darnay Holmes went from UCLA’s best bet at being a 1st round draft pick to looking very much like a player who will be back next year. Elijah Gates and Stephan Blaylock looked unplayable at times. It was really an awful year from this unit, and this game was a pretty good microcosm of those issues.
I think you could easily make the case that this was UCLA’s best defensive performance since the second bye week. Considering the previous two games were the blowout loss to Utah and the record-setting rolling over against Southern Cal, that’s not exactly a high bar to clear, and UCLA actually kept Berkeley out of the end zone on seven of their 11 drives.
That said, UCLA gave up 28 points and 412 yards to what is one of the worst offenses in the country (the Berkeley offense ended the season ranked 100th in SP+). That’s just not good any way you slice it, and the Bears got things done both on the ground and through the air. Utah and Southern Cal had already made the case that UCLA’s defensive talent was at a disadvantage compared to the top end programs in the conference, but this performance showcased just how unprepared the unit is for success.
Honestly, nothing to complain about from a player production standpoint. J.J. Molson made his only kick. Wade Lees averaged 44 yards on his five punts and placed four of them inside the 20. Demetric Felton averaged 22 yards on his three kick returns, and the Bruins played well in limiting anything the Bears may have wanted to do in the return game.
I have a slight gripe with special teams, which is that the return units got way less aggressive as the season progressed, an odd trend considering the Washington State comeback was keyed by a kick return and punt return, but that’s maybe something that can get more focus during the season recap.
Offensive Gameplan: C-
It really felt like Chip Kelly was playing the “hits” from a disappointing season in this one. Let’s just list them out:
- The offense did that thing where it gets through the scripted opening and immediately starts stalling out.
- A focus on inside zone to the detriment of the run game.
- A successful strategy (passing over the middle to Asiasi) abandoned for the middle portion of the game, and returned to too late.
- A lack of creative options to limit opponent pressure on the offensive line.
Really, the only new wrinkle in this game was that Thompson-Robinson seemed to be avoiding running with the football, which is less a wrinkle and more of an ironing, as it removed an option that Berkeley had to prepare for. The defense has, rightfully, been the center of attention from Bruin fans, but the offensive issues are maybe more concerning, since those issues are top-down from the head coach rather than an underachieving defensive coaching staff.
Defensive Gameplan: D-
This is a D- if only because UCLA at least attempted something new for a bit, trying to bring extra pressure in an attempt to disrupt the Berkeley offense. It, of course, didn’t work, and even led to a touchdown on a screen pass as UCLA went for an all-out blitz, but at least it was something.
Of course, part of what helped Berkeley was that UCLA did a poor job of masking when they wanted to bring pressure, and they constantly had safety valves available to make UCLA pay. But then again, that shouldn’t be surprising at this point. I’ve just run out of ways to talk about the underachieving performance of the defense this year. I’m moving on.
So much of what I want to say about the coaching is, unfortunately, going to be saved for the season review Eye Test, so let me be quick here and point out that two years into the Chip Kelly era, Justin Wilcox and his staff was able to run circles around him. That’s a problem, and not what most were expecting upon his hiring, so UCLA fans are stuck in the terrible situation where the expectations of what a Chip Kelly-coached team should look like, and the current reality.
As for this specific grade, a lot of it has to do with the defense being bad. Sorry, but them’s the breaks.
First off, five penalties for 46 yards isn’t bad, but considering three of those penalties came from the secondary committing them so as not to get burned or give up a touchdown, it becomes less fine. Throw in the missed tackles (spoiler: there were a lot of them) on top of the offensive line/QB problems, and you end up with one last uninspiring game as far as a preparation standpoint is concerned.
I guess if there is a good thing that can be leaned on, it’s that the receivers again were solid when the ball actually got to them. That particular bugaboo of the Jim Mora era appears to have slowly faded away, which is nice.
Offense grade: C (2.0)
Defensive grade: D- (0.7)
Special Teams grade: A- (3.7)
Coaching grade: D (1.0)
Discipline grade: D+ (1.3)
Final grade for UC Berkeley Bears: C- (1.74)
For reference, here are the grades UCLA has received this year:
Southern Cal Trojans: D+ (1.48)
Honestly, that feels about right. Notice that the scores are eerily similar to the Cincinnati game, with the offense and defense switched? I don’t think that’s a coincidence (and I promise I only noticed that after I put all the graphs together). It’s hard to look at this UCLA team and see the growth that you would expect to happen during the season. If anything, it was very Jim Mora-esque; the team at the beginning was similar to the team at the end. The only difference was that Mora was operating with a higher talent level, so his floor was much higher. Theoretically Chip Kelly’s ceiling is much higher than Jim Mora’s, but as we’re seeing, that variance goes both ways.
Anyway, that’s enough from me for now. You’ll see me in a week or so with a season-long Eye Test wrap where I look at the general trends and figure out where we go from here.