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The "Eye Test": Bruins Go To New Jack City And Tame Wildcats

Grading out the finer details of UCLA's 31-26 victory over the Arizona Wildcats to see if UCLA football is meeting expectations.

Shaq Evans catches a touchdown pass in UCLA Bruins' 31-26 victory over the Arizona Wildcats
Shaq Evans catches a touchdown pass in UCLA Bruins' 31-26 victory over the Arizona Wildcats
Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

I'm not totally sold on whether that headline is clever or lame.

Anyway, I'm not a fan of historical stats out of context. I saw a lot of credence put in the "UCLA hasn't won at Arizona since 2003" this week and that is totally fine if you think that has meaning to a program. From my playing days, history meant nothing if I had not been a direct part of it. No incoming freshman cared how the team from my freshman year did the last time we traveled to the University of Redlands and I didn't care what teams from 2003 did. In the NFL, sure. Those things can have significance because the players can be on one team for 10 years. Division opponents play home-and-home series every year.

College football isn't like that, in my opinion. Put this in perspective, Anthony Barr's first game at the Zoo was Saturday night. He's been at UCLA for 4 years.

What I took away from Saturday's 31-26 victory over Arizona is that UCLA won a conference game on the road against a good opponent. Those games are hard for everyone to win, good teams win games like the one that was played Saturday night. The goal for this season is to win out. With this game out of the way, UCLA might not have to leave California again this season, including a potential bowl game. The Bruins maintain control over their own destiny.

Without further adieu, let's get to the grades.

1.) Is our defense prepared for each and every team we play?

The total yards and points are both higher than the season averages for the Bruins, but held Arizona under their season totals in rushing yards (about 30 yards and half a yard per carry) and total offense (about 40 yards under) and well under their scoring offense (9 points under).

The rushing defense was actually solid in the first half, limiting Ka'Deem Carey to just 59 yards on 16 carries (an outstanding 3.7 yards per carry). The scheme was to make Carey earn his yardage and force BJ Denker to beat UCLA with either his arm or his legs. Denker actually did a nice job in the first half at creating offense, rushing for 38 yards on 5 carries (almost 8 YPC), converting two first downs.

The second half was a different story as Carey rushed for 90 yards on 12 carries (7.5 yards per carry), with two 20+ yard runs on Arizona's first drive of the 4th quarter that made the score 24-19. But the Bruins mostly shut down Denker in the running game, just 44 yards on 11 carries, converting 2 first downs on one drive in the 3rd quarter and not another. The Wildcats offense ran away from Anthony Barr all game, and I'll touch on that in detail later.

The secondary was picked apart a little bit by extremely quick throws by Denker. The pass rush was there a lot of the time, but you can't get to any QB at the speed Denker was releasing the ball or rolling backwards.

I'm not overly impressed by what the UCLA defense did in this game because it is hard for me to get behind the "bend-but-don't-break" defense in any situation. I also have to give the defensive players credit here because the defensive players were the key to the offense on two scoring drives. Tough to prepare for one of the best runners in the country while also installing an offensive package from scratch.

That "doffense" ran 10 offensive plays, while the Wildcats ran 80 plays. Counting special teams, which are almost exclusively defensive players, it is realistic that Myles Jack and Jordan Zumwalt came close to 100 snaps in this game. Players like Eddie Vanderdoes, Kenneth Clark, Keenan Graham and Cassius Marsh likely cleared 70 themselves, accounting for D-line rotations. That's a lot of reps in 60 minutes.

No matter how many snaps they played, the defense still played an average game. Feel comfortable with a B- (2.7) here.

2.) Do we call offensive plays to catch our opponents off guard?

At the start of the game this seemed like it was going to be a no-doubt A+, with a 66-yard TD pass from Brett Hundley to Shaq Evans on the first play from scrimmage. This was the most consistent the offense has played since the Nebraska game. It still felt like a lot of points were left on the board.

Arizona has a pretty solid defense without having a ton of talent. Even accounting for UCLA's 36 points, the Wildcats rank 30th in the nation at just 22 PPG. Part of that is a weak schedule, but they do a nice job.

The passing game looked solid and seems like something UCLA will be able to lean on going forward, as Brett Hundley was efficient, confident and had great ball placement throughout. He ended up going 18-25 for 227 yards with 2 touchdowns, while the majority of his 56 yards rushing (definitely the 15-yard TD run) also came on passing plays. That number should have been boosted even more if not for drops by Shaq Evans and Devin Lucien and a miscommunication on a route between Darius Bell and Hundley. Evans looked explosive and played at a high level throughout the game, was open quite a bit and 4 catches for 97 yards and 2 TDs.

The rushing game is an issue as it has been since Jordon James' injury. The replacement running backs once again looked average all around. Damien Thigpen flashed at times. Paul Perkins is what he is at this point in the year, carrying 16 times for 56 yards isn't going to cut it. Malcolm Jones may not have recorded a snap of any kind and both Jordon James and Steven Manfro were hurt and will likely not be 100% again this season.

Thank goodness for the "doffense" because before Myles Jack's 66-yard TD run, UCLA's running backs rushed for just 5 yards on 7 carries in the second half and ended up with 31 yards on 13 carries aside from Jack in the 2nd half.

Overall though, lightyears ahead of where they've been the last few weeks. The offense actually outplayed the defense, with some help from 7 defensive players. I will say that if Hundley plays this way or better against Washington, Arizona State and Southern Cal, UCLA will win the Pac-12 South. B+ (3.3).

3.) Do our players look like they know what they should be doing at all times?

Penalties seemed like they were almost a non-issue in this one, with UCLA committing zero in the first half. Then the second half happened and UCLA committed 5 for 54 yards and gave Arizona's offense 2 first downs on defense.

Let's take a closer look at each one.

1. (not enforced) Ineligible man downfield on the fake punt pass from Sean Covington to Myles Jack. This actually shouldn't have been a flag, since Jack was well behind the line of scrimmage when he was thrown the ball. But SPTRs threw it anyway, not that it made a difference because Covington overthrew Jack.

2. A hold on the kickoff return team, made UCLA start from the 12 instead of the 22. This would have been a non-issue if Devin Fuller had just taken a knee in the endzone, but that is neither here nor there.

3. 3rd and 13, PI on Ishmael Adams. If I'm officiating, it's a no call. But I can see why they threw it on Adams, negated an interception and gave Arizona a first down on a TD drive. This penalty also should have been a non-factor if UCLA had declined a hold on Arizona the play before to give them a 3rd and 13 instead of a 4th and 2. No way I can see RichRod not punting there. Poor decision by the coaching staff, especially in hindsight.

4. Personal foul on Anthony Jefferson. Stupid penalty, hit Denker after he had slid down. Very undisciplined and gave Arizona a first down on the other side of the 50.

5. Holding on Caleb Benenoch took away a scramble for a first down by Brett Hundley. Would have been a big 3rd down conversion late in the game to keep the clock moving while up 31-26. Instead, Benenoch gets destroyed at the snap and tackles a defender freely rushing Hundley, UCLA goes 3-and-out and gives the ball right back to Arizona.

6 (not enforced). Offensive pass interference on Devin Fuller, penalty was declined because Shaq Evans dropped a first down. But the penalty would have negated that positive play.

7. Offsides on a 3rd and 9 by Anthony Barr gave a 3rd and 4 instead of a 4th and 9. UCLA stopped the next play, so this didn't impact the game at all.

So, while penalties were not as big an issue as they had been all year, these unforced errors still hurt. This was also a very poorly officiated game as the officials missed several blatant fouls by both sides. The Arizona left tackle actually tackled or attempted to tackle Anthony Barr twice, Brett Hundley almost had his head torn off from a missed facemask on a sack late in the game where he came to the sideline with his cheek bleeding. I'm sure the Wildcats could point out some calls the other way because I saw a few. The Pac-12 refs are embarrassing in every national game the Pac-12 has (except the well officiated Oregon-UCLA game, though Duck fans could argue about some no calls on Jordan Zumwalt). Need to be addressed, Commissioner.

You have to give some praise for the offensive scheme in this game. I've been one of Noel Mazzone's harshest critics, but he showed some ingenuity and called one of his best games of the year. I loved the Darius Bell motion QB sneak, the "doffense" runs and the pass to Zumwalt, utilizing the seam with Bell late in the game, running deeper routes over the middle to Devin Lucien, Thomas Duarte and a wide open Shaq Evans, the deep ball to Evans to start the game, even the fake punt was an outstanding play that was executed terribly. This is the highest marks to the offense in quite some time.

Defensively, I understood the reasoning behind the scheme and it worked in the first half fairly well. Forcing a subpar QB like BJ Denker to beat you instead of Ka'Deem Carey. Had UCLA converted to Jack and driven down to go up 21-3 instead of giving Arizona the ball at the 30-yard line on that fake punt, this game could have looked a lot like last season's game. Instead, it became a game of UCLA keeping Arizona from recovering from an early deficit. The secondary struggled in the second half.

One thing I'm pointing out here is Anthony Barr's play on defense. I'm going to catch flak for this and I am ready to defend it. I feel like Barr might have had his best game of the season in this game and did not play badly in any capacity. I watched it back on replay to confirm what I saw, and still feel the same. He routinely obliterated the Wildcats left tackle at the snap, was solid in run defense and coverage opportunities and was clearly assigned to attack Carey on zone reads instead of being a true "read" option for Denker.

I'll list a few situations from the game to illustrate my point. The Wildcats ran designed runs (non-read options) to Barr's side five times in the entire game. He blew up one play on 4th down, another he played fine and Kendricks lost the ball, another was the fumble by Carey at the goal line (a good fill by Barr to bounce Carey outside and give everyone more time to rally), one play Barr does his job but the ILBs are nowhere to be found and Carey gets 22 yards and on the last one Barr squeezes the inside run perfect but he and Marsh don't wrap up Carey and he gets 8 yards instead of 2.

3rd and 10, 11:20 left in the 1st: Screen pass away from Barr, he's the only pass rusher to read the play. Chases it down from the backside to finish the tackle that Kendricks made. Probably should have been an assist, but a nice play.

3rd and 8, 9:20 left in the 1st: Barr beats the tackle at the snap, gets clearly held and Denker scrambles for a first down instead of getting sacked or at least heavily pressured by Barr. Zumwalt also gets a nice rush from the other side.

4th and inches, 7:28 left in the 1st: The TE attempts to seal block Barr on a run up the middle, Barr drives him down the line of scrimmage and into the fullback, blowing up the play, allowing Eric Kendricks and Goforth to get the stop. This play was made possible by Barr and was a huge play in the game.

3rd and 7, 6:20 left in the 2nd: Barr blows up a screen pass, forces a terrible throw by Denker with his quick pressure. ESPN missed this showing a replay.

1st and 10, 6:10 left in the 3rd: Barr beats a tackle trying to seal him, forces Denker to run back and around him and forces a bad throw. It doesn't look good on film because Denker accelerates around him, but Barr blows up another screen.

2nd and 20, 4:40 left in the 3rd. Barr blows by the tackle, Denker has to stay in the pocket and throws an inaccurate ball. Pressure from lots of guys on that play.

3rd and 20, 4:37 left in the 3rd. Barr reads another screen perfectly, this one to his side, and Denker throws an inaccurate ball.

3rd and 3, 13:50 left. Barr blows by the LT on first move, rushes Denker's throw. UCLA gets a stop on 3rd down to force a 4th and 2; but accepts a holding penalty for some reason.

3rd and 13, 13:40 left: Barr again blows by the LT and pressure from everywhere rushes Denker and he throws a pick, but the PI call happens and the drive continues.

2nd and 2, 13:04 left: Barr blows up a TE attempting to down block him on the backside, a diving Keenan Graham keeps Barr from crashing down the line. Carey gains 24 yards.

2nd and 12, 8:05 left: Barr gets off the line unblocked absolutely demolish Carey's attempt to pass block, knocking three yards back off of his feet on first contact. Forcing Denker to rush his throw instead of looking downfield. Ishmael Adams misses an open field tackle badly and Arizona scores instead of gaining 4 yards.

2nd and 1, 5:57 left. Barr does an outstanding inside move to get in position to make a tackle for loss on Carey, left tackle tries to tackle him and gets called for holding.

3rd and 4, 5-ish left. Barr dominates the tackle at the snap again, gets nearly tackled again, forces Denker to scramble to his right again. No call, but an incompletion

4th and 7, 2:03 left: Barr does a beautiful dip underneath Arizona's left tackle as Denker rolls away from Barr towards a blitzing Myles Jack. The tackle doesn't get a hand on Barr at any point. This is Barr's A-move and would have gotten pressure on the biggest down of the game had Denker been inside the pocket.

No one can closely watch this film and not see a good game by Barr, he was fundamentally sound on almost every single snap.

Overall, this was an improvement over last week. But it was not perfect by any stretch. A grade of B (3.0) seems fair.

4.) Do our players play for 60 G-D minutes every game?

I feel comfortable saying yes to this question pretty easily. Which is relieving after issues with that varying on both sides of the ball over the last few weeks. Carey may have worn down the defense a bit, but the effort and tenacity was still there. Carey took some serious licks of his own for all the ones he dished out.

Offensively, the problem was with the execution of the offensive line, who had a very marginal outing. The effort was fine, they just were losing battles to inferior defenders. That's not acceptable from an execution standpoint.

I felt like the energy was visible througout the game, especially when the "doffense" was on the field. Really provided a boost to both sides of the ball. Feel good about giving this a B+ (3.3). An above average day, but not exceptional.

5.) Do our players execute?

My first focus here is always on 3rd/4th down conversion attempts, then turnovers or special teams plays, then on the little things on both sides of the ball that I feel had an impact on the outcome of the game.

First off, the offense had an average night with conversions, going 9 for 19 (at one point they were 8 of 11 in the 3rd quarter). They had a 2 drops, a conversion taken away by penalty and one kneel down to run out the clock that technically counts but shouldn't. One miss in the first half, where Arizona inexplicably gave UCLA huge cushions underneath on a 3rd and 4, where Hundley didn't get through his progressions to see the open WR at the top of the screen. This was the play right before the fake punt.

The offense only had one turnover, a fumble by Damien Thigpen that gave Arizona the ball on UCLA's half of the field. But there were several near misses, a strip of Devin Lucien just after his knee touched the ground that was overturned, a fumble by Brett Hundley that was 100% poor ball security by Brett (bounced the ball off his leg because he was carrying it like he was moving boxes from his dorm to the car). Granted, all of these took place on three consecutive offensive snaps, but they're still not acceptable.

The blocking, both pass and run blocking, was below average. Brett was forced to scramble or out of the pocket far too often. Before Saturday, Arizona had 10 sacks on the year and averaged just over 5 TFLs per game. UCLA gave up 4 sacks and 10 TFLs against the Wildcats. That's much more on the lineman than the skill position guys. The line did a poor job at the point of attack.

The defense had a better afternoon in this respect than the offense did. After nine games, the Bruins rank third in the conference in redzone defense (26 scores in 34 chances, 30th in the NCAA) and 4th in 3rd down percentage defense (tied with ASU at 34.8%). Arizona's offense went 5 out of 16 on 3rd/4th down conversions in this game and only scored points in 4 out of 6 redzone possessions.

The Bruins forced two turnovers in this game, both at critical moments in the game. The first was a beautiful forced fumble by Randall Goforth (with help from Jordan Zumwalt, Isaako Savaiinaea and Anthony Barr on the plug) that was recovered in the endzone by Myles Jack. The second was a clinching interception by Ishmael Adams (his 4th of the year, good for 2nd most in the Pac-12). Adams just flat out ran a better route than the Arizona WR.

The special teams was not flashy but solid. Nice job by Sean Covington filling in as the holder for Jerry Neuheisel. The missed fake punt by Covington was costly and poorly executed, so that has to be factored in. Shaq Evans randomly looks worse on punt returns as the year goes on, despite starting off electric. Devin Fuller has done a nice job filling in for Steven Manfro on kick returns and the kickoff and punt coverage squads continue to excel.

Overall, this was an average game, execution wise. Execution is really what kept the game from being decided before the 4th quarter. If UCLA had any semblance of a running game in the second half without needing a true freshman linebacker to play both ways, the defense would have been less tired and the score would have been not nearly as close. I'd say this was a little worse than last week's B-, so C+ (2.3) is where this settles.

6.) Do we have leaders on the field?

I feel pretty confident here focusing the attention on Brett Hundley, Myles Jack and the rest of the defensive players that contributed to the "doffense".

Hundley was outstanding. The fact that people can find critiques in a performance that produced 283 total yards on just 40 action plays is a testament to the level of talent Brett has. The pass blocking and run blocking was one of the worst games of the season to be honest if you take into account the talent level of Arizona's front seven. They were beaten at the point of attack and forced Hundley and the running backs to make multiple players miss behind the line of scrimmage. Hundley was able to, the RBs were not.

The other standout from this game has to be Myles Jack. I don't have any way to express what he did on Saturday night because I have never seen anything like it before. There are two way players in high school and Pop Warner because of athleticism and shorter games. In college, there are formations like what UCLA did last year, where Cassius Marsh or Datone Jones could catch a short TD pass. The package that Noel Mazzone debuted against Arizona, with a Diamond backfield and dual TEs with some varying combination of Eddie Vanderdoes, Kenny Clark, Cassius Marsh, Jordan Zumwalt, Brandon Willis and Keenan Graham blocking for Myles Jack at tailback was the most bizarre thing I've witnessed as a UCLA fan.

I can't recall seeing a UCLA runner ever look as physical, athletic and explosive as Jack did with the ball in his hands. It was a little bit unsettling because football is not as easy as Jack makes it looks as a true freshman. He still might be the fourth best all-around linebacker on the team, but he without a doubt has the most impact of any football player on the field. The ceiling of Myles Jack is astronomically high. If Anthony Barr was able to become one of the best linebackers in college football in just two years, imagine what Jack can do in 4 (if UCLA is lucky to keep him around that long). Appreciate the talent we get to see every week on the field for UCLA, there may very well be 15 future NFL players on this team.

This spot gets an A+ (4.0) because I have never seen a player take over a game on both offense and defense before at the level that Jack did. Hundley's high level of play is just icing.

Final Grade Card for the Arizona Wildcats

1.) Is our defense prepared for each and every team we play? B- (2.7)

2.) Do we call offensive plays to catch our opponents off guard? B+ (3.3)

3.) Do our players look like they know what they should be doing at all times? B (3.0)

4.) Do our players play for 60 G-D minutes every game? B+ (3.3)

5.) Do our players execute? C+ (2.3)

6.) Do we have leaders on the field? A+ (4.0)

Arizona GPA: B (3.1)

For reference, last week's homecoming win over Colorado came out to a 2.5 GPA and the victories over Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico State, UC Berkeley, Utah and losses to Stanford and Oregon were a 3.7, a 3.6, a 2.8, another 2.8, 2.9, 2.0 and 2.0 respectively.

This was the best overall game that UCLA has played since beating Nebraska. That bodes well for the crucial slate of games at home versus Washington and Arizona State and at the Coliseum against Southern Cal. This should be a building block for the rest of the season. Until next week, Go Bruins!