That was the formula that UCLA should have been using to win games this season, relying on the strength of the defense (the front 4 and the secondary) to just be physically better than their opponents and to allow Brett Hundley to make plays with his legs and arm on offense.
If that sounds simple, that is because it is that simple. Identities of a football team don't need to be complicated. They shouldn't be.
I don't have a to to wax poetic about regarding this 17-7 win for the UCLA Bruins to move to 7-2 (4-2 in the Pac-12) and likely into the top 20 of the College Football Playoff Rankings released later today. It was a good win and the Bruins looked pretty good winning it aside from the same issues that are just a reality at this point.
Penalties everywhere, occasional over-aggressive play on defense, frustrating play on offense with flashes of brilliance, and an NFL mentality when it comes to decision making,
One of those italicized sentences is UCLA's identity as a team. Or maybe both.
Let's get to the grades:
1.) Is our defense prepared for each and every team we play?
Easily the best defensive game of the season. Physically dominating an offense that was among the nation's leaders coming into the game. Arizona helped a bit with a few drops, but the battle between the UCLA defense and Arizona offense was won by the UCLA defensive line and the UCLA secondary.
31 rushes for 80 yards (that's 2.6 per carry). The hideous passing line of 18 completions on 48 attempts for only 175 yards.
Holding Arizona to 175 yards in 48 attempts is baffling. 3.6 yards per attempt is over a yard worse than the worst passing offense in the country is averaging this season.
The defense was credited with 10 pass breakups, 5 TFLs (2 more tackles for no gain and 6 other tackles for 1 yard), 3 sacks, an interception, a blocked FG. Even those drops by Arizona were on plays where UCLA had defenders within a yard of making the tackle and often short of the 1st down marker, so it isn't like there were hundreds of yards left on the field because Arizona's WRs had an off night.
No one player had an amazing stat line and Eric Kendricks and Myles Jack had just one tackle each through about 58 minutes of the game To be fair, Kendricks probably had around 7 or 8 tackles in reality. Stat keeper for the Bruins was extremely bad comparing what I am watching to what is listed on UCLA Athletic Site. He also had a dominant end to the drive that ended in a blocked FG with a great open field tackle, a sack and penetration on the blocked FG.
The Bruins defense finally got some missed FG luck though. College kickers convert somewhere around 65-70% of their attempts. The kickers that UCLA has faced had made 11 out of 12 attempts prior to this game. That's 91.6%. Even after Arizona went 0-2, the opponent percentage is still 78.5%, well above average.
The blocked FG helped, but those are mostly fluke occurrences in football.
The front four deserves special praise.
Eddie Vanderdoes was a machine. If NFL scouts watch this film, EDV is going to skyrocket moving forward. He's a force.
Owamagbe Odighizuwa, Ellis McCarthy, Kenny Clark, Isaako Savaiinaea, Takkarist McKinley, Aaron Wallace, Eli Ankou all played at a high level.
Deon Hollins had easily his best game as a Bruin. Flashed so much more than his stat line shows, in both the run and pass game.
Some notable pressures on pass plays:
3rd and 7, opening drive. Great play call and design of a stunt. McKinley goes from outside the left tackle to the A-gap and has a free rush on Solomon. Misses the sack by not slowing his feet down to make a sound tackle.
1st and 10, opening drive on the TD pass. Owamagbe Odighizuwa beats Arizona's left tackle instantly with a grip and rip to the outside. This would have been an easy sack if Anthony Jefferson hadn't gotten burned at the snap also.
I don't have an issue giving the defense an A- (3.7). It would have been just a straight A if not for the mental mistakes on the opening drive.
2.) Do we call offensive plays to catch our opponents off guard?
Arizona might have the player having the best individual season of anyone in the NCAA in Scooby Wright. That dude is just in a zone right now that is tough to describe unless you have felt that way doing something. It is as though you can do no wrong, your instincts on the field are blending with your work off the field, technique is sharp.
Other than Wright, this is not a good defense. 60th in points per game (they'd been allowed over 27 points prior to this one), 94th in yards per game, 73rd in yards per play, 68th in 3rd down conversions, a decent run defense at 49th in yards per carry (about equal to UCLA and Southern Cal), 120th in opponent completion percentage (66.56%, which is insane for a ranked team to allow), 116th in passing yards allowed (293 yards), 92nd in yards per attempt (7.5),
Despite this, UCLA put up a day below their season average. Just 460 yards on 85 plays. That is a perfectly respectable day, but there was a ton of points and yards left on the field.
The Jumbo package needs to be either severely retooled or scrapped all together. I would lean towards the latter. It was probably the most exciting thing about last season, but it wasn't that tough to figure out. Either Jack is getting the ball on a Power, or Vanderdoes is getting a FB dive up the middle or there is going to be a bad play-fake to Jack (because Myles Jack is awful at selling that he has the ball if he doesn't have it) with a rollout the other way that has three options, one of which is a 300 pound defensive tackle.
It surprises no one, it is significantly less effective than the normal offense, even in short yardage (which is what I trumpeted for all offseason, as opposed to more feature role for Jack on offense). It knocks the offense off rhythm, which is the most important part of this offense.
It is really frustrating to watch Hundley have to go to each defensive player and explain what is happening despite the fact that there are only three plays to run in this package.
Punting on a 4th and 1 at the Arizona 46-yard line when Jordon James and Nathan Starks looked phenomenal for the first 8 plays of the drive and Brett Hundley is your QB. Awful decision when down 7-3. Cowardly and all that jazz.
I say the offense gets a C+ (2.3) in this one.
3.) Do our players look like they know what they should be doing at all times?
Deon Hollins on the opening drive:
Gets jipped out of a tackle on the first play when it was basically his solo tackle. Credited to Kenny Clark who lands on top after Hollins had come flat down the line.
Second play forces a iffy throw by Anu Solomon by pursuing to close the gap between him and the QB on the rollout and also keeping outside leverage so Solomon cannot beat him around the edge.
Third play, beats the RT around the edge and would have had a shot at a half sack if Takkarist McKinley weren't overaggressive.
Devin Lucien and Devin Fuller run into each other on a 3rd and 2 that ends up with Brett Hundley being sacked. This actually happened.Totally blows up the play when 2 out of the 4 options eliminate one another in under 2 seconds.
Arizona runs the exact same play they used to score a TD on their first series on a 3rd and 9 on their 3rd series. The Bruins defense gets quick pressure again by McKinley off the left side but with good help defense over the top by Tahaan Goodman (who I like as a deep safety much more than as a box safety). Incompletion. Good adjustment on D.
A situation where being overaggressive as a pass rusher was 100% the right thing to do on AU's first drive by Deon Hollins. it was 3rd and 19 from the Arizona 10-yard line. They try a playfake but Hollins just goes straight for Solomon. Totally the right thing to do. If he hands off, it goes for 10 yards, that's fine. Instead Hollins forces Solomon to throw a bad pass in a 3rd and long situation.
As always, the penalties are taken on a play-by-play basis:
1. Illegal substitution on UCLA's defense on a 1st and 10 on the opening drive. Substitutions against Arizona's offense that doesn't substitute. There is not enough time to do this. Ellis McCarthy is about 3 steps from the sideline when the ball is snapped. McCarthy wasn't dogging it either. Gets from the opposite hash to nearly the sideline in about 5 seconds. More on the coaching decision there than the player.
2. Kenny Clark (not really his fault) nearly costs the Bruins 5 yards on a 3rd and 6. UCLA calls a timeout, but had 12 men on the field again on the 1st drive of the game. Were they not aware that Rich Rodriguez runs a fast paced offense? You can't put packages in on every 3rd down against a team that doesn't substitute.
3. Myles Jack gets called for a personal foul after the Bruins stop Arizona on 3rd and 6 on the opening drive. Anthony Jefferson makes an outstanding play on the ball to break up a pass that would have been short even if it was caught. Jefferson gets up excited, barks at the WR Christian Jones a bit but not to the point of taunting. Myles Jack comes from the other side of the field, walks in front of Jones (with a ref just a few yards away) and mouths off as Jones is walking to the sideline. Just an idiotic play, deserved to be taken out for at least a play to get chewed out.
4. Myles Jack gets a facemask penalty because he overpursues Terris Jones-Grigsby on a 3rd and 7. This should have been a TFL. Jack reads the play perfect. It almost looks like he broke down the play too quickly because he breaks for the area where the play is going before the play actually gets there. This gives him a bad angle on the runner and he grabs hold of what he can instead of making a body tackle.
5. Jake Brendel tackles Arizona's nose guard on a 2nd and 10. Forces UCLA into a 2nd and 20, which is a drive killing situation. Did not need to do this. He wasn't beaten that badly and it was a 3-man front with a ton of cushion in the middle of the field.
6. Cameron Judge blocks an Arizona punt coverage player in the back on a big Ishmael Adams punt return. Goes down as a 10 yard penalty, but it was about a 40 yard penalty in reality. Block in the back was not necessary to get the yardage.
7. On that same punt return a holding penalty gets declined, so two separate penalties on one play, neither of which were necessary for the play to be successful.
8. A holding penalty by Scott Quessenberry. He whiffs getting to the 2nd level to try and block Scooby Wright. Grabs a hold as he goes by.
9. Defensive holding on Fabian Moreau. It happened, just an incidental thing but it was a penalty. UCLA goes from stopping Arizona on a 3rd down to giving up another 1st down.
10. Kenny Clark gets a personal foul for hands to the face while being double-teamed on a run to the other side of the field. If any penalty were going to warrant criticism in this game, it would be this one. Had zero impact on the play, stuff like that happens often.
11. Holding by Jordan Payton (or Payton Jordan if you are illiterate). Gets beat on a screen pass and overcompensates with a hold. Turns a short gain on 2nd and 5 into a 2nd and 13.
12. A declined holding penalty on Alex Redmond who came in on the last drive of the 1st half for some reason. Would have made it a 2nd and 18 from the UCLA 5-yard line instead of 3rd and 11 from the UCLA 11-yard line. He gets beat and tackles his man. Arizona declined this penalty and they probably should not have.
13. A holding penalty by Tyler Scott on the 2nd play of the 2nd half. I know you have heard this question before, but WHY IS TYLER SCOTT ON THE FIELD ON THE SECOND PLAY OF THE SECOND HALF WHEN UCLA IS LOSING? The level of cognitive dissonance shown by the offensive staff with the walk-on WRs is extraordinary.
14. Caleb Benenoch with a holding penalty on UCLA's first drive of the 4th quarter. Just let his guy get turned around and didn't let go. It happens. UCLA had to convert a 1st and 20, but they did end up getting the 1st down on a Brett Hundley run on 3rd and 16 conversion.
There was a great deal of good here on both sides of the ball, but so much bad in the penalty department. Going C (2.0), passing but worrisome.
4.) Do our players play for 60 G-D minutes every game?
Effort was there on both sides of the ball, there was probably too much at the start of the game. B+ (3.3)
5.) Do our players execute?
Eddie Vanderdoes is a physical specimen. He does things on the field that shouldn't happen. On a 2nd a 10 on the first drive, he knocks down an Arizona's left tackle with a one arm press on a zone run, continues crashing down the line and makes a tackle for a short gain. That type of strength is genetic.
He does the exact same thing on AU's 3rd possession except with a legit chest press to get separation and throw the LT on the ground to the side as he makes the tackle.
Even on that one Arizona scoring drive, UCLA physically won the drive on defense. Even counting the wasted timeout, the substitution penalty and the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, it should have been a stop for a FG attempt. Two for sure sacks and a TFL that fall through because of overaggressive pursuit and a defensive back getting beat deep on press coverage. Frustrating.
Really poor throw by Hundley on a 2nd and 20 pass to Mossi Johnson. Put way too much on the ball. Would have probably been a 1st down and bailed out Brendel's drive killing holding penalty.
Discipline combined with athleticism in the right way by Deon Hollins on his TFL in this game. I said this earlier, but he balled the F out in this game. If he is on that level for three downs in the run and pass game, UCLA's defense is going to be a problem.
Caleb Benenoch putting in work on the likely Pac-12 DPOY. On Paul Perkins 13-yard run. shows what he should be doing at guard. Getting a head of steam and moving people. Dude puts Scooby Wright on skates for 9 yards, actually ends up driving him so far downfield that Wright makes the tackle.
Vanderdoes being down blocked by the RG of Arizona, uses his left arm to create separation and makes a tackle at the line of scrimmage on an off tackle play to the left side. Again, this is not a play that defensive tackles should be making. EDV is so absurdly talented.
Defensive line in general swatted or got a hand on at least three passes in this game. Owa, McKinley and Isaako Savaiinaea all got their hands up to make a play.
Tyler Scott came in for Mossi Johnson for whatever reason after 1 play in the 2nd half and proceed to commit a holding penalty, whiff on a block on a swing pass that got Perkins tackled for no gain, ran a sloppy route or two, I am sure he worked hard enough in practice that it doesn't matter how bad he shows he is in games.
Some observations about the dropped passes, sacks, fumbles, interceptions and missed tackles:
Takkarish McKinley misses a sack on 3rd and 7 on the opening drive. Great stunt and execution of the stunt, McKinley comes from outside the left tackle to the A-gap and has a free shot on Solomon. Totally whiffs. If he settles his feet, either he or Deon Hollins off the edge make the play or at least force a throw under pressure. Instead Solomon scrambles for 10 and a 1st down.
Paul Perkins swing pass that went incomplete on UCLA's first offensive drive, not a good throw by Hundley (too much velocity for a swing pass with that much cushion by the Arizona DBs) but probably a catchable ball. Would have had a lot of room to work with. Should be an easy throw and that is on Hundley, but UCLA's skill position guys rarely help Hundley out with these plays.
1st sack was caused because Lucien and Fuller ran into each other on shallow crossing routes. 2nd sack was good coverage and an outstanding play in pursuit by Scooby Wright. Dude is just in the zone. Open field tackle by diving at Hundley's ankles does not happen often. 3rd sack was a coverage sack with a spy making a great open field tackle again.
Devin Fuller bobbles a ball on a 3rd and 3 where he catches the ball beyond the marker but the bobble takes him behind the line. Offense looked great on this drive with Paul Perkins out of the game. This drive would have ended in points.
Borderline drop by Devin Fuller on a beautiful deep ball by Hundley. Went through his hands against good coverage. Teams that win championships have players that catch that pass. I don't lower my standards of this being a championship level team despite the results. You want the hype, you get the standards. Catch this pass or get called out for underperforming relative to talent.
Brett Hundley's fumble was mostly just a fluke thing. Knee happened to hit dead on the ball as he was falling to stay in bounds and keep the clock running. This is an overblown concern, Hundley doesn't have ball security issues. Don't stress it as a fan, there are plenty of more worthwhile things to be worried about.
I liked the execution here, to be honest. Saw lots of consistent flashes of the potential this defense has and some good stuff from parts of the offense as well. B (3.0)
6.) Do we have leaders on the field?
It was a genuine team effort on the defensive side of the ball. So there were about 20 different leaders by example on that side.
Brett Hundley put this offense on his back once again on a night where he wasn't on his A-game. But an A+ performance when you only have your B-stuff is admirable as hell. This is the best QB in the history of UCLA football. I understand what Cade McNown did and that Gary Beban won the Heisman and that Troy Aikman threw for 40+ TDs and 5000+ yards in two years in the 80s and that Steve Bono beat Miami in the Fiesta Bowl and all the accolades of Tom Ramsey, Rick Neuheisel, John Sciarra and the like. I get that.
None of those players has lifted a program out of the state that UCLA was in when Brett Hundley took over. He turned a laughingstock program into a program that is no longer a sleeping giant. Merely a giant that keeps hit the snooze button on the day of the big giant football games (that analogy kind of flamed out, I'm aware).
The most important position to a team's success in any sport is quarterback, outside of maybe the goalie in hockey. Brett Hundley exceeding expectations in his career (and, yes, he has done that at UCLA without question. Did anyone assume the QB from Chandler, Arizona would be holding almost all of UCLA's QB records when he signed his LOI?) has put UCLA back in the conversation.
Just imagine what he could have done here with an offense with another comparable NFL-level skill position player.
I give Brett Hundley, the offensive line aside from the penalties and the team defense in this game an A (4.0).
Final Grade Card for the Arizona Wildcats
1.) Is our defense prepared for each and every team we play? A- (3.7)
2.) Do we call offensive plays to catch our opponents off guard? C+ (2.3)
3.) Do our players look like they know what they should be doing at all times? C (2.0)
4.) Do our players play for 60 G-D minutes every game? B+ (3.3)
5.) Do our players execute? B (3.0)
6.) Do we have leaders on the field? A (4.0)
Arizona GPA: B (3.1)
For reference, the GPA in UCLA's previous win over Colorado was a C (2.2). The Bruins two losses to Oregon, a D+ (1.3), and Utah, a C-/D+ (1.6), were good comparisons to this game. The win over Arizona State was a B+ (3.4), which is still the high mark of 2014. The wins over UC Berkeley C+ (2.5), Texas C (2.2), Memphis C (2.2) and Virginia C+ (2.5) all saw UCLA look exceptionally mediocre.
Despite a slightly lower grade than the Arizona State game, this was UCLA's best game of the year by my eyes. If the defense plays at close to this level the rest of the season, there is no reason that UCLA shouldn't win out to go 10-2 in the regular season and end up around #10-13 range in the College Football Playoff Poll going into a matchup against a top 4 team in the Pac-12 Championship game (with a little help from ASU dropping another game).