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The Eye Test: UCLA Works Out the Kinks Against the Wildcats

Grading out the finer details of UCLA's 45-24 victory over the Arizona Wildcats to see if UCLA football is meeting expectations.

NCAA Football: Arizona at UCLA Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

No big intro this week. Let’s just get into the analysis.

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

Raw stats: 387 yards total offense, only 145 through the air on a robust 4.7 YPP. But maybe bigger, only 169 of those yards came in the first half, only allowing 7 points. In addition, Arizona ended up 4 for 17 on 3rd down, and failed on their only 4th down attempt.

It’s easy to get up in arms over the second half of this game from a defensive standpoint. After all, we’ve all heard the refrain before: "UCLA always makes the backup look good!" Except this wasn’t the backup. This was the backup to the backup (and even then, Khalil Tate was 4th string to start the year, only moving up to 3rd string when Anu Solomon got injured). Khalil Tate is a true freshman that had his redshirt burned in a situation where the football game had gotten well out of hand, and he has a different skillset compared to the other Arizona quarterbacks. Every other Wildcat quarterback can run but would ideally like to beat you with their arm; Khalil Tate would like to run over you repeatedly.

Consider again that Tate came into the game fresh against a defense that suddenly had breathing room for the first time all year. No seriously: when Tate came in, UCLA was enjoying their largest lead outside of the 4th quarter since the first half against UNLV. So you can forgive the defensive unit a little for letting up against a quarterback that they had no tape on.

If you want to know how dominant UCLA’s defense was in this game when it needed to be, look no further than this: at 2:33 in the first quarter, Arizona ran a pass play for 13 yards and gained a first down. Arizona would not gain another first down until 1:27 in the second quarter, and even that first down didn’t lead to anything. And by the time Arizona got their next first down, with 8:21 to go in the third quarter, UCLA had taken a commanding 24-7 lead.

Maybe the best praise I can give is that, during the entire second quarter, I didn’t even bother with detailed notes when the defense was on the field. Arizona just couldn’t do anything offensively that entire quarter.

Also looking over the stat sheet, a lot of 2nd string guys got a significant amount of playing time in the second half (another reason for Tate looking good), which is exactly what you’d like to see to help develop those guys. Arizona was still trying to score, so those were meaningful snaps.

Defense earned a B (3.0) for this game, because, fairly or unfairly, last week set a new standard for the defense, and that’s what I have to grade against. In that regard, you have to punish the defense a bit for underachieving in the second half. But the quality of play when the game was still in doubt was enough to keep the grade at a good level.

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

I might be a bit angry because I listened to this commentary team multiple times while writing this article (it helps when identifying players quickly), but UCLA’s offensive issues in the first half weren’t a result of a good Arizona defensive gameplan, as the ESPN crew would have you believe. No, this was a case of bad execution in the first half.

UCLA had 6 drops in the first half by my count, from 6 different targets. I guess that’s what it takes for someone on the coaching staff to realize that maybe too many receivers are getting meaningful playing time. It also (combined with the injury to Ishmael Adams) seemed to be the catalyst for getting legitimately-talented wide true freshman Theo Howard on the field, an event that seemed to have the entire team fired up (and I’m basing this on my own first-hand account of watching the sideline after halftime. The entire team seemed to be talking to Howard and getting him mentally prepared). Howard rewarded the coaching staff with a touchdown on his first touch, and while he didn’t get another touch after that, it was still a good sign to see him in the rotation while UCLA’s offense began rolling.

As for the run game, I don’t know what to say at this point. It’s not very good, and it’s a combination of factors. Honestly at this point, I can’t blame the running backs in the slightest, because they really are trying to make something out of nothing on most of these plays. The interior offensive line is just a joke right now, which is even more problematic once you realize that UCLA wants to run between the tackles and pound opposing defenses now. There seems to be a schematic breakdown, because time and again Arizona was able to get multiple defenders into the backfield right away on run plays.

But even beyond that, it appears the big issue is that opposing defenses seem to have clued in to when UCLA wants to run. I took to counting how many people Arizona had in the box during a few of the run plays, and on average Arizona had at least 7 in the box most of those times, even going to 8 a lot during the 2nd quarter. I have to assume at this point that opponents have noticed something in UCLA’s tendencies that is allowing them to call run defense with a greater certainty than normal.

Still, for as bad as the offense was in the first half, here’s how the second half went:

Touchdown, Field Goal, Touchdown, Touchdown, Touchdown, End of Game

Yeah, the offense scored on every possession in the second half. There was a good mix of short passes, deep balls, and runs to keep the defense honest. It was honestly the most fun I had watching UCLA play offense all year. Turns out you just need to play a team like Arizona to help work out the kinks in your offense. It also helps to shorten up your rotations. Nate Starks saw the bulk of the carries in the second half, while UCLA mostly went with Darren Andrews and Kenny Walker as the primary receivers, with a healthy mix of the TE trio of Nate Iese, Austin Roberts, and Caleb Wilson. Howard saw the field more than he had in the previous 4 games combined, and you have to assume Jordan Lasley will join that group next week when he comes off his unannounced suspension.

The offense earned a B (3.0) for this game as well. The first half was more of an execution issue, and was bad, but the second half did a lot to show there is a possibility for good things going forward.

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

Quarter Breakdowns:


This opening. You guys, this opening. I have to give this Andy Dalton look-alike credit for trying to sell a half-empty Rose Bowl as being as rowdy as an SEC or Big 10 crowd. I was at Kyle Field this year. We aren’t even in the same conversation as far as crowds.

First Quarter

This commentary team has already decided Randall Goforth and Stephen Johnson are returning kicks for Arizona. Please kill me.

14:35 – Great contain by the Bruin defense and Jayon Brown, who funnels Dawkins inside to the waiting arms of Eddie Vanderdoes.

14:07 – Good open-field tackle by Randall Goforth. I have to point out when he does good because so often I have to point out when he does bad, like he will on the next drive.

12:58 – I’m not sure what happened with the line here, but bad recognition on where pressure was coming allowed the Arizona linebacker to have a free shot at Rosen, who somehow avoided a sack. 5 rushers against 5 blockers, and a decision to double-team on the left side left the right side vulnerable.

12:43 – QB draw, and no one on the line is able to break off their blockers, including Brown coming up. Dawkins runs right through Pickett downfield.

12:25 – McKinley immediately blows up the read-option, but I wanted to point out the good job Pickett does here. He’s coming up in run support, and once he reads the play, he continues pursuit of the QB.

12:18 – Goforth just gets beat downfield. He bites on a double-move on the scramble route. Maybe the worst part is Goforth coming up afterwards signaling that he had broken the pass up. Honestly, I’m not going to be too broken up when he’s gone after this year. He’s the most inconsistent player in the secondary.

11:14 – I’m not sure what Goforth is even doing on this play. He runs up to play a go route, but Arizona’s best receiver is instead running a wheel route, allowing him to just run past Goforth for an easy touchdown. Out of anyone in this secondary, Goforth is forced to guess at the plays to make a stop, and he gets burned here.

10:29 – Rosen just throws a good ball on a quick little seam route to Iese.

10:20 – A jet sweep! If you’re going to use Adams in the run game, this is exactly how you do it. Use his speed and put him in position to make someone miss, rather than running him up the middle.

8:18 – Just bad contain. Especially bad because 2 of the linemen end up on the ground on top of each other, and Isaako Savaiinaea just gets lazy in the middle thinking McKinley has a sure sack. Not a good look.

7:15 – I continue to be baffled why teams continue to throw anywhere near Fabian Moreau. He’s just so good in coverage. (PS, this is the second-longest drive Arizona will have all half that isn’t extended by a dumb Mora penalty).

7:01 – Jamabo just has nowhere to go on this stretch play, and ends up running out of bounds. He then follows it up by dropping a ball that hits him in the hands. He at least redeems himself with a good blitz pickup on the 3rd down pass to allow Rosen to get the pass off.

4:58 – I don’t think we talk enough about how tough Josh Rosen is. Here he knows he’s going to be hit by a blitzing linebacker, but he stands in the pocket and hits a streaking Adams.

4:25 – McDermott fires off a whole second after the snap, allowing the Arizona d-lineman to blow up the run play. I also hate this decision to punt instead of go for a fourth and inches from a coach who supposedly wants to grind teams down now.

2:33 – Oh look, Goforth goes for the big hit, doesn’t complete the tackle, and the Arizona WR gets more yards. Strange how that happens.

0:14 – Spencer Hall described Rosen as having a shiftiness that reminded him of Dan Marino, and this touchdown throw put this on display. Rosen just moves around in the pocket enough to let Kenny Walker get some separation, and then Rosen makes a beautiful pass to hit Walker in stride and get the touchdown. And again: Walker has turned into a dependable option, something I did ot see coming in the slightest coming into the year.

Second Quarter

Thank god that touchdown happened at the end of the quarter, because boy is this quarter going to suck.

13:57 – Rick Wade immediately blew up the run play as designed, and Randall Goforth forced a fumble that Arizona recovered. Fumble luck didn’t really go UCLA’s way in this game, which happens, and luckily didn’t affect the outcome.

12:58 – Massington runs a sluggo route, and Rosen gets the Arizona DB to bite with a wicked pump-fake. Rosen was really good in this game.

12:33 – I guess Walker was supposed to run a different route, because everyone offensively seemed to play a quick pass except for Walker, who just ran upfield.

6th defensive series - I don’t even know how you go about taking notes about this. The defense is just so good, and poor Brandon Dawkins was just taking clean shot after clean shot. And Arizona tried everything to keep him protected, including rolling him out and moving the pocket. UCLA’s athleticism was just on display here.

10:32 – Ball hits Andrews in the hands on a crossing route, and he just misses.

10:27 – Arizona eventually sent 6 on this play, with a second linebacker coming on a delayed blitz. The problem here is that the downfield plays were so slow to develop, and nobody got open. There is literally no route run less than 20 yards downfield, except for Nate Iese who is sitting at the line being covered and useless.

9:59 – I don’t know why you would only rush three against a quarterback like Josh Rosen, unless you were that confident in their ability to get penetration on the quarterback. Unfortunately for Arizona, they get no such penetration, and Rosen sees Andrews get open for the first.

9:32 – Arizona had 7 in the box, with safeties playing up. At this point it feels like UCLA is going to have to pass to set up the run, or mix up tendencies better, because opposing defenses are recognizing when UCLA wants to run far too often.

8:07 – Eldridge Massington lets the smaller DB knock the ball out of his hands, and even if he had caught it he wouldn’t have gotten the first down because he didn’t run far enough on the route. Jordan Lasley needs to take his reps almost yesterday.

7:17 – And now it’s Kenny Walker’s turn to drop a pass. Yes he gets hit after he catches it, but you have to secure the ball first, and Walker was already turning to run upfield.

7:11 – Scott Quessenberry….I don’t even know. He sees the Arizona defender running a twist, and doesn’t realize until it’s too late that that was his man to block. Ends up just standing around as Rosen takes a shot.

5:57 – Kenny Young has done such a good job since the UNLV game. Here he acts as the spy, and uses his elite speed to close in and stop Arizona for a loss.

8th defensive series - Again, what can Arizona do here? UCLA just goes man to man defensively, and sends pressure on almost every play. Like on the 3rd down incompletion, where UCLA sends 5 and Deon Hollins of all people gets a free run at the newly-injured and immobile quarterback. You’d think Arizona would know to have at least one blocker stop a speed guy like Hollins, but no.

2:50 – Poor Jamabo. He gets 0 chance at making anything out of this run, as the defensive line broke into the backfield at the word go.

2:11 – 8 in the box. Jamabo again can’t do anything with this. And what’s worse, Kolton Miller got injured on this play.

1:42 – This is the most egregious drop of the first half, as Mossi Johnson has space and lets the ball just go through his hands.

9th defensive series - ESPN kept cutting away from the action for some bizarre reason, so I missed the first down run (but saw the tackle!) and missed most of the fumble. This game really got the minor league production staff.

Third Quarter

13:49 – This 29 yard run by Nate Starks was longer than what UCLA had gained on the ground in the entire first half. Austin Roberts set the play up with a solid sealing block on the edge, and at this point it’s safe to say he’s the most well-rounded tight end on the roster, with Caleb Wilson right behind him.

13:31 – And then right after that great run, UCLA just lets Arizona come unblocked into the backfield to stop Starks for a loss.

12:48 – Just wow, Theo Howard. The route is a simple one, just a 3 step hook, after which Howard manages to make 2 defenders miss, then uses his elite speed to get into the end zone. Also, wach how excited his teammates are after the touchdown. Between this and #freeTheo being posted by a lot of the Bruin players after the game, it’s pretty clear how much the team likes Howard and wants him to succeed. Also shout-out to Nate Starks, who doesn’t star-watch after the pass, and gets downfield to lay a final block to free Howard.

10:36 – Normally I’d point out that Walker didn’t get a great block on his guy, but in this case he didn’t need one; just needed to slow him down enough. Walker did his job and Andrews was able to gain a decent chunk of yards.

10:00 – I don’t know how this keeps happening, but Jamabo again has no chance to even get back to the line of scrimmage on a 3rd and 1. The interior of the offensive line just looks bad against an undersized Arizona line.

6:47 – Josh Woods gets sucked in on the read, allowing Tate an easy path on the outside to get a first.

3:56 – For as rough as this drive was for the defense, Kenny Young made one hell of a stop on this 3rd down run to chase down Tate and stop him from reaching the end zone.

2:49 – Good play design. Under-center, play-action rolling out to the left, and Rosen throws across his body to hit Caleb Wilson for a 10 yard gain. The ability to throw well while throwing across your body is a talent, and Rosen’s ability to do so opens up the offense so much.

1:57 – Again play-action from under center, this time Rosen rolls out to his right. Rosen has 2 open routes to chose from, with Caleb Wilson short on a flat route, while Andrews (who gets the pass) runs a deeper out route.

0:21 – Great route from Walker, runs a quick little curl route, then is able to make a man miss. I thought he might have gotten into the end zone, but UCLA was able to score a touchdown anyway so the point is moot.

Fourth Quarter

14:24 – You know what is upsetting? To see that UCLA knows how to run a QB sneak, and waited until the 4th quarter of this game to do it, instead of the multitude of 3rd and 4th and short opportunities the past few games. Trust that your QB can move forward enough to gain a yard when necessary.

14:11 – McKinley plays the read-option perfectly after breaking into the backfield, sit patiently and waits for Tate to make a decision, then hits Tate in the backfield.

11:59 – Johnny Johnson gets a tackle credit. 2nd string getting some liberal playtime now. Rick Wade and Boss Tagaloa also seeing action right now.

11:14 – Touchdown pass was Wadood getting beaten on a broken play. McKinley missed the sack attempt, which is going to happen when you can’t get a good hold on a QB like Tate.

11:04 – Goforth gets a good run, but this return is made by Ainuu Taua, who gets a good sealing block on two Arizona defenders, breaking Goforth open down the side.

10:02 – The sideline reporter almost figures out why UCLA should have gone deep, but the real reason is that Arizona is putting 8 in the box and going single-coverage on the receivers.

8:47 – I have no idea how Rosen does this, but good lord this is an amazing pass. Rosen doesn’t get a full motion on the pass, but he has enough arm strength to place the ball perfectly to an open Walker, who’s running an in-n-up route to the corner of the end zone.

7:27 – Octavius Spencer had good coverage on the deep ball. Stays stride-for-stride with the Arizona receiver, and almost gets an interception. Also I want to yell at the color commentator for saying Adarius Pickett, who STARTED THE GAME AND PLAYED A MAJORITY OF THE DEFENSIVE SNAPS, was getting an opportunity to play late in the game. Boy this crew was bad.

7:10 – Power set, Najee Toran just immediately gets blown up inside, and it’s all Jamabo can do to get out of the end zone and avoid a safety.

5:35 – Play-action works beautifully here, and Rosen throws a great ball into zone coverage to Andrews.

4:57 – It had to happen eventually, but Rosen finally underthrew a deep ball in this game. Luckily for him the defender couldn’t corral it.

4:12 – UCLA finally runs a screen pass with Jamabo, and it works beautifully, with Jamabo able to get into open space where he’s so good. You can tell the offense wants to use Jamabo because he’s so talented, there just needs to be better blocking in the run game.

3:39 – One last jet sweep, and Andrews is gets a great lead block by Caleb Wilson on the edge to free him to the end zone.

At this point UCLA has gotten Vanderdoes and McKinley out of the game, which is smart to keep them healthy.

2:13 – Kenny Young finally misses on a pursuit, but I can’t blame him. 2 minutes left in a game, up 28, and having played all day. I’m more surprised he’s still playing at this point.

General observations:

In general, the defense executed on strategy very well. Arizona’s one good drive in the first half was more due to two different coverage breakdowns from Randall Goforth, who did a better job after this drive. You can point to the second half deficiencies as a problem with execution, but I didn’t find it to be that big of a deal, especially since UCLA won’t see another quarterback with Khalil Tate’s skillset until possibly the USC game, and USC operates a different style of offense than what Arizona was running.

The biggest issue was, unfortunately, the run game, and of the players, the interior line was a problem. Najee Toran, Scott Quessenberry, and Kenny Lacy routinely got beat inside by Arizona’s linemen, who weren’t doing anything crazy-advanced. They just got straight-up beaten too often, and at some point someone here needs to step up, because the run game is suffering.

The stat line might say he missed 17 passes, but Josh Rosen was actually very good in this game. He seems to be rounding into form, making the correct reads and getting the ball where it needed to go. The bigger problem in the passing game was drops from the receivers again.

There were 6 drops from UCLA receivers in the first half, and 0 in the second half. You can point to the receiver rotation shortening up in the second half as the biggest reason this got fixed. Going forward, UCLA very clearly needs to give the most consistent receivers most of the reps. That group right now would be Darren Andrews, Kenny Walker, Jordan Lasley, and probably Theo Howard. The tight end group in general has been pretty consistent as well, and its still weird that they don’t get utilized as often as they probably should be.

Execution was a bit all over the place, with some really good highs (especially on defense) and the same issues from previous games appearing again. Have to go with a B- (2.7) here, because we’re at the point in the season where you’d expect these issues to get resolved.

4.) Do our players play disciplined and with exceptional effort for 60 minutes every game on special teams, offense and defense?

A look at the penalties on an individual basis:

2:58, 1st Q – Unsportsmanlike on Coach Mora. Yeah. Even if you’re in the right in regards to a call, you have to know the situation. Wait until after the punt to continue pressing the point. Gave Arizona a first down instead of making them punt.

5:54, 3rd Q – Pass interference on Fabian Moreau. Just an unfortunate penalty, as Moreau trips up and takes the Arizona defender with him. Luckily this does prevent a touchdown.

8:03, 4th Q – Johnny Johnson gets hit with a Pass Interference. Just couldn’t disengage with the receiver, though he does a good job of turning his head.

6:25 – False Start on Kenny Walker. This is the second week in a row the team has committed a false start at their own 1. Shouldn’t happen, but it is funny every time it does.

2:56 – Denzel Fisher gets tagged with a pass interference penalty. Ball was overthrown, but Fisher ran the receiver out of bounds, easy call.

5 penalties for 60 yards. If you take out the penalty on Mora, this becomes only 4 penalties for 45 yards committed by the players.

The better sign here was that only 2 of those penalties were committed by starters, and only 1 really came when the game was still in doubt.

It really is impressive just how much better the team has gotten about committing penalties this year. Right now the team is averaging 5.6 penalties per game, good for 44th in the nation. Compare it to last year, when UCLA averaged 8.3 penalties a game. The difference is stark, but in a positive way.

Team Discipline gets an A- (3.7) because there wasn’t much they did wrong when the game was on the line.

5.) Did the coaches put the team in the best possible situation to succeed?

Defensively, this was a good game again from a playcalling standpoint. Bradley seems much more comfortable in his personnel now than he did all of last year, being much more willing to send pressure and let his top-notch secondary handle receivers. The final grade is going to be dinged because Khalil Tate was able to go off in the second half, but it’s hard to blame the defensive staff too much for failing to account for a true freshman that hadn’t seen any playing time up to this point.

Offensively, this was obviously a better game for the coaches compared to last week, but that would have been hard not to top. The beginning of the game felt like the coaching staff taking the criticism that they didn’t pass enough against Stanford and overcompensated by passing almost exclusively. There were good ideas thrown in here (jet sweeps, quick passes), but execution, especially from the receivers, held the offense back in the first half.

Which is also why I’m going to ding the grade for the offense, because again, the rotations in the receiver group hurt the team, and again, line play hurt the running game. There are points where the line in particular doesn’t look like it knows what it’s doing, which is as damning a bit of evidence as any against Adrian Klemm, and the rotations in the receivers have caused the consistency issues. All we can realistically do at this point is hope these things get better in the coming weeks.

Grade here gets a B- (2.7). There were obvious improvements from last week, but still some things to be concerned about.

6.) Do we have leaders on the field?

Here is Kenny Young’s stat line on the day: 12 tackles (8 solo), 1.5 TFL (including 1 sack), and 1 pass defended. Kenny Young was everywhere in this game, and the light appears to be fully on for the junior linebacker. Young has become an absolute force these past few games, and the defense works even better when he and Jayon Brown can create havok all over the field.

On offense, you have to look at Darren Andrews and Kenny Walker stepping up and providing some consistent receiver play in the second half. These two have proven they should get more looks, and UCLA will look better going forward with a shorter rotation.

Finally, have to point out what a good job Adarius Pickett, Ishmael Adams, and Randall Goforth did in the return game. Pickett took over punt returns this game, and he’s much more assured in catching the ball and getting up field in a hurry. Adams stuck to kick returns before his injury, and was much better when he got time to see the field and run forward. And Goforth did a good job taking over for Adams in the second half.

A (4.0) here. Players stepped up when needed.

Grade Card for the Arizona Wildcats:

1.) Is our defense prepared for each and every team we play? B (3.0)

2.) Do we call offensive plays to catch our opponents off guard? B (3.0)

3.) Do our players look like they know what they should be doing at all times, and do they execute? B- (2.7)

4.) Do our players play disciplined and with exceptional effort for 60 minutes every game on special teams, offense and defense? A- (3.7)

5.) Did the coaches put the team in the best possible situation to succeed? B- (2.7)

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

Arizona GPA: B+ (3.2)

For reference, last week’s loss to the Stanford Cardinal graded out to a B- (2.7). The victory over the BYU Cougars graded out to a B+ (3.3), while the win over the UNLV Rebels graded out to a C (1.9). The opening loss to Texas A&M graded a bit better at a C+ (2.6), and probably would be higher on review.

This game was what it needed to be. UCLA had some issues on offense it needed to figure out, and for the most part they did that. The running game still needs work, but solving the issues in the passing game should do as much to help opposing defenses stay honest as anything. Meanwhile the defense did a good job when they needed to.

This week the Bruins head out to Tempe to face an outgunned Arizona State Sun Devils team. Going by the trend in this matchup, UCLA should win, simply because they get to be the road team this year. But more importantly, UCLA out-talents ASU at so many different spots, that they should win this one handily. In that regard, UCLA, and the coaching staff, need to win this game to prove to the fan base they won’t play down to their opponents.

Go Bruins!