This is going to be a drastically different format than the normal Eye Test. Fair warning.
UCLA is 9-2 (6-2). If UCLA is 10-2 (7-2) in 5 days, the Bruins will play either the #1 or #2 team in the country for the Pac-12 Championship. It is difficult (for me at least) to imagine a scenario where a 2-loss Pac-12 Champion is not seen as one of the 4 best teams in the NCAA.
In 11 days UCLA could have finished with arguably the greatest regular season in UCLA Bruins football history. That is legitimately on the table right now.
Think about how crazy that is after how the vast majority of us felt after scoring one offensive touchdown against Virginia, or after being tied in the 2nd half with Memphis, or needing a last minute comeback against Texas, or getting run out of the Rose Bowl by Oregon, or giving up 10 sacks against Utah, or going to double overtime with Colorado.
In a more narrow focused way of thinking, HAHA Southern Cal.
What I am going to do is give a huge chunk of general and specific observations from this 38-20 victory over Southern Cal. These will be broken up by quarter.
After that, we'll get the grades with a short commentary on each question.
- The interception pretty much speaks for itself. Zone coverage underneath, Hundley thought it was man and tried to throw a ball you cannot throw against zone. Good instincts by Anthony Sarao.
- The first sack Of Hundley was just a coverage sack. Brett had nowhere to go with the ball and tried to come through the pocket to scramble. He was met by Atwaun Woods shedding his block. No blame for anyone.
- 3rd and 4 on the second UCLA drive was just a bad setup from the get go. An option to the far side. Southern Cal had both numbers and leverage on the play. No chance for it to be successful. Really unusual play-call and setup. Hope to not see that again this season or ever.
- First two plays after the fumble by Nelson Agohlor, very predictable on the first carry to Myles Jack. Southern Cal linebacker shoots the A-gap at the snap count. Can't really fault Scott Quessenberry for not making that play. Also not a huge fan of using Jack as a running back out of a normal Shotgun set. Makes it way too obvious where the ball is headed for the defense.
- The second play, Paul Perkins totally whiffs on a block on the edge on a bubble screen, lucky it didn't go for a loss. But, then again, why is Paul Perkins playing WR? Not really part of his skill set to be making blocks on the edge. I fault his execution as well as the decision to put him out there.
- Luckily, this series of negative comments will not last very long because everything starts clicking right about here.
- TD pass was a basic route concept (Post, Curl, Flat out of a trips look) design, blown coverage by Southern Cal. Devin Lucien runs a post from the outside and Leon McQuay puts himself in a bad position and then slips trying to adjust. Could have been a communication issue with responsibilities on the bunch (a similar thing happens to UCLA on defense on the Justin Davis TD). Good route, good ball, arguably the easiest TD pass of the year for Hundley.
- Well-timed blitz by Tahaan Goodman from the slot on the first batted ball. Owamagbe Odighizuwa was going to get pressure regardless of the blitz though, inside move beats Zach Banner.
- I appreciate that UCLA's defense negated the size advantage of Banner versus Deon Hollins by flipping Owa to the right side of the offensive line for a lot of the game.
- Owa gets pressure again on the next play with the same inside move on Banner. Too strong, too quick, too good. Forces a throw away by Kessler.
- Deon Hollins looked extremely comfortable dropping on a zone blitz on his near interception. Love the play call also, caught Cody Kessler totally off guard, never saw Hollins. If you have a defensive end capable of effectively dropping into coverage on zone blitzes, that is a weapon worth exploiting.
- TD pass to Thomas Duarte was because of a great sell on a play-fake by the entire UCLA offensive line, Brett Hundley and Paul Perkins. Both Southern Cal linebackers bite up on the zone read fake, Duarte just runs a slant and has to beat Leon McQuay. He does and takes it 57 yards for a TD. Big fan of the play-call.
- Pretty sure the UCLA secondary and Demetrice Martin drew a false start penalty on Southern Cal. One play before Southern Cal was flagged, JuJu Smith should have been called for a false start for bouncing forward when motioning before the snap. You need to either be going laterally or be stopped for 2 seconds (often just a half a beat is sufficient).
- On the next play, Nelson Agohlor is doing the exact same thing on motion and gets flagged. You can see Martin and Ishmael Adams celebrating the flag.
- The playcalling on short yardage by Southern Cal was baffling and so enjoyable as a UCLA supporter. Handoff to Soma Vainuku on a 3rd and 2. Thank you, Sark.
- Paul Perkins is totally responsible for a TFL on UCLA's drive after the first TD. Has an outside edge set by Caleb Benenoch and Scott Quessenberry and has Alex Redmond still pulling to follow around the edge. He decides to cut back instead of using those blocks and gets tackled for a loss. Not the kind of run that Perkins has been doing all year. Probably cost UCLA 10+ yards on this play.
- Perkins also responsible for the 2nd sack of Hundley, totally whiffs on a blitz pickup. Gerald Bowman gets there before any passing option is available. Not a good 1st quarter for Perkins. Missed block on a bubble screen, missed pass pickup, foolish cutback on a running play. He had a much better next 3 quarters.
- Dropped punt by Matt Mengel. Not much to say. Bad eye-black, bad play. Seriously though, the eye black needs to be eased up on.
- Play that NFL scouts will love that no one will notice. Kendricks on a 5-yard completion to Javorious Allen. The route he has to take to get there is ridiculous. Southern Cal is basically running a pick play for Allen out of the backfield on a flat route. Sends a slant inside that Kendricks has to run around in order to get outside leverage. He does it and makes a sound open field tackle. Dude is a hell of a player.
- Other side of the coin. Missed tackle by Eric Kendricks on a 3rd and 5. 12-yard gain by Allen.
- Deon Hollins has the best get-off of any UCLA player I can remember. Maybe Brian Price was quicker off the ball. Ceiling on Hollins seems to be higher every week.
- Owa blows up 330+ pound right tackle Zach Banner on the 4th and Goal stop. Stands him up two yards deep and makes the play. First round talent showed up all day on tape.
- Overall, UCLA physically dominated this quarter and was held back by a few solid play-calls by Southern Cal and missed execution. Could easily (and probably should) have been 14-0 or better.
- Caleb Benenoch takes a bad first step and gets beat inside on a 2nd and 5 play. Ends up being a 1-yard gain. Leonard WIlliams is an insane talent, but Benenoch lets him cross his face because he steps with his outside foot first and has no chance after that pot.
- Deon Hollins got another good rush on a 16-yard completion to Justin Davis. That was just Southern Cal running a good play against the Cover 2 of UCLA. Props when props are due, even to the Trojans. RB sneaking out of the backfield late with the linebackers dropping to their zones.
- I like the 4-3 look that UCLA throws out every once in a while. Eric Kendricks and Myles Jack as the OLBs and Kenny Young acting as a true Mike backer. Could see that more next season with one of the many talented LBs stepping into EK's role.
- Deon Hollins rag dolls Bryce Dixon on the ensuing play. Gets a tackle for no gain. Made the freshman look like a freshman. The UCLA defensive line against the Southern Cal offensive line was UCLA's biggest advantage in this game and it played out that way for most of the night.
- Big 26-yard play by JuJu Smith on a 3rd and 10 was also against a Cover 2. Sat in the soft spot between the corner in the flat and the safety over the top. Jaleel Wadood is probably too deep on this play. Hell of a catch though. Smith had to toe tap on the sideline.
- I'm glad Steve Sarkisian is coaching Southern Cal. Calling a zone read with Cody Kessler on 2nd and goal is just a good thing for a defense. He actually makes the right read because Deon Hollins crashes down, but Deon Hollins is much, much, much more athletic than Kessler and easily adjusts to force Kessler inside to Tahaan Goodman.
- 2nd TD was going to be a TD no matter what. Myles Jack is totally lost on who he is responsible for, never looks like he actually knows. Justin Davis gets into the flat easily because Jack is bouncing all over the place and pointing for instruction. In addition to that, beautiful pick play run to get George Farmer wide open on a slant. Not 100% sure if there was a communication mixup or what, but of the defenders responsible for the bunch, only Jack looked like he needed help pre-snap.
PENALTY #1: Deon Hollins lines up offsides on a PAT attempt. Not really a big penalty.
- Ball underthrown by Hundley downfield on a deep pass to Devin Fuller on a 1st and 10. An absolutely insane play by Adoree' Jackson to recover a ton of lost ground, make no mistake about that. But was about a C- throw, even a B- throw is a TD. Just needed to let Fuller run underneath the ball. Granted, it was 50+ yards downfield so that is easier said than done. Not like it was a bounced ball in the flat or anything.
- Hell of a catch by Mossi Johnson on a 3rd and 4 with Su'a Cravens in his grill. Mossi might end up being that player I always say that UCLA lacks, the player that makes the tough catches. He isn't quite there yet, but he's improved every week he has been on the field. Makes me wonder why he wasn't on the field more to begin with.
PENALTY #2: Connor McDermott flagged for a holding. I thought it was a close call. The officials were generally lenient in this game on both teams with regards to holding, can't complain much either way but it was not totally consistent with the rest of the game.
- Speaking of the officials: A great no-call on an incompletion to Eldridge Massington on a deep ball on 2nd and 18. I think the officials did a nice job on that the whole game and the leniency towards aggressive play in the secondary worked in UCLA's favor.
- Eddie Vanderdoes forces a short armed throw by Kessler on a 1st and 10. Inside move right in Kessler's face costs Southern Cal a completion. Whole defensive line balled out.
- Deon Hollins get-off and then bend to get to Cody Kessler on the interception by Eric Kendricks was impressive as hell. As was the inside move Odighizuwa put on the right guard to hit Kessler from the front right as Hollins got there from the outside.
- Still think this was probably a play that should have been overturned to an incomplete pass, but it was not conclusive visual evidence to overturn the call on the field. Amazing individual effort by Kendricks to adjust and get possession of the ball at all on the sideline.
- Spin move by Ahmad Harris on his one reception was filthy. Only a 9-yard gain, so it did not get noticed. But damn. He is able to do what Devin Fuller is not. Consistently make the first tackler miss. Fuller is a much more solid receiver, but he is nearly always brought down on first contact.
- Beautiful route by Eldridge Massington on his TD reception. Slant-and-go route freezes Leon McQuay (tough day at the office). Crisp throw gives UCLA a 24-14 lead at the half.
- Ishmael Adams and the return teams as a whole have not been great lately. As the offense and defense have clicked, it seems like the special teams have taken a step back. Hope that is fixed moving forward.
- On the Southern Cal side, Su'a Cravens is every bit Myles Jack's equal as a run defender in the same way that Myles Jack might be Cravens equal as a pass defender. I know that will be seen as an unpopular opinion but from what I have seen Cravens is a more consistent player at linebacker than Jack. Example: He singlehandedly implodes UCLA's first snap of the 2nd half. Blows up Caleb Benenoch and a pulling Scott Quessenberry, which in turn trips a pulling Alex Redmond. His quick instincts and actions take out three offensive lineman and allow for Southern Cal's defense to flow outside.
- Jordan Payton and Thomas Duarte whiff on a block on a screen pass and nearly causes another interception for a TD. Anthony Sarao reads the play and shoots past Payton and Duarte to get in between Mossi Johnson and the ball. Disaster narrowly averted.
- Nice job by Lucien coming back for the ball on a 3rd and 7 on UCLA's first 2nd half drive.
- Every part of the 38-yard pass to Thomas Duarte down the sideline was beautiful except for the unblocked rusher crushing Hundley. Brett steps into the pocket despite knowing he's going to get hammered, throws a perfect ball down the sideline where only Duarte can get it. Duarte jumps up and plucks it over Leon McQuay (dude had a rough night, seriously). NFL scouts loved this throw, guaranteed.
- Benenoch got manhandled by Leonard WIlliams again on UCLA's first drive. Stretch play to Perkins and Benenoch gets pushed 4 yards into the backfield on the edge. Nice job by Perkins to make it just a 1-yard loss instead of like a 5-yard loss.
- For the criticism that Tyler Scott has gotten in this column (deservedly so, I will say), he deserves praise for his blocking on a 3rd and 8 conversion to Johnson. Scott pretty much dominates Hayes Pullard 1-on-1 in space. He's the reason Johnson was able to get 10 instead of 6 yards.
- Poasi Moala does a nice job chipping a linebacker from his tight end spot on Paul Perkins TD run. Quessenberry cleans it up on the pull to make it a moot point, but Moala got enough that Perkins had a good chance to score regardless. I like the sets with Moala as a FB or TE. Much prefer that to forcing a defensive lineman into that role.
- Kenny Clark did not have a lot of splash plays in this game, but he showed off on his batted pass. Takes on Southern Cal's interior line and lets them ride on his back while Clark forces his way into Kessler's face to swat the pass.
- Reminiscent of the Anthony Barr/Matt Barkley play, Southern Cal's left guard just kind of forgets that Owamagbe Odighizuwa is lined up on him and allows a free rush by a 1st round talent on a 3rd and 8 play. Pretty easy sack for Owa here, but after all the near sacks that UCLA has had snatched out of their hands I am sure they will take this one gladly.
- Leonard Williams dominates Benenoch once again on the first play of UCLA's final scoring drive. Inside move at the snap, basically a free rush. Hundley is lucky to get the pass away.
- I'm really glad that the viewing audience got to miss the penalty on Leonard Williams in order to watch a highlight for the early 4th quarter of a game between Richmond and and William & Mary. Seriously, ESPN. What the hell?
- By the way, I think that probably should have been one the refs let go instead of throwing a flag. Brett Hundley was just as guilty of instigating that by kicking out at Williams. Referees love quarterbacks more than any other player though.
- Mossi Johnson breaking an open field tackle on a screen to turn a 7-yard gain into a 21-yard gain was one of my favorite plays on the night. Plus an added 15 for a facemask down the sideline.
- I don't think Hundley deserves that much grief for not keeping on zone read plays. Most of the time it is a designed handoff without the option to keep. It just looks like Hundley could pull and run. If there isn't an intentionally unblocked player, then it is just a zone running play, not a zone read. On his TD run, there was an unblocked edge player that chased Perkins. Hundley read it correctly, kept and scored easily from 15 yards out.
- Speed gets Takkarist McKinley his sack in this game. Just too fast off the line for Southern Cal's offensive lineman with an inside move. I am excited to see McKinley develop as a pass rusher. Not sure he'll ever be more than a situational rusher, but he is a legit threat to get pressure on any passing down. Not a skill that a ton of people have.
- Difference in strength between a 5* true freshman in JuJu Smith and Myles Jack can be seen on a 1st down play after Southern Cal had just converted a 3rd and 17. Smith has great position to block Jack on a screen, but Jack stalemates him and forces George Farmer to make his first move much earlier than he had hoped. A year in a weight room at a D1 school makes a big difference.
- Eddie Vanderdoes' sack is a play that I would love to have an endzone angle on. Kenny Young times a blitz perfectly and absolutely levels a Southern Cal lineman. That guy tries to tackle Young on his way to the ground. This hit was huge. At the same time, Vanderdoes shrugs off what I am sure is a 4* or 5* player on Southern Cal's offensive line like he is back in high school. One of those plays that Eddie has every game where you just think, "That is an NFL player."
PENALTY #3: Taylor Lagace hits Agohlor well after he had gone out of bounds on a punt return. Deserved penalty. Unnecessary especially with the game comfortably in hand. This was the point that I noticed UCLA was playing too loose. Game was over so they are trying to make highlights in a rivalry game.
- After 3 quarters of being beaten with regularity by Deon Hollins and Odighizuwa, Zach Banner finally just tries to tackle Owa after getting beaten inside on a pass play. Costs Owa his 3rd sack of the game, but gets flagged for holding.
- Also on this play, Kenny Young crushes Justin Davis over the middle.
- Aaron Wallace showing his instincts in the running game. Gets a free release from a TE, does not head upfield but holds his ground to be in good position to set an edge. He stalemates a pulling guard, sheds the block inside and the tackle is made right at his feet. No credit in the stat book, but he certainly gets credit on film. Kenny Clark destroys an interior lineman on this play also.
- Owa gets yet another pressure on a 2nd and 18 late in the 3rd. Inside move on the right guard this time. Just insane how many times the same move worked for Owa in this game.
- Priest Willis likely got knocked out of the game on what was going to be his first interception of his career. Willis has perfect position after breaking on a route and a bad throw/decision by Kessler under duress. Gets hit with friendly fire from Kenny Young. Also props to the Southern Cal trainer for being there right away to attend to both Young and Willis while the UCLA trainer had to come across the field.
- My favorite defensive back lineup (taking the Randall Goforth injury into account) was on the field for most of this game. Anthony Jefferson and Tahaan Goodman at safety. Priest Willis and Fabian Moreau as the outside corners. Ishmael Adams as a nickel or Myles Jack coming into the slot when the Nickel back is not necessary (and with a player as talented as Jack in coverage, a Nickel isn't always necessary). Adams got knocked out with an ankle injury or whatever lower body ailment he had. Willis got knocked out with what appears to be a concussion. Wadood got fazed out pretty early on in this one. He gives up a ton of size to Southern Cal's WRs and did not look great in zone drops early on. Marcus Rios subbed in for Willis in the 4th quarter and didn't have a great outing, to be honest.
- Back shoulder throw by Hundley to Payton was on target, Payton just happened to slip while turning back for the ball. Would have been a nice end to the 3rd quarter.
- Connor McDermott gets blown up by a linebacker on 2nd and 10 at the end of the quarter. Gives Jordon James no chance to go anywhere on the carry.
I really hesitate to read into anything that happened at this point. The game was over. It is 38-14. Southern Cal had no chance of outscoring UCLA by 24 points in a quarter. But I will shed some quick light on a few plays.
- Kendricks diagnosing a screen on the first play of the quarter for a TFL. Outstanding.
- EK also gets credited with a tackle on the next play, but Kenny Clark is the highlight of the play. Gets off the ball quicker than the center snaps it. Instantly about 4 yards deep in the backfield. Allen manages to evade him, but no running back can get yardage consistently when he's getting touched 4 yards deep in the backfield.
- Clean pocket for Hundley to work with for the vast majority of pass attempts in this game. Southern Cal was very conservative in their pass rush, mostly just 3 and 4 man rushes. But Leonard Williams was not a terror in this game. He made plays because he is a top 10 talent. But he did not affect the outcome of the game like he can in some games. Credit to the offensive line and guys like Nate Iese, Poasi Moala and the running backs.
- Nathan Starks is going to be a impactful player if UCLA is not able to recruit one of those instant bell-cow type of running backs. He basically does everything Myles Jack gets praised for, but with the ability to block and run the ball without being told what to do three times on every snap.
- The fumbled snap. Just not a good look. 45-14 would have been so much more fun for everybody involved on the UCLA side.
- Nice to see Ellis McCarthy get a sack in this one. McCarthy might actually be the most physically talented player on the entire defense, it just doesn't show up often enough. He played well in this game throughout. Looked the part.
PENALTY #4: Defensive holding on Fabian Moreau. 3rd and 10 gives Southern Cal a free first down. Good call.
- Owa nearly gets another sack and would have if he were under control. The move he puts on Southern Cal's left tackle is just unfair. Fakes a spin move and dips inside without being touched as the tackle lunges outside. Have not seen that move yet, would have been on everyone's highlight reel if he had finished with a sack.
- Successfully gets the sack on the next play though. All power to get off the left tackle. This was a coverage sack and partially because Kessler was visibly flustered by the pressure, started backpedaling.
PENALTY #5: Pass interference on Marcus Rios. 4th and 1 stop negated because Rios never turned around to play the ball. Tough spot to get thrown into for Rios, but needs to have better instincts than that.
PENALTY #6: Deon Hollins gets his 2nd penalty on a PAT attempt in this game. This time for roughing the passer on a failed 2-point conversion. Just trying to make a highlight play. Probably should have been ejected for targeting, which would have kept him out of most of the Stanford game. Exceptionally foolish play.
PENALTY #7: Poasi Moala gets called for a hold.
- Southern Cal got 100 yards of offense on 17 snaps in this meaningless 4th quarter (5.8 yards per play) and just 176 on 50 snaps in the other 3 quarters combined (that is an insane 3.52 yards per play).
- Got to credit the UCLA defense for basically shutting out Southern Cal in this game. One of the better offenses in the country was totally neutralized. Great scheme, execution, individual performances. Everything was great.
- Taking out the 16 plays for 73 yards that UCLA's offense put up in the 4th quarter. UCLA's offensive production was 38 points and 388 yards in 58 snaps (6.68 yards per play) against a very talented Southern Cal defense. Depth isn't really an excuse I buy for Southern Cal during games. 1-55 they are as talented as any team in the country. That is who plays on Saturdays.
- UCLA dominated on offense and defense for the meaningful portion of this game. Committed just two penalties (not counting the offsides on a PAT) while the game was in question.
- The Myles Jack on Nelson Agohlor thing was severely overstated in the media. Myles Jack regularly covers receivers in the slot, he's been doing that for two years. Any one. He covered Marqise Lee, DeAnthony Thomas, Kenny Bell, and Paul Richardson last season. He has covered those kind of players this season also. That is the most impressive part of Myles Jack. He is an NFL-level pass defender and was last season also. Terrifying, but not a new thing. That is why he would be wasted as a pass rusher, in my opinion.
- Not counting sacks, held Southern Cal to 102 yards rushing on 25 carries. That's a decent day at the office. But the play of the defense in the passing game is the story. If UCLA can get that much pressure on a quarterback, they can beat any team in the country. And this defensive front can get that much pressure against any team.
- 9 of 16 on 3rd down conversions for UCLA compared to 8 of 18 for Southern Cal. That is a good look all-around.
Now let's get to the grades:
Final Grade Card for the Southern California Trojans
1.) Is our defense prepared for each and every team we play?
Can't really argue with this one. Dominated a good offense from the first snap of the game.
2.) Do we call offensive plays to catch our opponents off guard?
Only reason the offense gets dinged is for the relative struggles running the ball. Just barely over 3 yards per carry is not going to cut it. Will need to be much better than that against the formidable Stanford defensive front.
3.) Do our players look like they know what they should be doing at all times?
Penalties were basically a non-issue in this one. Offense looked crisp and in rhythm for most of the game. Defense was locked into their game plan outside of a couple small mistakes. Special teams looked off. Dinged for the turnovers and special teams mistakes. That dropped snap on the punt could have been a massive swing in this game. Bad return decisions on both punts and kickoffs cost UCLA field position all night. Dumb penalty on a punt to hit Agohlor out of bounds did the same thing with field position.
4.) Do our players play for 60 G-D minutes every game?
Wasn't crazy about the lack of finish in the 4th quarter. Turned into a defense chasing highlights and some sloppy offensive play with a lazy turnover. Still a damn good performance, but not worthy of an A.
5.) Do our players execute?
Players were on point on both sides of the ball on this one. Just a few errors that are going to happen in every game.
6.) Do we have leaders on the field?
Brett Hundley rebounding from a disastrous first throw to pick apart one of the better defenses in the Pac-12. Eric Kendricks, Eddie Vanderdoes, Owamagbe Odighizuwa, Deon Hollins, Myles Jack, Anthony Jefferson, Fabian Moreau and many other on defense all played their best game of the season in a must win game. Can't show leadership much better than that.
Southern California GPA: A- (3.7)
For reference, the GPA in UCLA's previous win over Washington was a B (3.1). That along with the Arizona, a B (3.1), and the Arizona State win, a B+ (3.4), were the high marks of 2014 before this contest. The Bruins two losses to Oregon, a D+ (1.3), and Utah, a C-/D+ (1.6) were obviously the low points. The wins over Colorado C (2.2), UC Berkeley C+ (2.5), Texas C (2.2), Memphis C (2.2) and Virginia C+ (2.5) all saw UCLA look exceptionally mediocre.
If UCLA continues playing at this level. There is no reason that UCLA shouldn't win out to go 11-2 with their first Pac-12 Championship in a very long time. Stanford is a tough test for the offense, but the defense should continue dominating their opponents in this one. That game and the rematch with Oregon will be the biggest tests that Jim Mora has ever had as a coach. He (and this entire football team) can still deliver on the preseason hype and make this a landmark season for UCLA football.