Another week, another UCLA loss. The Bruins now drop to 0-4 on the season–their worst start since 1971. Was there any improvement? Anything to build upon for this struggling program? I’m sure UCLA fans at this point are getting beyond impatient, so let’s go ahead and get right into the grades for this past week.
The Bruins, once again, played a very good half of football, showed improvement offensively and were very much in this game at halftime. It sounds silly, because you look at the final box score, which is more or less the same every week, and you think there’s no way this UCLA team can possibly be improving or doing anything positive.
I felt very much that way before going into this game to watch the tape. But alas, for the first half of football, and even into the third quarter, UCLA looked pretty competitive. They carried a 14-13 deficit into halftime, and even led 16-14 at one point in the third quarter–their first lead of the second half all season!
I really liked what I saw from a rhythm and playcalling perspective offensively during that first half. For the first time all year, the Bruins offense really started to look like an offense. They strained the defense playing with tempo in a way we haven’t yet seen them do, and unlike in previous games, the team looked more or less on the same page while running it.
They were able to show run/pass balance, and Dorian Thompson-Robinson was completing passes to keep drives alive. Despite mediocre overall numbers, he started hot on this day, which was good to see. And most importantly, Chip Kelly installed a bunch of new wrinkles to the playbook and called arguably his best game of the season (again, at least for that first half).
For the first time, we saw Kelly use motion across the field and lots of it. He found creative ways to get his playmakers on the edge using sweep passes and handoffs. And when those players weren’t getting the ball, he would still utilize the reverse motion as a decoy. We also saw Kelly spread out the offense in order to utilize the full width of the field, often stretching 3 receivers to the wide side of the field in 3×1 sets.
Kelly also utilized bunches and stack releases, as well as creativity in route concepts. One example that stands out was a wheel route to Martell Irby out of the backfield on a crucial 3rd down late in the 2nd quarter. Coming into this game, Kelly had to do more to get his offense into a rhythm, and to his credit, he absolutely delivered.
The bad news is, the offense stalled in the second half. Dorian Thompson-Robinson had a horrendous 4th quarter, and I still believe he is holding this offense back. But ideally, UCLA will, at some point, find a way to stretch their first-half successes over to the rest of the game.
Soso Jamabo – Running Back
Game Stats: 1 Carry, 0 Yards
Jamabo had just one carry in this game. It was early in the first quarter, and he ran right into a defensive end after receiving the handoff. It was all about Joshua Kelley in the running game, and his explosiveness was on display right from the get-go.
Jamabo came into this season with high expectations, but Kelly seems to be comfortable with a rotation of Martell Irby, Kazmeir Allen, and Bolu Olurunfumi. Because of that, I don’t expect to see much of Jamabo next week vs Washington.
Game Day Grade: D
Current Draft Stock: 5th Round
Caleb Wilson – Tight End
Game Stats: 2 Rec, 13 Yards
The numbers were once again underwhelming for the highly touted tight end. But I did see more of an effort to get him involved. During the first quarter in the red zone, Wilson and DTR were able to connect on a quick first down throw after DTR rolled to the right. That’s the type of easy pitch and catch we’ve been expecting to see more of from these two.
There was a similar play later in the quarter where Wilson was once again open as DTR rolled right, but with a rusher in his face, DTR was unable to spot him.
There were a few other plays where Wilson was featured but unable to connect with DTR. On a third down in the red zone, DTR seemed to be eyeing Wilson on a double tight end crosser in the red zone. It was a mesh type concept meant to break down man coverage, but there was a zone defender ahead of Wilson’s route that was able to pick him up as he came across the field.
There was a third down later in the second half where Wilson was running a corner route down the field that appeared to have a chance, but DTR instead threw incomplete while rushing a throw to a shallow crosser. Wilson was also targeted once more late in the game on an incompletion by DTR. The few times that DTR does choose to target Wilson, he seems to be locked in on him, even (and often) when the coverage dictates he throw elsewhere.
It seemed like Wilson may have been used as a decoy on a few plays. He also seemed to be blocking pretty well. Though he’s known for his receiving prowess, he often plays inline and is used as a blocker fairly frequently. While his production continues to sag, this game indicated that he has potential if used properly as part of a productive passing game. Having said that, more production from him would be nice to see at some point this season.
Washington has one of the best defenses in the Pac-12, so I don’t expect much from Wilson next week, certainly not more than we’ve already seen from him so far.
Game Day Grade: C
Current Draft Stock: 4th Round
Andre James – Offensive Lineman
James had a few gaffes early in this game that led to rushers in the face of DTR. But overall, his play, as well as that of the entire offensive line, is certainly improved compared to early in the season. As I mentioned earlier, Kelley looked great running the football, and the Bruins often ran to the left side, where James plays.
They are still struggling to run up the middle, which is still the weakest part of their line. But overall, the protection was good. DTR was not frequently under pressure, yet he still rushes himself within a clean pocket. That’s not on the line.
Washington could be a whole different beast, as they are typically known for stout defense. When UCLA last played a ranked opponent, the Sooners in week 2, James was demolished. He’s quietly turned things around since then, but he still hasn’t been spectacular by any means. This will be an important test for him coming up.
Game Day Grade: B-
Current Draft Stock: 4th Round
Like the offense, this Bruin defense started the game well but faded in the second half. Their front seven is inconsistent but overall fairly strong, and that run defense is improved compared to last year.
Where they seem susceptible is in one-on-one matchups outside with quick throws in off coverage, as well as plays deep down the field. There were also way too many missed tackles from the Bruins in this game and penalties were an issue as well.
The altitude in Colorado was getting to them, and like in previous games, when their offense isn’t rolling (as it hasn’t been consistently yet), this Bruin defense just doesn’t have enough in the tank to go for 4 quarters. They challenged Colorado in the first half but were gashed on the ground in the third quarter once Colorado switched to up-tempo.
At that point, you could see them start to run out of steam. Combine that with a few quick three and outs by the UCLA offense, and what was a close game became lopsided rather quickly. Another area UCLA has to work on that Colorado exposed was option quarterback runs as well as misdirection runs to the outside. Their discipline and recognition need to be better in those areas.
Jaelan Phillips – Outside Linebacker
Game Stats: 7 Tackles
After a few weeks of limited action, Phillips played the majority of this game. But there were a few snaps where he was either playing QB contain or was dropping back into pass coverage. As far as I’m concerned, Phillips should be rushing the passer on every snap. Yes, that’s where he’s most dangerous; but more importantly, when he’s not rushing, opposing quarterbacks seem to find time to get deep into their progressions.
The Washington pass offense has been rolling, so Phillips needs to be able to disrupt Jake Browning, who really isn’t that mobile. Unfortunately, Phillips has been facing recurring injury problems, so it’s hard to say how much he will play this upcoming week.
Game Day Grade: B-
Current Draft Stock: 2nd Round
Adarius Pickett – Safety
Game Day Stats: 5 Tackles
Pickett had a quiet day overall. He made a few solid tackles on runners. There were a couple times that he was seemingly blocked out of the play while trying to pursue the ballcarrier. I’ve spoken previously about his lack of prowess in the passing game. During his one noticeable play in pass coverage down the field, Pickett unintentionally almost knocked out his own cornerback, Darnay Holmes, while trying to break up a deep pass.
Should Washington do what they most likely want to do (and most likely will end up doing), which is create a lead and run the ball to death, Pickett should have plenty of tackles. But I also expect Browning to have his way with this defense through the air, and if the first few games are any indication, Pickett will have little impact in that regard.
Game Day Grade: C
Current Draft Stock: 3rd Round
It’s back to ranked play as the Bruins welcome tenth-ranked Washington into the Rose Bowl for a big-time conference showdown. The Huskies are the class of the Pac-12, and this one should be smooth sailing for them. If UCLA can take its marginal improvements and actually turn them into meaningful improvements, then they are capable of giving the Huskies a fight. But even so, the Huskies are too good a team to blow it, and I don’t expect them to ever be truly out of control in this one.
Prediction: 30-10 Washington