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UCLA dropped to 0-2 this week after a 49-21 loss to the now 5th ranked Sooners in Oklahoma. Such was to be expected for a rebuilding team facing a top-level opponent on the road. UCLA hung in there for some time (it was just a 21-7 game at the half) and did show some things to build upon. But at the end of the day, the lopsided outcome was the result of facing an opponent that was simply better than they were in all three phases of the game.

UCLA Bruins Game Day Grades – Week Two

Soso Jamabo — Running Back

Game Stats: N/A (Did Not Play)

This was the last game of Jamabo’s two-game suspension by UCLA for conduct violations. Hopefully, his return will be productive for this struggling UCLA offense. For the second game in a row, Chip Kelly showed a desire to run inside zone on first and second down. And for the second game in a row, this was ineffective. The result was too many 3rd down and longs. The Bruins were a measly 5/15 on 3rd down, a number that must improve.

Ideally, Jamabo will be able to break some tackles on these inside runs, something Kelly’s replacement backs have struggled with. Jamabo should give Kelly a back that he can use as an added dimension in the passing game. Should Jamabo get the start and a decent amount of touches, he should be able to run well against the Fresno defense this coming Saturday.

Having said that, he hasn’t been on the field in a while, so he’s a bit of a wild card at this point. Not to mention the struggles UCLA has had blocking up front. Jamabo should be an upgrade for this Bruins offense, but whether he actually will be is an entirely different question.

Game Day Grade: N/A

Current Draft Stock: N/A

Caleb Wilson — Tight End

Game Stats: 4 Rec, 92 Yards

Wilson had an up and down day at the tight end position. The good news is that he was far more productive than he was last week. Despite again being held to only 4 receptions, Wilson put up 92 yards receiving and started to flash potential on a few of his catches. One of his biggest plays of the game came in the 1st quarter, where he had a nice seam catch down the field. The coverage was weak, but it was still a good play.

Wilson presents a nice tall target when flexed out as a wide receiver, especially when matched up against undersized slot corners. He had another deep catch in the 3rd quarter, this time down the sideline on a switch release after starting in the slot.

Wilson was able to haul in the pass on a perfect ball from Dorian Thompson-Robinson, one of his best balls of the day. Wilson’s final catch of the day was a 22-yard catch in the 4th quarter on a deep crosser. The coverage was tight, but Wilson’s height allowed him some separation. This was also one of the few plays of the day during which Thompson-Robinson had time to throw. It was good to see these two begin to develop some downfield chemistry.

Having said that, Wilson still only had 4 receptions on the day–a number that was outdone by several of his peers on that side of the ball, despite only 16 completions from Thompson-Robinson. And for the second week in a row, the two were unable to connect on 4th down.

Again, this raises questions as to whether or not Wilson can approach the level of production he had last year now that Josh Rosen is out of town. Additionally, I noticed that Wilson can be a bit of a clunky mover, and even when he and Thompson-Robinson do connect, he rarely has created much separation. It’s too small a sample size to say any of this definitively, but it’s something to watch moving forward.

With another week of experience, I expect Wilson’s play to continue to ascend for next week’s game vs Fresno State. But I don’t expect the numbers to be astronomical by any means, especially considering the fact that this offense is still discovering its identity. The quarterback question for UCLA is relevant here as well. We don’t know who is going to start for the Bruins next week, but Thompson-Robinson and Wilson have yet to develop any great chemistry up to this point.

It’s just a hunch, but I think that if Thompson-Robinson starts over Speight again, Wilson’s production will once again be minimal. The touch on the short passing game just isn’t yet there for Thompson-Robinson, and there are targets he seems to prefer over Wilson. But once again, with the identity of this offense still being developed, it’s far too early to make any definitive conclusions.

Game Day Grade: C

Draft Stock: 4th Round

Andre James — Offensive Line

For the second straight week, the offensive line struggled big time, and I was once again disappointed with the play of Andre James. There were multiple plays where Thompson-Robinson had no chance, facing pressure from just about every direction. Similarly to last week, the offensive line bled right through the middle. It wasn’t until garbage time that Thompson-Robinson was able to set his feet and get some rhythm going in the passing game.

Andre James played most of the game at the all-important left tackle position. The fact that they put him there shows you how inexperienced UCLA is up front, as James’s play was simply not up to par.

He frequently allowed edge rushers to get around him and into the backfield during one on one matchups in passing situations. He’s a better run blocker than he is pass blocker, but even when he did block run defenders successfully, and despite the occasional success UCLA had on the ground, James really wasn’t able to hold his blocks for much longer than a couple seconds. He had a nice block on UCLA’s second touchdown (a short run), but that’s about the only good thing I have to say about him for this game.

Looking ahead to next week, Fresno State has struggled up front on defense, both in terms of rushing the passer and getting into the backfield. This could provide a nice comeback opportunity for James. On the contrary, the poor play of UCLA up front could allow Fresno State’s front seven a nice comeback opportunity of their own. Regardless, one thing is for certain: UCLA has to play better along the offensive line.

Game Day Grade: D

Draft Stock: 5th Round

Jaelan Phillips — Edge Rusher

Stats: 1 Tackle

The more this game went on, the less I saw of Jaelan Phillips. Turns out this was not without reason: Phillips had quietly left the game in the second quarter with an undisclosed injury. His sole quarter and a half provided little of note. He missed a tackle on a crossing route early with poor form. Late in the first quarter, he did a nice job working off his block late in the play to run down and tackle the ballcarrier in the backfield on a running play.

He was unable to apply any pressure on Hollywood Brown’s long touchdown on 3rd and 14. For the majority of the day, in fact, Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray was kept clean. And when UCLA did get pressure, Murray was able to evade the rush and make positive plays with his legs.

Lincoln Riley’s offense is a tough matchup. Their offensive line does a great job of protection, and the offense is also just schemed in such a way that makes it tough to get pressure. Phillips is still a great pass rusher, and I expect him to bounce back next week against Fresno.

Game Day Grade: C

Draft Stock: 2nd Round

Adarius Pickett — Safety

Game Stats: 12 Tackles

Similarly to last week, Pickett did a lot of work cleaning up runs when the Oklahoma ballcarriers got through the blocked front seven. He had a productive day. He’s a very sound tackler. He does a great job wrapping up runners and really doesn’t miss that many tackles.

That’s pretty impressive for an aggressive safety that is often the last line of defense between the runner and the open field. Wrapping up runners just as they’re gaining downhill momentum is no easy task, and Pickett is certainly an asset to this defense in that respect.

When it comes to mistakes, two, in particular, stand out. On the long touchdown to Hollywood Brown, Pickett lost his footing and fell while trying to make the tackle, allowing Brown to break free and run all the way to the end zone.

It would have been a tough tackle for Pickett and he may not have made it even if he does stay upright.  Second, Pickett had a pass interference penalty called against him in the end zone late in the fourth quarter while in man coverage.

Oklahoma had a productive day throwing the football as usual. They were able to stretch the field deep on a couple plays. During those plays, Pickett was generally out of the picture. I mentioned what a great job Lincoln Riley does with the play calling and play design, and those plays seemed to have been instances where play design took Pickett’s coverage responsibilities elsewhere. So when it comes to Oklahoma’s success in the passing game, other than the two plays I mentioned earlier, it’s hard to place too much blame on Pickett.

Still, after two games, one area where I’d like to see more of Pickett is pass defense. I haven’t seen him make any big time, game-changing plays in the passing game, either by intercepting the ball, or getting into pass lanes and breaking up plays or disrupting the play design. It’s not that Pickett isn’t capable of these things, I just have yet to see them. Against Fresno next week, Pickett has an opportunity to get more involved against the passing game.

I look forward to seeing if he does so. When it comes to his productivity accumulating tackles in the run game, I expect more of the same from Pickett.

Game Day Grade: B

Draft Stock: 3rd Round

Looking Ahead

Going on the road against Oklahoma is no easy task. UCLA will get somewhat of a break now being back home in LA and facing off against Fresno State. While a win is far from guaranteed for this UCLA team in its current state, Fresno certainly would seem to be much more in the ballpark of the kind of competition that UCLA is at least capable of handling.

If UCLA can continue building, they should have a chance in this game. Remember that with a new coach and an extremely young roster, it’s going to be a weekly process for UCLA–process being the keyword. It’s okay that the arrow moves slowly, so long as it is in fact moving.

I do think there were things UCLA showed that they can build upon after the loss to Oklahoma. They played well at times, and they showed improvement at times in well. No one was expecting them to go into Oklahoma and win.

But Fresno won’t be a cakewalk either. They blew out their opponent in week 1 and had a close one score loss in week 2. Fresno is more than capable of winning this game, and there will be no easy wins for UCLA this year. Their offensive line needs to play better, and they need to create some rhythm on offense.

I hope UCLA can win this one just for their sake. Because after this week, there’s really not a single game on their schedule that should see them favored. Because of that, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt, but this one could really go either way.

Prediction: UCLA 21, Fresno State 20

Cary Krongard

Author Cary Krongard

UCLA and USC Beat Writer for Sports Al Dente

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Sports Al Dente 2019

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