Who said anything about 3-8? It’s nothing but smiles this week for UCLA fans as they watched their team take care of business against the reeling Trojans and come away with a 34-27 win in the Victory Bell matchup. Just like that, the pain of this season’s hardships are almost entirely a thing of the past. It doesn’t matter that USC has been a shell of its former self this season. UCLA fans live for this crosstown rivalry, and UCLA played a crisp, clean, and complete game. They fought through all four quarters, and at the end of the day, they were absolutely the better team on the field.
Believe it or not, UCLA has now just one more game left for the season as they take on the Stanford Cardinal at the Rose Bowl. Can UCLA reel off two straight victories to end the season on a high note, or will they revert back to the Bruin team that we saw for the majority of the season? Let’s take a look at how UCLA got it done against the Trojans last week and whether or not that success is likely to carry over as they take on Stanford this coming Saturday.
UCLA Bruins Game Day Grades – Week 12
One thing I’ve been keeping an eye on all season is the development of this iteration of Chip Kelly‘s offense. It’s clearly been a work in progress as Kelly has been slowly installing new concepts while building on what works and getting rid of what doesn’t. I know it’s been a tough watch at times for UCLA fans, but the progression is there, and this offense is finally coming into form. And while it’s unfortunate that there aren’t too many more games left in the season to show it off, it bodes well for the future of this program. This is a young group of players that are only going to continue to grow together as the years go by.
Wilton Speight – Quarterback
Game Stats: 13/22 166 Yards 2 Total TD (1 Pass, 1 Rush) 1 INT
I’ve been of the belief that Wilton Speight should have been the starting quarterback for this team ever since he was healthy. Dorian Thompson-Robinson showed some nice development as the season went on, but his inexperience and mistakes cost the Bruins too many games. As the season wraps up, I finally got my wish. Speight replaced an injured DTR in the Oregon game, proceeded to play the entire USC game, and will once again start this coming Saturday at Oregon.
Statistically, Speight’s game wasn’t as impressive as the previous week, where he threw for over 300 yards. Just looking at the numbers, Speight was pretty average this week, as he only threw for 166 yards and was just barely over 60% completion. However, I found his performance to be far more effective than the numbers suggest. He had several impressive throws on the day under pressure. UCLA set the tone for this game by scoring touchdowns on their first two offensive drives. On an early third down, Speight did a great job shaking off a sack and finding Caleb Wilson down the field. On a 3rd and 11 on the opening drive, he made an absolutely phenomenal throw to Theo Howard. It was a zero coverage blitz and Speight was under heavy pressure, and he stood firm in the pocket and lobbed the ball deep, leading Howard to the back of the end zone. He later had a rushing touchdown when in the red zone when a hole opened up over the middle after dropping back to pass. There were a few other notable throws where Speight was under pressure and just put excellent touch on the ball. And while he isn’t thought of as a runner, he’s actually done a decent job of running the football situationally when necessary this season.
Of course, Speight isn’t perfect. He occasionally misses throws with poor accuracy. His INT in this game was a terrible decision–it was a shot to the end zone and there was absolutely no room for the throw. He also tends to hold the ball a bit too long at times when his reads aren’t there. But overall, he’s definitely improved since his later days at Michigan, and he’s good enough to give this Bruins team chances to win football games.
Game Day Grade: A-
Current Draft Stock: 5th Round
Stanford Preview: Stanford’s defensive numbers are all over the place. Overall, they’re pretty much middle of the pack in the Pac-12. Speight will have to protect the ball, but overall, so long as UCLA is able to run the ball, Speight should be just fine. He’s playing with confidence and comfort in this system, and especially now that he’s the full-time starter, I expect that to carry over into next week.
Caleb Wilson – Tight End
Game Stats: 4 Rec 63 Yards
Caleb Wilson is really starting to put together quite the season for himself. His 71 yard per game average and 781 total receiving yards both lead the FBS. Though it wasn’t a huge catch performance, he had a few nice plays in this one. On a third down in the first quarter, he came back to the ball late in the down after Speight just avoided a sack. Wilson went up high to secure the catch. In the third quarter, he was split out wide and ran a go route. Although he wasn’t able to catch the ball, he did draw a flag for pass interference. And on a first down in the fourth quarter, he was lined up to the left and ran a corner route on a flat corner short/intermediate route combo. Speight looked to the flat first and it was covered, so he then threads the needle to Wilson between two defenders. Wilson did a nice job of hanging onto the ball in traffic. Wilson has also shown improvement in the run game. He had a nice black on Joshua Kelley‘s goal line touchdown.
Game Day Grade: B
Current Draft Stock: 3rd Round
Stanford Preview: I expect Wilson to continue his production in the passing game, especially now that Speight is starting. His production will ultimately depend on what UCLA’s run-pass balance is. Although they would like to run the ball like they did last week, I have a feeling they’re going to have to throw it a little more in this one. Stanford also has a good group of linebackers, so this will be a good test for Wilson to see how well he can break away from coverage and get run after the catch.
Andre James – Offensive Lineman
UCLA’s run game went all out in this one. Joshua Kelley ran for 289 yards, the most for any player ever in the history of the Victory Bell matchup. Kelley has rushed for a touchdown in each of his last seven games, and now has 1188 rushing yards on the season. He’s been the bell cow for this offense, and his performances just seem to grow more impressive as the weeks go by. For a small guy, he’s a pretty tough and gritty runner, and he hits the hole hard when he sees it. After weeks of struggling on offense, it seems this team has finally found its identity in running the ball with Joshua Kelley.
The run blocking was pretty much flawless in this one, although it was certainly helped by the decisive running of Kelley. Chip Kelley utilized all the runs in the playbook, and many of those which hadn’t been working earlier in the season was effective in this one. There was a lot of running out of tight formations under center. The blocking was usually inside zone with a counter design. Kelley would sometimes take the counter and bounce to the outside, where other times he would just hit it up the middle. The Bruins also had great success running the outside sweeps with double pull blockers. Kelley had a ton of huge runs on those plays.
The pass blocking wasn’t quite as good as the run blocking. Speight was under a decent amount of pressure, but he was able to make plays regardless. James along with Caleb Wilson seemed to be getting a decent push in the run game. Boss Tagaloa did a good job as well; his return to this line has been crucial in stabilizing this offense and the run game along with it. As usual, when there was pressure, it was up the middle and towards the right side of the line (away from James).
Game Day Grade: B+
Current Draft Stock: 3rd Round
Stanford Preview: Stanford has suffered injuries along the defensive line, so the Bruin line definitely should be able to make some holes for Kelley. The greater challenge will come from the linebacking core. Senior Bobby Okereke is leading the team with 71 tackles. He will be lined up next to fellow senior Sean Barton and his 68 tackles and INT. On the outside, Jordan Fox leads the team in 6 QB hurries. While Kelley certainly can be successful, I have to say that he’s simply not going to have the kind of day he had against SC. A majority of those runs were wide open. USC did an absolutely horrendous job defending the sweep play. The linebackers did not follow their gaps at all. Stanford is ranked just 105th nationally in passing yards allowed, so this defense is vulnerable on that front if UCLA decides to go that route. But establishing the run game will be crucial.
Keisean Lucier-South – Linebacker
Game Stats: 2 Tackles
It was another quiet day for KLS. For the most part, the Bruins were unable to get pressure on JT Daniels when rushing just four. Watching KLS play, I wonder if he has the size or strength to be a consistently impactful pass rusher. He did have one noticeable play of great impact. On a third down early in the 4th quarter, he had a nice rush around the edge which drew a hold and pushed SC out of field goal range. They were unable to recover the yards and were ultimately forced to punt.
Game Day Grade: C-
Current Draft Stock: Late 4th Round
Stanford Preview: The book in the past has been clear with Stanford: Stop Bryce Love in the running game. But this year’s Stanford is not the Stanford of the past. After an absolutely phenomenal 2017 season, Love is averaging just 72.5 rushing yards per game. And when it comes to total rushing yards, rush yards per game, rushing touchdowns, rushing yards per carry, total rush attempts, and rush attempts per game, Stanford ranks 11th in the Pac-12 in each of these categories. Contrary, they’re 3rd in passing yards, 2nd in passing yards per game, 4th in passing touchdowns, 2nd in yards per attempt, and 3rd in completion percentage in the Pac-12. It may not feel right to say it, but the fact of the matter is that Stanford is a passing team this year. Getting some pressure on quarterback KJ Costello is the task at hand for KLS. It’s a tough one as he’s a savvy passer that gets rid of the ball quickly, but just a few key timed rushes is all it takes to change a game.
Adarius Pickett – Safety
Game Stats: 8 Tackles, 1 Pass Defensed
Pickett has now led UCLA in tackles 8 times this season. He has 115 total tackles on the season. He went down with an injury early in this one, but walked off on his own power and was able to come back into the game. He had some good defense at the goal line in the third quarter, although it was also just bad execution by USC. One key play Pickett was involved in nearly changed the game. With 50 seconds left in the game, trailing by a touchdown, JT Daniels took a deep seam shot to Velus Jones, who was matched up with Pickett in the slot. Pickett broke up the pass, but he did make some contact in doing so. There was no flag thrown, but it was a play that absolutely could have changed the game if that pass was completed!
Game Day Grade: B
Current Draft Stock: 2nd Round
Stanford Preview: To be honest, I’m a little more worried about the rest of the secondary in this one. Stanford likes to spread the field, and they like to go deep. KJ Costello is one of the best passers in the nation, as evidenced by both his numbers as well as the eye test. He also just happens to be throwing to one of the best wide receivers in the nation in JJ Arcega-Whiteside. His 11 receiving touchdowns rank 5th in the nation and 1st in the Pac-12. And UCLA almost never seems to have two safeties back when teams take shots on them. They are currently ranked 116th in the FBS in passing plays of 30 yards or more given up. The secondary is going to have to play with more cushion in this one than they have in the past.
This UCLA program is definitely on the rise. They’ve averaged 419.3 yards of total offense in their last 7 games after averaging just 312 yards in their first 4 games. Last week, they gained 479 yards of total offense with a season-best 313 rushing yards. They’re coming off a big-time win that showed just what they are capable of when they play nearly mistake-free football for a full 60 minutes. And they close out the season at home against an opponent that has struggled throughout the year. Stanford really doesn’t have any quality wins on their schedule. Their first 3 wins were against weak opponents. They really should have lost the Oregon game. They then lost by multiple scores to Notre Dame and Utah had a low scoring win against Arizona State and a low scoring loss against Washington. They were able to put some points up in a shootout loss vs Washington State and blew out they blew out the lowly Beavers of Oregon State. Overall, they’ve been inconsistent, and their season leaves much to be desired.
Having said that, they’re essentially coming off an extra bye as their Cal game was rescheduled due to poor air quality from the wildfires. Though it’s tempting to want to pick UCLA to finish the season strong at home–and though they are absolutely capable of doing so–I’m picking Stanford to win this one. UCLA has struggled to cover deep 1 on 1 matchups against big-time receivers, and their offense has been inconsistent for the majority of the season. While I like the direction this UCLA program is going in, I’m just not sure they have the firepower or the defense to keep up with and contain one of the best QB/WR combos in football in KJ Costello and JJ Arcega-Whiteside.
Prediction: 39-28 Stanford