This UCLA football team’s a frustrating bunch.
This UCLA team, currently undefeated through week seven of the season, and currently ranked ninth in the newest AP poll, is frustrating. This UCLA team, which scored 37 points and saw its sophomore QB throw for a career-high in yards against California, is frustrating.
Welcome to higher expectations, folks.
On a night where California was held scoreless for the entire second half, and on a night where the Bears earned 320 yards of total offense (despite entering with 500 yards per game to their name), no UCLA fan was happy with the Bruins’ so-called effort. Despite the fact that the offense racked up just 12 yards under 500, fans lamented that the play-calling was vanilla, that Noel Mazzone and the Bruin offense was sleepwalking through the game.
The fans (including yours truly) moaned and whined all night, and would prefer that the game didn’t occur.
Yet the Bruins won 37-10. Like I said, expectations.
But yes, the gripes with the UCLA offense are legitimate. Where the Bruins didn’t excel statistically — and an area that looked awful, according to the eye test — was the run game. Though many attributed this night-long deficiency to the absence of stud running back Jordon James, such an argument dismisses the overall listlessness of the offensive line.
The line didn’t open up useful running lanes and the line didn’t give Paul Perkins enough breathing room to operate, despite the fact that we know Perkins can run with just a little room. The line also had a few hair-pullingly frustrating false starts.
But that line is young, a point that shouldn’t be dismissed but shouldn’t be overbearing either. The Bruins are now without starter Torian White and now have true freshmen Caleb Benenoch and Alex Redmond on the same side. Though both are talented as all hell, both looked like they were true freshmen on Saturday night, which is why we can’t entirely agree with the fact that UCLA was “sleepwalking” against Cal. (Though, yes, the energy from the skill guys was incredibly low.)
Benenoch and Redmond will get it together, but they need to gel with the line sooner rather than later, as they’ll have to fend off a rabid Stanford front seven. A front seven, mind you, that should be especially ticked off after a devastating loss to Utah in Rice-Eccles Stadium (guess that Thursday night rub with the Utes in the rain doesn’t look so unimpressive now, does it?).
They know this, though. They know that Stanford’s going to be hell, and though Stanford Stadium isn’t Autzen, it’ll be a rather hostile environment. (Unless the Stanford faithful revert back to their old ways now that Stanford’s got a loss to their name.) They’re fully aware, and even better, Caleb Benenoch has a personal thing against Stanford (recruiting business; ask him sometime.)
But that lack of push up front from the big men against Cal — a team that’s likely got less depth at defense than USC currently does — is especially concerning. With ten of their 11 preseason starters out with injuries, a big push up front against the Bears isn’t asking for much.
What they did do well, though, was protect for Brett Hundley. Hundley, despite getting knocked around a bit, had the time to make things happen in the passing game.
Which he did, to a degree. In one of the weirdest games of his career, Hundley looked out of sync and entirely out of it. All he did as a result was throw for 400 yards, complete 76 percent of his passes, and throw three touchdown passes. Above all that, though, the QB never seemed to connect on the big throws down-field, especially ones that looked ripe for the picking. Hundley held on to the ball far too long, too, which reminds us of his 2012 campaign which was plagued by that exact tendency.
Of course, this is that fickle UCLA fan, pickin’ and needlin’. UCLA played well, and they played like you would expect from any team playing California, on both sides of the ball.
The defense was swarming and the secondary, remarkably, is no joke. With Fabian Moreau and Ishmael Adams keeping up with their assignments step-for-step, with Anthony Jefferson adequately roaming, with Anthony Barr and Myles Jack wreaking havoc in the California backfield, this UCLA defense is aggressive. Jared Goff, we’re sure, reconsidered himself countless times against that maniacal front seven which stood maniacal all game long.
Although California’s not a great team, they still move the ball. Even when they’re getting blown out, they’re still earning 400 to 500 yards, still scoring at least multiple touchdowns. Which means the Bruins’ defense did its job. Statistically and otherwise, this UCLA defense is going to be a problem.
Of course, a complete game from both the offensive and defensive unit looks a lot like the second half of the Nebraska game, with the defense swarming and pushing all the right buttons, and with the offense going on a reckless abandon for yards and points. The offense didn’t show up on Saturday — save Brett Hundley, we suppose — but the defense proved its worth.
There are just a few more days until what should be an emotional rematch with the Stanford Cardinal on Saturday afternoon. The Cardinal, coming off a heart-breaking loss to the Utes of Utah, will be ticked off and focused.
Meaning a UCLA win should mean that much more. See you in Palo Alto, folks.