After all of the hype regarding the highly ranked Bruin Offense over the summer, UCLA’s offensive showing was a bit anticlimactic to say the least. While Todd Gurley was racking up close to 300 yards all by himself for Georgia and that Kenny Football kid at A&M threw for over 500 yards in his debut, the vaunted Bruin offense started the year with a pedestrian 358 total yards and an offensive 7 offensive points. Their previously offensively challenged opponent Virginia actually out-gained and outscored UCLA; the Cavaliers gained 386 yards and put up 20 points on offense… almost as many points as the Cavs scored for the Bruins – 21!
The Bruins frustrated themselves and fans yesterday with a terrible 1st half performance. The receivers dropped 5 passes, linemen and running back missed blocks and Brett Hundley looked jittery as he tried to make decisions under pressure. Through a variety of miscommunications and errors, the Bruins put themselves into 3rd and long situations the entire 1st half:
1st Drive – 3rd and 10
2nd Drive – 3rd and 8, 3rd and 11 (after a holding call negating a big play) , 3rd and 20
3rd Drive – 3rd and 12, turns into 3rd and 17 (false start)
4th Drive – 3rd and 17 turned into 3rd and 12 (offside penalty)
5th Drive – 3rd and 12
6th Drive – 3rd and 9 turned into 3rd and 14 (false start)
7th Drive – 3rd and 1 (with under a minute to go)
There is no wonder the Bruins were held scoreless and looked so terrible in the 1st half when the first 3rd and short opportunity didn’t come until the last minute of the half.
There were a variety of reasons for the struggle, but I would like to point out some keys plays in the 1st half that put the Bruins behind schedule so often. As I predicted on this website previously, the loss of Jake Brendel for the season opener had a huge effect on the Bruin running game. With Brendel out, Scott Quessenberry (#52) took over at center (where Brendel had started two straight seasons). Freshman Najee Toran (#69) was also making his 1st start at right guard against Virginia. This lack of experience on the interior line, matched against a veteran ACC-caliber Virginia front 7, led to a number of mistakes in the interior running game which in turn made everything else harder.
1st Half Running Woes
Take this play from the Bruins first drive for example. As the Bruins line up to run on their 2nd play on offense (just after the opening completion to Eldridge Massington), the ball will be handed to Jordan James (presumably, to take the ball into the middle of the line).
As the handoff takes place, the offensive line starts its blocks. The hole for James should be between the center Quessenberry (who has been pushed backwards) and Toran (he trips and has his hands on the ground) is supposed to get the middle LB
The hole closes as the LB fills (getting past Toran) and the play ends in a big pile for no gain.
1st Half Passing Problems
The Bruins also had trouble in pass protection. On this play, the left guard Alex Redmond and the RB James will both pull out to the right (moving left in the picture).
As James and Redmond clear out, tackle Malcolm Bunche slides out to grab #7, but there is a clear rushing lane for LB #44.
Hundley has no time to make a decision and is sacked.
The first half was filled with drive killing plays like these. Six of the Bruins 7 drives were 5 plays or less, and if you take away the 48 yard pass to Massington on the 1st play of the game, none of the UCLA drives in the first half gained more than 20 yards. Totally offensive offense.
Fortunately for the Bruins, while the offense was miserable, it was still the better offense on the field as the Virginia offense was busy giving the Bruin defense 21 points. The UCLA defense saved the game for the Bruins in the first half and allowed the offense to collect itself at halftime.
2nd Half Improvements
The offense improved for the Bruins in the 2nd half. They only managed to put 7 points on the board, but they were much more efficient and started to make the plays that were missed in the 1st half. The Bruins only had one 3 and out, and four of the six 2nd half drives changed the field position by at least 40 yards (which is hugely important when you are trying to grind out a game). These drives took an average of 3 minutes off the clock (including the drive that ended the game).
For example, consider this 3rd and 8 play from the Bruin 36 yard line that occurred on the Bruins only touchdown drive:
As Hundley gets the snap, the O – line protection sets in. The RB Paul Perkins stays in the pocket to pick up any defenders that come through (typically scanning inside from the gap between the guard and tackle to the outside). In the picture below, Virginia’s #7 is heading toward that gap.
Perkins drives into the hole and picks off #7, which gives Hundley the time he needs to deliver a strike down the field to Massington.
Massington takes it past the sticks, and the Bruins are on their way to a touchdown (later ran in by Hundley).
The Bruins started to get the running game working as well. On this play in the 4th quarter, the offensive line does a much better job of opening the hole for the running back:
When Perkins gets the ball, the offensive line has already gotten a much better push and created a lane for him to run through inside the right (bottom of the picture) tackle. Unlike in the first example (where he falls down), Toran keeps his feet and hits the LB 5 yards up the field.
Before you know it, Perkins has scooted through the hole and gets to the 3rd level of the defense for a 7 yard gain.
You don’t need a game breaking run on every play, you just need to gain yards, and the Bruins did a much better job of creating favorable situations for themselves in the 2nd half. After having only one 3rd and short opportunity late in the 1st half, the Bruins had five 3rd and short opportunities in the second half. The ball drops by the receivers also looked better in the 2nd half (only one by Duarte), and the Bruins also opened up the zone-read option attack which resulted in some nice runs by Hundley (an effective tactic, but one that can’t be overused to the point of exposing Hundley to injury).
After rewatching the game, I think its clear that the Najee Toran performed better as the game went on, and so did the offensive line as a whole. Perkins looks like the running back to start at this point, but Jordan James and Manfro will benefit from some better holes to run though as well (they didn’t see very many 2nd half opportunities).
UCLA didn’t score a lot of points, and there are certainly issues for them to work out, but I believe the Bruins will improve dramatically in their next two games. Memphis will provide a good opportunity to work out the kinks listed above, and the game against Texas will provide an opportunity to get back into the good graces of the national media.
Its OK Bruin fans, take a breath. The Bruins lived to fight (and win another day).