UCLA suffered another embarrassing October loss at the Rose Bowl Saturday night against Arizona State. The main culprit for the Bruins struggles? The Sun Devils dominated the Bruins offensive line for the majority of the game, stopping UCLA before it ever had a chance to get started.
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Let me give a disclaimer: I love UCLA’s Offensive line. I mean I truly and deepy love those guys. As the Bruins lost five starters on defense and got off to a 4-0 start with freshman quarterbackJosh Rosen
, the rocks of Westwood were the five big guys at the front of the formation.
I have enjoyed watching this line grow together over the past 2-3 years with Brendel as the anchor and Caleb Benenoch, Eddie Lacy, Alex Redmond, Conor McDermott and Kolton Miller all growing and developing into formidable players. The UCLA offensive line has enabled Paul Perkins to look so good for the past year and a half. The offensive line is the reason the Bruins were the best running team in the Pac-12 the last year and half. The offensive line is the constant that provided Josh Rosen the safety net to make mistakes in the first four games.
o with all that being said, it was shocking to see the Bruin offensive line get manhandled by Arizona State last Saturday night. The Bruins could not get off the mark Saturday because the ASU front seven (and especially the ASU defensive line) repeatedly beat UCLA in one on one battles up front, which stopped Bruins in their tracks no matter what they tried. After the first six drives Saturday night, the Bruins were 0-6 on 3rd Down and had 17 total yards.
At the half, they had 7 rushing yards. They tried to run, and were tackled behind the line. They tried to pass down the field and could not keep pressure out of Rosen’s face. They tried short passes and screens that were snuffed out by knifing Sun Devil defenders. Strategy didnt matter for the Bruins Saturday night, because for the majority of the first three quaerters, they offensive line could not handle the man in front of them.
Across the country and locally, writers and commentators have blamed the struggles on the defensive injuries, on the freshman quarterback and especially on a “poor offensive game plan”. But those are all cop outs. The defense played extremely well considering the circumstances for most of three quarters.
…the Bruin offensive line is better than they showed last Saturday night …
They eventually succumbed in the second half and couldn’t get the Sun Devil offense off the field at the end of the game after being on the field for 40 minutes of game time. Josh Rosen made some serious errors, some of which were unforced, but he was under pressure for the majority of the game and the inability to rush the ball put too much pressure on the young quarterbacks shoulders.
The best game plan doesn’t mean squat it the players can’t win their individual match-up, and almost every drive in the first 3 quarters was affected by at least one major mistake by a lineman that severely hampered the Bruins chances:
- 1st Half – Drive 1: the first run from scrimmage set the tone for the day as Benenoch misses a block and Paul Perkins is stuffed at the line (with a missed block assist from Duarte).
- 1st Half – Drive 2: the 1st play of the drive starts poorly again as Redmond pulls but misses the 1st linebacker coming through the hole and Perkins is dropped for a 1 yard gain. Then on 3rd and 4 McDermott has a false start as the Sun Devils walk a blitz up to the line before the snap.
- 1st Half – Drive 3: the Bruins follow up the 1st good run by Perkins (4 yards) by losing 2 yards on 2nd and 6 when McDermott is beat on the play. The Bruins can’t convert 3rd and 8.
- 1st Half – Drive 4: on 1st and 10, Brendel is pushed backwards and Lacy misses a linebacker. Perkins is hit for no gain. On 2nd down, ASU sniffs out a screen to Perkins and tackles him for a 3 yard loss. On that play, Redmond releases his man the wrong way allowing him to turn right into Perkins lap. On 3rd Down, Rosen is pressured off a blitz and runs into the endzone for an eventual safety.
- 1st Half – Drive 5: the Bruins finally get a 1st Down off of a Pass Interference call, but Perkins manages only 1 yard when Brendel is pushed 5 yards into the backfield. Rosen picks up the 1st down on the next play with a 14 yard pass to Duarte, but Redmond is beat up the middle on 2nd Down and picks up a holding call. Rosen has an incomplete pass on 1st and 20 and then Perkins is stuffed again after Redmond misses another pull block. Rosen is then sacked on 3rd and 20 off of a delayed blitz.
- 1st Half – Drive 6: The Bruins get a nice 7 yard gain on a 1st Down completion to Fuller, but 2nd and 3 goes nowhere as the Bruin line gets no push and creates no seams for Nate Starks to run through. Rosen makes a bad throw on 3rd Down and the drive is over.
- 1st Half – Drive 7: the Bruins get it together for a moment and never face worse than a 3rd and 3. They get on the board with a Duarte touchdown catch.
- 1st Half – Drive 8: the drive ends with a terrible pick by Rosen, but that 2nd and 13 play was set up by a 3 yard loss by Perkins where Brendel completely whiffs on a block.
- 1st Half – Drive 9: the Bruins rush down the field and get a career long field goal from Kaimi Fairbairn and are lucky to be down 10-15 at the half.
The offensive line played better in the second half but still had trouble on numerous occasions picking up blitzes. Kolton Miller replaced Lacy midway through the 3rd quarter (Benenoch moved to guard and Miller played tackle), but the line play never markedly improved.
… You can resent Mazzone all you want, but there aren’t too many answers and adjustments to be made on offense when the line of scrimmage is pushed a yard into the backfield every play…
They very rarely got any surge and were unable to even open up seams in the defensive front for the Bruin running backs to make it through. When the Bruins tried to pass, they were often confused and were unable to block all the defenders even when they were not outnumbered (this was a big problem against Utah last year). There was no pocket for Rosen to throw from, and his throws were hurried (he was also not helped by numerous drops on key plays by receivers).
Sep 25, 2014; Tempe, AZ, USA; UCLA Bruins offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone reacts on the sidelines against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Sun Devil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
UCLA has not had a game like that since the tough home loss almost a exactly a year ago to the Utah Utes. The defense was overpowered by Oregon and the whole team was flat against Stanford, but the Utah front seven dominated the Bruin blockers that night by any measure.That game is often sited as the low point of low points for the UCLA offensive line as quarterback Bret Hundley was sacked 10 times. Not all of those sacks were the fault of the line, but they still had a very tough game.
The Bruin offensive line is better than they showed last Saturday night, but with the injuries this team has suffered on defense and the inexperienced quarterback, this team will not be able to win games if the the offensive line is dominated like they were against the Sun Devils. You can resent Mazzone all you want, but there aren’t too many answers and adjustments to be made on offense when the line of scrimmage is pushed a yard into the backfield every play.