The Eye Test: No Moral Victory Against Oregon, But Solid Effort from UCLA Football
Has UCLA turned into a good football team?
Hey guys, I’m going to be honest here. This week’s Eye Test is going to be quick and dirty this week. I’ve been focused on getting all the basketball previews done in addition to grading a bunch of end-of-semester projects. So, I didn’t have as much time to write this. Sorry, but my fake grades on a football team has started to bleed into the real grades I do for my actual job.
That said, I did watch this game three different times this past weekend because it was one of the more enjoyable UCLA games in recent memory. No, the Bruins didn’t win, but they were clearly the better team on Saturday, which is both a crazy thing to think about and the actual truth. UCLA ran all over a surprisingly poor Oregon defense while making the Oregon offense work for every yard it gained. Had they done a better job of taking care of the ball (which has become a noticeable trend in road games this year), they would be walking out of Eugene with the win.
So, yeah. Probably won’t see a ton of words, but the grades are what they are.
I was so close to giving Chase Griffin the full A here, you have no idea.
It’s hard to really knock Griffin for the various issues that came up for him in this game. It was his first collegiate start and it was on the road against what should have theoretically been the best team UCLA will face all season. Yet, Griffin looked the part of a seasoned quarterback, making the correct read more often than not and showcasing excellent accuracy on short and mid-range throws. The three turnovers hurt his grade, but they were the kind of thing that would hopefully go away with game reps.
And, now, for the question I know everyone is probably asking: who should start going forward? Honestly? Probably still Dorian Thompson-Robinson, especially if this is the offense Chip Kelly continues to run. DTR just has a higher ceiling in it, both as a running threat and with arm strength to all three levels of the field. But Griffin showed he can step into the role in a pinch, which was a big question heading into the season. More so, Griffin showed he could take over should DTR have more games that resemble the Colorado outing, which should help keep the mercurial junior motivated to improve his play.
Running Back: A
The Demetric Felton Show was alive and well in Eugene, as the senior proved he could be the every down, between the tackles running back that Kelly so clearly wants to utilize despite having a talented stable of backs to work with. Felton had 34(!) carries for 167 yards and two touchdowns, while also seeing an additional six targets in the passing game. That’s 40 whole plays where Felton saw the ball, which is insane usage. If anything, I’d have liked to see a few of the other backs get some run here, especially Brittain Brown, who’s physical style could have really hurt Oregon late. Still, you can’t fault Felton for being productive with the touches he saw.
UCLA’s game plan on offense clearly didn’t rely on Griffin slinging the ball all over the field. So, we do have to account for that. Still, with a redshirt freshman quarterback making his first start on the road at Autzen, you’d have liked to see the receivers step up to make plays and that largely didn’t happen. Oregon did a good job covering the receivers, which made Griffin’s accurate throws all the more impressive.
Offensive Line: A
Griffin doesn’t look nearly as good in this game if the line doesn’t step up the way they did, and they were absolute monsters. They outmuscled the Oregon front en route to 267 yards rushing and only gave up two sacks on the day. The UCLA defense, by comparison, grabbed four. Oregon’s strength defensively was their defensive line. So to see UCLA’s offensive line bully them around all game was a revelation.
I went back and watched some of the Colorado game again for comparison and the offensive line performance was night and day. The interior seems to have settled down with a four-man rotation of Paul Grattan, Duke Clemens, Jon Gaines, and Atonio Mafi all seeing time and playing well, while Sean Rhyan and Alec Anderson have turned into rocks on the outside. Sam Marrazzo has grown steadier at center. As of this very specific moment, UCLA is moving in a positive direction on the offensive line, which is not something we’ve been able to say over the past *checks notes* oh two decades or so.
The Eye Test can be cruel sometimes, and in this case, I couldn’t give the full A to the offense because they stalled out a bit in the second half. They were still effective and made a ton of plays, but execution started to slip a bit at the quarterback spot, which threw the rest of the machine off. Still, putting up an A- given everything involved should be seen as a major win for this team going forward.
Run Defense: A
Oregon could not run the ball. At all.
They certainly tried! The Ducks ended up with 34 rushing attempts on the day, but they ended up with only 112 sack-adjusted yards. Joe Moorhead clearly wanted to run the ball and UCLA’s defenders were not having it.
Credit goes to the D-Line here, which stepped up huge after a rough first game. Osa Odighizuwa was a monster in the middle and he was joined by Mitchell Agude, who is looking really impactful for a true freshman. The improved defensive line play made things easier for the linebackers, especially OLB/rush end Datona Jackson, who essentially lived in the Oregon backfield.
Now, you might have noticed that whole section is a word-for-word copy from last week, with some names and stats changed.
Let me let you into the writing process for this column really quickly: because I am lazy and have never learned a simpler way to do this, I copy the entire column from the week prior into a new page so that I have the template ready to go. From there I just delete what I wrote the week prior and add the new stuff, and rinse and repeat until the column is done. Sometimes this also helps me reframe my thoughts by reminding me what I had said the previous week. So when I read this section from last week, I realized the exact same thing had just happened in this game.
Oregon clearly wanted to run. Joe Moorhead (who, unlike Bill Musgrave who we saw last week, is an excellent coach) clearly wanted to run, because he has CJ Verdell and Travis Dye in the backfield and a bunch of highly-touted players up front. The Ducks put up 269 yards rushing in both of their previous games, averaging 6.7 YPC against Stanford and 7.5 against Washington State. Against UCLA? They got to 112 sack-adjusted yards for a measly 3.7 YPC, and the traditional stat lines are even worse. UCLA’s front seven utterly dominated this matchup, in a way that was both surprising and awe-inspiring. I mean, I said I wasn’t going to write much this week and here I am still gushing about this performance. It was seriously that good.
Pass Defense: B+
The pass defense was not AS good as the run defense, but it was a bit more understandable. The Bruins were without some bodies due to contact tracing, which meant Quentin Lake was out of this game. Lake has been a steady presence on the back end and, without him, the secondary was prone to giving up big plays from time to time. Oregon dialed up some excellent RPO sets that the safeties bit on hard and led to easy scores for the Ducks.
Still, UCLA made life difficult for Tyler Shough by sending blitzes from various angles and generally confusing him. The Bruins finished with four sacks on the day and, while Shough proved that he is a good player, he had to work for everything he got in this game, which can’t be a good feeling for any Oregon fans still hoping to sneak into the College Football Playoffs.
Much like with the offense, I couldn’t give the defense the full A, in part because they ultimately could not get enough stops to win the game, especially in the second half when Oregon was able to put together a few long drives.
Still, this should be a good lesson that not all grades are equal. If I graded last week’s defense based on this game, they’d have probably gotten a B against UC Berkeley, because this was a great game against a talented opponent. If UCLA keeps up this level of play going forward, they could turn this into a successful season.
I bumped the grade up because, overall, the Bruins played well in this aspect compared to last week, but we keep seeing big mistakes happen in this aspect of the game. This week, it was Qwuantrezz Knight (who generally was really good in this game!) fumbling a kick-off to set Oregon up for an easy score. Throw on some suspect punt coverage that gave up a few solid returns and Oregon generally won the special teams battle. In a game this close, that’s the difference between winning and losing.
Offensive Game Plan: A
Real quick, here’s what I wrote last week in this section:
My fear here is that this was an aberration brought on by the necessities of the opponent shift. UCLA in the second half started to slow things down, which inevitably led to Berkeley’s defense finding more success and, now, I have to hope that Kelly sees the success he’s had and continues to utilize (the Blur-style offense), which is the worst thing to hope for with a coach in the middle of his third season in charge.
So, I guess I have some good news! UCLA hasn’t abandoned the up-tempo, speedy attack system yet!
Chip Kelly said the game plan didn’t shift once it became evident that Chase Griffin would be starting and, while I don’t think that’s completely true (I feel Kelly would have tested the Oregon secondary more if Thompson-Robinson were available), I do believe the general philosophy on offense remained the same. UCLA chose to relentlessly attack the Oregon front in a variety of ways, not just running a dive play up the middle, but utilizing speed options, counters, stretch runs, and screens to wear the opponent down. While this is not the Blur as we remember in Oregon, it takes a lot of cues from that system and seeing Kelly using it for the second week in a row is a positive sign.
Defensive Game Plan: A
Hey, for the second week in a row, I loved the defense.
The UCLA defense just made life miserable for Oregon offensively, especially in the run game where the Ducks had almost no success. The aggressive playcalling we saw against UC Berkeley was on display again with UCLA’s defenders looking a bit more confident in it this week. Considering the increase in quality of the opponent, the fact that this defense looked this good should be considered nothing less than a win.
Long-time readers of this article know that I am usually rather hesitant to hand out As. Call it being a harsh grader, but for me an A should be hard to attain, as it signifies the best possible standard the team can be held to. Long-time readers will also know that I have been rather harsh on the coaching staff these past few years, finding a multitude of flaws in their approach to game planning and adjusting to the opponent.
So, I’m sure those long-time readers are shocked to find, for the second week in a row, this coaching staff has earned an A.
Again, not all grades are equal. Last week’s A grade was indicative of the fact that this staff did a great job on short notice preparing the team, but I left enough caveats to wonder if it was a replicable performance. This week proved that first A was not a fever dream, but a sign of what things truly could be going forward. Sure, maybe the stars just aligned to allow UCLA to replicate the success it found against the Golden Bears. But that’s the thing about success. Once you catch some, it can become contagious and, while the pandemic rages on throughout the country, a very different kind of pandemic is running through the UCLA football program.
Just like last week, this level of success again makes me question why Chip Kelly, who I have continually stressed is a smart man, seemingly refused to make the necessary shifts until now. Perhaps that’s a question for the offseason. For now, I am satisfied and wish for more.
Again, UCLA looked like the better team in this game, which is saying a lot since their opponent is the preseason favorite in the conference.
Now, that’s not to say UCLA was perfect here. The defense, especially, gave up a few touchdowns on RPO plays that made it seem like that style of offense was a foreign concept to them, which isn’t the greatest thing in the world. But I have to give the passing grade here just based on how Chase Griffin looked in his first career start. That’s a huge thing to manage and the UCLA coaching staff did just that.
Offense grade: A- (3.7)
Defense grade: A- (3.7)
Special Teams grade: C+ (2.3)
Coaching grade: A (4.0)
Preparedness grade: Pass/Fail
Final grade for Oregon Ducks: A- (3.43)
Our previous grades:
So, now comes Arizona and, if I am being honest, I think we will learn more about the team in this game than we have in the first three games, because Arizona is the one team everyone has expected UCLA to beat. If UCLA truly has turned the corner into becoming a good football team, then they should be able to take care of business handily. Struggle and it raises more questions about the program’s overall trajectory.
No pressure or anything.