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UCLA vs. Cal Football Review: Grading Every Bruin Unit in Berkeley

Jeff PoirierCorrespondent INovember 26, 2016

UCLA vs. Cal Football Review: Grading Every Bruin Unit in Berkeley

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    After an uninspired, undisciplined effort in Berkeley this weekend, the UCLA Bruins fell to 1-2 in Pac-12 play, while Cal improved to 2-4 and secured its first conference win in 2012.

    For the Golden Bears, the 43-17 victory was season-saving, allowing a bedeviled squad some much-needed confidence and hope. Offensively, the Zach Maynard-to-Keenan Allen connection was electric all night long. On D, Cal was unrelenting in the trenches and the secondary, producing takeaways in crucial moments of the game.

    For the Bruins, there weren't too many positives to take home from the performance. The offense was inconsistent and tormented by turnovers, while the defense was soft, reverting to bad habits like missing tackles and blowing assignments.

    Jim Mora and his staff will have a lot of issues to focus on this week in practice, especially with a matchup against Utah looming next Saturday. The Utes' defensive front is as disruptive as the Bears' and features a surefire first-round draft pick in DT Star Lotulelei. Unless UCLA can fill the holes in its offensive game plan, the Bruins could be in for more tough times ahead.

    The following slides will breakdown the performances of each UCLA unit, dishing out marks for the Bruins' efforts against their UC system rival. Let's get to the grades!

Offensive Skill Positions: Quarterback

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    Before stepping onto the field in Berkeley, QB Brett Hundley was on a low-key rampage with 15 TDs and 329 yards passing per game, good enough for third in the Pac-12. But he couldn't keep it up in the meeting with the Golden Bears.

    Hundley had the first poor performance of his college career, tossing four interceptions, taking five sacks, losing a fumble and missing a number of open receivers.

    Is it a coincidence that Hundley's first forgettable night came in his first true road test?

    I don't think so. After all, the Bruins were lucky enough to open their road schedule visiting Rice and Colorado, two teams over which UCLA has a serious talent advantage. And despite sloppy play in both games, the Bruins ended up rolling the Owls and Buffs with relative ease.

    But that wasn't the case against Cal, a team that's talented enough to capitalize on the mistakes of a young quarterback in a very hostile environment. 

    The reality check was a harsh reminder that despite Hundley's massive upside and mature-beyond-his-years mindset, he is still a freshman. And as such, he fell victim to his own inexperience and indecision.

    It seemed like every drive had at least one play where Hundley held the ball too long and forced a tough throw into coverage, while taking big hits from the Bears' D-line. And on many of those plays, there was a whole lot of open green just waiting for him to tuck and run. Hundley netted only seven yards rushing on 14 attempts, despite busting a 20-yard scramble in the second quarter. 

    To his credit, Hundley still managed to rack up 253 yards and two touchdowns on 31-of-47 passing, which shows how explosive he could be with a little help from his offensive line. But when it comes down to it, having a hand in five turnovers and only managing 0.5 yards per carry won't get very high marks. Look for Hundley to be more comfortable back home in the Rose Bowl next week.

    Grade: D+   

Offensive Skill Positions: RB and WR

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    Coming into the meeting with the Golden Bears, UCLA's offense was ranked No. 4 in the nation, with close to 560 yards per game. Many thought the Bruins would perform well against a Cal run defense that ranked last in the conference.

    But to the dismay of many Bruin faithful that made the trek to the Bay, the offense of the past five games was nowhere to be found, due in part to the Bears' defensive dominance.

    UCLA was held to 382 yards of total offense, including a pedestrian 129 yards on the ground. The only bright spot for the Bruins offensively was senior RB Johnathan Franklin, who continued to impress with his fifth 100-yard rushing game of the season. "Jet Ski" rumbled for 103 yards on 15 touches, for a healthy average of 6.9 yards per carry. But his scoring drought continues, as he failed to find the end zone for a fourth-consecutive game.

    Other than Franklin, UCLA was completely ineffective in the ground game. Redshirt sophomore Jordan James, the Bruins' only other double-digit rusher, tallied 14 yards on four attempts.  

    In the passing game, UCLA had a little more success, but the effort was marred by Hundley's four interceptions and a lost fumble on a backwards pass to freshman Devin Fuller.

    Fuller is a superb athlete out of New Jersey, originally scheduled to take a redshirt year in 2012. But injuries and inconsistency at the wideout position prompted Jim Mora to reconsider, and Fuller saw his first college action against Cal. Unfortunately, the showing wasn't quite what Mora & Co. were expecting, as Fuller failed to record a statistic.

    The rest of the receiving corps had a pretty solid night, combining for 253 yards and two TDs (though one of those scores belongs to DE Cassius Marsh). Sophomore standout Shaq Evans was the Bruins' leading receiver with seven receptions for 68 yards, but his most memorable play was far from a highlight.

    With less than three minutes in the first half, and UCLA trailing 16-7, the Bruins had managed to drive down into the red zone and were poised to snatch back momentum in the game. But when Hundley lofted a high fade towards Evans' corner of the end zone, only Cal's Kameron Jackson was there to make a play on the ball (which was good for the first of his three picks on the night).

    So where was Shaq? He was about 10 yards away from the action, standing still, watching the ball fly over his head and into the hands of the cornerback. It's unclear whether there was a route miscommunication, or whether Evans simply thought the ball was heading far out of play, but it doesn't really matter at this point. Those kind of mental errors are deadly on a young team, and the Bruins can ill afford any more of them. 

    If UCLA is to have any sort of consistency moving the rock, the offensive skill players will need to be focused and ready to go every week. They didn't show up in Berkeley, and the deflating result is proof of that.

    Grade: C+ 

Offensive Line

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    The youth of the UCLA offense was exposed by Cal's front seven, as the Bruins' O-line struggled to protect Hundley, and failed to open running lanes for the backs.

    The Bears' defensive line was quick off the block, preventing any push from the UCLA frontline. The linebackers got involved in the pass rush too, finding their way into the offensive backfield seemingly untouched. Whether it was on the edge or up the middle, Cal's defenders were blowing up the Bruins' plays from every angle.

    As a result, the offense was stagnant for much of the evening. Hundley was hurried into a lot of tight throws, while also taking five sacks, being hit and losing a fumble. The blatant lack of protection was a key factor in UCLA's loss, and will most certainly be a talking point in practice this week.

    There were also some untimely penalties committed by O-linemen that killed the Bruins' momentum, most notably a holding call on a screen pass that caught Cal off-guard and allowed Johnathan Franklin to gash his way deep into the red zone. After the flag negated the gain, UCLA was forced back to the downfield throwing game, which ended up sealing the loss when Hundley tossed his fourth and final INT.

    Just how far UCLA can go this season will be directly proportional to the growth and progress of the young offensive line. Against Cal, starting freshman tackle Torian White exited the game with soreness in his knees, according to a report from the Los Angeles Times. That certainly could have contributed to the Bruins' difficulties, as White has been a lynchpin in the trenches so far this season. If White can play full speed, and the rest of the line has a short memory, UCLA has a chance to handle Utah's intense blitzing scheme next week in the Rose Bowl. If not, it could be another long day.

    Grade: C

Front Seven

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    The UCLA front seven was the most successful unit in the Bruins' matchup with Berkeley, but there was still plenty of reason for criticism.

    The defensive line was able to limit the Bears' ground game to 186 yards, which is impressive, considering Cal has a deep stable of talented rushers.

    The Bears are led by three strong backs in Isi Sofele, C.J. Anderson and Brendan Bigelow. All three were held in check until late in in the fourth quarter when Anderson scampered for 68 yards and a score. Other than that late explosion, no other Cal run went for more than seven yards. Factor in two forced fumbles, and it's clear that the Bruins had the Cal backs figured out in this one.

    UCLA also managed to sack QB Zach Maynard three times, which looks like solid productivity at first glance...but there is more to the story. Coming into the game, Cal was ranked dead-last in the nation, giving up roughly five sacks per game. So while three sacks is nice, there probably should have been more, especially considering the talent and experience along UCLA's line.

    The biggest knock on the Bruins' D-line against Cal has to be penalties. The veteran unit committed three offsides penalties, which gave free yardage and momentum to the Bears' offense. While I applaud the effort to try and make a play, there has to be better discipline in that group.

    The linebacking corp was rather ineffectual against the Bears, as Maynard was able to get rid of the ball quickly and avoid the pressure coming from the second level. Damien Holmes and Anthony Barr were ghosts all night, unable to have much of an impact pass-rushing or dropping back in coverage. There were some very bad angles and a lot of missed tackles (though many were in the secondary) that led to bigger Cal gains.

    DC Lou Spanos will have to get back to the basics this week in practice, focusing on finishing tackles and flying to the ball. He might also want to consider switching up the Bruins' blitz packages, which were easily picked up for most of the contest.

    Grade: B+

Secondary

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    There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that UCLA's loss to California falls on the shoulders of the secondary, a unit full of seniors that was supposed to be a strength this year.

    Unfortunately, the Bruin defensive backs have turned out to be a major liability— and the Golden Bears took advantage.

    Aside from an Andrew Abbott interception on Zach Maynard's first pass of the evening, there wasn't much to build on from the unit's performance.

    Senior cornerback Sheldon Price was burned deep a few times in the game, just as he was in UCLA's loss to Oregon State two weeks ago. Senior CB Aaron Hester continued to baffle the Bruin faithful by committing not one, but two personal fouls. And safety Tevin McDonald, a RS sophomore that intercepted Maynard three times last season, just didn't show up to play.

    The UCLA secondary made Zach Maynard look like a Heisman contender, giving up 295 passing yards and four touchdowns on 25-of-30 passing. In the previous five games this season, Maynard had thrown only five TD passes combined.

    It seemed like the Bruins never found their footing, and were incapable of adjusting on the fly. Missed tackles, poor downfield coverage and blown assignments plagued their effort and gave Cal the chance to make plays.

    At one point, the Bears ran the same play (a quick slant to the slot receiver) three times in the span of five snaps. But no matter how many times they saw it, the Bruins couldn't stop it. UCLA tried press coverage from the free safety, dropping the corners back 10 yards, and even leaving linebackers downfield to help out, all to no avail. It was downright embarrassing.

    Unless Mora and Spanos can get the issues in the secondary figured out quickly, the Bruins will continue to struggle against the speedy pass-attacks of the Pac-12.

    Grade: D- 

Special Teams

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    As has been the case for UCLA all season, the special teams performance left much to be desired. The only highlight for the Bruins was two blocked PATs, though the two points didn't end up meaning much in this game.

    Freshman kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn was 1-of-2 on field goal attempts against Cal, hitting from 29 yards out and missing from 46 yards. His season mark now sits at 9-of-14, with a long of 35 yards. Those are passable numbers for a first-year college kicker, but the Bruins sorely need Fairbairn to improve. If the offense continues to struggle with consistency, the field goal unit will be heavily relied upon for points.

    Senior punter Jeff Locke provided a little stability for the kicking game, booting three punts for a 39.3-yard average with a long of 41 yards. But the rest of the punting squad needs some work.

    Evidenced by the lackluster return numbers, the protection team was unable to slow Cal's gunners, who consistently bore down on Thigpen and Manfro, forcing fair catches. And worst of all, the Bruins committed the ultimate bonehead play: a special teams turnover.

    In an exact replica of a play against Rice in Week 1, a UCLA special-teamer backpedaled into Manfro while he was attempting to make a fair catch. The ball ricocheted off a Bruin body and was immediately recovered by the Bears in UCLA territory. The play shifted the momentum in the game and gave Cal a golden opportunity to get points on the board, which they did in just five plays.

    Grade: C- 

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