You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby (but you still have a long way to go) — “#7” UCLA wins their opener 28-20, but the Offense’s growth has been stunted, and it takes a smoking-hot 3-Touchdown 2nd quarter spurt BY THE DEFENSE to vaporize the Cavaliers
When your Defense scores more points than your Offense, you know you’ve got issues. When they score THREE TIMES AS MANY, your Offensive Coordinator better get to work. The vaunted Bruin Offense and Heisman Hopeful QB Brett Hundley looked anything but explosive on Saturday in Charlottesville, getting shut out until late in the 3rd quarter, managing only 1 TD (a short QB Draw) for the whole game, and being unable to move the chains in crunch time to put the game on ice. The Receivers dropped 5 balls, the Field Goal Kicker missed a 42-yard try, the Running Backs couldn’t break free, and the Offensive Line couldn’t open holes or protect Hundley in the pocket. If not for a flurry of 3 straight TD’s by the Defense in the 2nd quarter, and a Defensive stop highlighted by a Myles Jack coverage play, the Bruins would have gotten upset (or at least taken to OT) by a 21-point underdog, and might have relinquished their spot in the National Rankings’ Top Ten.
The excuse will be that the Bruins are missing their Starting Center Jake Brendel with an injury. Ok, but there was supposed to be enough depth this year to absorb that loss. Apparently, there wasn’t. Hundley was pressured all day by extra rushers, and Starting Bruin Running Back Jordon James gained a total of THREE YARDS on 5 carries. He was replaced by Steven Manfro who promptly dropped two passes. He was replaced by Paul Perkins, who may have earned an ascension up the depth chart by amassing 80 yards on 16 carries. It is possible that the Coaching Staff made adjustments, as there WAS a little more running room later in the game. But when the Bruins had the lead with time running out, they failed to run for the First Downs that would have put the game out of reach.
Despite pressure, Hundley still managed to pass for 242 yards, going 20/33, and don’t forget the 5 drops. But when you consider the Bruins also amassed 12 penalties for 87 yards — more than 4 times more penalty yards than Virginia — Hundley’s numbers were not good enough to put the Cavaliers away. Instead, the difference in the game was supplied by the UCLA Defense. Ishmael Adams returned an Interception for a 20-yard TD to start the scoring, then Randall Goforth picked up a Fumble and scampered SEVENTY-FIVE YARDS for another TD (while the Virginia QB walked off the field thinking the play was dead), and finally Eric Kendricks added a 37-yard Pick 6 to make the score 21-3.
Virginia responded behind a back-up QB to cut it to 21-17 in the 3rd quarter, and they had the ball with a chance to take the lead, but the Defense held on. Then Hundley’s TD run made it 28-17, before a Virginia Field Goal made it a one-possession game in the 4th. After that the Cavs had opportunities to tie it, but Jack & Co. buckled down and kept the Cavs at bay. The key play was on 4th down when Jack defended a crossing-pattern pass, giving the Bruins the ball back with an 8-point lead and just three minutes to go. A subsequent 35-yard Hundley completion to Jordan Payton (who caught 8 passes for 98 yards) put the game in the refrigerator.
The Defensive stars were Jack and Kendricks, as expected, but they were ENABLED by the QB pressure supplied by Owa Odighizuwa and Deon Hollins. Both of these defenders were constantly in the QBs’ faces, forcing bad throws. Goforth made some good tackles, and Kenny Clark was a factor in disrupting the Cav’s Offensive game plan. The Bruins did have a few lapses, allowing several 3rd Down that were converted in an easier fashion than should have been. Highly-touted Cornerback Fabian Moreau, who Coach Mora praised during practice, and who the ESPN announcers referred to as NFL-caliber, continued his habit of being victimized. Last year, he was IN MY OPINION the weak link in the secondary, who always allowed too big of a cushion and often allowed receivers to get past the sticks with the ball. On Saturday, I still felt like he did little to shed the label of “overrated” which I felt he earned last year.
In fact, the whole #7 team in the Country looked vastly overrated on Saturday. But I trust Coach Mora to make the proper adjustments. It’s not easy to fly across the Country, play at 9am in hostile territory, without your Starting Center who calls out the blocking assignments. So I thoroughly expect to see the cliched “improvement between game one and game two” which is always supposed to be the biggest jump of the year. And since I trust Mora, I expect that if he says someone has talent, that talent will show, so that means Moreau should also start to excel before the Pac-12 games start. We shall see. Anyway, Moreau was definitely NOT the reason the Bruins struggled on Saturday — That fault falls squarely on the Offense — which I am confident will iron out the wrinkles next week when the Bruins open their Home Schedule at the Rose Bowl against Memphis. One weak game does NOT mean that Bruins fans should abandon their enthusiasm. Trust Coach Mora and staff to respond.