No. 7 UCLA currently trails unranked Arizona State, 15-10, at halftime. Here’s a recap of how each position group performed for the Bruins in the first half.
This grade was an A until Josh Rosen threw a key interception late in the second quarter, which set Arizona State up with the ball on UCLA’s 49-yard line. Prior to that, the freshman quarterback was pretty much carrying the UCLA offense, as the Bruins’ running game struggled mightily.
Rosen had a slow start to the game, as UCLA’s difficulties running the ball on first down put Rosen in some difficult third-and-long situations. In one of those situations, Rosen faced an all-out blitz from Arizona State and committed an intentional grounding in the end zone for a safety. But once Rosen was allowed to pass the ball on early downs, he was pinpoint.
In UCLA’s seventh drive, offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone finally opted for a pass-first offense, and it worked to a tee. Rosen completed five of his six passes on the drive, including a 50-yard pass to freshman wide receiver Stephen Johnson. On that 50-yard completion, Rosen looked off his first read on the left side and spotted an open Johnson deep downfield. Overall, Rosen was solid in the first half. The only thing holding him back was the playcalling at times.
Running backs: C
It’s hard to downgrade the running backs too much in the first half, because UCLA’s playcalling was so predictable early on. The Bruins started off their first four drives exactly like they started their first four drives last week: with runs to redshirt junior Paul Perkins. The result wasn’t nearly as good this week against Arizona State, as UCLA went three-and-out on its first four drives, with a safety to boot. Even though the running backs have put up weak stats in the first half, it’s neither the running backs or the offensive line to blame. The bulk of the blame should go on Mazzone for not switching up his playcalling enough early on.
Wide receivers: B+
There were a couple third down plays where no UCLA receivers got open, but other than that, this group has done about all it can do so far. There haven’t been any drops, and Johnson did a nice job of gaining separation on that 50-yard reception.
Offensive line: B
Like I said in the running backs section above, UCLA’s offensive troubles are not as much a product of bad play on the field as they are a product of poor playcalling. Sure, the offensive line allowed a few quarterback hits and a safety early on, but with so many third-and-long plays, Arizona State had the luxury of bringing the house when it wanted to.
Defensive line: A-
The defense did a great job of keeping UCLA in the game early on, and that starts with the defensive line. Arizona State had a key third down play in UCLA territory in the first quarter, and the D-line got a great push to force Bercovici out of the pocket. Also, junior defensive end Takkarist McKinley had a solid hit on Bercovici late in the second quarter, forcing an incompletion.
This is a huge step up from the linebackers’ performance last time out against Arizona. Even without junior linebacker Jayon Brown – who is sitting out of the game because of a back injury – the linebackers have actually done even better with their run coverage. Junior inisde linebacker Isaako Savaiinaea had a couple run blitzes in the first half, and came in for a solid backfield tackle on one of them. He also did a good job in pass coverage. Overall, UCLA allowed just 58 yards on 21 carries in the first half, and only one touchdown. That’s something to hang your hat on.
Defensive backs: B+
Junior defensive back Ishmael Adams has done a great job in coverage so far, playing in press coverage quite a bit and not getting burned deep. Also, junior safety Tahaan Goodman made a key pass deflection in the end zone late in the second quarter which forced Arizona State into a field goal. Overall, the defensive backs have done well so far; many of the passes that Arizona State quarterback Mike Bercovici has completed have been undefendable passes.
Special teams: D
First, the positives: Senior kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn made the first 50-plus yard kick of his career, and that brought UCLA to within five points at halftime; also, sophomore punter Adam Searl came into the game and landed two nice punts inside the ASU 10 yard line. Now, the negatives: Arizona State has gashed UCLA on two kick returns so far, one of which came after the Bruins’ safety. Also, Ishmael Adams made a really poor decision to allow a punt to bounce and land inside the UCLA 15 yard line.
Compiled by Matthew Joye, Bruin Sports senior staff.