Each week, Daily Bruin Sports takes a look at the game film for UCLA football and grades each position group on its performance.
This week, we grade UCLA’s 45-44 comeback win against Texas A&M.
The stat line says it all, right?
Junior quarterback Josh Rosen threw for 491 yards, four touchdowns and completed nearly 60 percent of his passes on 35 for 59 passing, but he still missed out on an A. Realistically, this game shouldn’t have gotten as close as it was.
The Bruins were down an astonishing 44-10 with just four minutes and eight seconds left in the third quarter. Rosen was able to engineer two solid drives that resulted in touchdowns from junior running back Soso Jamabo and redshirt senior Darren Andrews, but after that it got iffy for the projected first round pick.
Again, Rosen impressively drove down the field and reached the Aggies’ 45 in less than a minute. However, on 1st and 10, Rosen underthrew a 42-yard-deep ball to Andrews. It was a sure interception for defensive back Deshawn Capers-Smith.
The Aggies’ defensive back moved towards the ball, leapt up with his hands ready to catch it – and did everything but that. The ball went perfectly through his hands and landed in the palms of a surprised Darren Andrews. Check out the play below.
So Rosen got lucky once, right? Wrong. On the next drive – after a great stop by the UCLA defense – Rosen drove down the field and even completed a fourth and 3 to redshirt sophomore Caleb Wilson.
Soon after on a first and 15, Rosen did the unthinkable. The Aggies brought four pass rushers and blew past the offensive line. He had no option but to scramble. Instead of taking the sack, Rosen once again tried to play hero and threw the ball off his back foot, into the end zone.
In what seemed like a sure incomplete pass or possible interception, sophomore receiver Theo Howard was able to shake his defender and come towards the ball. Somehow, it was a touchdown.
Everything Rosen did after this was nothing short of spectacular. Following another paramount stop by UCLA’s defense, the junior quarterback had two minutes and 39 seconds to finish off the 34-point comeback. This was arguably the most impressive drive Josh Rosen has put together in his career.
Completing seven of 10 passes for 76 yards downfield leaving 43 seconds to spare, Rosen capped off the game of his life with a fake spike call that will forever be remembered by Bruins fans.
Redshirt junior Jordan Lasley continued his fade route in the corner of the end zone after the snap, and hauled in a perfect pass from Rosen – tying the score at 44-44, before sophomore kicker JJ Molson’s extra point gave the Bruins a one-point lead.
All in all, Rosen got extremely lucky with two of his touchdown passes. Had either of those plays gone just a bit differently, the Bruins’ comeback wouldn’t have been a major storyline of college football’s opening weekend – it wouldn’t have even happened.
Still, there’s no doubt Rosen exhibited why most draft analysts believe he will be the first quarterback off the board next April. He never seemed to lose his calm, he absorbed a plethora of hits and was able to finish the second the largest comeback in NCAA history – lucky or not.
Running backs: C
The number 84.3 was seared into the minds of UCLA football fans for an entire offseason. That was the average yards per game the Bruins’ running unit mustered up last season – second worst in the country.
Last Sunday, they ran for 63.
With junior running back Bolu Olorunfunmi starting the game, the Bruins rushing attack averaged 2.5 yards per carry on 25 attempts. Olorunfunmi was limited to 31 yards rushing on 10 carries.
Much of this can be attributed to the offensive line, but there was a lone bright spot in fellow junior running back Jamabo, who rushed the ball seven times for 46 yards and a touchdown. Jamabo was also the recipient of pivotal fourth down conversion in the fourth quarter.
Massive improvement is still needed. The Bruins were so inefficient in establishing the run, the offense only attempted seven rushes in the second half, relying on a pass-oriented game. There’s no way the Bruins can continue to win without establishing the run.
Wide receivers: A-
Arguably the biggest surprise of all the position groups comes from wide receivers’ coach Jimmie Dougherty’s bunch. For just the second time in school history, three receivers amassed over 100 yards each.
As mentioned before, Andrews was the recipient of an ever-so-lucky 42-yard touchdown, but this doesn’t mean he wasn’t all over the field for the entirety of the game. Andrews caught 12 balls for 142 yards and scored two touchdowns.
Lasley looked like Rosen’s deep ball threat, coming up with four catches for 100 yards and the game-winning touchdown. Prior to his game-winning grab, the redshirt junior dropped a sure catch on third down, putting the Bruins in a precarious fourth and sixth situation.
However, the biggest surprise of them all came from Wilson.
Many wondered just how prominently the tight ends would be featured in Jedd Fisch’s new offense. Wilson led all receivers with 15 grabs for an astonishing 208 yards. He broke the UCLA record for receptions in a single game and performed well in the Bruins’ pivotal fourth quarter, hauling in eight of his 15 grabs for 108 yards.
Rosen may have a new favorite go-to receiver, as the tight end was targeted 17 times. Check out this fourth and 3 which Wilson turned into a 26-yard gain.
This group could be one of the best in the conference if they can continue to make plays as they did Sunday. It’ll also be interesting to see if speedster Howard becomes more involved in the passing game, as well as redshirt senior Eldridge Massington.
Offensive line: C+
This unit struggled mightily in the first two quarters. Although they were able to adjust their pass protection in the second half, Rosen was still eluding defenders all game long. The offensive line gave up three sacks resulting in two lost fumbles by Rosen.
The run game was non-existent. Possibly the most disappointing showing was redshirt junior Kolton Miller – a future high draft pick in the eyes of many coaches.
The left tackle was being bullied by the Aggies defensive ends Jarrett Johnson and Qualen Cunningham. Watch Johnson blow past Miller, who wears No. 77, causing a sack fumble by Rosen in the play below.
The Bruins started redshirt freshman Michael Alves at right guard and also lost redshirt senior Kenny Lacy to a season ending injury just last week.
The lack of depth showed as the offense was only able to produce 152 yards of total offense in the first half – over a third of which were on Lasley’s 54-yard reception. Rosen was hit eight times and knocked down seven on his 25 first-half drop backs.
On Sunday, Rosen showed that if given time, there’s no one better in the country. The run game must be established, or teams will start dropping back more and more defenders into pass coverage.
No matter how good your quarterback is, it’s not too hard defend against a team that throws the ball every play.
Defensive line: B
This unit was so close to receiving an A, but it wouldn’t be a truly fair grade considering A&M scored 44 points.
The defensive line entered another year as one of the most lauded position group. Despite giving up a whopping 382 yards rushing, their second half performance made up for it. Additionally, many of the Aggies’ rushing yards in the first half can be chalked up to the UCLA offense’s inability to maintain time of possession.
The defense was constantly coming back onto the field, as UCLA’s offense managed just over 11 minutes of offense to Texas A&M’s 18 in the first half. Eventually, the defense grew tired and the Aggies burst out of the backfield – rushing for 7.9 yards per carry on 286 rushing yards in the first half.
However, after switching back to their 4-3 base formation – a scheme they hadn’t practiced in over a week – the Bruins defensive line seemed to regain life. They limited the Aggies to just 3.9 yards a carry in the second half and held them to just six points. More importantly, the unit finished with six sacks and eight tackles for loss.
Once UCLA’s offense got the ball rolling, the defense seemed to as well. Check out this combo sack from redshirt sophomore Rick Wade and true freshman Jaelan Phillips.
Speaking of Phillips, the five-star recruit had some trouble beating tackles off the edge early on, but finished the game with five tackles and 1.5 sacks. The defensive line could be the most formidable part of the defense, should they continue on this track.
The linebacking core for UCLA featured new starters in sophomore Lokeni Toailoa and junior Josh Woods. For Texas A&M specifically, defensive coordinator Tom Bradley wanted to remain in his nickel package for the majority of the game – a situation in which Toailoa comes off the field and only two outside linebackers stay in.
But because the Bruins played the majority of the second half in their base 4-3 formation, Toailoa got reps at the MIKE spot, and seemed to be up for the challenge. Watch him stuff Aggies running back Kendall Bussey in the clip below.
The sophomore was not only pivotal in stopping the run in the second half, but also in clogging up the middle of the field at the middle linebacker spot – preventing Texas A&M offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone from taking advantage of his spread offense. Toailoa finished with three tackles.
Additionally, Woods finished with five tackles and senior Kenny Young finished with two along with one pass breakup.
Defensive backs: A-
This unit was the hardest to grade simply because the Aggies receivers barely showed up in the stat line. Texas A&M dominated UCLA with its rushing attack, but not once did the Aggies pose an aerial threat.
Now to be fair, Texas A&M’s starting quarterback Nick Starkel was removed from the game after suffering an injury in the third quarter. However, the redshirt freshman was just six for 13 with 62 yards passing. His backup – Kellen Mond – was a five-star, dual-threat quarterback as a high school senior last year.
While he managed to rush for 54 yards on 15 carries, the true freshman was just three for 17 on pass attempts, with only 27 yards in the air.
Freshman cornerback Darnay Holmes had a slow start, but proved why he was such a coveted five-star recruit, finishing with five tackles and two broken up pass plays.
The safety duo of senior Jaleel Wadood and redshirt junior Adarius Pickett showed their veteran leadership by leading the Bruins in tackles with eight and 11 respectively. Their coverage was a lockdown, as the largest pass play given up all game was for just 15 yards.
The unit also did an excellent job limiting receiver Christian Kirk in the Aggies offense. Junior Nate Meadors, Holmes, and Wadood all were in charge of keeping the 2017 Preseason All-American in check, and limited him to just five catches for 60 yards. The trio accounted for seven pass break ups as well.
Special Teams: A
Special teams were a huge issue for the Bruins last season. Molson was just 12 for 20 on kicks last season, and the punting unit featured a trio who combined for an average of less than 40 yards per punt. This past weekend, Molson connected his only field goal attempt for 29 yards, and converted all his extra points.
Redshirt junior Stefan Flintoft saw the majority of punts on Sunday, averaging a much improved 46.8 yards on five punts – with two landing inside the 20-yard line.
Yet, the biggest play on special teams came from Pickett, who was able to just barely block a Texas A&M field goal with the tip of his left thumb with less than five minutes left in the fourth quarter.
Big plays like this were what made such a comeback possible. Whether it was a Wilson fourth down catch, a Phillips sack or a fake spike by Rosen, this team came up with an exciting second half to earn a hard-fought win.