UCLA football is coming off a 27-23 win over Colorado, but the Bruins will have to wait until next Saturday to play their next game. Here are five stats that tell the story of their season as the Bruins take their bye week.
1. Nine sacks allowed vs. nine sacks given
After allowing six sacks in the first two games of the year, the offensive line has been decent in pass protection – giving up one sack in each of the last three games – and junior quarterback Josh Rosen has been getting the ball out quickly.
On the other hand, the defensive front seven have had a tough time bringing down the quarterback behind the line of scrimmage. Since getting six sacks in the season-opener against Texas A&M, UCLA has only gotten three sacks, and none in its last nine quarters of play.
The defensive line has pressured opposing quarterbacks, but containing them within the pocket and sacking them has been a challenge. The Bruins had chances to sack Buffaloes quarterback Steven Montez, but allowed him to escape the pocket and make plays with his feet.
On one fourth-quarter play, both senior defensive end Jacob Tuioti-Mariner and junior linebacker Josh Woods failed to make an open-field tackle to sack Montez, eventually letting the quarterback throw the ball away.
2. Eleven total players have started every game
Only four defensive players – cornerbacks Darnay Holmes and Nate Meadors, senior defensive tackle Matt Dickerson and Tuioti-Mariner – have started each game this season, compared to seven offensive players – redshirt senior receiver Darren Andrews, Rosen and the entire offensive line.
Redshirt sophomore tight end Caleb Wilson is also on that list, but he will miss the rest of the season with a foot injury.
The Bruins will play seven consecutive games coming out of the bye week, and given their injury history so far this season, it’s fair to assume not everyone will remain healthy for the rest of the year.
Going into next Saturday’s game at Arizona, UCLA will have a little bit more depth. Coach Jim Mora said he thinks freshman defensive end Jaelan Phillips, graduate transfer offensive lineman Sunny Odogwu, senior left guard Najee Toran, redshirt sophomore linebacker DeChaun Holiday and sophomore linebacker Lokeni Toailoa all have a shot to play.
3. 6.3 yards allowed per rushing attempt
UCLA has faced several teams with dominant running games – Stanford, Texas A&M and Hawai’i all average more than 200 yards on the ground per game – but the Bruins haven’t helped themselves out with shaky gap integrity and tackling.
Colorado ran a quarterback read option on two short-yardage situations last Saturday, and Montez burned UCLA each time with long gains on the ground.
On both plays, the Buffaloes overloaded one side of the line of scrimmage and motioned a receiver to the same side. Every one of the Bruins knifed towards the strong side once the ball was snapped, giving Montez plenty of green grass.
Last Saturday also showed signs of life, however, especially in the first half.
Colorado’s first play was a jet sweep, looking to test UCLA’s outside contain and gap integrity. Redshirt sophomore defensive end Rick Wade set the edge and forced Colorado’s receiver Devin Ross to cut back inside, where UCLA’s redshirt junior safety Adarius Pickett stopped him for a loss.
“We’re just trying to find that niche from week to week going forward. That’s always going to be our calling card – how can we find our niche to take us to greater places?” said senior linebacker Kenny Young last Saturday. “Everyone has to buy in and have a certain level of uncommon greatness, focus and consistency.”
4. 4.2 yards gained per rushing attempt
On the flip side, UCLA has yet to unearth a dominant rushing attack. Junior Soso Jamabo has emerged as the Bruins’ lead running back, and he has shown spurts of burst and effectiveness on the ground.
Jamabo’s seven-yard run on 3rd-and-6 late in the fourth quarter showed burst through the hole on the right side of the line of scrimmage, and he fought to get past the first-down marker, essentially allowing UCLA to run out the clock before kicking a field goal.
Sophomore Jalen Starks has also solidified his role as the Bruins’ short-yardage running back. He picked up a goal-line touchdown Saturday and, on a 4th-and-1 on UCLA’s opening drive, he simply bulldozed his way for a first down.
Offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch said earlier this season that he’d like the Bruins to average at least 4.5 or 4.6 yards per carry. Their current average is depressed somewhat by Starks’ short yardage rushes, but Fisch’s goal is attainable through the rest of the year.
5. 9.8 penalties/91 penalty yards per game
To a certain degree, these numbers have been boosted by having four targeting penalties. Mora said he is also bothered by the defensive holding calls – redshirt junior corner Denzel Fisher was called for three on Saturday alone.
On Fisher’s second penalty, Montez was rolling toward the left sideline on a broken play, and the cornerback grabbed onto the waist of Colorado receiver Bryce Bobo.
Since Mora has been in Westwood, his teams have finished in the bottom-11 nationally in penalties per game every year except 2016 – this season, UCLA ranks sixth-worst in the country with 9.8 penalties per game. In just five games, UCLA has given its opponents 22 first downs due to penalties. Some, like the 12-men-on-the-field flag after two consecutive timeouts against Colorado, are simple mistakes.
“I was ashamed the other night that we called a timeout and then (afterward) had 12 guys on the field on defense,” Mora said this week. “I have never had that happen to me in my career, and it was my fault; it was shameful.”