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 44-37 win against Arizona State.
Junior quarterback Josh Rosen led UCLA to a 44-37 victory over an explosive Arizona State team up in Pasadena on Saturday. Rosen completed 25 out of 45 passes for 381 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
However, he wasn’t perfect for the entirety of the game. Rosen actually got off to a pretty abysmal start in the first quarter, completing just four of his 12 passes including his lone interception on a tipped ball. To be fair, redshirt freshman Jordan Wilson should have probably gotten a better look at what seemed to be a fairly decent throw.
Check out the play below.
Still, the junior quarterback got it going quickly after his shaky start.
Rosen went 21-of-33 for 358 yards for the rest of the game. He found 10 different players on his 25 completions with 13 of those going for 10 yards or more. The projected first-round pick also brought in his sixth career rushing touchdown in a one-yard keeper that tied the game at 14 in the second quarter. Here’s the play below.
Rosen wasn’t the only one finding ways to deceive the Sun Devils’ defense. Offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch kept ASU’s defense on its toes with his tendency to call trick plays early in games.
Fisch drew up a nifty double-pass play in which redshirt junior receiver Christian Pabico took a hand off before throwing it back to Rosen.
Rosen dodged a defender and found redshirt junior receiver Jordan Lasley downfield for an 18-yard dart resulting in a first down. Watch the play below.
In fact, that wasn’t the only time Rosen successfully evaded pressure. He was able to somehow escape a sure sack and found freshman running back Brandon Stephens for a nine-yard throw on the run. Check out the impressive clip below.
Rosen had been dealing with a concussion, a laceration on his hand and other issues that led coach Jim Mora to say he was dealing with “multiple things” following the Washington game on Oct. 28. All things considered, Rosen’s performance was impressive.
In the context of members of the media such as ESPN commentator Brock Huard questioning Rosen’s “toughness,” this was a real statement game for the quarterback. He continued to make a case for being the best quarterback in this year’s draft class.
After missing a week, the junior has put himself back within the top 10 in the country for passing yards in a contest led by the likes of current Heisman leader Baker Mayfield of Oklahoma, Luke Faulk of Washington State and USC’s Sam Darnold – just to name a few.
Running backs: A
On Saturday, the Bruins might have finally seen the emergence of their new primary tailback – Bolu Olorunfunmi.
The junior only had 79 yards rushing on 15 carries and a touchdown, but he didn’t just run the ball. Olorunfunmi also added two catches for 79 yards and busted a long run of 30 yards.
Here’s a clip of his 56-yard screen pass from Rosen along with his goal line score below it.
Olorunfunmi wasn’t the only one who contributed to this group earning an A. Redshirt senior receiver Eldridge Massington – a surprising but familiar face – earned one carry for a huge 39 yards in a sweep play call from Fisch. Watch the play below.
Junior tailback Soso Jamabo had a mediocre outing with only 19 yards on six carries, but he was explosive when necessary. Jamabo scored a 21-yard touchdown in the third quarter to give the Bruins their first lead of the game at 27-21. Take a look at the big play below.
Pabico also added a carry for 30 yards to boost this unit’s total to 192 yards on 5.8 yards a carry. Although it took a couple unique play calls to get it going, the rushing attack for UCLA this week was pretty great.
Wide receivers: B+
This was a huge bounce-back performance for this group in comparison to what was a lackluster performance against Utah.
Lasley became a huge storyline, exploding for 162 yards receiving on seven catches and a touchdown after returning from a suspension. The receiver sat out the last three games because of undisclosed disciplinary reasons, but looked as if he hadn’t missed a beat.
Aside from big-time production with his hands, Lasley was pivotal to Olorunfunmi’s 56-yard screen pass. Lasley held his downfield block long enough for Olorunfunmi to break free.
Check out Lasley’s 22-yard touchdown grab in the fourth quarter.
Redshirt junior Austin Roberts had six catches for 45 yards and was the third-leading receiver behind Lasley and Olorunfunmi. Pabico, Wilson and sophomore wide receiver Theo Howard also each had two grabs for a combined 55 yards.
The wide receivers averaged 15.2 yards a reception. They’ll need to keep up numbers like those in the absence of two of their top leading receivers, redshirt senior Darren Andrews and redshirt sophomore Caleb Wilson, for the rest of the season.
Offensive line: B
The offensive line really took a step forward this week.
Rosen was flushed out of the pocket a few times in the game, but for the most part had ample time to find his receivers downfield. The group finished with zero sacks allowed and paved the way for Olorunfunmi’s performance, in which he averaged 5.3 yards a carry.
It’ll be tough for this unit to get significantly better with only two games left this season – but this performance is definitely something to build on.
Redshirt senior center Scott Quessenberry and senior guard Najee Toran have their final two games as Bruins ahead of them, and have been consistent throughout the 2017 season despite the offensive line’s struggles as a whole.
Defensive line: C
Sure, UCLA made a few key defensive stops when it mattered, but that doesn’t let the defensive line off the hook for its continued suspect play.
For the fifth game in a row and the ninth time this season, UCLA’s opposing running back went off for triple-digit yardage on the ground.
ASU tailback Demario Richards had 125-yard rushing on 21 carries, and his counterpart Kalen Ballage was just three yards shy of 100 on the ground on an equal 21 carries.
The Sun Devils knew the Bruins have had trouble stopping the run and pounded the ball down their throats 61 times for 294 yards and two scores. Tackling and wrapping up still seemed to be a problem, as Richards broke tackles often. Check him out bullying his way through the front four on his goal line score.
Still, there were positive takeaways from this unit.
Redshirt sophomore Rick Wade returned from injury and was a key piece to some pivotal run stops in the fourth quarter when ASU was down 34-41. Additionally, redshirt freshman Marcus Moore continues to impress as he caused a tip pass that resulted in an interception.
The real star on the defensive line, and possibly the entire defense, was senior Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, who finished the game with two sacks and 10 tackles. His second sack of the game came on third and five in the fourth quarter, forcing the Sun Devils to punt while still down 34-41. The Bruins would score on a field goal the following drive.
The linebackers improved their play but still didn’t showcase much this week.
Lapses in coverage in the middle of the field and a barrage of broken tackles didn’t make the unit look great, but they played just well enough to stop ASU quarterback Manny Wilkins from scrambling for big runs. He finished with 12 carries for only 35 yards.
Wilkins did, however, manage to notch a rushing touchdown and evade both linebackers for the 16-yard red zone score. Watch the clip below.
Sophomore Krys Barnes fared poorly against the Utes in a 48-17 blowout loss, but rebounded as the Bruins’ leading tackler against ASU with 12. Senior Kenny Young added six tackles and a tackle for loss. A lot of the linebacker’s play has been a result of schematic adjustments.
Defensive coordinator Tom Bradley continued to shift his scheme to a two-linebacker set due to the multitude of injured players at the position such as junior Josh Woods, sophomore Brandon Burton, redshirt sophomore DeChaun Holiday and redshirt freshman Breland Brandt – who retired from football early November.
It’s hard to criticize the adjustment with such a thinning group of players at the position. It wouldn’t be surprising if Bradley and linebackers coach Scott White input some new faces in the last two games of the season, as recently they’ve inserted true freshman Rahyme Johnson into the mix.
Defensive backs: B+
This is a considerably high grade for a group that gave up 74, 87 and 95 yards respectively to three different receivers on six catches each.
However, the defensive backs put up a whopping eight pass deflections to ASU’s one. Redshirt sophomore Colin Samuel registered three of those pass deflections in a somewhat breakout game for him.
Arguably the most important play of the game came at the hands of junior Nate Meadors. The Bruins were down 14-0 in the first quarter when the cornerback got his hands on a tipped ball by Moore. Meadors took the interception back 27 yards for a touchdown and shifted the momentum heavily toward the Bruins.
Here’s Meadors’ pick-six.
Still, there’s always room for improvement. ASU wideout N’Keal Harry was expected to have a big game and he did, grabbing six balls for 95 yards and a touchdown. Watch Wilkins thread the needle through multiple defensive backs to find a sliding Harry in the end zone.
Harry also schooled redshirt junior Adarius Pickett and junior Octavius Spencer on a huge fourth-down conversion when the Bruins were up 44-34 in the fourth quarter. The pass ended up going for 39 yards despite it being just fourth and four. Here’s the catch below.
True freshman Darnay Holmes also got beat badly on a double move to the outside on a slant and go right. The beauty about this play is that it only works on man-to-man coverage, which ASU receiver Kyle Williams had on Holmes. Here’s the 47-yard bomb dissected below.
Special teams: B-
The win saved this group’s grade.
Sophomore kicker JJ Molson missed his first field goal attempt on the Bruins’ first offensive drive of the game. He would go on to make his next three attempts and all five of his extra point attempts.
Additionally, the punting unit surrendered a blocked punt that resulted in a touchdown to tie the game at 34 in the third quarter. That in itself might have justified a failing grade.
Redshirt junior Stefan Flintoft had a below-average performance averaging just 34 yards on his three punt attempts.
Pickett averaged a decent 9.7 yards on his three punt returns with a long of 21, and true freshman Mo Osling III continued to see kick return duties, averaging 22 yards on his two attempts.