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 30-27 win against California.
In Friday night’s regular season finale, two quarterbacks took the field for the Bruins.
Junior quarterback Josh Rosen left the game at halftime for “precautionary reasons” per offensive coordinator and interim head coach Jedd Fisch. For the second time this year, redshirt freshman Devon Modster entered the game for Rosen – this time leading the Bruins to a three-point win.
In the first half, Rosen was lights out, completing 13 of 18 passes for 202 yards and two touchdown tosses before taking a huge hit to the ground on a sack.
When it was Modster’s turn, he put up an impressive 191 yards on 14-of-18 passing.
The redshirt freshman engineered the game-winning drive with two minutes left, leading to sophomore kicker JJ Molson’s game-winning field goal. Modster continued to surprise with his deep ball accuracy, finding redshirt junior wide receiver Jordan Lasley early and often downfield.
Fisch mentioned that part of the reason Rosen was pulled was in order to keep him healthy for the bowl game. With the first bowl game for the 2017-18 season starting Dec. 16, that gives the junior quarterback plenty of time to recover for what might be his final game as a Bruin.
Still, the future could be brighter than most think with Modster.
He fits the prototypical mold of a dual threat quarterback in a spread offense – the high-paced offense new UCLA coach Chip Kelly likes to run. All in all, this was a great performance by both signal callers. Despite the change under center, the offense didn’t seem to miss a beat.
Running backs: B+
This was a tough group to evaluate this week, as junior tailback Bolu Olorunfunmi went down with an injury early and fellow junior running back Soso Jamabo was dealing with an ankle injury for a majority of the game.
That paved the way for third-stringer Brandon Stephens.
The sophomore running back out of Plano, Texas, amassed a career-high 20 carries for 83 yards rushing and one score. Stephens was also a threat out of the backfield, mustering three catches for 35 yards and a long of 22. There’s still a lot of room for improvement for the shifty speedster, as most rushing yards came on a busted play for 37 yards. Without that play, his average drops from 4.2 yards per carry to 2.4.
Wide receivers: A
This should really say, “Jordan Lasley: A.”
The redshirt junior’s performance accounted for a whopping 58 percent of the 393 passing yards between both quarterbacks for the Bruins. Lasley tallied 227 yards on 12 catches, including one score.
It’s crazy to think that this is the same Lasley who had drop issues just a season ago. Now, the big question is whether he’ll even be back in Westwood for his last season.
The wide receiver out of nearby Compton, California, has quietly put himself into serious draft consideration after posting back-to-back 200-yard-receiving games. What’s even more shocking: his 1,136 receiving yards and eight touchdowns despite missing three games due to suspension. Those numbers also come on just 61 catches, equating to a staggering 18.6 yards a catch.
Sophomore wide receiver Theo Howard also got in the mix, obtaining four catches for 33 yards, including a nifty end zone grab in the first quarter.
Jamabo added two catches for 38 yards and redshirt senior Eldridge Massington notched two grabs for 22 yards. Redshirt freshman tight end Jordan Wilson had one catch for 25 yards, and true freshman Moses Robinson-Carr saw action this game, hauling in one catch for four yards.
Offensive line: C-
After two weeks of impressive play against Arizona State and USC, the offensive line fell back to its old ways in this subpar performance by the five upfront. Rosen and Modster were sacked a combined four times, with an additional nine tackles for loss given up in the backfield.
Redshirt junior Kolton Miller continued to struggle. It’s been a disappointing season for a player many coaches thought had NFL talent similar to last year’s Conor McDermott, now a member of the Buffalo Bills.
Miller has been struggling with primary edge rushers all season, often not finding his feet quick enough and getting bullied on swim moves.
Watch Miller get blown past in the clip below, ultimately leading to the brutal sack that forced Rosen out of the game. Miller displayed this same problem week one against Texas A&M.
The offensive line still held up adequately enough to give both Rosen and Modster just enough time to get rid of the ball as they each sported 11.2 and 10.6 yards per throw, respectively. With such an up-and-down season in terms of performance for this group, its play in the bowl game should be a significant indicator as to the task Kelly has ahead of him.
Defensive line: C-
It’s been the same story every week for this unit – Cal’s running back Patrick Laird finished with a silly 178 yards rushing on 32 carries.
The Bears rushed for 216 yards as a team on 5.1 yards a carry. Backup tailback Vic Enwere averaged 8.3 yards a carry on his three rushes.
It’s almost as if opposing running backs go into a different mode when facing UCLA.
Check out Laird making an incredible run that ended up with a hurdle over the Bruins’ redshirt junior defensive back Adarius Pickett. Laird also managed to escape four defensive linemen on the 29-yard rush below.
Still, there were some positives to take away from this young group. True freshman Jaelan Phillips saw his return to the field and made his presence felt with a sack for a loss of 10 yards on the second play of the fourth quarter. Senior Jacob Tuioti-Mariner also registered a tackle for loss, as did redshirt sophomore Chigozie Nnoruka.
Not a bad performance by what has been arguably the most depleted position group on the team.
True freshman Rahyme Johnson saw increased playing time and made three solo tackles in his new role. Sophomore Brandon Burton also made his way back from injury and got a tackle in.
Senior leader of the defense Kenny Young is likely to obtain all Pac-12 honors with his continued outstanding play, again leading the team in tackles with 15, good for 100 on the year. Yet, the other linebackers and members of the front seven struggled to wrap up and tackle – the story that has plagued this group all year long.
Here’s a clip of Cal quarterback Ross Bowers bustling his way in for a goal-line score. Below is a lapse in coverage by the linebackers leading to a successful two-point conversion to tie the game at 17-17 in the third quarter.
This group should see a big improvement come the 2018 season. Expect junior Josh Woods and redshirt sophomore DeChaun Holiday to make an impact after returning from injury, and redshirt freshman Mique Juarez should see increased playing time.
Defensive backs: A-
Coming into the beginning of the season, this was the most lauded position group on the defense, led by senior Jaleel Wadood and junior Nate Meadors.
Midway into the season, the defensive backs hadn’t delivered, but last week’s performance against Cal put them back on the right track to end the season with the same prestige.
Bowers was held to 242 yards passing on 25 completions on a whopping 41 attempts. The defensive backs also did a better job at preventing big plays, as the biggest pass play given up was just for 21 yards. True freshman and former five-star recruit Darnay Holmes continued to impress, but also looked like a novice on some plays.
Watch this clip in which Cal wide receiver Jordan Veasy handles him for a goal-line score.
Senior Mossi Johnson and true freshman Mo Osling III each added a pass deflection, and redshirt sophomore Colin Samuel also played well in coverage. Meadors added a half-tackle for loss, earning this group a holistic grade of a B+.
Special Teams: A-
Molson was the star of this group and probably the game, as the sophomore went 3-for-3 on field goals including his game-winning 37-yard field goal with four seconds left. He also went 3-for-3 on extra point attempts.
Redshirt junior punter Stefan Flintoft was also impressive, boasting six punts for an average of 43.2 yards with a long of 53.
The return game was average for this group. Three different kick returners averaged less than 20 yards per return, and Pickett took back two punts for just four yards total.
In summary, the game-winning field goal and an above-average punting game put this group into the A range.