If you’ve ever wondered what it would look like when two bad Power Five teams play each other, you would have to look no further than the Rose Bowl on Saturday night.
It wasn’t Arizona’s best performance of the year, but it also wasn’t as bad as it could have been. So let’s get to grading to figure out what actually cost this team the chance at being 4-4 on the year.
The numbers show that Rhett Rodriguez didn’t have a very good game in his first career start. Going 15 of 34 for 231 yards with two touchdowns (and two interceptions mixed in) isn’t going to win you a lot of games, but he did show that he’s at least capable of running this offense the way it’s meant to be run.
One thing that stood out is that his underthrows actually paid off as the receivers were able to adjust with the ball in the air while the UCLA defenders just kept running. But the accuracy certainly could have been better, even though one of the interceptions was a deflected ball off an Arizona receiver’s hands. The other was in the endzone though, one of two killer turnovers when points were to be had.
Rodriguez is probably a better option than Jamarye Joiner to be behind center with Khalil Tate hurt, but I’m still unsure if Kevin Doyle would do better in this situation.
Running backs: C-
I liked that J.J. Taylor was able to get the ball on the perimeter more in this game than he had in any game not against Oregon State. But I did not like what he did once he got there.
Several times Taylor got run down from behind, and the big one was the one pictured above where Darnay Holmes poked the ball out as the Arizona running back was getting close to the goal line. You could argue that turnover ended up being the difference even though it occurred early in the second quarter.
Gary Brightwell showed he has the size and speed needed to be a successful starter at this level. The two split carries pretty evenly and both averaged 8.1 yards per attempt which is a very good showing. But that turnover really cost this team.
Wide receivers: A-
As mentioned above the receivers did a really nice job adjusting to RhettRod’s throws while they were in the air. No one was better at this than Shawn Poindexter, who hauled in six passes for 106 yards and both passing touchdowns.
Devaughn Cooper and Tony Ellison also did this with each getting a 30+ yard reception.
I also felt like the receivers did a really nice job blocking on the edges when guys like Taylor were out there getting yards. This was probably the best overall game this group has had this year.
Offensive line: A-
With a little different look up front, the line actually had a really good game against the UCLA bigs.
The Bruins did not record a sack, had just one TFL, and really Rodriguez was very rarely under duress. The pass blocking was certainly not an issue in this game.
Neither was the run blocking. Arizona averaged 7.6 yards per rush as a team, putting up 289 total yards on the ground. That was the second-best team performance of the year, trailing only that 442 yard outburst in Corvallis.
Arizona averaged 7.2 yards per play in this game. Credit where credit is due, and the offensive line deserves a lot of credit for those kinds of numbers.
Defensive line: A-
The combo of PJ Johnson and JB Brown being on the outside with Dereck Boles up the middle is actually really, really good.
Arizona recorded four sacks and 12 TFLs in this game. Boles had a big-time fumble forced/recovered combo. UCLA averaged just 3.3 yards per carry. I don’t think there’s anything to complain about with the defensive line’s performance.
So a lot of those TFL numbers were recorded by the linebackers themselves. Colin Schooler is eighth in the country in that category, picking up another three against the Bruins despite looking a little slower than normal.
Jalen Harris is also starting to become a real weapon as a kind of edge specialist. He picked up a sack, a TFL and four total tackles of his own. When faced with a team like UCLA, this defensive front can certainly keep a team in check for the most part.
It really came down to two possessions in the second half where UCLA was able to get quick scores. Other than those two possessions, the defense was very solid.
The real difference between the two offenses in this game was UCLA’s higher completion percentage. The two Bruin quarterbacks combined to complete 22 of their 35 pass attempts. When Rodriguez is going 15 for 34 against that, and both teams are averaging roughly the same yardage per completion, advantage UCLA.
Arizona’s secondary actually played pretty well, especially considering they were without their top three corners in this game. Christian Young just moved over to corner from safety and true freshman McKenzie Barnes also got a start.
The problem that continues to plague Arizona’s secondary is their inability to get their heads turned around on passes. It either results in long completions that could have been broken up or pass interference penalties that result in first downs.
There was a stretch of two minutes of real time where UCLA was not called for pass interference while Arizona was on almost exactly the same play. The difference? The Bruin defender got his head around while the Wildcat one did not.
Special teams: C-
No missed field goals!
Josh Pollack was a perfect 3 for 3 on field goal attempts and knocked all three PATs through the uprights. It feels like the kickers are fighting for their jobs each week, so Pollack probably held onto his for the time being.
The main issue on special teams continues to be the return game on both kickoffs and punts.
Shun Brown made some questionable decisions to not fair catch a couple of punts and promptly got lit up because of it.
Then there’s the kick return situation.
With the new fair catch rule, this team would be better off taking advantage of that every time rather than trying to take kicks out from inside the five. There’s just nothing there and you’re costing yourself 5-10 yards every single time you try to return those. There was also an instance where a UCLA kickoff was very clearly going out of bounds and instead of letting it go, Taylor caught it and brought back to the 20. That’s an even bigger waste of yards.
It’s not even surprising at this point.
If the play calling was better on third downs, I really believe this team would be 5-3 instead of 3-5. It’s really been that simple.
This coaching staff just seems to lack game-situation awareness and I don’t know how you fix that other than firing people. There have clearly been adjustments made in personnel rotations, putting guys in better places to succeed, and that kind of thing. But game management remains this team’s biggest weakness.
As long as the coordinators are the same, I wouldn’t expect any of that to change. Also a DB coach that actually coaches DBs well instead of just being on the staff for recruiting purposes would be pretty good too.