There are a lot of meltdowns going on in the UCLA fan universe over the loss to Fresno State. It is as disproportionate as was the giddiness with the win over LSU. When you haven’t won a non-conference game in years, balance tends to be the first casualty of fan reaction. UCLA is 2-1 going into conference play. That is something any “reasonable” fan would have been happy with at the beginning of August. But after a loss that should not have been, there is some serious UCLA analysis that needs to happen.
The Pass Defense Is A Wreck
Going into the Fresno State game, UCLA was ranked 115th in the country in passing yards given up. Head coach Chip Kelly said the passing yards against the Bruins were a byproduct of UCLA shutting down the running games of the first two opponents and forcing them to air it out.
That was far from the case Saturday. Fresno State quarterback Jake Haener came into the game airing it out and torched the Bruins for 455 yards passing. As of publication, the official NCAA stats have not been updated. If our math is correct, the Bruins will drop to about 126th or lower out of the 130 teams recorded. This has nothing to do with stopping running teams and forcing them to throw. This is getting torched through the air as a game plan by your opponent.
Monday, Kelly was asked about the UCLA defensive backs giving so much cushion to the Fresno State receivers. “We were off a little bit trying to keep the ball in front of us,” Kelly said. Good thing to notice. Even the scouts sitting in the press box behind us at the Rose Bowl were asking in live time, what the defense was doing. “We need to tighten that up this week,” per Kelly.
Haener, on one good hip throughout the last two drives, looked like a Heisman candidate because he got to UCLA before they “tightened it up.”
Tuesday afternoon, UCLA defensive backs Obi Eboh and Stephan Blaylock both said the loose coverage was more a matter of how the defenders played and not a scheme by the coaching staff.
Either way, tightening up would be item number one on any defensive adjustment checklist.
Can Someone Remove Greg Dulcich From The Milk Carton
Dulcich is by all accords one of the most gifted tight ends in the country. He needs to improve his blocking at the line of scrimmage. But his downfield blocking looks good on tape. And his ability as a receiver either across the middle or along the sideline is undeniable. So what does a guy have to do to get a look? He had two balls thrown his way Saturday. Both were incompletions. He has a total of four receptions over three games.
NFL scouts we have talked to are high on him. Opposing coaches we have talked to fear him. How can UCLA coaches not figure out a way to get him in the offense more consistently? And please, none of the, “We take what the defense gives us.” A defense is never going to willingly give Dulcich an opening. You impose Dulcich on the defense and make them shut him down.
UCLA folks were dismayed at the lack of pre-season award recognition for Dulcich. Ironic now that he is getting under utilized.
No Running Game = No Winning
In weeks one and two, UCLA fans were all a flutter over the newfound running game. And rightfully so. While it had been very good in previous years under Kelly, this year’s version looked to be potentially dominant. Brittain Brown and Zach Charbonnet combined for 397 yards and six touchdowns in the first two games. Against Fresno State, it was 42 yards combined with two touchdowns, both by Charbonnet. Their combined yards were well behind that of quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson who was the team’s leading rusher for the day. That should never be the case with those two at your disposal. Fresno State defensive coordinator William Inge stacked seven in the box to shut down the run up the middle and force Thompson-Robinson to beat them through the air. His plan worked. Barely. But it worked.
While neither running back has the outside speed of previous running backs like Joshua Kelley or Demetric Felton, offensive coordinator Justin Frye has got to find a way to diversify the run game. Fresno State’s game plan was the blueprint for opponents going forward. We called it early in Fall camp. This is no disrespect to Thompson-Robinson. But with two such talented running backs, if UCLA is putting the game on his shoulders to win each week, it means they are not in a good position.
Speaking Of DTR
He had a good game, because he had a good half. We know logically that makes no sense. He did not have a good, complete game. He played well for a half. And so when people look at the statistical outcome, it looks like he had a good game. In the first half Thompson-Robinson was two of five for 43 yards. Thirty-eighty of those yards were on one play. He finished the game 14 of 24 for 278 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. You tell us. Did he have a good game or a good half? It matters because consistency is going to be needed, especially if a defense has shut down the UCLA running game and forcing him to be THE guy.
Statistically, his quarterback rating went up. His completion percentage went up a fraction, so he is no longer last in the conference. He is tied for last with Brendon Lewis of Colorado. Most importantly the turnovers are down dramatically. He has thrown only one interception this season.
But if we can agree he had a poor first half, because he did, it leads to a question. Two weeks ago, in the postgame press conference, Kelly said he does not worry about balance in the offense. You do not get extra points for balance, he told us. So, you go with the hot hand. That was the explanation for leaning so heavily on the running game for two weeks and turning Thompson-Robinson into a Trent-Dilfer-like game manager with negligible passing stats.
But at the end of the first half Saturday, there was no hot hand. The running game, including Thompson-Robinson’s stats, produced 11 carries for a net 38 yards. And we know what Thompson-Robinson’s stats looked like. So how did Kelly know it would not be the running backs that could be the hot hand in the second half? Why could they not have devised a better scheme to get the backs to the outside? They were only down by two touchdowns at the half. They did not have to come out throwing to win. Yet something in Kelly determined that Thompson-Robinson was going to be the hot hand.
Kelly says you just go with what defense gives you. But the defense does not give you hot hands. You have to make them.