UCLA was dealt a bad, bad loss by Oregon on Saturday. The live blog and recap can be found here, and here's what we learned in the Bruins' 42-30 loss to the Ducks:
All stats are not created equal
Take a deep breath and wipe the slate clean. Look at these offensive stats and tell me if UCLA played a good game against Oregon: 30 points; 328 yards rushing; 553 total offensive yards; 31 first downs. Also, quarterback Brett Hundley, who was sacked twice, rushed for 118 yards and accounted for three touchdowns.
Nothing like the levels this offense reached against Arizona State two weeks ago, but still pretty good, right?
Once again, the stats are deceiving for this UCLA offense. Don't think this was a close game, because UCLA scored 20 points in the fourth quarter, when Oregon was rotating backups in and didn't seem to care as much. The Ducks were up by 32 in the early part of the fourth quarter and could have scored another 14 points if they really wanted to. Also, on at least three occasions, Hundley was dragged down behind the line only for the scorers to rule it a "rushing attempt." The Bruin offensive line didn't play as badly as it did against Utah, but it wasn't their best performance of the season, either.
This game was not close, and we shouldn't pretend it was just because it was only a 12-point loss.
The exception to that is Paul Perkins
Somehow, the redshirt sophomore continues to fly under the radar. He rushed for a career-high 180 yards on Saturday and, unlike other members of UCLA's offense, he played well in the first half. He had 77 yards in 10 carries before halftime and ended the game averaging 8.6 yards a carry.
Six games into the season, Perkins already has more than 900 yards rushing. Hundley got all the preseason hype, and rightfully so, but Perkins has been the most valuable player in this offense so far.
There isn't a lot of flash when he carries the ball, not a lot of breakaway speed or athletic maneuvers. Perkins earns his keep by being very hard to take down, and by reading the field well. If there is a hole — a big if considering the state of the offensive line — Perkins is going to find it.
He's not the big name, and he's not flashy, but Perkins has been UCLA's most important offensive player this season.
UCLA was outcoached, plain and simple
I'm not really even talking about the sideline fight between Coach Jim Mora and defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich. That was ugly, sure, but I'm talking from a purely schematic and strategic point of view. In that regard, Oregon outcoached UCLA.
After the game, Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost said he ran a pretty conservative plan, mostly because the Ducks were running the ball so well even without using the complicated stuff. Coach Mark Helfrich said they had a lot more planned for their quarterback, Marcus Mariota, but they didn't need to use it because they were scoring so easily. Offensive line coach Steve Greatwood said they anticipated pretty much everything UCLA did. There weren't any surprises.
And then, on UCLA's side, linebacker Eric Kendricks said that the Bruins are going to go back to fundamentals this week and focus on the things they worked on in training camp.
It's October. Fundamentals should be, for the most part, figured out. One team talked about saving offensive wrinkles because they didn't need them, and one talked about trying to relearn the basic fundamentals of football. Without a doubt, that's on the coaches.
You know what else is on the coaches? Managing expectations
After the game, Myles Jack had one of the more interesting quotes of the season. The Bruins spent all summer saying that the preseason hype didn't bother them. ESPN spots? No biggie. Experts picking them as a dark horse national championship contender? Let 'em talk. The Pac-12 Network wanting to feature the Bruins in a behind the scenes, all-inclusive television show? The more cameras, the better!
On Saturday, Jack essentially said they did a poor job of handling that hype.
"Honestly, I think it did," he said when asked whether the expectations got to the Bruins. "It got to the point where obviously we couldn't ignore it. Everyone was talking about us, everyone had high hopes for us, high expectations. And I mean it did get to a point where we couldn't ignore it. We could filter it out as much as we want, but at the end of the day, you're going to hear it. I wouldn't say we tried to live up to it, but I'm sure it was in the back of our minds. We feel that we should be as good as people say we are, and we know we're good, so let's go out and show them. But at the end of the day, we have to win our games."
You can't put that on the shoulders of college kids. You can put that on the shoulders of Mora and the coaching staff. Whatever they did to try and quell the hype didn't work, and just six games into the season, every bit of that hype is out the window. Forget competing for the national championship. The Bruins could be in danger of not even competing for the Pac-12 championship.
Despite two turnovers, Hundley had a good game
Chalk up his first giveaway to a lack of awareness. Hundley dropped back to pass and got absolutely rocked by Duck linebacker Tony Washington, who was untouched on an outside blitz. Hundley should have seen Washington coming, and his fumble essentially handed Oregon a touchdown. That's on him.
The second giveaway wasn't his fault. For some reason, former walk-on Logan Sweet was playing wide receiver, and for some reason, he was matched up against Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, arguably the best cornerback in the Pac-12. Sweet slipped, Ekpre-Olomu didn't, and Hundley's pass was intercepted and returned to within sniffing distance of the end zone.
His passing numbers were boosted in the fourth quarter — 26 completions for 216 yards and two touchdowns — but his real value early on came in the running game. Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone hasn't given Hundley many designed runs this season — the elbow injury doesn't help — but on Saturday, Hundley ran everything from a zone-read option to a quarterback draw. He finished with a career-high 22 carries and totaled 118 yards and a touchdown.
Not his prettiest game of the year, but certainly not his worst. Hundley isn't going to win the Heisman — in reality, he's not going to get anywhere close — yet he played at least well enough to keep UCLA in the game for the first half. Although it may not be what everyone hoped for in August, it's going to have to do for now.