UCLA came into the 2012 season with a new coaching staff and week one I tuned into their game against Rice to see what the new look Bruins were up to. What I saw surprised and impressed me so much that I wrote my first Breakdown article under my own account (I spent quite a bit of time just figuring out how to do it too). In that article I looked at UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley and how he was being used. Since that game UCLA has continued to impress and another star has come into the spotlight, Jonathan Franklin, the number three runner in the nation. I will look at how he contributed to UCLA's signature win against Nebraska and how Oregon State shut him down. Then I will touch on something I mentioned in my earlier UCLA article.
This first play we will look at has UCLA lining up in shotgun with two running backs and three wide receivers. Nebraska has four defensive backs, three linebackers and four linemen. #6 on UCLA, Jordan James, goes in motion pre-snap and the Nebraska linebackers move a couple steps to their left to account for him. UCLA plans to run away from the motion and this simple movement places two of the linebackers too far away to stop the run. The play is disigned to be run between the UCLA left guard and tackle, with the right guard pulling to provide a lead block through the hole. The safety should be the only defender able to make a tackle.
I have circled Nebraska's defensive end, he has recognized where UCLA wants to run the ball and fought his way into the hole where he can make a play on Franklin and stop him for no gain. Franklin, #23, used his vision and his ability to make a cut to get outside the left tackle where there are no defenders (the defensive end lost "contain" or the ability to force the play back to the middle of the field).
It is more impressive in motion. Not only does he make the cut and gain the yards with minimal help from his blockers but he shows power as he runs through an arm tackle.
The very next play was even an even more impressive display of athletic ability from Johnathan Franklin. UCLA is once again in a two back spread formation. Nebraska counters with five DBs and six "men in the box" (within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage and between the offensive tackles). This is a pass defense and offenses often have an audible they can call to switch to a run if they have more players "in the box" than the defense. In this case James goes in motion again, but no Nebraska defenders follow him this time because the defense is coming on a blitz.
The blocking diagram above is a best guess because the UCLA offensive line turns into a sieve. The right guard is flat out beat by his man, the pulling left guard blocks the blitzing linebacker instead of the defensive end and the defensive end has an unblocked path to Franklin. Disaster for UCLA...
Once again Johnathan Franklin is able to make something out of a loss. Not only that but he showcases his speed (out running a linebacker) and power proving that it takes more than one DB to tackle him.
Johnathan Franklin entered the Oregon State game as the leading rusher in the country, and OSU shut him down. Lets see how they did it.
UCLA lines up with four receivers split wide and motions #33 Steven Manfro across the formation. The OSU defense has six men in the box and no one follows Manfro across the formation. What does UCLA want to do against six in the box? Run.
UCLA will block this one straight up, no pulling linemen. The left tackle will leave the defensive end unblocked and block a linebacker instead. This is a common tactic with a quick developing run because the defensive end is unlikely to be able to get to the running back before the back passes the line of scrimmage. The left guard blocks one defensive tackle while the center and right guard double team block the second defensive tackle. One of these two O-linemen will eventually leave the double team to block the second linebacker. The right tackle blocks the play-side defensive end. At least that is how this play was supposed to go...
Watch the defensive tackle circled in white, #95 Scott Crichton, in this GIF. Not only does he "split the double team", which is football-speak meaning to attack the space between the blockers, but he tackles Franklin one handed. The UCLA linemen are so badly beat that they are called for holding.
In this final play UCLA is pinned against their own goal line. They line up in a two back spread look with two receivers split out but not very wide and one receiver split about five yards from the right tackle. Nebraska is ready for a run with seven in the box and four DBs.
Either UCLA has some very unconventional blocking schemes or the blocking read on this play got messed up. #25 Thigpen goes in motion which causes the two linebackers on that side to hop towards the motion. Once again UCLA runs away from the direction of the motion. The right tackle blocks the defensive end out while the right guard blocks down on the defensive tackle. The center pulls around the right guard and blocks the linebacker in the middle. The linebacker towards the right side of the UCLA formation is the responsibility of the nearest receiver on that side.
The reason I say this is unconventional is that with this design the receiver almost has to block the linebacker in the back because of the angle he has to take to get there. On plays designed to be run outside the tackle, a receiver is often asked to block from this angle on what is called a "crack back". It is a devastating block when executed correctly but in this case the angle is all wrong. The linebacker plugs the hole where Franklin is supposed to run the ball so Franklin bounces the run outside. Unlike the play against Nebraska, the OSU defensive end does not commit to the inside run and is able to initiate the tackle and allow a defensive back to help finish the tackle.
UCLA's offensive line is suspect. The blocking assignments in a couple of these plays didn't look properly executed (or maybe improperly designed). Even once the O-line engages a defender those defenders are able to get off the block and make a play. Johnathan Franklin is having success despite his offensive line, not because of it. Both Nebraska and Oregon State were able to penetrate into the backfield with their defensive lines but OSU was successful in stopping Franklin because their D-linemen were able to tackle him one on one where Nebraska's D-line was not. Cal had better have spent all week working on tackling technique because the defense will need it this Saturday evening.
I want to look at one more play from the Nebraska game. Against Rice I saw a read option play that looked like it could have a pass option as well. Against Nebraska they ran that option pass. Actually, it was a read option play action pass and not an read option with an additional pass option, though that could always be implemented later.
Here is how they lined up. UCLA has a tight end on the right side of the offensive line, a back in the back field and three wide receivers with Manfro at the top of the screen. Nebraska has four linemen with two linebackers behind them and either four defensive backs and a linebacker (lined up over one of the wide receivers) or just five defensive backs (I cannot read their numbers to know for sure).
Before the snap Manfro comes in motion behind the quarterback and a linebacker follows him across the formation. The ball is snapped while Manfro is in motion, Hundley and the running back do the read option fake and the defensive end bites hard while the linebacker freezes for a moment.
The receivers at the bottom of the screen are supposed to block but they fail utterly. Manfro is able to pick up seven yards by himself just because he is in space.
UCLA is a team that has lots of excellent skill players. Their weakness is the offensive line but somehow they have been able to succeed where Cal has not. Look for Franklin to get plenty of touches and for Manfro to have plays designed specifically to get him the ball. UCLA uses motion to get the defense out of position or moving the wrong way and allows the speed of their skill players to do the rest. Hundley can run and pass (though against OSU he had an ankle injury) and Franklin's backups are capable runners too.
I started writing this article thinking that we had no shot of a win against the Bruins, the first time I have felt that way about a game this year. After looking closer at the UCLA offensive line, I have a spark of hope. Of course this year the problem has not been the opposing team's offense, it has been the Bears offense.