Some games have ramification beyond the box score and Stanfurd's 56-35 blow out of UCLA was one of those games. The story of the season before Thursday was that Stanfurd was steadily improving after their season opening loss at Northwestern and UCLA was leaning heavily on running back Paul Perkins and their defense while true freshman quarterback Josh Rosen learned the ropes of Pac-12 football. Of course those story lines had been evolving going into Thursday night: Stanfurd's Christian McCaffery had become one of the national leaders in total yardage and UCLA's defense had been decimated by injuries which contributed to their first loss of the year against ASU.
Looking at the box score, ignoring touchdowns, this game does not look like a blow out. If I told you that UCLA would out gain Stanfurd on offense, that Paul Perkins would have over 100 yards rushing and Josh Rosen over 300 yards passing with 3 touchdowns you would think that the Bruins could not have lost this game.
Stanfurd employed the Anti-Air Raid offense with 75% of their total plays being running plays while UCLA was fairly balanced with a 42.5% run, 57.5% pass split. In a blow out we would expect the trailing team to pass more often but UCLA started the game with seven consecutive pass attempts and broken down by quarter UCLA passed 1Q = 65%, 2Q= 60%, 3Q= 60%, 4Q= 60%. That looks like a plan by head coach Jim Mora Jr. and offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone to put the keys of the offense into Josh Rosen's hands. Even when the score got out of hand in the third quarter, the offense did not deviate from their 60-40 pass-run split.
Noel Mazzone had been taking criticism for an offense that was too run oriented:
"I was not nearly as aggressive as a playcaller as I should be at this point," Mazzone said. "It’s like life. If you wake up in the morning and you get out of bed, and all you’re worrying about is not making mistakes, you might as well not get your ass up out of bed. You might as well stay in bed.
"You’ve got to go out and freaking be aggressive. You make mistakes, you make mistakes. Maybe there’s a little bit of truth in that, but what the heck? We all learn."
Lets take a look at some of those first quarter plays and see how Rosen did with Mazzone's "freaking aggressive" play calling...
On the Bruins' first possession, they are backed up inside their own 10 yard line. They line up with two wide receivers on each side and #24 Paul Perkins as the running back just to the right of Josh Rosen.
Perkins goes into motion pre-snap and the Stanfurd linebacker #4 Blake Martinez follows him. This looks like it could be a screen towards the top of the screen to Perkins and Stanfurd already has their only safety over towards the top to cover that tendency (4 defenders to cover 3 offensive players).
UCLA has another play in mind. The receivers at the top of the screen run 5 and 10 yard curl routes at the hash while at the bottom the inside receiver runs directly at the defensive back over him forcing that DB to cover the deep threat because there is no deep safety on this side. This allows the outside receiver to be wide open on a slant since the DB is occupied and there is only one linebacker remaining in the middle of the field after Martinez followed the motion of the running back.
The pass is on time and on target for a Bruin first down.
This next play UCLA has 2nd and 9. UCLA is lined up with 4 wide (two on each side) and the running back, #24 Perkins, to the left of Rosen (the wide side of the field). Stanfurd again has 5 defensive backs, one over each receiver and a safety deep on the wide side of the field with two linebackers.
The Bruins run play action which causes both linebackers to vacate the middle of the field. This leaves the slant route wide open.
The ball is once again delivered on time and accurately. The danger on both of these plays would be a linebacker dropping into a shallow zone and being able to intercept the slant, but Noel Mazzone uses movement and play action to prevent that from happening.
After a penalty, and penalties really hurt the Bruins' offense in this game, UCLA has 3rd and 16.
UCLA motions a man across the formation and Stanfurd appears to be adjusting for the motion, but a closer look shows the defense is moving before the receiver goes into motion. Stanfurd has disguised their 3 deep coverage.
Rosen throws this ball to #7 Devin Fuller as if he believes that #13 Alijah Holder will respect the deep route. In reality, there is a safety dropping to a deep zone behind Holder which allows him to jump the 15 yard out route.
This mistake alone was not a disaster for UCLA but it did set the tone for the rest of the game.
On UCLA's eighth offensive play, Noel Mazzone finally calls Paul Perkins's number and this is what happens.
That play run should have been stopped so many times, a couple of times behind the line of scrimmage but Perkins manages to turn it into a big gain on his own. The drive ends after 4 more running attempts and an offensive holding call (on a passing play). Mazzone's aggressive play calling in the first quarter was a bunch of passing plays followed by a bunch of running plays in the red zone and a field goal.
This back shoulder throw by Josh Rosen shows off what his arm is capable of doing:
It also shows he is a freshman with a limited view of the field as he never looks anywhere but at his primary receiver.
But this is the play that Cal should look at closely, not just to see what UCLA could pull next Thursday but to see how to beat the Stanfurd defense. Stanfurd is going to drop into a 3 deep zone with 5 shallow zones underneath while only rushing 3.
UCLA has designed this play to target #21 and #29 who have two of those deep zones. UCLA puts their outside receiver at the top on a long out route while the receiver just inside of him runs a go route down the hash marks. #21 has to decide whether to stop and cover the out (passing on the go route to #29) or to go deep and cover the go route. Meanwhile the lone receiver at the bottom of the screen runs another go route right at #29 pinning the safety to the middle of the field. #21 has no good decision and even though he pivots his hips to run with the go route, he is already beaten.
If #29 came over to help #21 with the go route, the other receiver would have been open (turns out he was open anyway).
On the other side of the ball...
I couldn't complete this post without showing some of what Stanfurd did with the ball. Did someone install Chris Petersen as offensive coordinator on the Farm when I wasn't looking? While the razzle dazzle is interesting (Christian McCaffrey is lined up as quarterback, and Kevin Hogan who ends up throwing the ball is lined up at receiver), this is THE Francis Owusu play because of the catch at the end.
This next play sort of sums up the game. Christian McCaffrey is lined up as quarterback again, I suppose to force other teams to prepare for the formation (it was used several times in the 3rd quarter). A standard sort of Stanfurd run is called, but McCaffrey notices that the entire UCLA defense is over-pursuing to where the run is intended to go. McCaffery cuts the run back and is gone...
Last Thursday, on ESPN, after watching the Dodgers get eliminated the nation saw Stanfurd become a National Playoff contender, McCaffrey force himself into the Heisman conversation and Josh Rosen become the focus of the UCLA football program. Even with a lot of football left to play, the Big Game on November 21st is now positioned to be the most important and possibly the most difficult game of the year for the California Golden Bears.