September 25, 2010

UCLA Passing Inquisition - Houston 2010

Though I've explained all this in the PI FAQ, since this is brand-new I'll summarize some important terms for the upcoming post here. After each play, you'll see something along the lines of (CA+, 3). The first item is how I classified that specific pass - the meanings of each classification are here. This will eventually go in the Chart of Hope, the running tally of the entire season's pass results. The second item is what I rated the catch difficulty for the wide receiver. Higher is easier. More specifics can be found here.

Also of note: EVERY pass-play charted for this game was out of the Pistol formation, so I will no longer be identifying when UCLA is in a Pistol set-up. If necessary for future games, I will note when they are NOT. Norm and Rick have thrown all their eggs in this basket. Let's hope it doesn't end up with yolk on everybody's face.

Yard Line Down Distance Player Yards
UCLA 46 3 6 Harkey INC
This pass is a simple out, which should go for a first down. And Cory Harkey lets it bounce off his hands and out of bounds. I think it needs to be said - Harkey has been a major issue so far this season. He'll come up with a nice play every once in a while, it's true. But he's dropped numerous key throws (the bomb in the Stanford game in particular), and his blocking has been weak as well. Presley has been the far superior blocker, and Barr the far superior pass-catcher. (CA, 3)
Drive Notes: It's about time UCLA kicked off a game with some plays on the ground - they move the ball successfully to about midfield. They don't get a ton of yards, but it allows them to pin Houston deep in their own territory after the punt, instead of letting them start close to midfield. Considering Houston's ensuing drive makes it all the way to the UCLA 12 before stalling (resulting in a FG), those extra yards likely meant the difference between 3 and 7.
Yard Line Down Distance Player Yards
Hou 27 1 10 Thigpen 9
Hey, it's Damien Thigpen, back on offense! He lines up in the slot and runs a quick out to the far side of the field, and Prince play-actions then rolls that direction. I'm not sure what Houston's DC was trying to accomplish with this play-call, as the defender lined up over Thigpen heads into the flat before pausing for a moment, then trying to backpedal and get back to Damien, who is now wiiiiide open near the sideline. I'd like to see Prince make this throw a tad sooner to give Thigpen a bit more room to work with, but he hits him on the numbers for a solid gain, so (CA+, 3).
Hou 18 2 1 Embree INC
Designed screen that is just blown up by a good playcall by Houston and poor blocking on the left side of the OLine, who give up WAY too much ground considering this is a bubble screen and not a jailbreak RB screen. The end tips the ball up in the air at the line, and it falls to the ground. This wasn't going anywhere anyway - the Houston CB broke on this perfectly and had Embree dead to rights even if he caught it (BA, 0, screen).
Drive Notes: The Bruins then proceed to run the ball in behind Franklin and some solid run-blocking. This would be a theme for the whole game - moderately-effective passes that kept Houston just honest enough for the run game to do the actual work. Prince looks infinitely more comfortable in this game than he did the last two weeks.
Yard Line Down Distance Player Yards
UCLA 30 1 10 Embree INC
Play-action dropback. Prince has a good amount of time to load up and throw, but he waits a bit long and gets hit before the ball is fully released. Watch Harris hold the end, and still fail to keep him from getting to the QB. Not good. The rest of the line has done reasonably well here, though the left side is still getting shoved back much further than the right. Rosario blows away the DB off the line, and a quick throw probably gets to him before the safety can come over to help. Prince instead waits for Embree to come somewhat open, but pats the ball and doesn't get the throw out in time. The Rosario throw would have been a pretty dicey option, so I'll chart this (PR, 0)
UCLA 31 3 9 Rosario 16
Once again Harris has a problem in protection, as he leaves a standup DE completely unblocked in order to help doubling on a DT. Fortunately, Franklin gets him enough with the cut block that he can't reach Prince, who can step up and wing this ball to Rosario. It's a bit short, and causes Nelson to drop to the ground to catch it, but it's a relatively easy attempt for a nice gain on a big third down. (CA, 2)
Hou 46 3 3 Marvray 7
Prince's second nice 3rd-down pass in a row. Twins tight on the left side of the formation, and they both head upfield, as does Harkey from the TE spot right next to them. Prince finds Marvray in a soft spot of the defense, and gets the ball to him quickly for the first. The throw's a bit behind Ricky - if this is on his inside shoulder, he probably turns it upfield for a nice run after the catch - but Marvray pulls it in. (CA, 2)
Hou 38 2 9 Marvray 22
This is easily the best catch of the season so far - Embree's from last week only multiplied in difficulty and importance. Solid protection (Sheller's guy gets a bit too close, but isn't fast enough) allows Prince to really rocket this out. It just barely gets past one defender, and looks headed for the 3rd-row, when Marvray proceeds to snatch it out of the air, keep his feet once he lands, bounce off a couple of tackles, and fight for extra yards even as he's tackled. Just an unbelievable play by Marvray. I'm almost tempted to call this a Bad Read, due to the three Houston defenders all in the area to make a play on this ball. But, results-based charting, so (CA-, 1).
Hou 16 1 10 Rosario INC
This is on Rosario. He needs to not turn and backpedal so soon - should have been a TD. I think this might have actually been Prince's best throw of the night, because it's placed so that the DB can't get at it. But, just like the last play, it's results-based charting, so I don't think any pass that high above your 6'+ receiver can receive better than a (CA+, 2).
Drive Notes: Prince strings a few completions together, but none of them are particularly great. Still, this is probably the most successful series of passes on a drive not against late-game Prevent D. Prince ends up doing the rest of the work with his feet, and UCLA scores another TD to go up 14-3.
Yard Line Down Distance Player Yards
Hou 44 2 12 Marvray 15-yd Pen
Flat-out drop by Marvray on a tunnel screen. This wasn't going anywhere anyway - the Houston MLB is in position to tackle immediately. The culprit here is Joe Fauria (I didn't even realize he'd been in the game), who whiffs on his block on the OLB, forcing Taylor to turn to try to pick that man up and leave the middle backer. Late hit penalty on Prince turns this into UCLA's 3rd-best pass play of the evening. The hit was clearly late, but pretty light - I'm not surprised it was called, but I think this gets let go in a road game. (CA, 3, screen)
Hou 29 1 10 Franklin 9
Nice swing pass to Franklin, who does most of the heavy lifting himself in turning this from 3 yards into 9. Eddie Williams should also be commended for not quitting on the play and getting in a nice block 8 yards past the LOS. (CA, 3, screen)
Hou 14 1 10 Harkey 8
Play-action rollout to the left, with an unmarked man closing in on Prince fast. He does a good job of slinging this ball from the hip (visions of a significantly less-talented Brett Favre, I suppose), getting it out to Harkey, who finally manages to pull one in. It's a bit low and he does a nice job of corralling the ball and heading towards the sticks. (CA-, 2)
Drive Notes: Houston's defense is mostly worn-down at this point in the half, and the Bruins bludgeon them into the end zone, with Franklin scoring untouched on a short run at the end. 21-3, UCLA. Houston finally responds with a long Case Keenum drive... until he's picked off at the goal line and hurts himself trying to tackle Akeem Ayers. UCLA fumbles the ball right back, but with no Keenum, Houston's offense is in total shambles and they punt back in short order.
Yard Line Down Distance Player Yards
Hou 32 1 10 Embree 12
Another play-action rollout, and Prince hits Embree right in the numbers off a little 8-yd out. Houston's DBs are WAAAAY off the line of scrimmage, except the one on Thigpen. I get that it's 30 seconds to halftime, but the Bruins are already at your 30 and have 2 timeouts - giving up easy 10-yard gains is not conducive to success - and the one guy you don't give a cushion to is the fastest UCLA player on the field. This is an easy play, but it's not always an easy throw. (CA+, 3)
Hou 20 1 10 Rosario INT
Just too high for Rosario, whose fingertips unfortunately deflect the ball high into the air and allow a Houston DB to run under it for a relatively easy INT. Both the receivers split at the left side of the formation are being given HUGE cushions by the Houston DBs, and a quick pass like this would have been an 8-12 yard gain if the throw isn't 9 feet off the ground. I've seen some people criticize Rosario for dogging it, but I think he's just the type of athlete who looks to be moving slower than he is - he's very "smooth." Here he's got a nice break, and acres of space to catch the ball, but it's far too high. That's not on him. (IN, 1)
Drive Notes: UCLA runs the ball deep into Cougar territory before going back to the air, resulting in the turnover. It's unfortunate that they can't score here, because another touchdown would have likely ended the game at that moment. Though it would turn out not to make much difference, an offense like Houston's is very dangerous even with a backup QB at the helm, and two straight turnovers inside Houston's 20 yard line could have easily let them back into the game. End of the 1st Half.
Yard Line Down Distance Player Yards
UCLA 43 2 7 Rosario 11
Best completed throw of the day. Prince has tons of time, and waits for Rosario to come open before nailing him with a nice dart. He's still locking in on his first read sometimes, and pats the ball again before the toss, but the throw itself is excellent, and gets to Rosario before the closing LB can arrive. (CA+, 3)
Hou 20 1 10 Embree INC
Another really nice throw by Prince, though I'd love to see him look off Embree at Rosario here (Nelson has single coverage against a safety in the zone here once the corner slows up). The DB simply makes a nice play on the ball, even as Embree tries to use his body to prevent that. Considering where the safety and corner are playing, this is exactly where this ball should be placed, and it's on a line from 25 yards away. (DO, 0)
Hou 20 3 10 Sack -4
This is definitely on Prince for not getting the ball out sooner. Franklin does a nice job cutting the blitzing LB, and this should be thrown quickly to Barr or Harkey as they make their cuts, especially Harkey (who has space for a moment and the size to shed a tackle or two). He hangs on and gets taken down eventually. (BR, N/A)
Drive Notes: Houston kicks the ball OOB and UCLA starts with great field position. They manage to move the ball well and get points out of their opening drive of the half, which is a solid outcome to prevent any Houston momentum from building after the last-second turnover to close the 2nd quarter. Prince has a couple of great throws in this drive, though very good defense stuffs one. Forbath is true from 41 yards, and the Bruins lead 24-3. They spend most of the rest of the half hammering away with the ground game. I approve.
Yard Line Down Distance Player Yards
UCLA 20 1 10 Barr INC
This is either a miscommunication between Prince and Barr, or an absolutely awful throw. I'm not ruling either out. I think Prince sees the CB get up into Barr briefly and throws as if Anthony will be significantly slowed-up. He's not, and the ball's 5 yards behind him. Gotta let your receivers run up under those fly routes. (IN, 0)
UCLA 25 3 5 Barr INC
Back to Barr (who had been nonexistent before this point in the game), who motions across the formation, then runs a curl and is open for a first. Prince airmails it. This is a beautiful play design against bump-and-run coverage, by the way, using the CB shading Rosario to screen off Barr from the LBs. I should add, though, that if this was a disguised zone, this could have easily turned into a pick-six. (IN, 1)
Drive Notes: Not much of interest here. Hello Anthony Barr! On their next possession, Houston has a poor punt from deeeeep in its own half (thanks to an Ayers-caused intentional grounding), and a big return by Embree sets up a one-play drive for Franklin's 3rd TD. UCLA by 28. Larimore knocks Houston's back-up QB out on their next series (on a hit that in my opinion was, in fact, late).
Yard Line Down Distance Player Yards
UCLA 26 3 3 Scramble 1
The game's more-or-less over, but you still would like to see UCLA convert on a 3rd-and-short. Prince rolls out and has Franklin in front, and he doesn't see anything he particularly likes so pulls the ball and runs, cutting it up the middle. That's a shame, because Franklin sets up to block like Prince will continue to the outside. The LB therefore has an opening, and grabs Prince's jersey, dragging him down short of the first. I think Prince actually has this if he keeps going outside. (TA, N/A)
Drive Notes: Move along, nothing to see here. Turn on the "Kill Clock" option on NCAA '11. Though Houston would put together a nice-looking drive for a TD to follow this (Broadway, their frosh QB, has a lot of potential).
Yard Line Down Distance Player Yards
UCLA 20 3 10 Marvray 5
Not a fan of this particular throw, as it's low and behind Marvray, forcing him to drop to his knees to catch it. He needed to keep his footing to have any chance of running for the first, so a throw that causes him to down himself short of the sticks isn't really any better than an incompletion anyway. It's also late, for what that's worth - the ball should be coming out as Marvray comes out of his break, to give him more room to run to the sidelines. I wish the camera would show if Presley was open downfield, as he gets a great jump off the line and blows right by the LB assigned to guard him. (MA, 3)
Drive Notes: Glad to see this get caught to keep the clock rolling, as any pass short of the first-down marker here confuses me - why risk stopping the clock for anything less than a first? I know the game's outcome is likely no longer in much doubt, but this is Houston! Best-offense-in-the-country Houston. Super-fast no-huddle Houston. A 21-point deficit is hardly an insurmountable peak for them. Granted, they were playing their 4th-string QB, but it's a principle thing more than anything else. Anyway, UCLA proceeds to bludgeon Houston a bit more before time finally reads zeroes, and the Bruins walk off the field with their first win of the year. End of the game.

So What?

God, that was so much better than last week. Enough so, that I'm willing to remove the ironic quote-marks around the Chart of Hope! Brehaut's 'overall' chart won't be included until he gets a bit more work again. So. Kevin Prince:

 Opponent   DO   CA   MA   IN   BR   TA   BA   PR   DSR 
KSU 2 13 (2) 2 6 (1) 5 - 1 (1) 3 46% (13/28)
Stanford 1 10 (2) - 2 2 - - 2 60% (9/15)
Houston 1 11 (2) 1 3 1 1 1 (1) 1 59% (10/17)

Remember, DSR, or "Downfield Success Rate," is a measure of the number of catchable passes he throws down the field (DO+CA) out of all his downfield passes (DO+CA+MA+IN+BR+TA+PR) - balls batted at the LOS don't count, nor do screen plays. Once again, Prince turns in a respectable number, right around 60%. And once more, that figure is inflated because the Bruins are doing everything they can to help him avoid big mistakes.

Prince attempts throws of more than 10 yards just 7 times this game (that means, his targeted receiver is at least 10 yards past the LOS where he would have caught the ball, if a reception is made). And only 2 attempts of over 20 yards. Their 3rd-longest "pass" play was a 15-yard penalty for a late hit (not even a PI). This offense is grinding the ball down the field. And that's honestly fine by me - keep the defense on the sideline, wear down opponents, etc.

But this style of offense only works if you execute properly. That's why Neuheisel talks so much about dropped passes, or missing open receivers, or penalties. Those things are obviously always painful. But if you're usually not expecting to get more than 7-8 yards on a successful pass play, then you have to make sure almost all your plays are successful. That's why one single drop or penalty almost always seems to kill drives for this team: they're not set up to handle it.

Speaking of dropped passes... Receiverchart, HOOOOOOO:

This Game Totals
Player 0 1 2 3 0 1 2 3
Presley - - - - - - 0/1 1/2
Embree 3 - - 1/1 7 1/3 - 2/3
Coleman----1- -2/2
Smith - - --1 -0/11/1
Marvray-1/11/11/2 41/11/22/3
Franklin--- 1/1-0/11/11/1
Barr10/1 --10/21/22/2
Harkey--1/10/1 --1/31/2
Thigpen-- -1/1 ---1/1

Much more equitable distribution of pass targets this time. Nobody has more than 4, and Prince throws at 7 different receivers - which doesn't sound like a lot until you remember he only had 18 targets total. Embree and Rosario are still the main cogs here, but Marvray comes on strong (though how does he drop that screen?!). Prince still isn't getting a ton of help from his receivers (two drops of "3" passes is unconscionable), though they did a good job of managing his throws even when they weren't always precisely on-target, going 4/5 on "2" catches (as a reminder, "2"s are usually caught around a 60-70% rate).

Going forward?

Good news! The offense has a pulse! Bad news! They have to go play the country's best run defense next!

In all seriousness, @Texas is almost certainly a loss (memories of '97 notwithstanding), but the key is to show progress. They need to be a bit more aggressive in the aerial attack - even incompletions can be helpful at opening up a defense. This team has obviously committed to the running game at this point. "Run the ball or die trying," I believe, were Neuheisel's words when he first arrived - he's living them now, it seems. Barring a massive upset by UCLA at Texas, or a massive upset of UCLA at home vs. Washington State, we probably won't know a whole lot more about this UCLA offense for a while yet.

In particular, the run-game is the (hopeful) question mark. The passing game has been, if not written off, assumed to be not a particular strength. But the Bruins are averaging 5.05 yards per carry (YPC) against two BCS schools and a solid non-AQ. That's a full yard-and-a-half better than they were last season, an enormous improvement.

So why the hesitancy on the kool-aid? KSU and Houston have very undersized defensive lines. And while Stanford has stuffed the run in its non-UCLA games, its other two opponents are a D-IAA team and a Wake Forest outfit that just squeaked past Duke yet still averaged almost 4 YPC against the Cardinal. However, it should be noted that the Bruins averaged 5.63 YPC on non-sack rushes all the same, and Stanford has tended to have solid offensive lines since the arrival of Harbaugh.

For reference, UCLA had 991 yards rushing in the entire 2008 season. They have over 600 already this year. This team is clearly improved on the ground - the only question is, by how much.

And as the run game continues to thrive, the passing game will improve, if only as opposing defenses are forced to put more men in the box to respect the ground game. The Bruins have already seen some success off of play-action, and I think it's only a matter of time before they hit one or two big plays because a safety has crept up against the threat of UCLA's rushing attack. Prince has shown a bit better touch on some deeper throws - he just has to re-locate his timing and rhythm with the receivers when he does attempt the bombs.

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