About last night: A review of UCLA’s 31-14 win over Oregon

UCLA wide receiver Christian Pabico, left, runs in for a touchdown as Oregon cornerback Thomas Graham watches during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017, in Pasadena, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Christian Pabico was just trying to block down field. Then Bolu Olorunfunmi came flying in out of nowhere.

“Thank God he landed in the end zone,” Pabico said of Olorunfunmi’s show-stealing 22-yard touchdown run in the third quarter of UCLA’s 31-14 win over Oregon on Saturday.

The UCLA running back jumped, surfed on the shoulder pads of an Oregon defender, then fell into the end zone. He had little recollection of the play afterwards, saying “Honestly I still don’t know what happened, I just jumped.” Good thing there’s video:

While Olorunfunmi’s eye-catching touchdown was the highlight of the day, the Bruins (4-3, 2-2 Pac-12) earned a critical victory with a strong overall performance. The offense didn’t turn the ball over for the first time since Sept. 9. The defense pitched a second-half shutout for their fourth-straight win at the Rose Bowl and UCLA kept its bowl hopes alive in the must-win game.

Links to wrap up the game:

A more in-depth review of Saturday’s game:

GOODS 

  • Takeaways and sacks: It had been five weeks since UCLA forced a takeaway on defense or recorded an official sack. For a young defense struggling with confidence, getting those momentum plays go a long way in giving the players something real to believe in. Both turnovers came in very timely situations as well. The first turnover, a forced fumble by Jaleel Wadood and a recovery by Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, was important because Oregon was starting to move the ball quickly on its first drive. Of Oregon’s first five plays, three went for 10 or more yards and the turnover stopped any momentum for the Ducks. Colin Samuel‘s interception was the final piece of a dominant third quarter for the Bruins as UCLA scored 10 unanswered points and held Oregon to only 85 yards on offense.
    • The defense has been talking about effort for weeks now and it finally showed on the fumble. Darnay Holmes wrapped up Darrian Felix and Wadood followed the play to punch the ball out. Even Tuioti-Mariner tried to run after the recovery as the defensive lineman searched for a cutback lane. He didn’t gain any yards on the return, but you have to respect the effort from the 285-pound lineman.
    • UCLA had four sacks against Oregon after going 13 quarters without one. Before Saturday, the team’s last official sack was in the third quarter against Memphis. (A would-be sack against Steven Montez was recorded as a team rush because of a low snap on the play.) Getting Jaelan Phillips back helped in that regard. He had his first action since that Memphis game and had one sack in which he came unblocked around the edge and flatted Oregon quarterback Braxton Burmeister. Phillips was on a strict pitch count and his replacement, Marcus Moore, also had a good day getting into the backfield during the most extensive playing time of his career. Even Nate Meadors got a sack.
  • Christian Pabico: It took him a while to get going, but Pabico finally had his breakout game. He finished with four catches, a team-high 99 yards and one touchdown. He made two key third-down catches in the third quarter that eventually led to Olorunfunmi’s 22-yard score and ran an impressive route to get his own touchdown catch. Jedd Fisch said it was a pause-release slant route so Pabico waited two beats before running his route to the area that had been vacated. It worked to perfection with Josh Rosen firing a dart into a tight window and Pabico making a strong catch. The receiver turned and saw nothing by green grass for a 31-yard touchdown.
    • Pabico, who at this point is still a walk-on, had a meeting with wide receivers coach Jimmie Dougherty this week. Dougherty told Pabico to “just hit reset” this week after he didn’t play on offense at all the past two games. With Jordan Lasley out due to suspension, it was Pabico’s time to step up and he did. His emergence gives UCLA’s another weapon on offense to counter the growing list of injuries.
  • Ball security: This was only the second game this year that UCLA didn’t commit a turnover on offense. The only other time was against Hawaii. Through hard, physical runs, the running backs made sure to secure the ball to prevent any fumbles. Even after he fell to the ground and the ball squirted out, Olorunfunmi quickly pounced on it in the end zonejust to be safe. Rosen was efficient (21-for-36 passing, 266 yards, two touchdowns) and smart with the ball. He calmly threw the ball away when he needed to, like on a third-quarter screen that Oregon blew up. Oregon was not a good team and UCLA made sure to not make the Ducks looks better than they were by committing turnovers.
    • Rosen was fortunate to not throw an interception in the first half, though, as an Oregon defender undercut a route and dropped the ball. Darren Andrews had a fumble, but it went harmlessly out of bounds.
  • Honorable mention “good” to the offensive line (including Najee Toran and Scott Quessenberry) that blocked well in the running game for the second straight week and the running backs, Soso Jamabo and Olorunfunmi, for more tough running to get extra yards.

BADS

  • Penalties: The Bruins went into halftime tied with a bad team because they gifted the Ducks four free first downs. Oregon scored both of its touchdowns on 15-play drives that were extended by third-down defensive penalties. Wadood was called for holding that negated a 4-yard tackle-for-loss by Moore on third-and-13. Meadors was called for pass interference on third-and-6 on the next drive. Instead of getting off the field on those stops, UCLA gave Oregon 15 extra plays, allowing Burmeister to eventually score two rushing touchdowns. Mora’s Bruins struggle with penalties every year. This year doesn’t seem to be any different.
    • Mora said the team specifically worked on not holding during scramble drills during the bye week and then Wadood ended up doing just that to draw his penalty. That still needs to be a focus for the team going forward.
    • UCLA had only two penalties in the second half, however, a false start by Andre James and a personal foul on Moore in garbage time.
  • Injuries: UCLA’s training room is starting to overflow. Matt Dickerson suffered what could be a significant collarbone injury, putting an end to what had been a pretty good game for the senior defensive lineman. Tuitoti-Mariner was taken to the hospital after team doctors had concern over his internal organs. (Mora said after the game initial reports indicated that Tuioti-Mariner was OK.) The defensive line was UCLA’s deepest position, but losing the leadership of both Dickerson and Tuioti-Mariner could be big. Josh Woods appeared to suffer a right shoulder injury. His play has been up-and-down this year, but with the linebackers being so thin, UCLA can ill-afford to lose anyone at that position, let alone its second-most experienced linebacker. Tight end Austin Roberts also suffered a high-ankle sprain.
  • Status quo: Saturday’s result does nothing to change where the Bruins are going for the rest of the year. But it does allow them to keep going. Their path is unchanged: they still have to face Washington, Utah and USC on the road and win both of their remaining home games against Arizona State and California to keep their bowl hopes alive. Oregon is not a great team without Justin Herbert as the one-dimensional offense ran the ball 62 times to just 15 passes. While the win helps UCLA’s confidence, it can be hard to separate how much of the improved performance was a result of a bad opponent and how much is actual growth. I think the improved effort and having 11 defenders swarm to the ball on defense was real growth. I’m still unsure if the progress in the run game (allowing just 4 yards per carry) is real at this point, but UCLA can prove it next week against Washington.

GO FIGURE

  • 160 rushing yards for Freeman, which made the senior Oregon’s all-time leading rusher. He eclipsed LaMichael James‘ mark.
    • 5 “explosive runs” 12 yards or longer by Freeman, but only one such run in the first half. The Bruins did a good job keeping him bottled up for most of the game. His longest run, a 25-yarder, came in the fourth quarter after UCLA was already up by 17 points.
  • 13 quarters had passed without a sack before Woods forced Burmeister out of bounds in the first quarter for UCLA’s first sack since Memphis.
    • 15 yards on Woods’ late hit that negated the 2-yard loss
  • 4 consecutive games with double-digit tackles for Kenny Young, who had 12 stops and a tackle for loss against Oregon
  • 11 tackles for loss, a season-high for UCLA
    • 3 tackles for loss by Osa Odighizuwa, who led the team

QUOTABLE

Huge win, huge win. Pac-12 is wide open, we’ve just got to go win it out honestly. And hopefully we could get to the Pac-12 championship. It’s possible. Anything’s possible in the Pac-12 – it’s wide open right now.
~ Defensive back Colin Samuel on what the win means for UCLA’s season
PERSONNEL NOTES
  • New injuries: Dickerson (collarbone, potentially significant), Tuitoti-Mariner, Woods, Roberts (ankle)
  • Out with old injuries: Rick Wade (seen with knee brace on sideline), Krys Barnes (pneumonia), Breland Brandt (concussion)
    • Did not play with old injuries: Jalen Starks (ankle, did dress)
  • Out without injuries: Lasley (suspended)
  • Sunny Odogwu made his UCLA debut playing mostly as a sixth offensive lineman/blocking tight end after Roberts went down in the first quarter. Odogwu had been limited with a slew of injuries, but this health is a valuable asset to this team dealing with so many injuries now.
  • Alex Van Dyke made his debut as a tight end. Fisch said the 6-foot-4, 215-pound receiver approached the coaching staff after Caleb Wilson suffered a season-ending injury against Colorado and asked to move to tight end. Van Dyke moved two weeks ago and got thrown into the game Saturday. He missed a few blocks, but it’s a good sign that he was so willing to sacrifice his position to help the team.
  • True freshmen Moses Robinson-Carr and Greg Rogers made their UCLA debuts, burning their redshirts. Robinson-Carr appeared late in the fourth quarter in a goal-line situation with a jumbo package as an extra tight end. With Tuitoti-Mariner and Dickerson out, UCLA was forced to go to Rogers, a former four-star recruit. He helped make a big play on fourth down in the fourth quarter. He pushed his offensive lineman back and cut off the lane for the running back hand-off on the zone read. Burmeister was forced to keep the ball and Odighizuwa came in to make the tackle and force a fumble.
    • Other true freshmen who have played already this year: Holmes, Phillips, Mo Osling III, Martin Andrus and Quentin Lake.
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  • keptycho

    From what I saw, it looks like we made good progress in correcting the mistakes of the AZ game. The run game looks healthy, no interceptions and our D was able to keep Freeman under 200 yards. Everybody seemed to step it up. Eight-clap BRUINS!

  • j metaphor

    Win out, then we’ll talk.

    • jameskatt

      That is too high of an expectation. UCLA doesn’t have the greatest talent in the Pac-12. And with injuries mounting up as a result, what to expect should be tempered.

  • Paul

    Oregon is a crap team. Nothing to celebrate.

    • jameskatt

      Celebrate the win. UCLA hasn’t had many of them the past 3 years.

  • grave soul

    Greatest play of the day and one of the most fun to watch so far this year. Bolu plays with a lot of heart. ❤️

  • jameskatt

    This was UCLA’s best game of the year. Both the offense and defense played in a very entertaining game.

  • jameskatt

    If UCLA isn’t lucky enough to get into a low rung bowl game, UCLA is at least playing for the home town championship against USC. Beat USC and this season is great.

  • Richard

    We open as a 17.5 pt dog @ UW. # Ouch.
    They want to atone for their last game, a loss to underdog ASU & have a bye week to prepare for us.

    (sc -3, -2.5 @ surging ASU)

  • JustOwns

    The Bolu’s TD is fun to watch, but his landing on his back was ugly and scary.