UCLA-Nebraska grades: Huskers' commitment to run game pays off
Here are the top takeaways and highest-graded players from the Cornhuskers’ 37-29 win against the Bruins in the Foster Farms Bowl.
Defensive tackle Kenny Clark (+7.9) had numerous big games over his UCLA career and he had one of his best outings against Nebraska in what may have been his final game of his collegiate career. Despite the fact that Nebraska was very effective running the football, Clark was at his best when defending against the run. Nebraska’s interior linemen could almost never block him one-on-one and he occasionally beat double teams as well. Although in most cases he just rerouted the running back’s path, he still finished the game with a team-high seven defensive stops. In addition, he also recorded the Bruins’ only sack and added two quarterback hurries as well.
Freshman quarterback Josh Rosen (+1.6) had an up-and-down game as he made some really nice throws but also had a few that left people scratching their head. Although he had trouble finding his receivers downfield, Rosen was very accurate within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage as he completed 21 of his 24 passes in that range. While his overall performance was above average; Rosen really struggled under pressure in this game. He was under pressure on seven dropbacks and completed just one of his six pass attempts and also had an interception on these plays. As a result, he had an (NFL) passer rating of 0.0 when he was under pressure.
One reason why UCLA’s passing attack could not be as effective as in some other games this season was a quiet day from wide receiver Jordan Payton (+1.1). Although, his overall grade suggests a good game for Payton, it was largely influenced by his blocking work on screen passes. However, when it came to catching passes, Rosen’s favorite target could not help out the freshman quarterback. While Payton did have one touchdown reception, he caught only three of his seven targets for 37 yards and dropped a pass that would have resulted in another touchdown.
DT Kenny Clark (+7.9)
QB Josh Rosen (+1.6)
WR Kenneth Walker III (+1.6)
ILB Isaako Savaiinaea (+1.4)
RB Nate Starks (+1.2)
While Nebraska did not ask a lot from its quarterback, Tommy Armstrong Jr. (+5.1) still delivered and was the best player on his team. Most of the time Armstrong was asked to handoff the ball or run with it and pass it on only third downs. The quarterback was very effective as a runner as he averaged 12.3 yards per carry and his longest was only 26 yards, meaning that the mean was not skewed by one long run. Furthermore, he was almost unstoppable outside the tackles where he averaged 15.3 yards. He was quite inconsistent as a passer as he, for example, did not complete any of his four pass attempts outside the right numbers. However, he was lethal when he was not under pressure as he earned a PFF grade of +4.0 on these plays. He passed for 133 yards and a touchdown on plays when he could operate from a clean pocket.
Nebraska’s running game was one of the most diverse you will see. The Cornhuskers had nine players carrying the football in the game and five of them earned grades above +1.0 in the process. Nebraska was really committed to the running game and did not alter its plans despite the fact that Kenny Clark was blowing up every second run play and that their primary running backs did not average more than 4.0 yards. The team trusted their running backs to make plays even if the offensive line could not create much space and it paid off as Nebraska averaged 3.1 yards after contact and forced 12 missed tackles en route to 361 rushing yards and four touchdowns.
Although, there were not stellar individual performances in the Nebraska defense, they performed well together as a unit. It started with stopping the run and the Cornhuskers did very well in this facet of the game. As always, the key to stopping the run was disciplined tackling and the Nebraska defense showcased just that as their front seven did not miss a single tackle throughout the game.
QB Tommy Armstrong Jr. (+5.1)
FB Andy Janovich (+4.6)
RT Nick Gates (+3.9)
RB Devine Ozigbo (+3.2)
WR Stanley Morgan Jr. (+2.2)
DT Vincent Valentine (+2.2)