As we said before the game, it could be a pivotal one for UCLA.
And, in fact, it was.
Up until this point, there really hasn't yet been a game this season that gave you a true sense of this UCLA team's level. The Stanford game was when the Bruins were still finding their identity, and you had to give them a pass for that one. The Houston and Texas games were, as we suspected, a case of UCLA beating a vastly over-rated opponent. The game against Washington State might have been fairly close in defining how good UCLA is – vulnerable to even the worst team in the conference but still good enough to beat them.
But losing to Cal in Berkeley in the fashion that the Bruins did today probably aptly captured just how good this UCLA team is.
As we said in the preview, Cal is better than most people thought they were in recent weeks. They are probably deserving of being in the top 4 teams in the conference – and it's clear that UCLA isn't.
After six weeks of not really knowing what we had as a team here, we now know.
UCLA's offense was about what you would expect against a good defense. The passing game was poor and the running game got shut down when playing against a strong defense that stacked the box.
UCLA's defense, also, was about what you would expect. It's looked vulnerable against a strong running attack in previous games and it was easy to expect Cal to exploit that.
We said in the preview whichever team would run the ball more successfully would probably win the game. And that was definitely the case. Cal's rushing offense ran right at and through UCLA, practically at will, totaling 304 yards on the day to UCLA's 26. That pretty much, in terms of yardage, translates into 35-7.
We now pretty much know that all the talk we heard after UCLA lost to Kansas State about going 1-11 on the season was excessive in one direction, and all the hype we heard after UCLA beat Texas (that it deserved a national ranking, etc.) was excessive in the other direction.
So, this is what we have, Bruin fans.
Of course, there can always be improvement. This UCLA team very well could put some things together and look better and perhaps win a game this season you might not expect.
But we basically now know what we have. It was very evident Saturday that Cal was the superior team – from a talent standpoint, physically, and athletically. UCLA, on perhaps its best day, when it played at its optimum level and got some big breaks, could probably beat Cal. But if you played this game 100 times, the Bruins would probably have all the stars align like that 5 or 6 times.
So, instead of piling on, and just complaining about the obvious issues, let's look at some ways UCLA might be able to improve.
1) First, at the quarterback position, it looks like it's time to give Richard Brehaut a shot. Kevin Prince is a great kid, who has played through some bad breaks with toughness and perserverance. In practice, too, he's clearly the better quarterback between him and Brehaut. From what we know, he's the better quarterback in the film room, too. But there are three reasons why it's time to give Brehaut a legitimate shot: 1) While Prince might be better in practice, he's a different quarterback in the game. He doesn't throw the ball nearly as accurately. 2) There is enough evidence to conclude at this point that Prince is injury-prone. It very well could be a case that Prince has just had an incredible string of bad luck injury-wise dating back to last season, but at this point it's probably more likely he's a bit brittle. Having missed so much time in practice has slowed his development, the effectiveness of the quarterback position and the offense. 3) Even though it was against Washington State, Brehaut showed more ability to complete the easy, short pass – really all UCLA needs to complement a good running game – than Prince has this season.
While it very well could prove out that Prince is the better quarterback in the long run, there is enough evidence now that Brehaut, at the very least, deserves a start. And this is the perfect Give him the next twelve days to prepare and let him start against Oregon in Eugene and see how he does. It's not as if you could really convince yourself that staying with Prince is going to make or break your chance of beating Oregon. Really the only thing that's going to do that is divine intervention. So, you might as well give Brehaut his shot.
We know in the unofficial coaches handbook (I'm not saying just the one used by UCLA coaches, but by every coach), it says to keep doing the same thing over and over and you'll get better at it. Repetition brings improvement. And that's, of course, true. But it's imperative to have some perspective and know when to realize that there is a limit to that coach's axiom. In fact, Albert Einstein once said: "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."
2) UCLA needs to find where Akeem Ayers is and who is that guy playing in the #10 UCLA jersey instead of him. Now, we know that Ayers might be nicked up and not 100%, but his limited effectiveness in the last two games as opposed to the first three is stark. Some of it, at least, has to do with opposing offensive coordinators figuring out how to scheme away from Ayers, and pretty much make him a non-factor. It's the UCLA coaches' job, then, to punch back, and find a way to scheme him back into relevance. Hopefully the 12 days off will solve the injury issue.
3) Sean Westgate is a trooper, and he very plainly had good games against Houston and Texas. But then again, we've now realized that Houston and Texas were the two weakest teams offensive teams on UCLA's schedule so far. Saturday against Berkeley he once again got tossed around. We know that Westgate is better at knowing his assignments than Glenn Love, but Love looks like a much better athlete and a far better tackler. Again, it's not as if playing Love instead of Westgate is going to make or break your chances against Oregon.
4) Every time UCLA goes to its back-up defensive linemen, its DL gets pushed around, especially against the run. Now, we understand you need to use them to keep the DL fresh, but do they have to be used on the first couple of defensive series? Can't the starters make it through, say, two or three series without a blow? Justin Edison and Damien Holmes were subbed in quickly on UCLA's first defensive series, and there were a few times on that series they were pushed around, which led directly to Cal driving the field for that initial touchdown.
5) UCLA made some defensive adjustments in the second half to put more pressure at the line of scrimmage, with more guys cheating up to take away the run, contain ends and put pressure on the quarterback, and it worked. The bend-but-don't-break defensive approach in the first half broke. Repeatedly. Pressure at the point of attack works.
6) If a receiver continues to drop passes, don't throw passes his way anymore. Cory Harkey is doing a fine job blocking this season, but UCLA shouldn't throw a pass to him. Morrell Presley, too. Taylor Embree made a couple of nice plays, but dropped a catchable ball in the fourth quarter. It's the same situation as with Prince and Brehaut; while Embree, etal, might be better in practice (which we haven't seen) and the film room, they aren't getting it done in the games, dropping enough passes to garner someone else getting a bigger chance to play. If Einstein were a UCLA coach, he'd probably conclude that continuing to throw passes to the same guys who have dropped a good number of them in the past is football insanity.
Now, maybe UCLA won't attempt any of these suggestions. But it'd be good to see the program attempt something dynamic in the next few weeks, to attempt, at least to fix some of the issues. Maybe they're not even the issues we think we see, but as long as there are attempts to fix things, instead of doing the same thing over and over again, it will keep us all from going insane.