Yes, the Bruins were better than they had been in the last couple of week when they got pounded by Cal and Oregon.
But UCLA fans are really in no mood for moral victories at this point.
And it's not just because UCLA fans are now bitter, frustrated and have lost patience. That's true, but it's mostly because UCLA lost to Arizona due to the same chronic, recurring issues that have plagued this team all season – and for seemingly ever.
The defense was more or less horrendous, suffering from poor tackling, poor decision-making, poor discipline, a poor scheme, and poor play calling.
The offense had a few better moments, but it was limited again by a very limited game plan and play calling.
Again, the program is being choked by its conservatism.
We could do what we usually do and laundry- list all of the plays and situations that support our assertion. But that's like an attorney continuing to present evidence in court when the verdict has already been announced.
At this point, It's overkill.
Now, we truly respect the Bruin fans that are trying to stay optimistic and find silver linings. And they have a few things they could point to in this game, especially on offense. You could cite the play-action roll-out and pass to a streaking Randall Carroll for a touchdown. You could also cite the flea flicker and touchdown pass to Josh Smith. But while it's great to see UCLA's offense do this, the justified reaction here is: Finally. In fact, on the BRO Premium Football Message Board, right after Carroll's touchdown catch, a number of messages were posted at just about the same time with the title of "Finally." We've been calling for UCLA to 1) use play action, 2) move the launch point and 3) throw deep to Carroll all season. And it's bittersweet when it finally is utilized and it works so well. There's the good feeling that UCLA scored and also, "Hey, we called that play!" But there's the overwhelming feeling of, "I'm no football genius. Why the heck has it taken eight games until UCLA actually attempted this?"
After the game, quarterback Richard Brehaut said that, in practice this week, part of the game plan was to use play action and move the launch point more. Again, it took the UCLA offensive mind trust this long -- in week eight of the season – to decide to install more of this? It's especially distressing when 1) UCLA's decent running game would pretty logically dictate play action, 2) UCLA's offensive Achilles Heel is its pass protection, so you'd think they'd try to move the launch point often and 3) if you're going to attempt a deep route, they've seem to have done it with all of the slower receivers instead of the lightning-fast Carroll.
Again, I'm not a football genius. Isn't this common sense? To see it work so well in this game only compounds some of the frustration, because even a football civilian such as myself could analyze this pretty easily. Heck, my wife, who doesn't know a wide receiver from a middle fielder, last week after watching the Oregon game for a few minutes, asked, "Why do they keep making the quarterback just stand there in that same space and let all of those Duck guys swarm all over him? Why don't they move him away from those guys?"
Shouldn't UCLA's offense have been doing this for a while?
Even with the two touchdown passes and a few more rollouts in this game, there is still a shocking lack of creativity in the play calling. In watching other college games, you realize that there are other plays that actually exist. And they're not revolutionary plays. I'm talking about screens, receiver screens, bubble screens, quick slants. Then there are the plays that you get from the Pistol – that we've seen the team practice since last spring when it installed the Pistol. Like having the f-back run the ball, or an end around, or option.
And it's not just the plays themselves, but the conservatism of when the play is called in terms of down-and-distance. Many three-down series consist of a run, run and a pass, which commonly puts the UCLA quarterback in a third-and-long and an obvious passing play. And then, that passing play is, most of the time, a standard drop.
As the game goes on, you might notice, UCLA's offensive play-calling curls up into a conservative cocoon. In just about every game, the offense comes out in its first series with a balanced offense, throwing the ball (using rollouts, too) and running the ball, mixing it up nicely. But we tend to never really see that offense again during the rest of the game.
It's really interesting that, in interviews, much of the narrative you hear from the UCLA coaches blames the offense's ineffectiveness on execution. It's more difficult, though, to execute when you're giving up the biggest advantage the offense has over the defense - -the element of surprise. Yeah, the players aren't executing at times, but it's mostly because the coaches aren't putting their players in the best position to execute – that is, by being creative and keeping the defense guessing. It's amazing that a coach would cite the execution of the players as the problem when they are consistently in third-and-longs.
Hey, when they actually exploited the offense's natural advantage of surprise – like with the two touchdown passes – the players executed pretty well, didn't they?
The defense is in quite a bit worse shape than the offense. It, actually, has more of an excuse since it's missing so much of its talent. But there are probably more things that are chronically wrong with it, too.
Like fundamentals. The defense's tackling today was probably the difference in the game. There were actually a good number of plays where UCLA defenders were in the right position at the right time, but couldn't make a tackle. UCLA's defense, actually, blitzed a little more and it was effective – that is, if the guy blitzing could actually have made a tackle.
So, again, it's the chicken or the egg dilemma. Do you blame the players on missing all the tackles, or the coaches for not being able to install the proper tackling fundamentals? It's probably a bit of both but, again, it's almost shameful for coaches to cite "execution" and imply the players are to blame when, in fact, they're responsible for an equal amount of blame when there is a lack of execution.
Then there's the conservative play calling. Again, if you're curious, watch other college football games and pay attention to how other defenses dedicate more bodies to the point of attack and put pressure on the quarterback. You might have thought that offenses went to a short, quick passing attack first and then defenses adapted but, really, that order is backward. Defenses attacked the line of scrimmage so offenses have had to adapt, get rid of the ball quickly and utilize shorter passing routes.
So, yes, UCLA did blitz a bit more against Arizona, and it was actually effective quite often (again, if someone could have made a tackle). But it's also, for lack of a better term, half-ass to blitz but then provide a 10-yard cushion for the receivers. See, again, while I'm just a civilian football observer, isn't it just common sense that, if you're going to put pressure on the quarterback to get rid of if it quickly, you shouldn't give him an open target to do it?
But still, it was a horrendous defensive performance. UCLA yielded 583 yards. In the first half, it gave up 374 yards and a mind-boggling 20 first downs. Most of the time defenses give up 20 first downs in a game, not in a half.
Another amazing stat: Arizona achieved 20 first downs in the first half on 49 plays. That means 1 in just about every 2 plays was a first down. In fact, of Arizona's 49 first-half plays, only 8 of them were third downs.
If you combine UCLA's defensive performances against Arizona and Oregon, the combined yardage of 1,165 yards is the worst two-game performance since 2005. It might be tough to remember, because it seems like such a long time ago, but the M.O. of UCLA for quite a while has been a good, stout defense with an anemic offense (In fact, the last time UCLA had a great offense was actually in 2005 when, of course, it had a porous defense). But this year's defense has quickly erased that reputation.
Now, UCLA's offense and defense have equally poor reputations.
UCLA's defense could only mount a stop or limit Arizona's offense to a field goal if Arizona stopped itself, either from a penalty or a turnover. That's the epitome of bend-and-not-break. It also got extremely lucky that Arizona quarterback Matt Scott didn't actually have a very good day, missing on some easy, unpressured passes. If Arizona had actually been "on," it's scary to think the extent of how badly UCLA's defense would have looked.
We've also come upon the conclusion that it's just not a matter of conservatism, but there's a lack of common sense on the UCLA sideline. We've cited a number of times over the course of the season when it seemed there was a lack of basic, sound reasoning in some coaching decisions. And the fact that, in week eight, some of these tactical decisions were finally made – albeit it in very conservative baby steps – is more frustrating than anything else.
But then there was another instance in this game where you have to question the logic of the sideline's decision- making. There have been a number of times over the last 2 ½ seasons when there was an opportunity to go for it on 4th down. Sometimes it was a fourth-and-short on the opponent's side of the field. But the coaching staff generally came down on the conservative side and, at the time, we let them off the hook, since, well, there was at least some consistency to the conservatism when it came to fourth-down decisions. But the decision to go for the 4th-and-11 at the UCLA 19-yard line with about 2:30 to go and down by only five points was mind-boggling, especially given the conservative precedence. Even without it, it doesn't make much logical sense. UCLA had three timeouts, which it could have used on defense if it had punted (and, to add to the bad decision, it actually burned a timeout before the fourth down to decide what to do on the fourth down).
It just doesn't seem like there is a great deal of sound decisions in terms of risk/reward. When we complain about the conservatism, we're not advocating necessarily being more risky, but tactically doing what makes logical sense in terms of risk/reward. Making your inexperienced quarterback have to repeatedly throw on third-and-long isn't smart in terms of risk/reward. Blitzing but allowing the receivers a 10-yard cushion doesn't seem to be very logical.
Maybe the coaching staff will come around to our way of thinking like they did with the play-action, roll-out and go route to Carroll. As we said, there were some baby steps of improvement in this game. It's a matter of whether the frustrated, bitter Bruin fan has any patience left.