UCLA losing to Washington, 24-7, Thursday can't be described as anything less than a meltdown.
You can make excuses, and there is some validity to them. UCLA was onto its second-string quarterback, who then suffered a concussion, and then had to go to its third-string quarterback, who obviously couldn't play effectively at this level, and then it moved onto its fourth-string, walk-on quarterback.
UCLA does have a long list of players injured.
The team is young and inexperienced.
But even given all of those factors, that game was a gross under-achievement. The coaches simply have to take a great deal of blame for the game.
I don't think you really want a blow-by-blow analysis of that debacle. To sum it up quickly: Yes, Richard Brehaut came out faltering, but the coaching and play-calling didn't give him much room for error. To start the game, UCLA looked like the dominant team. Then Washington's coaching staff adjusted. On defense, the Huskies started stacking the box and run blitzing, and then sending quite a bit of pressure on Brehaut. It took away UCLA's running game, which then forced Brehaut into having to make some plays, which he was incapable of doing on this particular night. UCLA's offense, though, didn't counter-adjust. It was status quo. On offense, Washington was shut down by UCLA's defense early, but then it also adjusted. It realized UCLA wasn't going to blitz much, so it gave Jake Locker a deeper drop and more time to make a decision. It started calling running plays that exploited the edge. Its play-calling was dynamic in relation to down and distance. UCLA's defense didn't counter-adjust. After a few series of this, you could palpably see the dominance, momentum and intensity shift naturally from UCLA to Washington in the second quarter, and then pretty much the game was over.
UCLA was thoroughly out-coached. And the play-calling curled up into its conservative cocoon.
There are some that argue that the offensive play-calling was trying to do what it could to make up for an ineffective, inexperienced quarterback. And that's entirely true – that that is the UCLA offensive coaching staff's way of coping with it. But our argument is that it's not effective, clearly. Instead of getting less creative or dynamic, when a quarterback is limited it only makes sense to try to compensate and take the pressure off him by more often utilizing the element of surprise that the offense naturally has. There was a perfect example of it in the second half, in one series. UCLA had been effective in the first half with the same running play, the one where the OLs trap and the running back picks his way around the edge. But UCLA had gone too many times to that well and, in the second half, when UCLA called the play, a whole swarm of Huskies sniffed it out easily and were waiting for Johnathan Franklin like they had an appointment with him, and stopped him for a six-yard loss. On second down, UCLA then utilized a screen, for possibly only the second time this season. Because it was a creative, unexpected play call (almost a trick play in UCLA's play book), it went for 9 yards. On third and 7, Brehaut missed a throw to an open receiver. That encapsulated the Bruin offense for the season. It put itself in a hole on first down because of an unimaginative play call, in terms of the actual play and down and distance. It then illustrated what could be with the offense when it utilized a play it very rarely has, that the opposing defense didn't anticipate was coming. And then, on third and long, because of the bad play call on first down, the young, inexperienced quarterback is asked to make a play to sustain the drive.
By the time it was over, the game had a feeling to it that doesn't come around often. Even with UCLA going through a torturous, 12-year, unprecedented run of mediocrity, which has seen some pretty bad games, only a few have had that kind of futile-meltdown feeling to it. Not even some blowouts felt like that. This game was the kind that elicited a feeling of "it's over." We don't necessarily know what's over, but something is.
Perhaps it's just the season.
But it felt like more than that. It was the kind of game that UCLA went through at the end of each of the coaching tenures of Bob Toledo and Karl Dorrell.
We believe it's unlikely that Head Coach Rick Neuheisel will get fired, and we're not advocating it. But that was the kind of meltdown game that felt like the end of a coach. If not a coach, a big part of the coaching staff.
You'd have to think that game pretty much sealed the deal that, at the very least, there will be some changes made in the coaching staff at the end of the season. For the program to be embarrassed on national television by a poor Washington Huskies team in the manner it was, it would have to be the tipping point for some changes to be made, if it hadn't been decided already.
I know many fans want a bigger, more all-encompassing answer. They want to know why the UCLA football program is in this state. We've elaborated on it many times before over the years and it's tiresome. Pretty much, to sum it up, UCLA would have to hit absolute rock bottom – that is, have a number of consecutively disastrous losing seasons – for there to even be a chance that the university would change its attitude toward its football program. While the Washington game might feel like "rock bottom," it really isn't. It would probably take a few seasons of many games like that to affect any real change to the UCLA Football Culture. And even then it might not happen.
I know that doesn't really give you, the UCLA football fan, much to cling to, either in terms of optimism over the season and Neuheisel's program or, on the other hand, the prospect of the program miraculously changing its culture and operating procedure.
But that, my Bruin brethren, that sense of plight, futility and helplessness, is what it is to be a UCLA football fan in 2010.