Scrimmage: Spring Forward

One a perfect football day, Karl Dorrell conducts his first final spring scrimmage. The team looks well-coached, the play-calling has some imagination, and Craig Bragg, Manuel White and the defense stand out...

It was a perfect day Saturday for football: cool, clear weather; an excited, overflowing crowd, and a well-coached squad that showed off a little of what they've learned in a few short weeks. The cherry on top was watching the Alumni flag football game. QBs Matt Stevens, Brendan McCracken and Steve Bukich were all sharp, and Derek Ayers showed he still has excellent moves. The White squad won a well-played contest over the Blue, 18-13. James Washington was probably the MVP with a number of great catches, including one TD.

In the main event, the first unit offense and the second unit defense made up the Gold team, while the first unit defense and the second unit offense comprised the Blue team.

The game started with the Gold O vs the Blue D on the 30. Drew Olson won the coin flip (literally!) and started at QB for the Gold. On the first play of the game, the Gold team was in a double-tight formation. Tyler Ebell was the ace back. Craig Bragg and Tab Perry were flanked, with Marcedes Lewis (L) and Blane Kezirian [R] the TEs. Left to right, the OL were Steve Vieira, Eyoseph Efseaff, Mike McCloskey, Shane Lehmann and Ed Blanton. (Available substitutes included Junior Taylor and Ryan Smith at WR, and Akil Harris at RB.)

The Blue D had Mat Ball at LDE and Dave Ball at RDE, regardless of formation. Rodney Leisle and Ryan Boschetti were the DTs, with Rod playing over the guard and Ryan taking the gap between center and guard on the weakside. The LBs were Spencer Havner (Will), Justin London (Mike) and Brandon Chillar (Sam). The DBs were Matt Clark (LC), Ben Emanuel II (FS), Jarrad Page (SS), and Matt Ware (RC). The nickel back was Glenn Ohaeri (replacing Chillar). Subs included Asi Faoa (DE) and Wesley Walker (WSLB).

On the first snap, Drew dropped back, looked deep, and then checked down to Kezirian between Justin London and Brandon Chillar. Blane put his head down, got sandwiched, surged forward, and picked up eight. Overheard in the peanut gallery: "It's so great not to know what's coming…"

On the next play, however, the exchange between Olson and McCloskey was fumbled, Rodney Leisle wrapping Drew up for a 5 yard loss. But on 3rd and 7, Drew threaded the needle with a slant pass to Junior Taylor on the right side for a first down. Ben Emanuel II delivered a resounding pop on the play, but Junior was in control the whole time and endured the punishment well.

On 1st and 10, Ebell got the ball on a counter play to the left, and used his serious hops to kangaroo above the thicket of arms and legs to squirt into the secondary, where he gained 11 yards before being brought down.

First and 10 again, Tyler was again sent to the left side (double tight formation), and this time plowed ahead for 4. Before the 2nd and 6 play, Glenn Ohaeri came in for Chillar as Blue went to a nickel package. Drew dropped back, was forced to scramble as pressure was applied by Dave Ball, and hit Junior coming across the field for another first down. (How nice it was to see a scramble result in a completion.)

On 1st down again, Gold kept to the air, as Drew ran a bootleg to the left, found Blane dragging across the field all alone, got him the ball, and he did the rest, gaining 12 on the play. Ebell got the ball on the next play, heading left, and gained 2 yards as Jarrad Page came up strong from his strong safety position to make the tackle.

2nd and 8: Drew dropped back, but slipped Tyler the ball on a draw (almost forgot what to call that play…). Ebell followed Manuel White's lead for a 2 yard gain.

This brought up 3rd and 6: Olson took a five-step drop, the coverage by Matt Clark on Bragg was solid, and Dave Ball got to Olson for the coverage sack, pushing the ball back to the 25 on the 7-yard loss.

So on 4th down, Justin Medlock came on to try a 42 yard field goal, with Garret Lepisto holding and Adam Craven snapping. Everything was perfect as Justin connected solidly on the kick, splitting the uprights with 10 yards to spare.

This was an impressive 11 play drive. Drew completed 4 of 4 passes for about 30 to 35 yards. Two of the completions were passes while on the move. Tyler carried the ball 4 times for about 19 yards. Junior Taylor had 2 catches, one to convert a 3rd and 7 situation. Gold 3, Blue coming to bat…

John Sciarra, who had a terrific spring, led the Blue O vs. the Gold D. The Blue O consisted of Wendell Mathis and JD Groves as the backs, Idriss Moss and Garret Lepisto as the WRs, Will Peddie at TE, and the OL of Paul Mociler, Tyson Clayton, Robert Chai, Jason Nitz, and Bob Cleary, left to right. Frequent substitutions saw Josh Roenicke, Jacques Lazarus, Antwuan Smith and Jibril Raymo get time at WR spots.

The Gold D included the DL of David Tautofi (LDE), Robert Garcia (DT), Thomas Patton (A gap DT), and Shane Gates (RDE). The LBs were Xavier Burgess (SLB), Dennis Link (MLB) and Ben Lorier (WLB). DBs were Keith Short (LC), Marcus Cassel (RC), Eric McNeal (SS) and Kevin Brant (FS). Jebiaus Brown was the nickel back when needed.

On 1st down, the Blue O went for the home run as Garret Lepisto ran a fly pattern down the left sideline. Sciarra threw a nice ball, but it was just a stride or two too long for Lepisto. Keith Short had good coverage on the play.

On 2nd and 10, Sciarra again dropped back, saw nothing, and checked down to Will Peddie. But Xavier reached a hand in front of Will to bat the pass down.

On 3rd and 10, Sciarra tried to hit Garret on a post pattern, but it was released a little late, and went high as McNeal and Link (getting a great drop) converged on the coverage.

This brought on Chris Kluwe to punt, and he nailed a 47-yarder (fair caught by Bragg) with a hang time of 4.7 seconds.

Gold's ball. Matt Moore at QB. And the Gold squad started to go more vertical. 1st down pass play, Tab Perry ran a post from the right side, but the throw was off target. Ben Emanuel closed on the play nicely.

On 2nd and 10, Matt dropped back, saw the coverage deepen, and hit Tyler on the right with a swing pass. Matt Clark made a great play to come up hard, but under control, and tackle Tyler for no gain. (This was another instance of the QBs checking down quickly, putting pressure on the D to make the tackle. Matt did it this time, but maybe in the 4th quarter…)

Nickel package in for the Blue on 3rd and 10: Moore takes a deep drop, looks right for Bragg and tries to hit him on a fly pattern. However, Matt Clark is covering CBra, but gets caught up too long in his back pedal; when he turns too late, he interferes with Craig flying by, drawing a PI penalty (15 yards), and giving the Gold a first down.

After an off-sides by Eyoseph Efseaff, Marc Lewis ran a crossing route over the middle, after the zone was cleared out by a flanker cutting through. Matt hit Marc in stride, and Lewis went forward for 13 yards. On 2nd and 2, Akil Harris came in to spell Tyler, and was given the ball to the left side. However, London aggressively filled the hole and held Akil to no gain.

On 3rd and 2, Matt tried to hit CBra on a slant to the right side, but the throw was high (and Matt Clark had great position) and incomplete.

Punting from the 46, Kluwe hit one about 38 yards that was fair caught by Jarrad Page. (Why Jarrad? Recall that Jarrad is a major league baseball prospect and knows a thing or two about running down flies. He demonstrated good hands and instincts to catch this punt on the run coming forward.) It was also nice to see Chris avoid kicking the ball into the end zone.

Blue's ball on around the 20. Sciarra sent Mathis in motion to the right, dropped back and quickly hit Wendell in the flat on a designed play. Wendell made a sure catch and turned it up-field quickly to get 9 yards on 1st down. But then Mathis lost three on the next play on good penetration by the DL.

On 3rd and 4, Sciarra dropped back, and quickly checked down to Mathis over the middle. Wendell pushed forward, but was met by Xavier Burgess, who stopped Wendell just short of the 1st down spot. Unfortunately, Wendell got dinged on the play and didn't play for the rest of the scrimmage. Word is that it is a knee sprain, but is not serious.

On 4th down and pinned deep in his own territory, Chris Kluwe unloaded a booming 56-yard punt with a perfect spiral. The punt was fielded by a fair catch (as were all punts in this game). In a real game, though, the returner would have probably elected to bring this one back, because the coverage unit wasn't quite there yet…

(It was about this time that WW2 vintage war planes flew over head. For a minute, I thought it was going to be some psy-op from the vocational school across town, with pamphlets fluttering down, unintelligible, of course, due to typos and grammatical errors.)

Drew Olson was back at QB for the Gold squad. On 1st down, Drew hit Manster White (FB) in the right flat with a pass, then Manster plowed through Matt Clark en route to a 9 yard gain, just a great display of power running. On 2nd down, #2 went off the left side for 8 yards and a first down, with the D looking knocked back on its heels.

So the Gold team ran the ball again, this time Tyler up the gut. But Ryan Boschetti and Mat Ball were there and stuffed Ebell for no gain. So on 2nd down, Drew hit Manster with a short pass, which he again turned into a 9-yard gain by stiff-arming Spencer Havner and powering forward, more evidence as to why he's the Manster…

On 3rd and 1, Gold ran a waggle to the right. Mat Ball bit hard to the inside, giving Drew the edge. He used it well to have a clear view of Marc Lewis dragging across the middle and hit him with an 8-yard completion. First Down, UCLA…

Asi Faoa came in for Mat Ball and Wesley Walker came in for Havner.

1st and 10: Drew tried to hit Tab Perry, flanked right, on a post pattern. Tab made a leaping effort, and although the ball hit his hands, he couldn't pull it down.

On 2nd down, Olson went to pass, tried to run, but Boschetti was there for the sack. On 3rd and 10, Drew tried to hit CBra on a deep in, but Clark had good coverage and the pass was incomplete.

Although this drive didn't net any points, it still lasted 8 plays as the Gold moved the chains two times. Drew hit his first 3 passes (giving him 7 in a row), but missed his last two and was sacked once.

The 4th down punt by Kluwe traveled about 32 yards, and Page made a nice running catch.

When the Blue took over on O, Akil Harris had switched jerseys and was now the Blue's RB. He attacked on the right side on 1st down, but got nothing. On 2nd and 10, Sciarra dropped back, looked left, and hit Josh Roenicke on a curl for 1st down yardage. Then Akil busted over the right side for 5 yards, getting a good push from the right side OL before Xavier Burgess brought him down. And that ended the first half of the Blue and Gold game, as the team took a short break and the coaches addressed the troops…

After the break, the Blue squad was still on O. 1st down, Sciarra back to pass, but he was forced to scramble and Tautofi made the sack for a loss of 11. Next, John tried to hit Idriss on a slant to the left side, but Matt Amundson (DT) got his hands up and into the passing lane, deflecting the ball for an incompletion. On 3rd down from the ‘gun, John was forced to scramble due to good coverage, got outside the pocket, but Ben Lorier was there for the tackle after a short gain, forcing a punt.

Kluwe didn't get all of the next punt, it went off to the right, but it hit on about the 30 and had a great roll down the sideline to about the 20.

That brought on the Gold O, Moore at QB and Manster at the TB spot. And Manster at TB is like Shaq in the low post: give him the ball. They did, and Manny ripped off a nice 17 yard gain going straight up the middle, shedding guys along the way. I asked Eyoseph Efseaff after the scrimmage which playmaker he has the most confidence in, and he said, "All of them, really, but Manny, because he's such a horse."

1st down, Moore, 3 step drop, fires a slant pass to Bragg (Ware in coverage), complete. Whistle blows almost immediately…but Craig isn't down. Matt had come in high, so when Bragg bent over, Matt slid off and Craig burst up the seam. Oh well. Six yard gain (on one of the few times anybody threw Matt Ware's way).

On 2nd and 4, Moore again dropped to pass, and just before he could check down to Manny, Dave Ball was there for the sack off the left edge. So close to a nice little pick up…'cause Manny had room to move underneath.

On 3rd and 10, one of the best plays of the scrimmage happened. Matt dropped back, the pocket began to get unstable quickly, so Matt took off and was able to scramble right. Bragg was running a fly pattern, but was able to look back and see Matt (not just look for the ball in the air). When Matt threw a pass outside and behind Bragg (a safe location that Matt Clark would never be able to get to), Craig made a GREAT adjustment on the ball, stopping on a dime and turning 180 degrees, and made a lunging catch, getting his left knee down in-bounds for the 31 yard pick-up. First down, UCLA…

1st down, Moore drops back, Ryan Smith (wide left) runs a post. However, the Ball boys get a good, pincer-like rush and Moore can't really step into the throw, so the throw is short and incomplete.

After four straight pass plays, the Gold remembers: oh yeah, Manny White! So #29 runs a blast to the right side, sidesteps the penetration from the DT, and follows a great block by Shane Lehmann on Justin London up into the hole for a 15 yard gain. Capitalizing on the momentum, and realizing that the D has been on the field for six plays now, the Gold sends Lightning to the right for 4 yards, and then Lightning to the left (boing! through the hole) for almost 6, bring up 3rd and short. Watching Tyler leap through the hole is like watching Jeremy Bloom attack moguls…

3rd and short, double tight, Moore gives the ball to Ebell. Page fills like a MOTHER, delivers a HUGE pop, but #2 keeps his feet, bounces off, and surges forward for 3 yards and a first down, down to the 4 yard line.

On 1st down, the Gold ran a pattern the Bruins have been practicing with great success all spring long -- a fade to Marc Lewis in the corner. The throw this time was a little short, giving Matt Clark (almost a foot shorter than Lewis) a chance to get a hand in there, and Lewis could not make the bobbling catch.

2nd down, blast play to Manster, but Rod gets great penetration and White can only get back to the LOS. And then the quarter ended.

3rd and goal from the 4: Moore drops back, pressure comes, so Matt tries for the right corner of the end zone. However, Spencer Havner looks like some West Coast version of the Patriot missile, because he closes like an escrow agent with bills to pay and pushes Matt out of bounds after a 1 yard gain.

Justin Medlock to kick, Josh Roenicke to hold, Craven to snap….and it's good from 20. Gold 6, Blue 0.

Great drive: 13 plays, 77 yards. White gains about 32 yards in 3 carries, and Tyler adds 13 in 3. Moore is 2 for 4, 37 yards, sacked once, flushed from pocket twice (one completion for 1st down, one short gain).

Blue takes over at the 30, with Brian Callahan at QB, Akil at TB. On 1st down, Akil powers over the right side for 5 yards, Steve Seigel (SSLB) on the tackle. On 3rd and 7, Callahan tries to hit Akil in the right flat, but the pass is incomplete, bringing on Kluwe, who hits a 37 yard punt.

Gold ball now, starting on their 30, Olson at QB. Tab Perry split right, Glenn Ohaeri in at corner. New guy at corner? Tab, go long! One beautiful bomb and a 42 yard gain later, Gold first down around the 28 yard line…

Not so fast. On the next play, Olson drops back, but Boschetti bursts through the middle to sack Drew for a 9 yard loss. Gold's turn: following a great lead block from Manny White, Tyler attacks the right side for 17 yards, bringing up 3rd and 2.

From a conventional formation, White tries the left side, and gets 2 and the first down for the Gold team.

1st and 10 from about the 18: Drew bootlegs to the right, and Perry is wide open crossing the field. The throw is a little behind Tab, causing him to break stride, but he makes the catch, and Emanuel runs him out of bounds after an 8 yard gain. Tab got up favoring his ankle after the play…didn't look serious, though, just got tangled up.

On 2nd and 2, Ebell tried to blast up the middle, but Havner makes the tackle for just a yard gain. On 3rd and 1, power formation, Tyler tries the right side, there is a HUGE hole, but Ebell is tripped trying to get through, although he does get first down yardage.

Now it's 1st and goal from the 8, and Tyler again tries the middle. This time, he is able to hop, skip and jump into the end zone for a TD, another amazing example of Ebell going up and over arms and legs in the way. Medlock adds the PAT and it's Gold 13, Blue 0.

The TD drive was a real confidence booster for the O, being able to punch it in after coming close twice before. The drive lasted 8 plays, the big ones being the bomb to Perry, the 17 yard run by Tyler and the waggle pass to Perry. Tyler ran the ball 4 times for 27 yards on the drive, and Olson was 2 for 2, 50 yards, sacked once.

The final possession of the game (Blue ball) went like this:

Akil for 8
Akil for 3, first down
Sciarra bomb to Roenicke, but Tommy Bright (SS) deflects, Joe Garcia in coverage
Sciarra sacked by Tautofi, Robert Garcia, and Shane Gates
Sciarra sacked by Patton and Tautofi
Punt by Kluwe

All told, there were 5 possessions pitting 1st team O vs. 1st team D. The O scored on 3 of them. There were no INTs or fumbles (except for the exchange). Drew Olson was extremely sharp, hitting 9 of 11 passes. Drew showed a full command of the O, hitting short, safe passes and also getting up top on a fly pattern, and nearly having a completion on a post pattern.

Matt Moore was 4 of 8, also making some big plays, and just a little off on a slant/post or two.

Both QBs faced pressure all night long. There were 3 sacks and 1 forced scramble of Olson and 1 sack and 2 forced scrambles of Moore. Almost all the pressure was applied by the DL without resorting to blitzing.

Among the RBs, Tyler carried 13 times for 67 yards, with a long of 17. Manster White ran the ball 4 times for 34 yards. Tyler caught 1 pass for no gain, and White caught 2 passes for 18 yards.

Passes were well distributed to the WRs: Bragg, Perry, Taylor, Kezirian and Lewis all caught 2 passes, in addition to White.

It was good to see a balanced, slug-fest of a game between the first units. The O moved the ball at times, but the D stiffened near the red zone and consistently brought pressure with bull rushes. This made for an entertaining evening.

Individually, all players had their moments. Starting with the D, I thought Matt Clark played well. Good CBs need amnesia, and Matt has it. Yes, there was a PI call, and Manster White left his calling call: a headache. But Matt bounced back, didn't sulk, and played physical, aggressive football. The rest of the D is a proven commodity, especially the DL. MLB Justin London has the size, speed, instincts and emotional pitch to be a great run stuffer and playmaker for UCLA. There will be plays he'll get blocked, but I suspect those will diminish as the season goes on…

Ryan Boschetti was in the backfield a lot today. He had two sacks, as did Dave Ball. Best performance of the day, though, went to David Tautofi, who had one solo sack and shared in two others.

And I think the single performance that most warmed my Blue and Gold heart was seeing CJ Niusulu walking the sidelines with Kevin Harbour with no sign of a limp, brace or support of any kind. It appears his injury is not serious and hopefully he'll be ready for Fall Camp.

On O, the players who stood out today were Drew Olson, Tyler Ebell and Manster White, and a slew of receivers. The TEs, on a day Mike Seidman went in the 3rd round of the NFL Draft (along with Ricky), were also impressive: Lewis and Kezirian each caught 2 passes and look to be an integral portion of the O.

Re: the OL. Blanton seemed to have the best day pass blocking. Mat Ball had serious pressure once, but otherwise was shut out. And Mat Ball physically dominated Kwame Harris of Stanford (27th player picked in this year's NFL Draft) last year.

The Gold team had success running to both the left and right sides of the line. Steve Vieira's ability to control rushers (speed or power) off the left edge will go a long way towards determining how successfully UCLA will pass the ball this year.

As a system guy, I think the real star of the day on O was the O system. The horizontal passing attack combined with the power running game is a nice blend of humility and arrogance. On one hand, the Gold O took what the Blue D gave, and had two drives of over 10 plays (11 and 13). But some of those plays (straight ahead runs) showed that Dorrell and Axman are not afraid to directly attack the D's strength (front seven, in this case).

Here's a pop quiz: Every time the QBs checked down to a RB or TE today was a) a sack or worse avoided, b) a high percentage play, c) positive yardage, d) a way to get into the D's head or e) all of the above.

But dinking and dunking won't beat the big boys on UCLA's schedule. At some point, the UCLA QB will have to make some big plays in order to win Pac-10 games, not to mention the major OOC games.

The talent on the team is undeniable. Depth is looking a little thin right now as the normal spring attrition associated with big-time CFB takes place. But there are reserves on the way in, especially on the DL.

The problem is that every team in the Pac-10 is talented, and many seem to be on the upswing. The Bruins are in Year One of a new regime, with new systems. Predicting how well the Bruins will do in 2003 is, to me, a total crapshoot, because football is a funny game with funny bounces and funny calls. So they could win anywhere between six and ten games, who knows. Maybe more. But for me, the excitement comes from what the Spring Game showed today: solid execution of fundamentals like pass catching, tackling, and blocking. Organized units who appear confident and well-prepared on the field. Game plans and play calling that can't be read with Braille. And a chance to watch great athletes (and good kids) compete with the best the nation has to offer.

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