Time is Running Out

The Bruins turned in another under-achieiving performance, this one against San Jose State, 27-27, and time is running out on Rick Neuheisel's program to change its identity...

During fall camp, I said in judging whether this team has a successful season you shouldn't go by only its win/loss record, but whether the team plays up to its capability in each game.

So, even though you notch the San Jose State game as a win, with UCLA prevailing 27-27, you have to put it in the under-achieiving column.

In my book, instead of this game helping Rick Neuheisel keep his job, it contributed to him ultimately losing it.

UCLA under-achieved against Houston in game 1, and it did so again against San Jose State in game 2, regardless of the score.

Strike Two.

Now, Neuheisel is going to see 12 pitches altogether for the season, but it's not a good sign that 2/12ths of the season is in the books and it's in the Fire-Neuheisel column rather than the Keep-Neuheisel one.

It's not hard to make the case that, even though UCLA beat the Spartans, it took a step back from the loss against Houston. The Bruins faced a much worse team in San Jose State in the second week, and looked worse.

If you're trying to salvage your job that's not the way to do it.

And here's the issue: It was just more of the same thing. The team was sloppy, undisciplined, and poor fundamentally. It struggled with the same bugaboos it has before – like having to burn a timeout because it can't get the right personnel on the field, struggling to execute simple plays and, from a coaching standpoint, seemingly getting out-schemed and then being unable to adjust.

It also doesn't help to make decisions like not going for it on 4th and 3 at San Jose State's 38-yard line on UCLA's first drive of the game. That completely set the tone for the night. This team, while talented, seems to lack the competitive mindset, the Eye of the Tiger, for lack of a better description, and that falls at the feet of the head coach. It feels like Neuheisel has lost the hearts of the players, and it doesn't help when you're going to war, and you tell your troops to fall back rather than attack in the first few minutes on the battlefield, which is essentially what Neuheisel did by making that call to punt. That was perhaps Neuheisel's biggest decision of the game, and it would have sent a message to his soldiers that, on one hand, he trusted his offense to get the first down, and on the other that he trusted his defense to stop San Jose State's offense if they started at their own 38 yard line, (which, if you think about it, really isn't that big of a stretch). That's what leaders who want to inspire men have to do from time to time, and this was the perfect instance, Neuheisel's ideal chance to do it. Instead of being all about talk, this would have been an actions-are-louder-than-words moments for the head coach, and shown his warriors he trusted them in the battlefield. But by punting it sustained the mindset of conservatism and lack of faith, and that has to certainly contribute to the team's obvious lack of competitiveness.

What unit don't you trust more, coach, your offense, that they can't get the first down, or the defense, that they can't hold San Jose State starting from their own 38-yard line? Or both? Because that's what all of the young, impressionable players playing for you think coming away from that decision.

And then punter Jeff Locke, who had one of his worst nights as a college player, punted it into the endzone for a touchback. So, playing conservatively gained you 18 yards; the decision only set back San Jose State's offense, one of the worst in all of college football, 18 yards.

And if you want to not talk intangibles, which are difficult things to analyze, let's talk about the tangible results on the field. San Jose State is clearly a less talented, less athletic team than UCLA. That can't be argued. So, how do explain that the more-talented team was being played evenly by the less-talented team for most of the game? If you throw out the intangibles of competitiveness, heart and leadership, the only other conclusion is that the coaches of the less-talented team were out-coaching the coaches of the more-talented team.

The Spartan coaches clearly out-schemed UCLA's coaches for most of the game. And heck, it's not as if they were working from some foreign, quirky offense that was hard to figure out. Both teams run mostly a Pistol offense, so that means that both defenses are very familiar with what the offense is going to run. Both defenses go up against the Pistol every day in practice. On defense, San Jose State runs the same 4-3 defense as UCLA, and actually uses many of the same coverage schemes. So, if there was ever an even playing field in terms of game preparation and schemes this was completely it. And, for about three quarters, San Jose State, the less-talented team, was able to play UCLA, the more-talented team, even. You could even make the case they out-played UCLA. It was completely evident that San Jose State's defensive coaches schemed much better against the Pistol than did UCLA's defenses coaches; and it was clear that San Jose State's offensive coaches schemed much better against UCLA's defense than the other way around.

What eventually won this game for UCLA was bigger, better athletes wearing down the smaller, lesser athletes in the fourth quarter, which really manifested itself in UCLA's rushing attack taking over the game. But, up to that point, the bigger, better athletes were at least playing even with the smaller, lesser ones. By the end of the third quarter, the score was tied 17-17; San Jose State had out-gained UCLA, 297 to 281. , and possessed the ball for 25:16 compared to 19:44.

This is mind-boggling.

Again, it bears repeating: There was never a more clear indication of UCLA being out-coached. There are games where you can make that assessment, but there is quite a bit of evidence to interpret, and you have to consider how different schemes match up and such. This game, though, was as if each team was playing against the same opponent in a video game, and you had very concrete results.

The best job of scouting and scheming had to be given to San Jose State's defensive coaches. They had UCLA's run game, the offensive element that has carried them since last season and the offense's strength, pretty much under wraps for three quarters. Neuheisel, in his post-game comments, said that San Jose State was stacking the box, but quite often they weren't – they just had their defenders consistently in the right place at the right time. A great example was on F-back Jordon James' fly sweep in the first quarter; Every single San Jose State defender stayed home, seemingly knowing that the play was going to be coming back their way, to stuff it for a loss of 2. The zone read wasn't nearly as effective as it had been against Houston, with Spartan defenders knowing exactly where it was going and what was happening. Hopefully this is just a less-talented defense benefitting from being familiar with the Pistol, because if, after getting film on UCLA's offense, opposing defenses that are more talented and athletic are going to be able to scout it out this well, it's not a great indication.

Here's another thing, too: San Jose State lost this game. UCLA didn't win it. The Spartans committed too many mistakes – turnovers and penalties – that completely took the game from them. If San Jose State had played more error-free, they probably would have been leading at the end of the third quarter. UCLA's first scoring drive was based on two Spartan penalties, including a questionable pass interference call, and a very stupid late hit on a sliding Richard Brehaut – who was going to be a yard short of the first-down marker. (And we have to say – it's very questionable whether Neuheisel would have gone for it on 4th and 1 at the San Jose State 44 yard line.) On offense, San Jose State killed itself with many dropped balls, on key downs, and badly-thrown balls that were unforced. At least a couple of drives were killed because of it.

And remember, San Jose State started the game with its second-string quarterback, Dasmen Stewart, having to replace starter Matt Faulkner because of Faulkner's concussion. And then, Stewart was replaced by San Jose State's third-string quarterback, Blake Jurich, late in the game when Stewart was suffering from cramps. So, let this sink in: San Jose State played UCLA even for three quarters with all of the factors I laid out above, but also having to play with its second- and third-string quarterback. Last week against Stanford, Faulkner looked very capable of making many of the throws that Stewart struggled to complete. You have to concede that Stewart and Jurich did bring more of a running element to San Jose State's offense (combining for 75 yards on the ground), but they threw for only 115 yards on the night, while SJSU, with Faulkner, threw for 210 yards last week against Stanford.

And then you can talk SJSU's turnovers. With the game tied 17-17 in the third quarter, with its third-string quarterback, Jurich, San Jose State was at the UCLA 17-yard line, and looking for the go-ahead score, but Jurich threw a bad interception straight into the hands of Sean Westgate. Stewart, SJSU's second-string quarterback, then threw an interception to Sheldon Price a few minutes later which set up UCLA's field goal, and that put them up 20-17.

In other words, a few bounces of the ball, a few less mental mistakes on SJSU's part, and the Spartans actually could have won this game. Everyone in the building (and there weren't a lot), were coming to the realization in the third quarter that, "Well, these teams are playing evenly and San Jose State could very well win." You can't really say that about San Jose State in their game against Stanford, which the Cardinal won, 57-3. Yes, SJSU committed a ton of mistakes in that game, but if you take them all away, Stanford still wins that game, say, 36-3. You take away the points UCLA got directly from San Jose State mistakes, and add points San Jose State probably would have gotten if not for its mistakes, and the UCLA/San Jose State score is a tad closer, if not a San Jose State win.

Mind-boggling again.

After the Houston game, we conceded a bit to this team, and to the coaches. It was their first game, on the road, in pretty debilitating heat, with a new DC and OC, against one of the best surgeons of a quarterback in college football. So, despite it being an under-achieving effort, we looked past it, and gave this year's Bruins a chance at redemption against San Jose State. There was still plenty of time to turn it around, and put the house in order. But the Bruins didn't find redemption against San Jose State Saturday. This was a far more under-achieving effort. And what's the most disturbing is -- it's the same formula for under-achieving. There is the lack of discipline and fundamentals, from both the players and the coaching staff. We thought, with more experienced players, that the team Neuheisel fielded this season there'd be quite a bit less of what we've seen over the last three seasons, but it's the same thing.

Of course, the season is only 2/12ths over. But time is running out and there just doesn't seem like there's much indication that this team – and Neuheisel's program – is going to change its entire identity, which it will have to do to make 2011 a successful season.

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