Like we said last week, this season we're not counting wins and losses but keeping track of the games in which the Bruins played to their capability or under-achieved. We said last week we thought the team under-achieved in week 1, and then got worse between week 1 and week 2. Now it's very easy to conclude they also got worse in week 3. So, if we're talking about ever playing up to their capability, the Bruins are going in the opposite direction.
This is a very easy game to analyze, as most of the under-achieving efforts of UCLA under Rick Neuheisel have been: The game was littered with mistakes, sloppiness, and a lack of fundamentals.
There were three costly interceptions in the first quarter, committed by a quarterback, Kevin Prince, that has yet to prove he's game-worthy, but the head coach continues to opt for him over Richard Brehaut, a quarterback who has proven he's far more capable in the games. It leaves you to ponder: How would this game have gone if Neuheisel had opted to start Brehaut instead of Prince? It's not tough to speculate that Brehaut wouldn't have thrown the interceptions Prince did and, if so, it would have been a completely different ballgame. UCLA, actually, in its first offensive and defensive series, looked like it had an edge on the lines of scrimmage, but after the three interceptions helped Texas go up 21-0, the Bruins deflated and were pretty much done (which is another issue we'll get to later).
Just as one play last week against San Jose State defined the game and the team, one play in this game did also. UCLA tried to go to its no-huddle "turbo" offense, but couldn't execute it, struggling to get the correct players on the field. So, as we've come to expect, UCLA called a timeout, which is an absolute staple of UCLA's offense under Neuheisel (Just to point out the obvious: the turbo loses its effect if you have to call a timeout). Then, in this game, UCLA's ineptitude was taken to an entirely new level: Coming out of the timeout, UCLA executes a play -- and gets flagged for having too many men on the field after it just took a timeout to get the right players on the field.
There are so many things wrong with this, and it encapsulates the state of the program. As not going for it on 4th-and-2 at the San Jose State 38-yard line last week defined the program's mindset, getting flagged for too many men on the field coming out of a timeout – clearly defines its ineptitude. Being in Neuheisel's fourth year, there's no excuse. It doesn't matter that there is a new offensive coordinator and new coaches; it's just entirely unacceptable at this point. Heck, UCLA has smarter football players, right? The scholars at Oregon execute a no-huddle the entire game, but UCLA's player can't accomplish it for a few plays? It has to be coaching. Neuheisel, after the game, said some of the players were confused about the personnel group that was supposed to be on the field. Well, it's the coaches' job to make sure they're not confused.
UCLA's defense was fraught with fundamental problems, committing penalty after penalty, blowing a number of coverages and again struggling to make tackles. We won't even get into the scheme, tactic and play-calling issues; we can rest our case on just the fundamental problems of the defense alone.
Then, it wasn't just UCLA's defense committing penalties, but the offense and special teams. UCLA's offense was very timely in committing penalties to kill potential drives, and then even special teams had to get in on the act, bringing back a very good kick-off return by Josh Smith.
Punter/place kicker Jeff Locke's performance easily earned him the MVP of the game. He came in and popped 51- and 49-yard field goals, and it can only lead you to speculate: If he had been given the duties of place-kicking in the Houston game, rather than Kip Smith, who missed a field goal and extra point in that game, UCLA would probably have been tied with Houston at the end of regulation.
I'm certain that Neuheisel would take ownership of the decision to start Prince in this game, and to opt for Smith in the Houston game. While we don't expect Neuheisel to make every correct decision, like it or not, however, a college football coach's job performance is all about decisions. And there was never an instance where a coach's bad decisions were exposed and practically put on display than in the Texas game with the performances of Locke and Brehaut.
We do have to touch on scheme, tactics and playcalling when it comes to UCLA's offense. In the second half, down three scores, UCLA is still predominantly running the ball. It wasn't Brehaut who threw the three interceptions, so it was odd they were hesitant to call pass plays for him. This team practices a lot of 2-minute offense during the week, and when it needs to utilize it, down 42-20 by the end of the third quarter, it sticks with its zone read running scheme. Watching that taking place, you had to step back and realize something: With all of the playmakers on this team that you could exploit to try to get quick scores and get you back in this game – guys like Jordon James, Josh Smith, Shaquelle Evans, Randall Carroll and Joseph Fauria, to name just a few – because of the zone read you end up essentially opting to mount your comeback on the running prowess of Brehaut.
In this game, there was a clear indication that Neuheisel has at least started to lose this team. When UCLA went down 21-0 it lost any intensity it had. As I said above, you felt UCLA had an edge to start the game, but you never really felt UCLA had the fire to wrestle the momentum back. It's as if the spirit of the team is very shaky, and is very quick to collapse.
In terms of the game, that's really just about all there is to say. But like we said last week, time is running out on Neuheisel as the team turns in another under-achieving effort every week. What is now evident is a definite feeling to the program of a coach trying to keep it all together as it crumbles around him, and that the team is close to rolling over on him. That he could be the only one who cares.
There is, though, one simple thing it comes down to for Neuheisel to retain his job: There has to be a dramatic change in the team's personality and modus operandi. For Neuheisel to stay at UCLA, his players and coaching staff can't turn in performances fraught with bonehead mistakes and such a severe lack of simple fundamentals. Even if you lose a game, this is no way to keep your job.
Now, it would be way ahead of ourselves to seriously discuss a head coaching change at this time. There are 9 more regular season games, and that's plenty of time for Neuheisel to turn around the season.
But, remember, we're an Internet site, not coaches or players. We don't have to take it week by week since we actually don't play the games. We can – and have many times – gotten way ahead of ourselves.
If Neuheisel can't turn it around, and UCLA does look to replace him, the UCLA football program is in a very interesting situation – one completely different than it was when it had to replace Terry Donahue, Bob Toledo or even Karl Dorrell. If Neuheisel fails, it will be three UCLA football coaches in a row that were ultimately unsuccessful, spanning more than a decade. Even more importantly, two of the coaches were hires by current Athletic Director Dan Guerrero. So, given all of that, there is now a completely different landscape, and this is what Guerrero is now facing:
-- A football program on a 12-year death march that is the worst span in its history.
-- A program that is now safe to call nationally irrelevant.
-- Any juice from the glory days of the ‘80s and ‘90s is over, since those years were so long ago that recruits weren't even alive during that time. Heck, most fans can barely remember them.
-- The Rose Bowl is empty and quiet, except for a smattering of boos.
-- There is the potential of a very formidable Pac-12 and possibly a Pac-16 looming in the future that will permanently relegate UCLA football to the realm of conference also-ran.
-- UCLA's football program, the one that supports so much of the UCLA athletic department financially, has lost – and will lose considerably more – earning power.
Bottom line, looking all of that down, Guerrero can't afford to gamble on another hire. It's now to the point that he couldn't hire a young, unproven name that he can only pay $1.5 million. If he did, given UCLA's recent history of coaching hires and failures, he'd probably immediately lose even the 40,000 loyal fans who showed up to the San Jose State game last week. It's not post-Donanue or even post-Toledo, where fans were willing to give an unproven guy a chance. UCLA has lost that credit. We always said that UCLA would have to really hit rock bottom for it to be forced to hire a big-named coach and, well, it's close.
For Guerrero, it comes down to his own job security being dependent on his next head football coaching hire.
There would only be one way to get this done, and Guerrero will have to step up and do it. He'll have to, first, get the university to loosen up some on the academic standards for admitting football players. That's the first step to being able to attract a proven, big-named head coach, because anyone of that caliber won't even sniff the UCLA job unless that happens. And then second, if you can get the University to sign off on the first, UCLA will have to finally agree to accept money from boosters to pay $5 million/year for a football coach and substantial amounts for his assistants. The money is ready and available, it's just a matter of whether Guerrero and UCLA will change their current mindset, see that UCLA football is truly on a death watch, the revenue that supports its athletic department is in critical condition and realize they have to do it.
If Neuheisel does go down – and we're not saying he is, but it's something now, after these three first games of the season, you have to realistically consider – UCLA and Guerrero will be at a crossroads, one far more significant than the one faced at the end of the Toledo or Dorrell tenures. It can do what it's done and UCLA football will more than likely continue down the same path of the last 12 years, that of mediocrity and ever-diminishing revenue. Or it can finally have that epiphany every UCLA football fan has been fantasizing about, where the UCLA powers-that-be finally recognize the wall they're up against, decide to change their course and do what they have to do to make the UCLA program competitive and relevant again in the modern era of college football.