But it's difficult. It was one of those games that you have mixed feelings about. Some fans of the bluish persuasion would say, "What's the problem? They won. A win is a win." Then, the fans who tend to be cranky would say: "That was a disappointing win over a bad team, nothing to feel good about." I guess the Blue and the Crank in me are talking over each other at the same time and jumbling my reaction to the game.
And now that I've thought about it since late last night, that's probably the most appropriate reaction to have to the game.
So, we're going to listen to both voices, the Blue and the Crank, and let them be heard. This way, if you're a typical, balanced fan, you can read both sections. But, if so choose to read only one, and get only the one-sided version, here's your chance.
You have to feel good for the players. In the locker room after the game, there were smiles and an energy of accomplishment.
You especially have to feel good for quarterback Kevin Prince. In this game, there was one of the best and one of the worst moments I've experienced covering UCLA football. The worst was when Prince took the field after Richard Brehaut had fractured his leg, and UCLA fans booed. It's pathetic that any human being could boo a 21-year old kid who has worked his butt off coming back from a litany of injuries and has put in an enormous amount of effort and dedicated his life to something. The amount of heart, dedication and character that Prince has shown over his career at UCLA deserves an ovation as a celebration of the human spirit, and is something that the vast majority of those booing fans don't have the character to ever accomplish. So, it's bizarre, almost sociopathic, to boo him. And there were obviously enough Bruin sociopaths for it to be heard pretty clearly all the way in the press box. It was one of the most shameful moments I've ever experienced as a Bruin follower. Fans complain that they want a successful program, but those kind of UCLA fans don't deserve it. There is no doubt in my mind that that kind of inhumane, depraved behavior only begets a losing program. Fortunately, some posters on the message board said that there were just as many fans who shushed the booing fans, too. So, at least we know there are just as many compassionate, wise people in the world, and humanity has a good amount of flagbearers among Bruin fans. Think of the poignant opportunity UCLA fans missed out on – for them to cheer Prince when he took the field.
And then there was one of the best moments in UCLA football in recent years, when a moment later Prince threw that nice ball to Nelson Rosario down to the one-yard line. The fickle fans then cheered Prince, and if there was ever a Bruin football player who should have felt some vengeance for showing up the classless UCLA fans it was Prince at that moment. But we can be pretty certain that any person of Prince's character probably didn't experience an ounce of vengeance or even vindication, but only simple satisfaction with executing the play successfully.
Prince ended up having a good night, going 8 for 13 for 173 yards, two touchdowns and 1 interception. Prince coming off the bench and leading UCLA to the victory was a bit movie script-esque, and it provided the entire game a bit of a dream-like, surreal atmosphere, especially given the drama of his initial trot out to the field.
For Rick Neuheisel, too, a likeable guy that you can't help but root for, you could see a glimmer of exultation bubbling under his usual controlled, master-of-ceremonies-like demeanor in the post-game interview. Again, while we're in the mode of acknowledging moments of positive humanity – especially for a true blue Bruin – no matter how cranky you are you have to have a glimmer of feel-good for Neuheisel.
On the field, too, there were definitely some positives. The defense kept an explosive team to 389 yards and just 25 points. It had a number of very good stops in the redzone that made Washington State had to settle for three points rather than seven. In fact, it made two redzone stops on one drive, after UCLA was hit with a weird "leaping" penalty on a missed field goal. It was obvious in this game that UCLA's interior defense was better, with Donovan Carter and Sealii Epenesa making a big impact getting an increased amount of plays at nose tackle. Carter registered 6 tackles and Epenesa two, again turning in a great amount of production at the position comparatively to what we've seen there. Defensive end Datone Jones, too, had a flash of what we had seen from him in fall camp, especially in the second half, getting a big tackle for loss.
Linebacker Eric Kendricks, perhaps, made one of the biggest impacts of any defensive player in a game in recent memory. It wasn't coincidental that every time he was in on a defensive series UCLA's defense was considerably better. (In fact, here's a statistical breakdown of Kendricks' impact, provided by a BRO message board poster, shipwreckedcrew). Kendricks looks to be UCLA's most talented linebacker and it's a completely different UCLA defensive unit when he's on the field.
UCLA's secondary, too, had a good overall performance, limiting Washington State quarterback Marshall Loebbestael to 235 yards passing, which is well below his average going into the game of 333 YPG. Missing a couple of starters (safety Tony Dye and nickel back Alex Mascarenas), the unit also then lost nickel Jamie Graham in the first series to a knee injury. But cornerback Aaron Hester and safety Dalton Hilliard led the team with 9 tackles each, while Tevin McDonald had 7. With it appearing that UCLA's corners were pressing the WSU receivers more, Hester is far more in his element, being able to physically disrupt a receiver with his size. McDonald, for being a redshirt freshman, flashed some potential-star moments. And you have to give the secondary added recognition for being that effective in pass coverage when UCLA's pass rush almost never put pressure on Loebbestael. They were that good even with Loebbestael having plenty of time to throw all night.
The defense had eight tackles for loss, which is huge for a defense that had only had 17 (and was ranked 118th in the nation in the category) going into the game.
Offensively, UCLA had a balanced attack, throwing for 201 yards and gaining 170 on the ground. It looked a bit out of sync early on, but worked itself into a rhythm. With WSU stacking the box and trying to take away UCLA's running game, UCLA's offense was forced to throw, and it did, fairly successfully – or at least enough to make itself ultimately successful. In the game preview, we said you can expect UCLA to throw the ball about 20 times, and that's exactly what it did. It, perhaps, should have thrown more, with UCLA's quarterbacks getting plenty of time to throw and UCLA's receivers creating plenty of space.
Wide receiver Nelson Rosario is a guy who truly elicits the Blue-Crank dichotomy. On one hand, he's making a half-hearted effort on a ball in the endzone that resulted in an interception, and just when you're about to condemn him – again – he makes the play of the game, making the one-handed grab that was good for 58 yards and set up UCLA's winning touchdown in the fourth quarter.
UCLA's offensive play-calling was similar to what it had been last week against Stanford, still fairly conservative but showing some creativity. UCLA made an effort to get the ball out into the flat and allow its playmakers to gain yards.
All in all, it was a much-needed win to keep UCLA on track toward a bowl berth. Without it, UCLA would have been looking down a long barrel of having to get four wins in six games; now, it needs three wins in six games, and you can actually see the games it could win – Arizona (who is 1-5 and got beat handily by Oregon State yesterday and look like they're done for the season), Colorado (who is now 1-5), and potentially Cal (3-2) at home or Utah (2-3) on the road.
Step back and put it in perspective. Washington State is not a very good team. They are 3-2, and have beaten FCS Idaho State, UNLV (1-4), and Colorado (1-5), while losing to San Diego State (4-2) and UCLA (3-3). They are clearly better than they've been the last three seasons under Paul Wulff (2-10, 1-11, 2-11), but they're not good, and they'll more than likely get pounded from here on out, having to face six of the best seven teams in the Pac-12 the rest of the way.
UCLA was essentially out-played for most of the game, with Washington State gaining more yards (389 to 371), getting more first downs (28 to 15) and having a huge advantage in time of possession (37 minutes to 23). Luckily, for UCLA, Washington State's offense tightened up at the most opportune moments (for UCLA), in the redzone and then on its last drive of the game. Loebbestael clearly was tight on that last drive, throwing stiffly with an awkward delivery, before he then threw a bad interception to UCLA's Andrew Abbott when he was merely trying to throw the ball out of bounds while not under pressure.
It's a considerable blow to the season that Brehaut fractured his fibula. We're hearing he could return in 3-4 weeks, so he could be back for the last three weeks of the regular season, but that's a good-case scenario and he'd undoubtedly be rusty. It's a considerable blow just not because you're losing Brehaut's contributions, but Prince, who has a history of being brittle, is now on the frontlines. Given his medical history you'd have to think that we're going to see true freshman quarterback Brett Hundley sometime this season. The thought of the still-green Hundley, who is clearly the future of UCLA football, having to carry the responsibility of this mediocre season down the stretch of November is off-putting.
The Pistol, while you can see its benefits, is clearly not the offense of choice for Brehaut or Prince, or UCLA's program at this moment in time, for that matter. Brehaut is not a running quarterback. Prince is a running quarterback, but injury prone. The Pistol obviously puts its quarterback more at risk, which is something that is potentially devastating for a program that is struggling at the quarterback position.
Rosario's half-hearted effort to at least bat down Prince's bad pass and interception in the endzone toward the end of the first half led to a bit of an altercation between Rosario and UCLA graduate assistant Marques Tuiasosopo that came to near blows. Tuiasosopo went after Rosario because of his lack of effort and Rosario was close to responding when they were pulled apart.
Watching Kendricks make such a clear impact on the defense, it's befuddling that it's taken this long – the sixth game of the season – for him to have the opportunity to make that impact. The same goes for Carter and Epenesa.
UCLA's defensive redzone success was encouraging on one hand, but also a bit revealing, too. A poster on the BRO message board, RdBruin, made the point that UCLA's defense is probably better in the redzone because it's forced not to allow its typical 7-yard cushion.
While we concede the line of thinking that, if you put pressure on Washington State's quarterback, the designed quick release could burn you. But it's now beyond perplexing that UCLA can't mount any kind of pass rush, especially against one of the worst pass-protecting offensive lines in the conference. In this game, UCLA actually tried to blitz a bit more, even though its blitzes are completely telegraphed and easily picked up. But there were actually a few times in the game when, through the blitzing or the very infrequent pressure, Loebbestael was hurried into a bad decision or throw.
It's also uncanny that UCLA forgot about Joseph Fauria this week. His stat line from game to game for the season is truly bizarre-o. You can see the pattern of seemingly forgetting about him every other week. After three catches and two touchdowns, and looking like one of the few dominant forces against Stanford last week, he doesn't get a touch this week. We were really fooled again, when we thought there was surely no way UCLA could forget about Fauria – again.
If we're talking about putting it in perspective, Washington State's program provides us a very good means to do so. Paul Wulff took over Washington State the same time that Neuheisel was hired at UCLA. They both have had 3 ½ years. Wulff, basically, was starting from the bottom of the barrel, with a cupboard considerably bare, without any real cache or reputation, trying to recruit to one of the most God-forsaken places in college football. Neuheisel, on the other hand, had some talent when he took over the UCLA program (at least, comparatively to WSU), and then succeeded in bringing in three top ten national recruiting classes. And with both of them 3 ½ years into the program's development, the two programs are just about even on the field. And it's easy to say that UCLA has considerably more talent. Looking over WSU's players, there might be four or five among 22 that would start at UCLA. In the same amount of time, with considerably less talent, starting from a considerable deficit, Washington State's program is about even with UCLA, or you could make the case that Washington State was a bit better, considering they were playing on the road.
And ask yourself the question: Is there any way the UCLA program should be on even ground with Washington State? Historically, UCLA is 38-18-1 against Washington State. Let's not forget what these two programs are – and should be naturally. In the ‘60s and ‘70s, UCLA beat Washington State ten straight times, with scores like 46-14, 51-23 and 62-3. That's what UCLA should be naturally against Washington State.
We've been keeping score of whether the team played up to its capability or under-achieved in each game, and so far on the season we believe the team was 0-5 in those categories. In this game, UCLA neither played up to its capability or under-achieved, which is pretty evident by having enough Blue and Crank material, so it's a push. The season's record is now 0-5-1.