Golper: Concerns and Positives

SEP. 10 -- A former player under Jim Mora, Todd Golper, shares some of his thoughts on this year's team after two games...

First off, let me preface this entire analysis by noting that I am a third-generation Bruin, a whole-hearted, passion-bucket-filled homer for all things UCLA and I believe in Coach Jim Mora and his entire staff.

It is important to recognize that the efforts of each individual and program are not to be forgotten and that there are plenty of emotions, thoughts, and actions that go on behind the scenes of a program that are to be kept in-house. As Coach Sal Alosi always said: “Sharpen your swords quietly."

After reviewing the Memphis game there were two areas of concern and two major positives:


1. Situational Awareness
2. Tackling


1. Vanilla Play-calling and UCLA still wins
2. Youth continuing to gain experience

The first example of situational awareness is penalties, both unnecessary and necessary. In the game against Memphis, Coach Mora in his post-game presser discussed the inopportune timing of penalties. There are times as a player when you are definitely trying to do too much and it ends up hurting the team. The holding penalties on the kick-off returns, the hands-to-the-face (very arguable in my opinion) on the punt return, etc., these are unnecessary penalties because the outcomes are more detrimental than if you miss a block or get beat by your opponent rather than “turning to the next level fast," a term coined by the legendary special teams coach, Frank Gansz. By turning to the next level and not waiting/watching as your opponent runs by you, the effect is you end up double-teaming another player with your teammate and trusting your ball-carrier to make a guy miss while not costing your team a penalty for being selfish in your assignment.

Jake Brendel (Photo: Steve Cheng, BRO)
In my opinion, there are a few acceptable penalties in the game. A great example would be helmet penalty on the punt return touchdown against Virginia. This is big indicator of hustle, heart, and toughness and a guy willing to sacrifice for his teammates. Unbeknownst to him, Priest Willis probably thought he was doing the right thing. Another great example is getting a big, clean hit on a quarterback to rough him up a bit (a la Jordan Zumwalt). This is a tone-setter for the rest of the game. Knowing that you have guys that aren’t afraid to be physical, tough, and no-nonsense are great examples of acceptable penalties. Obviously we don’t want more than one in a game but the one is acceptable.

The second example of situational awareness is understanding the down and distance on defense. General football knowledge should help guide a player's thinking -- that when it’s 3rd-and-6+, coaches are generally looking for pass/screen/draw combos. Important to note is that, as a defense, if you know you are particularly aggressive from a schematic standpoint (pre-break the huddle play thoughts), you are moving around to confuse the offense (the high percentage of time this occurs it normally is some sort of pressure, whether it be zone/man), and a quarterback is motioning a receiver to see if someone is following him man-to-man (indicator of cover 0/1), then you have to think ahead of time to know that it is probably going to be audibled to some sort of pass/screen combo or it has already been called. Additionally, if it is 3rd-and-4 and the defense has done all of the things as noted above, you have to know the ball is coming out quickly. Why? Quarterbacks know pressure is coming from somewhere and they need to get the ball out quickly to minimize the possibility of having the ball knocked down or be sacked. This should equate to thinking as a defender to know that you cannot get beat inside (rule #1, never get beat inside on man-to-man coverage) and to get a bit tighter on the receiver (as long as the secondary players are on different levels because they can’t get picked/run into each other on rub routes) because the route will be cut shorter since the ball will be coming out. If it is cover 1, you know that on a long ball you’re likely to have help over the top by the free safety. These are general thoughts that need to be going through a players head pre-snap, that provide a player better understanding of general football situations and of what coaches in particular are looking for. Offensive play-calling is more often than not predicated on tendencies of defenses on certain down and distances so it is important to self-scout and know what oyour own tendencies are and to be able to manage your play accordingly.

Tackling. UCLA’s defenses over the last few years have been pretty good-tackling football teams. It isn’t like the Bruins to miss tackles, such as against Memphis, and it usually shows a lack of energy, focus and intensity. It is also is an indication of a lack of attention to detail. Coaches Jeff Ulbrich, Demetrice Martin, and Angus McClure are all fantastic teachers of tackling. The tracking of the near hip, taking inside-out angles, squaring yourself to the sideline and knowing your leverage are all taught in detail. It is important that when chasing a ball to get on different levels as defenders, to not run into each other for one, and to not over-pursue the ball carrier. UCLA needs to trust their speed as they have, in my humble opinion, the best athletic-performance coach to walk this planet in Sal Alosi. Tackling can always be improved by every football player across the country.

The positives from a macro-level thought-process are easily recognized. UCLA won its first two games against two better-than-expected opponents with some very vanilla, basic play-calling. I consider that one of the biggest victories in the history of the UCLA program during my short life. Why? It is a great indicator that our talent level has risen to a point where we can win these games without pulling out all stops. Fans should understand this.

Secondly, with only six seniors on this team, UCLA is playing a ton of underclassmen and juniors, who will gain major experience. This upcoming Texas game is going to be a huge experience for many of the young men on the team, and it is important to recognize the valuable experience they are gaining. There is nothing more valuable than experience. Just ask Jim Harbaugh and David Shaw at Stanford, with all of their senior-laden teams and how they performed.

From a personnel standpoint, with three-year starter Jake Brendel back in the picture, it is apparent that the offensive line is only hurting in one area -- lacking a true left tackle. I don't think people realize how fortunate UCLA was to have had Xavier Su'a-Filo or even Torian White. Su'a-Filo was probably the best UCLA lineman since 1998. You have to hope Simon Goines returns because he would be a big help in the run game with his big frame, and provide Coach Adrian Klemm more versatility and capability to mix and match even more of the offensive linemen.

At the running back position, Paul Perkins deserves respect. His vision, durability, toughness, and ability to hold on to the football are everything you need in a running back. Perkins, generally, makes one cut and gets up the field, which is exactly how a running back should function for this offense performs efficiently. The Mayor (Jonathan Franklin) was a great example of this. Plain and simple -- make one guy miss and get up field. Perkins doesn't have breakaway speed, and that is completely fine. Paul actually is reminiscient of Marshall Faulk, with his durability, vision, and receiving skills.

Kenny Walker could be a key to the season, being the true deep-threat receiver. UCLA will have to unleash Walker (and trust his ability to catch the ball) to open up the field. Thomas Duarte is a great route runner, a big-body receiver type and should be the offense's go-to in the redzone. Devin Fuller needs to be given the ball in space more often, which the offense started to do in the 2nd half of Memphis.

All in all, the UCLA football program is continuing to rise and the expectations are growing with it as well. It’s important to understand that great things take time and Coach Mora has done an absolutely incredible job in the short time he's had the program. I cannot tell you how proud I am to have played for him, and how, as a UCLA alumnus, how pround that the university has given the reigns of our beloved program to the most honorable, loyal human being I have ever met in my life. I am proud to be a Bruin and am proud of the unbelievable amount of effort the Bruins display each Saturday.

It's a matter of believing that this team will get better and succeed. I believe. Do you?

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