Have the Bruins Grown Up?

OCT. 1 -- It appears this year's UCLA team has the type of mental approach that it might not get tripped (or trapped) up by the trap game of Utah...

Guess we can put to rest the ongoing conversation about which is best: UCLA’s offense or its defense. At the moment, it’s the offense… and it’s not close. Whether it’s analytics, the NCAA stats, your sense of historical comparison, trusting your own eyes, or the inevitable existential breaks of the game (you know, the stuff that makes you either crazy or euphoric), it’s now the offense in which we trust and the defense that provokes anxiety attacks. Next time the D gives up 38 first downs and 626 yards of total offense, it might be a good idea to have a paper bag handy - breathe deeply, my friend.

Even Jim Mora has admitted the defense needs to kick it up a notch (or three)… needs to get closer to the quarterback and to his receivers… needs for them to feel the hot breath of fear and incipient pain. Right now, opposing passers can’t wait to get to the stadium. Like us, these guys can read and watch video - all those limp defensive stats and all those key third-down conversions that keep us on the edge of our seats. These things give the opposition an extremely useful sense of confidence, instead of the insecurity they ought to provoke.

I admit my heart sank when I first saw the Bruins go into the “dreaded, three-man rush” on third and very long at the “spring game” in Carson; the offense converted naturally. I’ve always hated the idea of letting the quarterback sit relaxed in the pocket, scanning the field, and/or running around for seeming minutes before finding an open, or wide open, receiver downfield. Defensive backs have enough problems making up for their size, strength and, in most cases, speed deficiencies vs. receivers without having to chase their responsibilities around for five, six or seven seconds. The thre- man rush (sometimes even a two man rush!) is right up there with the “prevent defense” on my list of coaching bugaboos. I can’t wait until some kind of defensive- minded Chip Kelly comes along to finally kill off this piece of self-defeating strategy. I don’t want to say Bob Field could’ve done this, but I’m not sure one of his no-hope defenses ever gave up 626 yards, no matter the score.

Kenny Clark
So what’s the problem? Did Mora and Jeff Ulbrich overrate the front four’s ability to significantly pressure the passing game? Were these players somewhat overrated physically? Or is the defensive staff being stubborn about the failure to get sacks or put the fear of God into opposing quarterbacks? Don’t know, but I’m going with the latter.

These players, certainly Kenneth Clark, Owamagbe Odighizuwa, and Eddie Vanderdoes, are likely better as individual talents than they’ve shown so far as a unit. Perhaps we all underestimated the loss of both Anthony Barr and Cassius Marsh. And there are indications Mora will begin insisting on more heat and will make the necessary moves to turn it up this Saturday. Hey, maybe the front four will suddenly jell, just like the offense has seemingly done. Of course, none of this can take away from the kind of game Ishmael Adams had. What an easy kid to root for. He may lack some size, but he makes up for it with hard work, heart and talent. And he’s certainly the best Bruins kick returner since the unfortunate, “infamous” Daryl Henley.

*****


If that offensive show in Tempe wasn’t positively Oregonian, then I must have missed a comparable performance. Four plays of over 80 yards! I mean, 62-27, all in just 26 minutes. It was like Nebraska last year, only better. Incredible as it may seem to Bruins fans, there’s nothing at all to quibble about offensively. Hundley played the best game of his career, probably his life: 18 for 23, 355 yards, 4 TDs passing, 1 running, plus 8 carries for 72 yards: total offense, 427 yards. Guess Hundley’s Heisman hopes are alive and well after all. Punch Utah’s ticket this week, then comes Marcus Mariota and Oregon into the Rose Bowl. Who knows how that will go? Before ASU that would’ve sounded a bit silly. I did think Hundley looked improved in spring, more solid in the pocket, more patient, more accurate, even better arm strength. But then, I was once half taken in by a brief 7-on-7 video of Eddie Printz, when everyone else knew he “couldn’t spin it.”

Ordinarily, you might think the Bruins would be facing real pressure to keep their preseason goals intact, which is to say a Pac-12 Championship and a place in the Final Four. But this team, since Texas, (to quote Reggie Miller) seems to have worked up “a full steam of head.” We’ll know more about this business if UCLA can come out swinging and land the first punch on Utah.

There’s not a lot more to say about Jordan Payton. Last season he was a nightmare for smaller corners on short routes along the sidelines. This year he’s a nightmare anywhere on the field. Hopefully we won’t be worrying about him leaving early, though he looks like a sure All-Conference candidate. What else? Thomas Duarte is likely to go down with any of the big receivers we’ve seen here since J.J. Stokes, while Eldridge Massington is everything Hundley said he would be. Here’s wishing him better health.

*****


You never know with the Bruins, particularly their pass defense, but I get the feeling this team isn’t going to be surprised by lesser teams… by which I mean isn’t going to be out-scored by them. They likely got over that in their first two games, and that was more early-season nerves and unexpected schemes.

Mora was pretty definite when he spoke about “not believing in trap games.” The media still doesn’t believe it, but I get the impression that his team does. If so, we’re going have a lot of fun come 12:30 on October 11th.


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