How The Last Four Games Could Go

OCT. 29 -- The season has been unpredictable, so what better way to kick off the final four games than with a couple of predictions for the remainder of the year?

If you’ve been reading our game previews this year, you’ve probably realized that this season has been nearly impossible to predict for us. After going 11-2 against the spread last year on our predictions (hold the applause), we’re currently 3-5 ATS, with a few real travesties in there (we predicted this team would beat friggin’ Oregon. Oregon!). So, understand that while it’s been a trying year for the team, we’re the ones who are really hurting.

“But now you’ve seen eight games,” average BRO says to us. “Don’t you have some better feel for the way this team might play in games?” And, to be honest with you, average BRO: No. Not really. Though this team has consistently put together some underwhelming performances (aside from one really explosive showing against Arizona State that we’re beginning to think was just a large-scale collective dream), it’s difficult to just assume they’re going to continue putting together those very same performances through the end of the year. Or maybe it’s not that difficult, and we just really don’t want to be crazily wrong on our 10-2 prediction for the season. You’ll never know!

In any case, there are many different ways we can see these final four games going, but it essentially boils down to two scenarios:

1. The team and coaches figure it out and play inspired football the rest of the way.

2. The team plays like the team that just got stuck in double overtime against one of the 15 worst teams in the country.

And really, we don’t have much of an idea which way it’s actually going to go at this point. You could convince us of any scenario from 1-3 to 4-0 to UCLA having to forfeit the remainder of its games after Jim Mora spontaneously combusts on the field after another phantom holding call, taking out most of the officiating crew in a blaze of glory. We really don’t know.

But if we’re being realistic (and even when we’re predicting that UCLA will beat Stanford each of the last three times they’ve played, we’re at least trying to be realistic), those two scenarios above are the ones we see as legitimately possible from a thematic standpoint, so we’ll tackle them in order.

Happy Jim Mora.
Scenario 1: UCLA figures it out. Rather than choosing to experiment more with undersized linebackers playing defensive end, UCLA opts for a great deal more of Takkarist McKinley down the stretch. McKinley, while still a little bit raw, gives the Bruins a significant pass rush off the edge that allows the defensive line to get real pressure with just four pass rushers. Offensively, Brett Hundley forgets about the impending NFL dissection after the season, starts running true zone reads, and uses all of his natural gifts and earned experience to put together four elite performances to close out the year. UCLA’s coaches, who have been putting together effective game plans since California, get increasingly creative throughout the end of the year, with Jeff Ulbrich dialing up more well-timed blitzes (as he’s done to an extent over the last two games) and Noel Mazzone continuing to emphasize the short-to-intermediate routes that get Hundley into a rhythm. Jim Mora starts to grow a playoff beard. The four games run like this:

The UCLA offense, thanks to a significant rebound performance from Brett Hundley, tears through an Arizona defense that really hasn’t had to deal with an offense with the ability to run and pass as well as the Bruins do, and defensively, UCLA does enough to slow down Anu Solomon and the Wildcats’ rushing attack. UCLA wins 48-28, and now they’re cooking with napalm.

The next week, UCLA heads to Washington for a wet and cold game against the Huskies. The defense, fresh off putting together a more than credible performance against Arizona, completely shuts down Washington’s anemic offense, making Troy Williams wish he’d spent longer waiting for a UCLA offer. The offensive line, which hasn’t had to deal with a strong defensive pass rush since Conor McDermott was inserted into the lineup, does much better against the Huskies’ talented defensive front than it did against Utah, only allowing three sacks. Brett Hundley is able to use his legs to get out toward the edges as he runs for over 100 yards, and UCLA holds down Washington 31-17.

Two weeks later, UCLA hosts USC, and by that point, the Trojans are down to about 45 scholarship players, many of whom are beaten up themselves. As has been the case the last couple of years, the Bruins jump out to an early lead, but this time, instead of Lane Kiffin’s remarkable impassivity, UCLA fans are treated to Steve Sarkisian’s meltdown on the sideline after his offensive play-calling yields a seventh consecutive three-and-out. After Clay Helton needles him by saying “Lane Kiffin was a better play-caller” through the headset after the most recent failed bubble screen, Sarkisian screams at him and tells him to call the plays, then makes as if to leave the field, hoping someone will stop him and caress his face. With Pat Haden nowhere to be found, no one does, and Sarkisian sadly slinks off the field. Helton then calls a beautiful series of plays for USC’s first touchdown of the game, but the Trojans lose 34-21.

Now, UCLA prepares for its biggest bugaboo, the Stanford Cardinal. But David Shaw, now in the final stages of his four-year plan to have both the best defense and the worst offense in the country, puts the finishing touches on his season with a disgusting 17-5 loss in the Rose Bowl to the Bruins that forces thousands of Stanford graduates to turn their attention back to the fine sport of polo. UCLA finishes 4-0 and gets set for a rematch with Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship game after Todd Graham abruptly leaves Arizona State for the head coaching job at Florida just before his team’s game against Arizona.

Unhappy Jim Mora.
Scenario 2: UCLA never breaks out of its perpetual funk. UCLA continues to use Deon Hollins, Aaron Wallace, Isaako Savaiinaea, and a pile of baling wire and masking tape as defensive ends in the 4-2-5 system and they continue to struggle with edge containment. Brett Hundley, who is now beginning to worry about his draft stock, presses through the last four games and can’t quite put together the brilliant performances UCLA needs to get through the last stretch of four games. The offensive play-calling goes increasingly more conservative as UCLA tries to compensate for its quarterback situation, which leads to Paul Perkins becoming overworked after Noel Mazzone calls 17 straight handoffs against Washington, leading to BRO turning into a beautiful supernova after it implodes. Defensively, UCLA goes back to the more conservative schemes it used at the beginning of the year, to compensate for some of the stagnation on offense, which leads to some more underwhelming performances. Jeff Ulbrich’s beard begins to draw the ire of fans; in a fit of pique, he stops trimming it. Caleb Benenoch gets punched in the head several times by a USC defensive linemen, retaliates with a light push, and gets ejected and suspended. The four games run like this:

Arizona waltzes into the Rose Bowl with a dynamic offense that plays largely to the weaknesses of UCLA’s defense. Anu Solomon and that host of running backs are able to attack the edges of UCLA’s scheme, with UCLA edge containment struggling constantly to keep Arizona from huge gains to the outside. Offensively, UCLA is able to put up some numbers against Arizona’s defense, but it’s not consistent enough to take pressure off the UCLA defense. The Bruins fall short of the win, losing 42-38. Rich Rodriguez inexplicably wears a cowboy hat in the post-game press conference.

The following week, UCLA heads up to Seattle for a miserable matchup with the Huskies. Washington has a horrible offense, easily one of the worst UCLA has faced this year, but its pass rush might be the best the Bruins have gone up against. For the first time since taking over for Malcolm Bunche at left tackle, Conor McDermott looked overmatched on the edge and UCLA’s interior offensive line breaks in the face of Washington’s strong pass rush up the middle. Brett Hundley gets sacked nine times, but UCLA’s defense manages to score one last touchdown to take the win up in Seattle 17-13.

Two weeks later, UCLA hosts USC at the Rose Bowl and…well, we’re sorry. Even in this disaster scenario, we don’t see a realistic scenario where Steve Sarkisian wins a big game in November. Bruins win 27-24.

The following week, the day after Thanksgiving, UCLA faces Stanford for the fourth time in three years, and the result ends up much the same. The Cardinal limits UCLA’s offense to just three points in the first half and sets up their own offense with a couple of choice turnovers in UCLA territory. UCLA’s defense backs off Kevin Hogan enough that he’s able to look like a halfway decent Pac-12 quarterback again, while UCLA’s offense has no answers for the physicality of Stanford’s defense. UCLA loses 24-14, and the game is much more of a beatdown than the final score would appear.

Realistically, we could see a way that UCLA puts it together and goes 3-1 or 4-0. Conversely, we could see a scenario where UCLA continues to play the way it is currently playing, and the Bruins go 1-3 or 2-2. But one thing is certain: no matter what UCLA team shows up over the final four games, Steve Sarkisian will find a way to gack the game away on November 22nd.*

*Given our predictions this year, we just guaranteed a USC win. Our bad.

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