Colorado Week: Reality

After providing a list of expectations last week for the Colorado game, here's a rundown of how those expectations held up. Even though UCLA lost, it's not as bad as you might think...

There aren't many BROzos who are satisfied with or expected the outcome of UCLA's game with the Colorado Buffaloes. The 16-14 loss was a bitter pill to swallow.

Before jumping to conclusions (who says WIGs can't jump?), let's catalogue what we saw…and what we didn't see. And then note how this matched up to what we expected to see, and what we would have loved to have seen….but didn't expect.

We saw:

- The Bruins play hard for four quarters, as expected. Their improved physical conditioning and their depth enabled the Bruins to stand toe-to-toe with Colorado for 60 minutes, even though the Buffs had a commanding 10 minute edge in TOP, and ran 84 plays compared to only 56 plays for UCLA. The Bruins never seemed fatigued, even though Jarrad Page had problems with cramps. Compared to other seasons, where five or six Bruins would pull up lame per game, Doc Kreis' Bruins passed conditioning muster with flying colors.

- Karl Dorrell/Steve Axman call a pretty conservative game on O, as expected, especially as the game progressed, which you could say is an incredible understatement. The Bruins ran the ball 11 out of 16 times on 1st and 10 (69%). And all the runs were basically between the tackles, as has been reported since spring practice. Even more distressing: For many of the plays, the Buffs had 8 or 9 in the box. Here's how Colorado would align it's 4-2-5 D on 1st down: The Weak and Strong Safeties (Brian Iwuh and JJ Billingsley) would move up to the line of scrimmage and act as standing DEs. The Free Safety, Medford Moorer, would position himself 5 yards deep, while the LBs were 3 yards deep. Basically, the Buffs were presenting a 6-3 front to the Bruins.

When the OL is so vastly outnumbered at the point of attack, how can running the ball into the teeth of the D be successful? Well, Tyler Ebell ran for 26 yards once…on a draw play. And he ran for 6 yards another time. Those 2 times out of 11 were the only times UCLA gained decent yardage on 1st down running the ball the whole game.

What happened those 5 times UCLA passed the ball on 1st and 10? Well, 3 were in the first half. The first time, Matt Moore completed a quick out to Craig Bragg, and the Bruins eventually got a first down. Then Moore threw a touchdown pass to Junior Taylor that he BPD'd, Alabama style. (Oh, the Ghosts of Bruin Openers Past!!! Dropped bombs, injured QBs…oh my!) Then Drew Olson threw a TD pass to Bragg that he caught! Let's see: an eventual 1st down, and 2 TDs (work with me, here). And that was it for the 1st half for passing on 1st down. (There was another pass play on 1st down, a 34-yard completion from Drew Olson to Marcedes Lewis, but it was nullified by a phantom holding call, making it 1st and 20, which isn't 1st and 10, y'know?)

Running on first down in the first half: Well, the first time Tyler got 1 yard, and UCLA would have gone 3 and out except for a late hit on Moore. The next time Tyler got 1 yard (3 and out). Then Tyler for -2, but UCLA got a new set of downs on play where Moore hit Marcedes Lewis for 17, a 1st down, and a busted knee. Next, Tyler ran for 26 on a draw. (CU was a little off-balance with a new QB in the game and not knowing what to expect.) Then Tyler ran for 2 (3 and out). To summarize: 2 punts, 1 new set of downs earned running, 1 new set of downs on CU boneheadedness, 1 new set of downs on clutch pass (but lost QB because he was put in obvious passing situation), and no TDs. Not nearly as pretty.

But talk about not pretty! Let's visit "Bruin ball, 1st and 10!!!" in the freakin' 2nd half. Get the barf bag ready, okay? The Bruins had 9 1st and 10s in the 2nd half. They passed on the first 2…and ran the ball on the next 7. Check this out, and you will realize what a frickin' GREAT effort Olson gave:

#1: pass to Smith, 9 yards, get an eventual 1st down.
#2: the DO scrambles for 3, gets an eventual 1st down. (Counted this as a pass, because that was the intent.)
#3: run Tyler for 0 yds…but the DO bails out UCLA with a 16 yard 3rd and 10 completion to Lewis, new set of downs.
#4: run Tyler for -1 (3 and out, DO sacked on 3rd and 5…Justin Medlock misses the FG)
#5: run Tyler for 6 yds, then Tyler for -2…but the DO bails out UCLA with a 7 yard 3rd and 6 completion to Junior, new set of downs.
#6: run Tyler for 0 yds…but the DO bails out UCLA with a 38 yard 3rd and 30 completion to Lewis, new set of downs. Are you kidding me? (Actually, Junior Taylor was wide open on the sideline for a TD, but after The Drop…maybe the DO made the right call.)
#7: run Tyler for 3 yds…but the DO bails out UCLA with a 10 yard 3rd and 9 completion to Bragg, new set of downs.
#8: run Tyler for 0 yds…but the DO bails out UCLA with an 8 yard scramble on 3rd and 7, new set of downs. Unbelievable at this point.
#9: run Tyler for 0 yds…the DO hits Blane Kezirian for 8 on a blitz read (nice play), but finally, on 3rd and 2, the DO fails to connect with Lewis and the Bruins have to punt.

The last 3 1st and 10s are incredibly crucial: the Bruins have just weathered a 12-play, 31-yard drive by the Buffs. There is 9:25 left in the 4th quarter. The Bruins eat up 4:25 of that with a 9-play, 25-yard drive, where the DO is forced to make clutch play after clutch play to keep the drive alive. The Bruins are only on the 36 because of the punt that pinned them back on the 11, so there is plenty of field to operate with. If only the Bruins could have eked out another 1st down or two, or gone for the play action bomb, they could have put the game away…

- Marcedes Lewis blows up, as expected. He caught 6 balls for 96 yards. He was clearly the most potent weapon on the field for either team. As we wrote back on April 15th, "Marc Lewis…what can we say? He could be a real ‘green zone' weapon." That skinny post from the flanker spot to Marc will have 11 DCs across the nation up at night thinking of him. Not to mention the seam route. Can you say double coverage? Not only has Matt Moore established a special rapport with Lewis, so has Drew Olson. Everybody Loves Lewis! Only question….why wasn't Marc used as a WR last year?

- Matt Moore gets hurt. Totally expected, some BROs will say. Every Bruin QB gets hurt. I expected differently, frankly. I thought that Dorrell's 3-step, quick release O vs. BT's vertical passing game would mean that the QBs would be at less risk. And given that the DO was never threatened with injury after Moore left (as compared to Cal last year, where the DO separated a shoulder almost immediately because of faulty protection execution after replacing Paus), my sense is that Moore's injury was a fluke due to a Buffalo pulling a Rodney Harrison and attempting to take out the QB's knee on a late hit. Props to Brandon Dabdoub. You succeeded. Happy? Probably. The first roughing the passer attempt didn't work, but try, try again, I always say. For what it's worth, I don't expect Drew Olson to get hurt next week, or any other week, even though there is a full season (11 games) to play.

- Drew Olson comes through with flying colors, all things considered. The DO won himself a ton of fans with his mature, team-first attitude regarding the outcome of the QB battle. He never seemed to go into the tank the last few weeks. Even though he hasn't worked much with the 1st team the last few weeks, he played very well when called upon with no notice, pulling UCLA's bacon out of the fire repeatedly on crucial downs. He nailed one bomb to Bragg perfectly, but missed on another one that was wide open. He stumbled a couple of times coming out from under center. But I think he'll be an enjoyable guy and player to cheer for over the weeks ahead. I was very impressed by his ability to sense pressure, find a way out of the confines of the pocket while still looking downfield, and then deliver the ball. Like most QBs, the DO would prefer to take his drop, plant, and push forward. Sliding to the side and stepping forward is alien to most QBs; they tend to overstride and fall off to the side, and hence the ball will be overthrown. This is why the DO just missed on some long ones when he was out of the pocket.

- Matt Clark, as expected, get lots of action as the perceived Achilles' heel of the D. Unfortunately, Clark drew a very early PI penalty covering Jeremy Bloom on a bomb…as alluded to. That established in the zebra's minds that Clark is Travis Knight in shoulder pads and helmet. Did perception become self-fulfilling prophesy? Ask the back judge. When Clark later tried to beat DJ Hackett to the spot on an inside route near the goal line on a critical 3rd down play, Clark drew another critical PI penalty for aggressively playing the big guy. The calls may have got into Clark's head, judging by his big cushion and his body language throughout the game.

- The Bruins throw the ball more than they attempted to run it. Who knew? Unfortunately, the Bruins could only run the ball for 38 net yards, a 1.5 average on 26 carries, against a team that consistently packed 8 or 9 into the box. As you might expect, the Bruins fared better through the air against a D that basically gave their CBs deep zone responsibility and provided underneath help on slants and curls…but not the quick out. Too bad the play-calling forgot about that play.

- The Bruins down TWO punts inside the 5! Better than expected…but it's about time UCLA get on par with Va Tech, etc. After the practice time they have devoted to covering pooch punts, it was great to see the hard work pay off immediately. Props to Chris Kluwe and Keith Short (downing the first punt on the 2) and Nnamdi Ohaeri (catching a punt in the air inside the 5). And there were two other punts that were devilishly close to hitting the coffin corner. Riley Jondle's snaps were without incident.

- The Bruins have a mixed day on special teams. Highlights: punt and kick coverage (no Bloomin' Rocky Mountain High for CU fans, Bruins did better than expected on this score), Bragg's punt return that almost went for 6 if not for the punter; Matt Ware's partial block of a punt (rolls for 30 yards, frickin' UCLA luck); Brandon Chillar's partial block of a FG (goes through anyway, frickin' UCLA luck); and Brandon Chillar's complete block of a PAT (which bounces right to CU so UCLA can't return it for 2 and tie the score, frickin' UCLA luck). Lowlights: Medlock's miss, Kluwe's shank, and Maurice Drew's muff.

- The Bruins get lots of penalties: 12 for 107. Not as many as Larry Coker's ‘Canes got: 16 for 134. (Fire Coker!) But every single flag was decidedly earned. Well….not the bogus "illegal shift" flag when Moore completed a check-down pass to Tyler that he took for 12 yards and a first down. Recall that UCLA was double tight, ace set with twins right. Lewis steps off the line and sets. Bragg steps up and gets set. Then Lewis goes in motion. Does anybody see the problem here? Exactly…blown call. The 34-yard pass play to Lewis wiped out by holding? Phantom call, Mociler was fine on the play. The PI on Marc Lewis? C'mon, that happens every play. The DB was a smurf, of course he's going to flop like Vlade. The 2nd PI on Clark…BS call. He had great position and went for the ball. If the shoe were on the other foot, UCLA wouldn't have gotten that call. And the spots were always very accurate, right?

The delay of game penalties were expected, frankly. Given how verbose the offensive play calls are, that college QBs don't have speakers in their helmets like NFL QBs do, that the DO took over for Moore, and that this was Dorrell's/Axman's first game calling plays in a while, problems like this are expected. Dorrell and staff have tried to limit the amount of verbiage in play calls, but there still needs to be more work done, in my opinion. Some of the audibles just took too long to get called. But didn't CU have some DOG penalties, and wasn't this Barney's 52nd game as HC of CU? And why weren't more off-sides called on CU NG Dabdoub, who was lined up in the neutral zone all day? Basically, it was your typical CFB game…whack calls all over. Anyone who bets on CFB is nuts…

- The OL provide decent pass blocking, as expected, allowing only 2 sacks and not that many pressures. On the 2nd sack, the DO held the ball for 4 seconds, and didn't get rid of the ball on time. DE Marques Harris crushed UCLA last year, but he wasn't much of a factor this year before breaking his leg. Ed Blanton basically swallowed him up. And here's an interesting question: what % of CU's tackles were made by CU DL vs. CU back seven guys? The official stats have CU making 56 total tackles (solo and assists). The DL accounted for 17 of those, or 30% (meaning the LBs and DBs made 70% of all tackles). In contrast, the UCLA DL made 35 of 96 total tackles, or 36%. So the CU DL seemed to have a less successful day than the UCLA DL did. The CU DL was successful in knocking UCLA's QB out of the game entirely on a cheap shot, while UCLA's D could only render him woozy enough to sit out a few plays. The tilted NG, Dabdoub, did give McCloskey fits throughout the game. His size, strength and aggressiveness is hard for a relatively undersized C to handle every single play without fail.

- UCLA handle CU's trick plays pretty well. Yes, the reverses that got the ball wide worked (one for 19, the other for 14). But the Bruins blew up the fake punt, the FL pass to the QB off a reverse was extremely well defensed by Clark (with an assist to Mat Ball for trying to take Jeremy Bloom's head off), and the roll way right/throw-back screen went nowhere.

- The CU RBs run east-west from the 2nd quarter on. Think they miss Eric Bieniemy's coaching?

- The CU passing attack consistently exploit UCLA's weak spots. Give credit to CU OC Shawn Watson for the scheme, and QB Joel Klatt for the execution. CU attacked the soft corner, and threw underneath all day long. 21 completions….and only 157 yards (7.5 yards/completion, a very low average). But do that 2 out of 3 plays, and you have a 1st down, which CU did (21 of 30).

- Brandon Chillar, Rodney Leisle and Dave Ball play like All-Americans. Chillar had 13 total tackles, 1 fumble recovery, 1 pass defended, and 1 blocked kick. Leisle had 9 total tackles, including 2 sacks. Rod and Dave worked a "TE" stunt perfectly on one play: Rod slanted out, into the OT's inside shoulder, while Ball looped behind to the inside, forcing the OG to pick him up. But that left Leisle with no one between him and the QB….and Joel Klatt paid for it. Dave Ball had 5 total tackles and 2 sacks on consecutive plays (poor Gary Moore)…but he was almost outdone by his twin brother, Mat, who had 7 total tackles and 1 sack. How long last year before the LDE racked up 7 tackles?

Anyway, they played like crazed beasts all game long. As did their DL brother, The Boss Ryan Boschetti with 7 total tackles.

Among the DBs, Ben Emanuel was very active, with 12 total tackles. Matt Clark had 8 total tackles, because CU went at him a lot. Nnamdi Ohaeri made a splash with a vicious hit on Klatt's chin as Nnamdi sacked him. And Nnamdi also nailed Quin Sypniewski when he made the mistake of catching a drag across the middle.

Overall, the Bruins D limited CU to 245 total yards (3.1 per play average), sacked Klatt 6 times and pressured/flushed him out him many other times, and held CU to only 16 points, a performance that was better than expected. The DL, according to those attending practices and even the coaches, including Dorrell, is considered the strength of the D.

- Tim Brant provide some amazing pro-Bruin spin during the telecast. Bless him! Ed Cunningham provided some really insightful commentary (especially his take that UCLA was inches away throughout the game of executing). And props to ABC for showing us Moore's injury over and over…can't wait to dream about that at night.

- Joel Klatt really nut up after getting knocked senseless by BE2. His comeback was impressive.

However, we didn't see:

- UCLA use its ace in the hole, Manuel White, at all, I'm quite sad to say. UCLA could have used a guy who regularly breaks tackles.

- The coaching staff produce great game plans, or great play calling. The scheme on D wasn't as creative as we had hoped to see, after watching Larry Kerr outfox CU over the last few years. There was a lot of base 4-3, cover 2. Maybe Kerr is spoiled having 8 quality DL and is satisfied to just turn them loose.

Offensively, Dorrell needs to get comfortable with the fact that when UCLA faces a program as strong as UCLA's is, and that team packs the box, then UCLA needs to throw early and often to make them pay. Sure, you can run the ball down Stanford's throat. But not CU when their D is fresh. 1st down play calling must be adapted if UCLA is going to meet expectations this year.

And some misdirection in the running is required. Face it, CFB requires some gadgetry. Reverses off of motion are perfect to stretch the D and give them something to think about. Ask Shanahan!

- The slant pass (which has been so effective throughout the spring and fall), the quick out (which was used twice after Moore went out), or the swing/flare pass to the RBs. Part of the reason why was CU's alignment: with the WS and SS on the LOS as stand-up DEs, they were perfectly positioned to take those passes to the backs or TEs away, or to drop into the slant zone. But the quick out was still available, as was the post! The CBs had ZERO inside help…too bad UCLA couldn't nail a play-action post pass to make Barney loosen up his FS.

- Maurice Drew. Once he fumbled, he was into the doghouse and out of the regular RB rotation. Some might applaud the discipline, the tough love, etc. As a fan and an observer, I would have liked to have seen MoD play. At least to get the mistake out of his head. Too bad it didn't take longer for MoD's personal winning streak to get snapped.

- Karl Dorrell and crew produce good in-game adjustments. The Bruin braintrust didn't seem to realize what a rut they were getting into regarding play-calling. Eventually, UCLA got squeezed and couldn't pull it off. The sense we get that Dorrell's personality is that of a disciplined, persistent man of strong convictions, a man inclined to stick with his guns no matter what, has been strengthened by this game. "If it ain't working, stick with it, it eventually will…" (gulp).

- Justin Medlock nail every kick. Even though he struck the FG attempt well, and it was straight, it was off-line from the start. His kick-offs were acceptable, with a moment of anxiety once or twice.

- The Bruin DL get their arms up in the air and attempt to deflect passes when they sense the QB is about to pass and they are short of sacking the QB. On those killer drives of 11, 15, 12 and 11 plays, it would have really helped the CBs if a big paw would have shot up there and batted a pass into the air for someone to intercept.

- The Bruins make every catchable catch. The tremendous strides made in spring because of Jon Embree's renewed emphasis on catching fundamentals seem to have dissipated with time. Dropped passes are like turnovers. They can take points off the board. They can cause you to punt. They can kill the team's morale. If Junior Taylor catches that pass for 6, the entire complexion of the game could have been changed. Craig Bragg never drops passes…but he dropped a TD. Ryan Smith also dropped a pass.

- The Bruin D physically intimidate the Buff O. While the big guys can certainly deliver a bell-ringer if given the chance, Emanuel and Page are not yet the intimidators that Marques Anderson was. Nor did the LBs (Justin London and Wesley Walker) really make the receivers pay for the catch. Neither guy has played as much previously as they did Saturday.

- Karl Dorrell assert himself. Post-game articles indicate that Dorrell's game role was very passive to the point of non-existence. Karl needs to take a more active role, maybe in play-calling. This is your team, Karl. You can't abdicate it to someone else to run in crunch time.

- The Bruins beat down the Buffs 35-14, run 70+ plays, gain over 400 total yards, hold the Buffs to 300 total yards or less, and avenge last year's debacle. Like I said, football games have a funny way of not working out the way you want them to. Funny calls by refs, not so funny execution at crunch time, and downright farcical bounces of the ball. It wasn't pretty, but I still enjoyed watching UCLA battle CU and can't wait for the game with the Illinois Fighting Illini.

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