The Reality of Oklahoma

Here's how UCLA measured up in comparing the pre-game expectations and fears to the reality of Oklahoma. There are positives to take from the comparison, but there are some negatives, too...

You don't throw fastballs down the middle to Barry Bonds.

You don't tug on Superman's cape. You don't spit into the wind. You don't mess around with the ol' Lone Ranger.

And you don't out-kick your punt coverage over and over and over with a 4.3-40, 42-inch-ertical guy back there like Antonio Perkins.

You don't fall dangerously behind to one of college football's best defenses with an immature, grind-it-out offense that at this point is not well-suited to mount a furious comeback.

That is, you don't do those things if you want to avoid getting blown out 59-24 by the #1 ranked Oklahoma Sooners.

Of course, if you're part of the piles and piles of guys that make up the lynch mob that wants Karl Dorrell's head on a pike, then you can do what you want. It's your world, we're just living in it.

The Karl Dorrell equation for winning football (good D + conservative, mistake-free O + great special teams) fell apart in this game as UCLA failed to deliver on two (or even three) out of three strategic imperatives. One-legged stools don't work so good, unless you're playing a practical joke on a kid you don't like.

The tough, opportunistic D wasn't there. Yes, the Bruins produced two turnovers, one a near touchdown by Spencer Havner. But the Bruins forced no fumbles with strips, although they had chances when the ball carrier was stood up. And they didn't rise to the occasion on 3rd and 4th downs. OU averaged 5.8 yards per play from scrimmage on the day, and almost 10 yards per pass attempt.

While the O was conservative, it was not mistake-free. There was one pick that was returned for six. Drew Olson at times threw into coverage; although he got away with incompletions, the WRs made no circus catches to energize and bail out the attack. The Bruins did have one scoring drive of 14 plays and another of 13 against "the best defense I've ever had," according to HC Bob Stoops.

On the other hand, you'd have to say Oklahoma met their defensive objectives:

- Destroy the run game: kinda, as much by game circumstance as anything
- Pressure the quarterback: check, only 2 sacks but more than a few flushes
- Pressure them into turnovers: check, OU won the turnover battle, 3 to 2
- Be great on third down: check, UCLA was only 5 of 17 (less than 30%)
- Be great in the red zone: nope, UCLA had 2 TDs in 2 opportunities

Do we need to mention special teams?

Offense:

Pleasingly, UCLA stood toe-to-toe with the Sooners for the first quarter behind the talent, size and skill of Manuel White. The Manster was breaking tackles, driving his feet, and falling forward on almost every carry, gaining 42 yards in the 1st quarter alone. The OL was getting into their men, and the success on the ground enabled UCLA and Drew Olson to throw the ball effectively with sufficient time to set up.

If UCLA could have prevented the back-breaking punt returns, this could have been a hell of a game.

Ultimately, UCLA produced 271 yards of total offense (144 passing, 127 net rushing). Before the game, I wrote, "I expect UCLA to produce about 250 yards of total offense, 175 through the air and 75 on the ground. They'll have to fight for every yard they get." And so they did. The good news is that UCLA fought on every play to the last play. Which for the second time in three games, we didn't get to see. Unless you're lawman.

And contrary to the "worst case" scenario, UCLA was not completely overwhelmed with superior schemes, speed and aggressiveness from the get-go. OU did not knock UCLA's major playmakers out of the game. Tommie Harris did not run wild.

Once the game got out of hand, and UCLA's grind-it-out O became obsolete for the task, OU's D was able to become more dominant.

The turning point in the game was the UCLA drive after OU scored to take a 14-10 lead.

On 1st and 10, Drew Olson hit Craig Bragg for a 6-yard out. But on 2nd and 4, Blane Kezirian got called for holding. So now it is 2nd and 14.

On 2nd and 14, Bragg ran up the sideline, attempting to get into the "hole" that exists between the CB's underneath coverage and the safety's ability to get to the outside. The safety, Brodney Pool, appeared to take a shallow angle. But the pass from Drew Olson was very short and to the inside, so the pass was almost picked. With a stronger gun, that could have been a huge play for UCLA.

On 3rd and 14 from UCLA's 16, UCLA takes the safe, conservative route and runs the ball, White plowing for 7. Why run the risk of an INT, a sack/strip/fumble, or something else calamitous deep in your own end?

Of course, this long-term strategy was blown apart when OU returned the punt for a TD. 21-10, OU.

It's clear UCLA was staggered at this point: Tyler Ebell gains but one yard in 1st down, White loses one on 2nd down (with the play run into six OU defenders), and the DO is sacked on 3rd and 10 for a 10-yard loss. OU throws a nice zone blitz. The ‘run-run-pass on 3rd and long' sequence is a fastball right into OU's wheelhouse. CRACK!

However, UCLA rallies. They hold OU to a ‘3 and out' of their own, thanks in part to a drop by Brandon Jones, and great stuff by Kevin Brown and C.J. Niusulu. The Bruins get the ball back on the 20.

There are about 7 minutes left in the first half. Perfect for a time-consuming scoring drive to get back into the game that would leave OU little time to respond.

The Bruins get a first down when the DO hits the Manster with a swing pass on 3rd and 4 that Manny converts into a 9-yard gain and a first down.

But then, on the next series, on 3rd and 2, UCLA decides to muscle-up and attempt to run for the 1st down. The play called went for 29-yards and a 1st down in the fall scrimmage. However, this was a real game. OU, with 9 in the box, sniffs it out, have about 4 guys in the blast zone, blow up Pat Norton, and force UCLA to punt. Then lightning strikes in the same place twice…and ballgame over.

The toughest call for a HC and/or OC to make is 3rd and short when you're behind. If you pass, like UCLA did at Colorado, second guessers intone, "Why didn't you run White?" Now that UCLA tried running the ball against Oklahoma, the logical second guess is, "Why didn't you run the slant to Marcedes Lewis?"

OU's reputation for making adjustments on the fly was evident Saturday. For example, UCLA was effective for a while running the quick out to Craig Bragg (10 catches for 87 yards and one headache). So OU began dropping the DE or the OLB into the path of the out pass to Bragg's side. Result? Two tipped passes, one of which was intercepted and returned for another back-breaking six.

The counter-move? Run the slant instead, maybe, or throw the out to the other side. Junior Taylor had two catches, both on 3rd down, both for first downs.

Is Brandon Everage a safety or a pinto linebacker? OU plays him all over, and he spends as much time in the offense's backfield as he does covering passes. Whatever he is, Everage ain't Average…Everage should get an assist on Teddy Lehman's INT, because his pop on Bragg may have distracted Craig for the remainder of the game.

Marcedes Lewis was conspicuously quiet, with only one catch, most likely due to his injury. But Maurice Drew made some noise. MoD scored his first college touchdown on the ol' fumblerooski play. Who says Karl Dorrell doesn't have trick plays up his sleeve? Seriously… things seem to turn out okay when guys who are proven winners are around to make something out of nothing. The staff showed confidence in MoD by having him in the game at that juncture.

The expectations for the O were pretty low, so it is no surprise they were met…low completion percentage due to disruptive rush and aggressive and smart DBs. As expected, the UCLA O seems to be a year away scheme- and personnel-wise from really competing with OU's D. How many more defenses will UCLA see the rest of this year that are as talented and as well-schemed as OU?

Defense:

I love the design of OU's offense. The shotgun formation is both run and pass friendly. There is a surprising number of running plays that are possible out of it, which Oklahoma demonstrated quite well. The halfback lead was their most popular play. UCLA had a harder time shutting it down than it did the fullback lead play of Illinois or Colorado, because the running back (Renaldo Works or Kejuan Jones) could use a moment of hesitation to pick an opening and run to daylight. With no fullback to key on, sacrificing your body to destroy the run becomes harder.

The most effective running play for OU was the inside hand-off halfback sweep, which Works turned into a key 15-yard TD. On the TD, NG Ryan Boschetti tried to make the tackle in the backfield, and he narrowly missed, leaving no inside-out pursuit scraping down the line. Then, LB Spencer Havner took a too-shallow pursuit angle, and S Ben Emanuel overran the play. Three mistakes by UCLA on one running play in a D where every player is needed to fulfill his own assignment, but that's college football. Bob Stoops, his OC Chuck Long and his running game coordinator/O-line coach Kevin Wilson are smart to recognize that plays that don't work in the NFL can work in CFB because kids in college don't execute with the same level of robotic perfection found in the pros.

More props to OU: WR Mark Clayton had a spectacular day as a playmaker. If anybody expected before the game that QB Jason White could throw the ball up for grabs downfield between Clayton, Matt Ware and Matt Clark, and that Clayton would come down with it, then I want to go to Vegas with you.

I was very impressed with the OU OL. They provided a nearly perfect bubble for White in which to operate. Just call White "The Boy in the Bubble"…he was that well protected by the OL's pass blocking.

Which brings me to my most disturbing, albeit highly subjective, observation: It didn't seem to me that the UCLA DL put forth a very ferocious pass rush. We've become accustomed to that from this team after two games. We were counting on that from this team heading into this game of games. And it didn't materialize.

The pass rushers seemed tentative, almost timid. Was it because they weren't sure if White was handing off to a halfback, running himself or setting up to pass? Again, if so, props to the design of OU's passing attack. Was it because the OU OL positioned themselves perfectly to thwart the rush, demoralizing the pass rushers? I have no answers, only unanswered questions.

It wasn't just the DL. There was one time when Spencer Havner, after a slight delay, blitzed, got a hand on White, almost jarred the ball loose…and then didn't fanatically try to finish the play. Result: big completion downfield to Clayton. Same with Jarrad Page on a pass White completed to Lance Donley for a TD: JP didn't seem to rush with reckless abandon on that play.

On this day, OU's offensive playmakers played with more skill than UCLA's defensive playmakers did. There is no shame in that. QB Jason White is emerging as a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate, especially with Chris Perry's demise (10 carries, 26 yards) today. White was 17 of 25 for 243 yards, 2 TDs and 2 INTs. He was murder on 3rd down, burning UCLA with numerous routes, even using his feet to make plays. Tall enough to see downfield, skilled enough to be very accurate whether deep, intermediate or short, and strong enough to shrug off a hand here or there, UCLA had no answer for him today. Even without the punt returns for TDs, UCLA would have been hard-pressed to stop this guy from putting points on the board for OU.

All things considered, the run defense held its own v. OU. UCLA was not embarrassed by any means in this aspect of the game. The first team DL played better than the second team DL did, but the second team DL was competitive in my mind. Overall, in a blowout loss where it is easy for the winning team to rack up big rushing totals, UCLA held OU to 111 yards on 35 carries, a 3.2 average. Not too bad. Of course, OU seemingly made every big running play it needed to when it emerged, such as a 1-yard TD run by Works, and a 4th-and-1 conversion where Tommie Harris played TE. UCLA's D will truly start to arrive when opposing HCs hesitate before going for it on 4th and short. And that means a leader of the D has to emerge. Who is the key playmaker on D for UCLA? Bill Walton ain't walking through that door…

It was gratifying to see Matt Clark, after securing his academic eligibility this week, make an interception, enabled by a great pass rush by Dave Ball. And Spencer Havner's INT and return were simply amazing. After dropping (heading the ball into the ground) an INT on the second play of the game that was a sure six points for UCLA, Spencer almost got it back with his truly outstanding reaction in pass coverage to come back inside to the WR when he was starting to float wide, snagging the rock with only his hands in a perfect pluck out of thin air, and then a great run down the sideline. Havner continues to show his adeptness in the passing D. If UCLA needs a Dallas Clark-type of TE, look no further than Spencer.

However, the passing D was outplayed today. OU didn't nickel-and-dime UCLA to death with dinks and dunks. They averaged 9.7 yards per pass attempt, a very high number. White was able to complete passes all over the field because there were often subtle breakdowns in coverage, such as when Brandon Chillar would lose inside position on a drag route, or White just made a fantastic throw, due to having plenty of time. On Donley's TD, Ben Emanuel had a chance to upper-cut the ball and pop it out, but he went for the tackle, even though Donley's size and momentum were going to clearly get him into the end zone. That's just the difference in fit-and-finish between the #1 team in the nation and one trying to get into the limelight.

The 354 yards of total offense UCLA gave up was closer, all things considered, to the "worst fears" scenario than the "expected" scenario. UCLA only forced five punts all day. They weren't great on 3rd down. They didn't "destroy" OU's running game: OU still made some big plays on the ground. They tackled pretty well, but they didn't tattoo any Sooners nor make any of them think twice about going over the middle or up in the air. UCLA needs an enforcer/intimidator to emerge on D before much more of the season unfolds.

But I was glad to see UCLA's D play with toughness and heart for 60 minutes. Early on, the game announcers threw a little love the D's way, courtesy of a scout from the Colts', and deservedly so, given how strongly UCLA (as a team) started. I hope the trend of playing hard no matter what the situation continues.

Special Teams:

BRO's worst fears were realized: "Special team play could decide this game; UCLA can't afford to lose this battle and hope to win the game." UCLA decidedly lost this aspect of the game, and lost all hope of winning this game as a result. Expectations were clearly not met.

The extreme paranoia expressed before the CU game came to pass with a vengeance, albeit two games later: "I'd love to see Chris Kluwe boom long, beautiful, spiraling punts during pre-game. But not during the game, because the dangerous Jeremy Bloom [Antonio Perkins] will be returning punts for CU [OU, same difference]. Just kick the ball out of bounds. If the Bruins give Bloom [Perkins] a chance to put up six on them on a punt return, they deserve what they get." A big, fat, ugly, gut-wrenching loss on national TV…and nearly 350 days of being the butt of jokes about punt return coverage, which is all about attention to detail, discipline, yada yada yada. Okay, we get it.

UCLA was very successful with directional punting in the first two games of the season. The sacrifice in yardage was perfectly acceptable, because it avoided allowing the huge, momentum-swinging, game-changing Big Play that is the death knell for a team trying to grind out a win.

For some reason, UCLA kept kicking the ball beyond the coverage its gunners could provide. Unlike Oregon's punt coverage, which sends down two gunners who try to funnel the returner into the middle, then a wave of four coverage guys bunched in the middle, followed by a second wave of four, in case the first wave misses. UCLA has the "Maginot Line" punt return scheme: two gunners followed by a wave of eight strewn from sideline to sideline, some ahead of others due to speed differences or ability to slip a block.

Once Tony Perkins (hometown: NormanBates, OK) broke past the gunners and Brandon Chillar on the return, it was "Janet, why don't you go take a shower, I'll go get my knife!" time. Jacques Lazarus should consider "breaking down" about five yards away from the returner if he's serious about making a tackle on the play.

As a result, UCLA allowed OU and Antonio Perkins to set an NCAA record for punt return yardage. At one point, UCLA did just punt the ball out of bounds. The Sooner fans booed. Subsequently, either UCLA tried to play the accommodating guest and satisfy the wishes of the record-setting home crowd for a record-setting day, or the UCLA coaching staff decided, "Darn it, let's see if we can cover a punt. The game is beyond reach anyway, another six won't matter, so nail it and get your butts down there."

To make matters tougher, UCLA wasn't able to pull off a big play in the punt game to offset OU's prowess. No big Craig Bragg return, no punt block, no coffin corner punts…

Heck, UCLA even refused a chance to make OU re-punt after getting nothing on a return. OU was fairly deep in its own territory. OU drew an illegal formation penalty on a punt where Bragg produced nothing on the return. Rather than have OU re-punt, UCLA declined the penalty. Given the fact that Bragg was the Pac-10's leading punt returner last year, and that the punt return team almost broke two returns for six last week, this seemed to be a curious decision.

There were two bright spots on special teams. For one, Justin Medlock is improving with each game. His 48-yard field goal was absolutely perfect: good from the second it left his foot, no hook at all, and 10 yards of distance to spare. His later kick-offs were deep into the end zone and unreturnable. UCLA needs CalHeelsKid (his handle on the message boards) to become a reliable weapon ASAP…

Another bright spot was Maurice Drew's 90-yard kick-off return for a touchdown, the first since Lovell Houston burned Stanford in 1999. Finally, Bruin fans got to see MoD in the open field and able to show his speed.

However, it was very curious that MoD would set up on the 10-yard line for his return, when DiCarlo of OU was consistently driving his KO's deep into the end zone. Of course, this set up led to a serious error for UCLA when MoD went back and to his left to field a kick-off aimed for the right corner by the left-footer, juggled/muffed the handle, and then ran out of bounds at the half-foot line.

Re: looking forward to watching UCLA's punt team next week. It's always disappointing to see the punt team on the field; it means UCLA didn't succeed on O. So they're the only special team that isn't met with enthusiasm. Whatever the issues were this week, they need to be corrected immediately.

Overall:

I'd have to say my worst fears were realized: UCLA gave up a huge number of points, OU seems to be in a different league scheme- and playmaker-wise, there are new reasons for the media pundits to belittle and deride UCLA, and UCLA lost by 30+.

However, UCLA did fight OU blow for blow, right from the 1st snap, moving bit by bit on O, but struggling on D. Alas, UCLA didn't get the big plays in the passing game and the return/coverage game it needed to pull off the upset. But UCLA definitely wasn't intimidated.

The question now becomes, "Where is this season going?"

Last year, indications are that Bob Toledo lost his team after the third game of the season, a 31-17 loss to Colorado.

With 9 games left in 2003, could it be deja vu all over again? We'll have to see. There is certainly a lot of meaningful football to play and post-season glory to pursue.

Many people felt that a 2-2 record coming out of the non-conference schedule was a likely outcome. That mark doesn't seem assured right now, given San Diego State's passing attack and performance against Ohio State.

We'll get a very solid indication for where this season is going from the level of emotion, passion and execution the Bruins exhibit against SDSU in front of a half-full Rose Bowl next Saturday.


Bruin Report Online Top Stories