‘Cause it's better to Look Good than to Be Good.
The ol' ‘three yards and a cloud of dust' offense doesn't look good to UCLA fans (unless it produces a national championship), who are known to rhapsodize over the beauty of the intermediate pass completion over the middle.
Now that the national championship we were all counting on pre-season is pretty much gone, smashmouth football won't cut it entertainment-wise, so it's time for the passing game to get untracked if Karl Dorrell wants to placate the media and the masses.
After 2.75 games under center, Drew Olson and the Dropketeers are due for a break-out game and a chance to shed some labels.
Make no mistake, this game is all about UCLA. The pressure is on the Bruins. It has nothing to do with the San Diego State Aztecs, not after UCLA won last year's game 43-7 going away. They are completely irrelevant. UCLA must win big. I'm not even going to mention any of their players.
Yes, I am. Matt Dlugolecki, an almost-Bruin, will play QB for SDSU because Adam Hall hurt his lower leg and is out at least another week. Against Ohio State, Doogs completed 23 of 39, but for only 189 yards, and most critically, two interceptions, one of which was a red-zone pass that was returned 100 yards for a TD. He was also sacked four times for –19 yards. Does it matter what he's done versus 1-AA competition? Exactly.
Doogs is a young QB and isn't yet completely proficient running the hurry-up, no-huddle offense that HC Tom Craft favors to offset the personnel advantage other D1 programs have over the no-tradition-beyond-Marshall-Marshall-Marshall Aztecs. Tony Gwynn doesn't count; he's only built like a DT, he never played one for SDSU.
Doogs apparently did a good job of taking what the Buckeye D gave him, producing 20 SDSU 1st downs vs. only 10 for OSU advantage, but the WRs weren't able to pile up much RAC after that. Clearly, Doogs has some issues with decision-making and ball-security, as evidenced by the 14-point swing INT and the inability to avoid the sack; maybe UCLA will be able to take advantage of his lack of polish.
The key offensive weapons for SDSU are RB Lynell Hamilton, a true FR from Fresno Edison who is at SDSU because he (and his parents) was offended by all the hookers and beer The Mighty Ducks of Mike Bellotti (indirectly) threw at him on his recruiting trip. Good thing SDSU is renowned as a place with little partying. No, it isn't. Anyway, Hamilton gained 230 yards last week vs. Samford & Son. Redd Foxx talks a mean game, but that punk hasn't knocked anybody on his ass since he died of a heart attack years ago.
On defense, S Jeff Shoate is SDSU's key playmaker. After S Brandon Everage just killed UCLA last week as the 8th man in the box, and who happened to be unaccounted for on almost every running play, Shoate may be anticipating a big game. He made some nice plays vs. UCLA last year.
While the Aztecs gave up 120 yards rushing to the Buckeyes, they held OSU to only 76 yards on 5 of 20 passing with 1 INT. Key to SDSU's "success" v. OSU (they lost, after all), was the pressure SDSU's blitzing, attacking defensive front put on Craig Krenzel, and the ability of SDSU's secondary to avoid giving up the big play all game long.
My fear is that UCLA won't be able to get a play signalled into the QB. No, it's not. It's that the O will continue to beat itself with costly miscues (turnovers and dropped passes lost in the night sky) and ill-timed penalties. The Aztecs, after all, forced the Buckeyes to commit 12 penalties for 124 yards in their game. ("Fire Tressel!") Also, the Aztecs know that UCLA has only two running plays, so there are only four spots along the LOS that could be the point of attack. Even SDSU should be able to defend four spots with 7, 8 or even 9 guys. Especially since UCLA will be short of TEs, with Shane Lehmann taking a place in the TE rotation. My second worst fear is the thought of Shane trying to catch and then run with a pass… Secure the ball, Shane! At least Shane won't have to sneak into the background to get some face time with the camera. (And you thought we didn't notice, you big lug you!)
Once the running game is handled on early downs, the Aztecs will then ratchet up the pass rush pressure on the DO on 3rd down, which UCLA has been far too susceptible to early in the year.
If all goes well for SDSU, we could see a replay of the Illinois game, with the DO running for his life to that far (or near) sideline.
The result: around 300 yards of total O, 8+ punts, around 50% completion rate or so, and five or so drives that die out with no points after 6+ plays because of the methodical, inefficient nature of the way the WCO moves the ball down the field.
(Why use the word ‘inefficient'? The fewer plays you need to score, the more efficient the O is. Right? There is something very, very good to be said about an inefficient, time-consuming O…if you can keep executing play after play to keep the chains moving in small chunks.)
I'd love to see UCLA just run the ball down SDSU's throat. The highlight of UCLA football for me so far this year is watching Manuel White run the ball behind Big Ed Blanton. With Pat Norton out, the Bruins go to JD Groves at FB, and he has a great game blocking, pass catching and even running the ball on a trap up the middle that he turns into a 12-yard gain and a 1st down. After the Manster softens up the SDSU D, Tyler Ebell and Maurice Drew get into the act with some slashing bursts up the middle that clearly communicates SDSU just isn't in UCLA's league physically.
Now, Ryan Smith said after Saturday's loss to OU, "We didn't get our passing game going, obviously, because we're not where we need to be. This isn't what the Broncos do, that's for sure. That's where we need to be. It's going to take time. I feel that we're on the verge." Not so fast there, Rhino: Bronco QB Jake Plummer threw for 115 yards in game 1, and 98 in game 2, while the Broncos ran the ball for gobs of yardage. Skip practice, get your nose out of books, and watch a little NFL on Sunday, Rhino…sheesh.
Once the running game is established (200+ yards on the game), Steve Axman can then use play action passes for the DO all night long, with the DO getting 3 long TD passes and 250+ passing yards. This means that UCLA must have a great day catching the ball. And this is the week for the officials to throw the flag when UCLA's receivers get interfered with. Come on, guys, you can do it, just open your eyes!
Statistically, it would be great to see UCLA get over 450 yards, with 250+ coming via the pass and 200+ from the run. The Bruins O has generally outplayed its opposing D to start the game, a trend that it would be nice to see continued with an actual touchdown on the first drive of the game. If there are, say, 10 UCLA possessions in the game, I'd love to see the Bruins score on 6 of them.
I expect to see UCLA have more success running the ball than passing the ball in this game. Marcedes Lewis is still hobbled with a sore ankle, and now has a bum shoulder, and Blane Kezirian is out. This means UCLA won't have the threats it usually has to stretch the D vertically up the seams. This will enable SDSU to concentrate even more on the outside guys on straight dop-back passes. Some short completions will be available, but I expect the DO to still struggle to complete passes over the middle of 10+ yards in flight beyond the LOS. Expect to see lots of drags and checkdowns in the middle of the field, but most of the yardage gained on those plays will be courtesy of run-after-catch (RAC).
I also don't expect to see the DO drop the ball into "the hole" with regularity. "The hole" is the spot 20 to 25 yards downfield right on the sideline, just beyond the CB with responsibility for the flat on play-action and the safety coming over with deep third responsibility. The DO did connect one time with Craig Bragg on this pattern vs. Oklahoma, but then Brandon Everage connected with CBra. Craig bounces real good. There were other opportunities in the OU game for big plays around the hole, but the attempts weren't really even close. Two or three connections vs. SDSU would be a good start.
I also expect to see the DO make some more plays with his feet, tucking the ball as the pocket breaks down/coverage tightens up and legging it for some much-appreciated yards, maybe even a first down or two. The DO's running ability v. OU probably opened up some eyes on the SDSU staff.
The Aztecs will have no answer for Manny White as long as he stays healthy and carries the ball in the outside arm. The outside arm, Manny! Once the O-line tenderizes the SDSU front with the Manster's sledgehammer running style during the first half, the floodgates are going to open in the second. Waggle passes will be wide-open and get UCLA into the red-zone, where the Bruins will drop the pretense of being fancy and just man up the Aztecs.
Bottom line, I expect UCLA to produce about 375 yards of total offense, 175 through the air and 200 on the ground, scoring on roughly half of their possessions. Manny, Mo and Tyler all end up with 50+ rushing yards, and Bragg leads the way with another 7+ catches. The Bruins O will use the same formations and plays from games 1 through 3, they'll just produce a little more, gaining a 4-minute edge in TOP.
My fear is that the D will come out flat or interested only in individual glory, thereby abandoning team assignments. Take it for what it's worth, but OU QB Jason White had some respectful comments about UCLA's D after the game: "They're all great athletes, huge, physical. They ran their coverages well, they were really sound. They're a great defense and you can tell they're going to win a lot of football games." If UCLA's defenders lose the "soundness" of their collective game, not many people will be describing this D as ‘great' after this game, no matter how much talent they have.
Watching the DL pressure the QB has been thrill #1A (if White is thrill #1) of the season so far. But to be a ‘great' D, not just a D that looks real good lining up, a team needs to have book-end corners who essentially shut down easy completions to WRs that move the chains on key downs. So far, the Bruins have lacked that shut down capacity. Whether it is due to the scheme called for by DC Larry Kerr or the playing technique taught by Gary DeLoach, or decisions left to the discretion of players, we're not privy to that information. Given SDSU's no-huddle, 4-wide passing offense, the Aztecs will look to get cheap yards any way they can.
Now that the Bruins have three games on film against pretty typical offensive schemes, offensive coordinators are going to review them obsessively, and they're going to find a team that presents a very conventional 4-3 defensive front with a 2 deep, 5 underneath zone defense. Did somebody let Phil Snow back into the building?
The UCLA zone has some soft spots in it. For one, the inside LBers, Brandon Chillar and Justin London, are relatively new to curl zone responsibilities. (Spencer Havner, OTOH, is quite proficient at zone pass defense.) Jason White was able to look them off one way and throw the other, resulting in some nice gains for OU. Sometimes Brandon/Justin just lost position, enabling a completion. Doogie might not have that savvy, but we'll see.
Contributing to the burden the ILBs bear in interior pass defense is that the UCLA safeties, Ben Emanuel and Jarrad Page, have been content (either by choice or, more likely, by design) to keep everything in front of them. There have been very few instances I can recall where one of the safeties squatted on a route, popped up out of nowhere, and intercepted a deep in/skinny post. As long as UCLA has its safeties play the defender of last resort, constantly deeper than the deepest receiver even if the CB is running with him, the opponent will continue to furnish rock-snagging WRs for those safeties to have to tackle.
While vanilla defensive packages are a concern, the failure of a heroic playmaker to emerge in the first three games, a playmaker who steps forward and pulls the Bruins up to victory is the most troubling to me.
So far, Brandon Chillar is the best candidate for this role. His nose for the football and kick-blocking skys single him out. But UCLA desperately needs a DB to also step forward…
I'd love to see the UCLA D give SDSU a different look. Just to show they can. Maybe play nickel all game long. Maybe play a lot of man/free coverage.
But with Pac-10 play a game away, why show anymore than is necessary?
Ideally, the UCLA D will dominate the LOS. Doogie will be shell-shocked by halftime, the SDSU running game goes nowhere, and UCLA punks the Aztecs like they did last year.
I expect to see UCLA to give up about 350 yards total offense, some of it in garbage time. While the D holds its own, the surprise factor is starting to wear off. Teams are starting to realize that there really are two identical looking 6-6, 280 lb madmen on the field, not just one with superhuman speed, so they're less in awe and intimidated by UCLA. The gloves will be on in this game, however, indicating Kerr's willingness to roll the dice and bet that he can get out of Dodge with a win while only showing the tiniest hint of leg.
My fear is…do I even need to go there? The part about punt coverage being outkicked, etc.? Good, I'm glad we understand each other…
I'd love to see UCLA have a great day on special teams play, but not need it to win. To win ridiculously by an outrageously lopsided score…yes. I'd love that. That would work for me. I could get behind that idea. More MoD returns, more CBra returnes, a punt block (which turned the game around last year), you name it, I love it. Remember, #2 built a little momentum for himself last year with good returns vs. SDSU.
I'd also love to see Chris Kluwe's punting put some down inside the 20.
I expect to see UCLA deliver very good overall special teams play. UCLA has more athletic talent than SDSU does, and this should be very apparent on 4th downs and kick-offs.
My fear is that this UCLA team follows the lead of other recent teams that have had their chance at a NC evaporated and starts to tank. If the team has lost their faith in Karl Dorrell and his staff's ability to produce world-class game plans, things could get ugly. SDSU 24, UCLA 21. Commence ‘Operation Meltdown'…
I'd love to see UCLA retain faith in its coaches, aim for the Pac-10 championship and the best season possible. An athletically superior team playing at home, pissed off because of two maddening losses, takes it out on the upstart program from down south and comes away with an easy 38-14 victory in which there is early garage time.
All things considered, I expect the Bruins to win 35-21. For the first time all season, UCLA is even or ahead at the QB position, and the Bruins wear down the Aztecs in the second half. Many fans grumble about the result because UCLA's new battle cry, "Look Good, Baby!" isn't lived up to to the extent that the slogans for ‘sc ("Shave On!"), Auburn ("cha-CHING!!!!") and ‘bama ("It's Rolling, Baby, It's Rolling!") are on another glorious fall day around the USA.