Meanwhile, who's the wise guy who spiked Clarence Farmer's pre-game pasta with an extra dose of "Man Up!"?
As feared, interim HC Mike Hankwitz was inspired to play the playmakers on his team, like Farmer, the 225 lb former All-Pac10 RB. If only Coach Mac could have hung on for another week or two. Curse you, Jim Livengood, for paying attention to your program.
I, for one, do appreciate Karl Dorrell's candor: "I've been nervous all week. Now you know why. We stole one here. Arizona came ready to play…Was it pretty? No." At least there is no illusion that UCLA's 24-21 win over the Wildcats wasn't a moral defeat. But the Bruins are now 4-2 and still very much alive in the race for a good bowl game that will give the program a chance to get more proficient and ingrained in the Tao of Dorrell during the extra weeks of practice.
Maybe UCLA's players are too smart for their own good. It's only human nature to compare the respective records and statistical performance and conclude, as Brandon Chillar did, that "…when a team is 1-5, even if you talk about it, people [on the team] think we should come in here and stomp them." Too many guys with mathematical savvy and analytical acuity, that's UCLA's problem.
As feared, the UCLA offense underperformed. The AZ D quickly began to believe that they could play with UCLA. The Bruins eventually ground it out in an unsatisfying performance, but they generated only 333 yards of O, with penalties (6 for 60), especially holding, continuing to hurt production.
For the most part, Arizona only played 7 in the box, often offsetting to the strong side of the formation. When UCLA ran the off-tackle lead play to the weakside, where there were only three defenders, the OL and FB locked up their targets and Tyler Ebell was able to squirt through the hole for nice gains. However, that didn't happen very frequently.
Instead, the Bruins ran off-tackle to the strong side. Unlike Phil Snow and UW, Arizona's D attacked UCLA's running game and the holes the Bruins were apt to run to. The Wildcats did a great job of guessing right with their run blitzing, and they blew up many UCLA running attempts with solid tackling as a result. In retrospect, the Bruins were lucky to get 103 net yards on the ground.
And if the running game doesn't go, UCLA is largely neutralized. Especially against a D that only has to play a "7 in the box" defensive front.
Manuel White's relative ineffectiveness against Arizona is not a positive development for UCLA at all. White didn't seem to hit the LOS with his usual verve, especially on the 4th and 2 play where he was stuffed for a one yard loss. Probably had something to do with Wildcats beating him to the spot. Still, his willingness to pound it inside to start the game enables Tyler to be effective when the change of pace is employed. As the opposition gets more locked in to UCLA's tendencies, White's production will probably be the one to suffer most, although Tyler and Maurice Drew will probably continue to net some good runs.
The game planning and play calling, much discussed all over Bruindom, presents a "cause and effect" conundrum: is the play calling conservative within striking distance because the play callers (Steve Axman and Dorrell) are conservative/over their heads? Or is the play calling conservative because Drew Olson is at quarterback?
During the fall scrimmage with Matt Moore at QB, the Bruins threw the ball on 10 straight plays. When Moore entered the Arizona game, the plays chosen seemed to get more adventurous: intermediate passes over the middle, a skinny post, and a couple of bombs (which were probably Moore's choice, and not the primary option on the play). I get the sense that Axman is itching to open it up and throw the ball all over the field. But Moore's anxiety to make plays in his limited snaps was so predictable you could read it with Braille. His decision to squeeze in a skinny post to the left on 3rd and 11 was one everybody would like back.
Forget Moore's physical health. UCLA's coaches are probably more concerned with his decision-making health at this point. If he can't keep himself from pressing and looking over his shoulder, then Dorrell and Axman can't trust him to be on the field. Of course, bringing him in for a series or two mid-game is probably the most stressful situation possible: if the O is doing well, many will question the intelligence of a switch. If the O is doing poorly, there's the pressure of playing from behind (probably, this being CFB). As Justin London said, "It's a game of preparation." Not knowing exactly when and where the playing time will occur leads to anxiety. It's like the difference between a first date and being married: the married guy knows he's going to get some play and is able to relax and enjoy it, while the typically horny first date guy is so worried about opportunity and performance that he leaves the Viagra in the other Viper.
Meanwhile, the DO is looking as cool as the other side of the pillow. Yes, the pick in the green zone was a bad throw. Craig Bragg was wide open on the curl (DB Michael Jolivette was playing the QB, not the WR, and was well off CBra on his break), but the DO decided to throw the ball 3 or 4 yards to the inside, where only Jolivette could get it.
However, the DO threw a number of strikes, especially to Craig Bragg. First, he hit a wide-open Bragg on the sideline for big yards that set up UCLA's first TD, a great 18-yard run by Tyler Ebell. Another huge hook-up occurred when CBra ran a delayed ‘in' route to the right that he was able to turn into a huge gain because the CB slipped and fell, and Ryan Smith made a nice block on the safety to give CBra a seam. If Junior Taylor can get his head in front of #9 Gary Love, CBra goes for six. (There were three times that I thought Bragg was going for six [two catches and a punt return], and I was wrong all three times.) All told, Olson was 15 of 22 for 189 yards.
Unfortunately, the DO is developing a serious tendency to only be able to throw the ball with effectiveness to the right. If opponents don't anticipate this and scheme for it going forward, I'd be very surprised.
For once, UCLA did not allow a sack, even though Arizona blitzed frequently. Olson seemed to have ample time to throw on numerous occasions, as did Moore when he was in there. Unfortunately, ample time makes the perception that the DO is locking onto one receiver even more pronounced, true or not.
Finally, there is the game-planning. The AZ game plan seemed less creative and varied than the game plan for UW. For example, there were no shotgun passes, or bunch formations. Perhaps the staff felt that UCLA could produce against AZ without having to use such wrinkles, and didn't want to show any more than they needed to. Perhaps the staff wasn't satisfied with execution of those wrinkles vs. UW and decided to bag it until the team is ready to execute it well enough. Time will tell.
Bottom Line, the game plan, the choice of which plays are called (and their sequence), and the amount of trust in the QB are three factors that are all tightly intertwined. Moore won the job in camp, but doesn't have game experience and has shown a tendency to press. The DO is maturing at an acceptable rate, but doesn't have the tools to exploit Pac-10 D's game after game, play after play. Oh boy, I can't wait for the next installment in this soap opera.
Defense: "My (albeit very small) fear is that UCLA won't be able to tackle Clarence Farmer"? What was I thinking? How could I leave out "and/or Mike Bell"?
For those complaining about the aesthetics of the game, you're all wet. This game had all the grace and beauty any true fan could desire from well-executed football. Unfortunately for Bruin fans, most of it was courtesy of the guys in the Non-True Blue uniforms.
o Red Zone Offense: UCLA was completely befuddled by ‘Zona's double tight, triple I formation. I don't think TE Matt Padron has been covered yet. Yes, he caught one TD pass. But on the 3rd and goal from the 11 with about 5 minutes left in the game, ‘Zona ran it's favorite (only?) red zone pass play: Costa roll left, Padron run an out along the backline, Farmer to the flat. Padron was wide open. When Costa saw Dave Ball's mug, panicked and threw the ball away, Padron was jumping up and down in anger as he watched the sure six and the surer sex (think about all that hot ‘zona girl action) flutter hopelessly out of bounds. Maybe some of our inside sources can explain who was supposed to cover the playside TE in that situation: a LB, the SS or the FS.
o Spread Offense from the ‘Gun: The Arizona running game seemed to increase in effectiveness when they began using the delayed hand-off to the halfback from the spread/shotgun formation, using motion and traps to open up gaping holes. Aside from the first toss sweep, the Bruins seemed to hold Arizona to 2 or fewer yards more often when the Wildcats ran from the I formation than from the spread.
But the runs from the ‘gun seemed to catch the Bruin D off-guard. First, Bruins see ‘gun, they expect pass, not run. Second, with the 6-2, 220 lb Kris Heavner or with Nic Costa, the former state 100m sprint champ from Oregon, at QB, the Bruins weren't sure whether the ‘Cats were running the delayed hand-off, a belly-series QB run/option, a play-action pass, or a potential QB draw off of play-action.
The delayed hand-off exposed a weakness of the Bruin DL that many on BRO have commented upon: this DL's strength is strength, not quickness. They use power to collapse the pocket and choke off holes between the tackles. But this DL (1st or 2nd string) isn't one of the quickest DLs in CFB. Thus, Farmer and Bell were able to get the rock, hesitate, let the DL start to commit (and the LBs, too), and then run to daylight, often bouncing outside and breaking arm tackles with impunity. The back 7 on this day didn't bring heavy enough lumber to knock Farmer and the 210 lb Bell off their pins with regularity. Bell and Farmer seemed to take pride in not being taken to the ground even when the Bruins would gang tackle them, forcing the zebras to whistle the play dead.
o Scab Picking: The ‘Cats very clearly went after Jarrad Page's replacement on the first series to see if the replacement measured up to the starter. 1st play, twins right, Kevin Brant lined up in space around the FL to the D's left, toss sweep his way, pull some linemen, have the FL crack down on Brandon Chillar to take him out and slow down the inside pursuit, and it's Brant's chance to make a play. Alas, rather than beat the FB to the inside and tackle Farmer around the shins, Brant tackles the FB and Farmer, allowed a lane to the outside, dodges Justin London's desperate dive, outruns Ben Emanuel to the sideline, and rumbles for 30.
Play 3 of the drive: ‘Zona sends twins left with the TE over (so an unbalanced line is presented). All four UCLA DBs are on the defensive right side of the field. The Heave rolls left, as expected, but both Matt Clark and Kevin Brant end up double covering a FL running a 5 yard out, leaving Matt Ware with no curl zone help. Completion, 1st down, Arizona.
Play 4 of the drive: shotgun, trips right, Brant on inside FL, delayed hand-off to Farmer, Brant reads run, flies up to fill, but doesn't break down, so Farmer jumps to his right, leaving Brant overrunning the play and grasping air, and it's a 4 yard gain instead of a 1 yard gain.
Play 5 of the drive: shotgun, 4 wide, motion TE from left to right (so trips right). Play action fake to the halfback, half roll right, and The Heave chucks a 20-yard strike to #18 Lance Relford with Brant trailing by 5 yards or so. Relford, the left SE, crossed Brant's face from left to right all the way across the field to get open. Relford evades BE2 and Brant's tackle for an extra 9 yards, and it's 1st and goal from the 7 after a 28-yard gain.
Play 6 of the drive: the Bruins decide not to line up for the play, even though Arizona has had time to substitute a new QB into the game, so ‘Zona is able to snap the ball before the Bruins are in their stance, Costa rolls left, Brant rolls up to take on the lead-blocking TB and effectively take himself out of the play, so Costa hits an unguarded TE Matt Padron for the TD, a play in which the coverage was clearly blown.
Wow. Now that's a script. Even the most incompetent Hollywood exec would greenlight that one, even if Bennifer was involved. Brant obviously recovered on subsequent series, but that's quite an introduction to the game. Props to the Arizona brain trust for daring to target the new guy, and scouting UCLA well enough to know where he'd line up and what his responsibilities would be. Given how well Arizona executed those 6 plays, I don't think it would have mattered who was playing SS for UCLA, except for maybe plays 1 and 3.
Of course, there was the TD Arizona scored right before the half. Trips left, Brant has deep half to that side. The inside FL runs a seam pattern straight up the field. In UCLA's cover 2 zone, the MLB, Justin London, is normally responsible for getting deep middle, with bracketing help from the safety to the play side. However, London turned himself away from the seam route runner (Biren Ealy), Ealy is a WR (not a TE) with WR wheels, and Brant doesn't bracket the route at all. Touchdown (and a very easy looking one at that), Arizona.
Of course, the Bruins made enough big plays on D to win the game. Once again, the good hands squad of Spencer Havner and Rodney Leisle displayed uncommon skill in snagging the rock. And Mat Ball's pick was a revelation: dropping into curl zone coverage to confuse the true FR QB Dry Heave, Mat flashed his hands up in a split second to snag a bullet whizzing by him mid-flight. If the DE thing doesn't work in the NFL, maybe Seidman can give him some tips about TE.
Another big play that deserves mention was the touchdown-saving, and therefore game-saving, tackle Nnamdi Ohaeri made on Nic Costa when Costa jetted for 43 yards inside UCLA's 10. If Nnamdi big times that play, UCLA is down 28-24 with one possession left. One hopes that the explosive 5-9, 196 lb Ohaeri sees more PT against Cal.
The Bruins needed every big play they could get on D after allowing 519 total net yards, 276 of them on the ground, with 6 runs of over 25 yards.
The coverage teams rocked. Arizona tried to return three kick-offs that Justin Medlock dropped down around the right corner of the goal line, and never got close to the 20. The longest return was 14 yards. The kick-offs had such hang time that Nnamdi Ohaeri and Mil'von James were able to fly down the sideline and hit the 20 about the time the returner caught the kick. That'll work.
Chris Kluwe only had two punts, but both were inside the 20. Of course, his last punt was critical in sealing the victory for the Bruins: a perfect pooch punt that hit and rolled toward the end zone, and was downed on the 1 yard line by Keith Short, forcing Arizona to go 69 yards with only 1:12 left to get to UCLA's 30 and field goal range. The psychological difference between 49 and 69 is huge. After AZ hit a 30-yard pass play and realized that it needed another 40 yards, well, this spunky little team that is trying to learn how to win just didn't have another miracle completion in the bag.
As expected, the UCLA middle punt return was a deadly weapon. I pity the foo' that kicks to Bragg. His 37-yard return was picture perfect: shake-and-bake the nearest gunner with lateral moves, then get up the field. The Bruins seemed to block a Wildcat in the back, but for once no flag was thrown, and maybe UCLA got away with one. The only problem on the play was CBra being dragged down by ‘Zona's brick-shaped punter, Danny Baugher.
Tyler Ebell also looked superior returning a punt for 22 yards. Tyler refused to go down, turned the corner using his speed, and then used his patented "stop-on-a-dime-and-let-the-world-go-by" move to lose two would-be tacklers and pick up an extra 5 or 6 yards. As a viewer, one can see Tyler's move coming a mile away, but most tacklers can't decelerate as fast as the muscular Ebell can and then accelerate again.
The only disappointment was the missed FG from Justin Medlock from the left hash. Medlock's placekicking has been deadly from the right hash, but he is 0 for 2 from the left, pushing one against Colorado and pulling this one against AZ.
However, UCLA fans have no reason to complain about FG kicking. Without two botches by AZ, the Bruins may not win this game.
Sure enough, the fear that UCLA would overlook Arizona and make this a very difficult game was realized. But the Bruins found a way to win, thanks to critical mistakes by an Arizona team still struggling to learn how to win games in crunch time. Many will jump on the AZ bandwagon, citing their talent and obvious resurrection now that Makovic has been stuffed full of garlic and left out in the Tucson sun. I'll take the contrarian's position and declare this a one-time fluke, AZ's 4-2-5 D and spread O being a good fit vs. UCLA's base 4-3 and 2 back, power running game.
Given UCLA's lack of success stopping Clarence Farmer and Mike Bell, the match-up next week with Adimchinobe Echamandu of Cal should be an interesting one. Just Look Good, Baby!