In addition to having played only thirty minutes of good football in their first five games, UCLA was playing a road game with a dangerously compromised secondary, and without the natural advantage of playing a John Mackovic team. I don't know about you, but beyond Matt Ware, Jarrad Page and Nnamdi Ohaeri, I don't have a lot of confidence in the Bruin secondary (and Ohaeri seems stuck in the role of designated nickel back). Playing so much two-deep zone demands great quickness, speed, recognition and instincts. After Ware went down, and with Page already out of the game, the secondary was dangerously short on quicks and muscle. The Bruins had to be tremendously lucky to come out of Tucson alive. But even though they're rapidly using up their nine lives, they are still technically viable, still playing for more than mere respect. After any number of reprieves, a sensible man takes stock and rethinks what has gotten him into so much trouble. There's nothing like the critical faculties and some genuine self knowledge to cure what ails you.
So what's the problem? First, of course, is the offense. Stevie Wonder could tell you that. We all know it's conservative, but what exactly does that mean? In addition to boring BROther Samo, it means that it musn't make opposing defensive coordinators stay up late at night. For the most part, they know where the Bruins are going... and when. If we know it, you can be sure they know it. Short yardage situations? No sweat. Put nine in the box and the Bruins still run right at you. Third or fourth and one and the odds are actually with the defense. The Bruins are hard-headed. The toughest thing for any college team to defend is the pass, and throwing the ball pays the greatest dividends. Today, teams love facing an opponent that forces the run, is reluctant to throw, especially one with great talent in their receivers, such as UCLA. Whether it's Steve Axman calling the plays, or a combination of Axman and KD, the head-coach is ultimately responsible; it‘s KD, the rookie head coach, who's undergoing extreme scrutiny, who has the most on the line.
Then we have the problems of down and distance, formation and personnel, and breaking tendencies. (It was at least good to see Garrett Lepisto actually get a completed pass thrown his way, since it's usually a sure tip off of a running play whenever he sees the field.) And who hasn't noticed how the Bruins tend to shy away from the pass in the redzone? Run-run-pass is bad enough at any time, but in scoring territory it's guaranteed to yield a low percentage of touchdowns. Once Drew Olson threw that first pick deep in Arizona territory, you knew the Bruins would try to ram it in on the ground whenever they got close to the end zone. And how many times have the Bruins thrown two passes in a row? To watch this team, you'd think it was "illegal use of the pass." And we haven't even begun to talk about the design of the offense (which might be more fairly considered a little deeper into the schedule).
What's the state of the quarterback situation? Yes, Virginia, there's still a controversy. Or should be. Drew Olson has played better than a lot of us expected. He's getting more relaxed; he‘s becoming more effective. But who believes Drew has nailed down the position? Sure, Matt Moore's only two drives ended in turnovers, but neither of those turnovers was particularly egregious. He threw the ball well in his four completions, and his pocket presence was solid. I doubt he'll start against Cal (that would be an uncharacteristically bold move), but we certainly need to see more of him. Both Olson and Moore ought to be sure that whoever wins the job, the other guy simply played better in games. Olson hasn't been that good, and Moore hasn't had enough minutes. And it couldn't hurt if Axman and KD refrained from making any more hard commitments as to how long the starter will play and when the backup will enter the game. We went through that commitment routine last season, and it worked badly then.
Cal and Arizona State, in the Rose Bowl, look a lot tougher today than they looked last week; even Stanford, up on The Farm, looks challenging. The road to Pullman is still open, but the Bruins badly need Ware and Page to return, and they need to shore up the other cornerback position (Ohaeri?). They might even consider a radical depth chart shake-up in the secondary. The next two weeks should see lots of action back there. I would also hope that Larry Kerr might turn up the pressure on the pass rush and might even reconsider his unit substitutions of the second team D line. If someone needs a blow, an individual substitution by all means, but the entire line? It appears the second team D line has been getting worked lately.
Manny, Mo and Tyler are still largely ineffective, which is a shame and no reflection on their talents. Like all running backs, they need room to work and a more abundant passing attack to take away some of the defensive focus. And perhaps a little misdirection, too.
At his Monday press conference KD gave indication he was aware of the problem with the hockey style line changes involving the D line: the fact that, lately, the first team D line has had to be quickly run back onto the field when the opponent has had immediate success vs. the second team line. This is an encouraging sign, because nothing is more disheartening than to watch a coaching staff go down with their game plan, their various "packages." To stick with things once it becomes obvious those things aren't working is to needlessly tempt the fates. Why not change up, go to Plan B, since you can always return to Plan A. And it's always good policy, in any sport, to approach things with some sense of the intuitive, what we like to call "gut instinct." Football games, of course, are fluid, ever changing. They are not some abstract exercise that can be tightly scripted, and football teams are not machines. All season long the Bruins have seemed to come out tight, stiff, allowing the opposition to throw the first punch, to be the aggressor. At this point in the season the pressure isn't all that great. Conference prizes are still on the table, but no National Championship is on the line. Hell, UCLA isn't even ranked. Loosen up Bruins.