UCLA Has Been Rolling The Dice

<b>EDITORIAL</B>: UCLA has been rolling the dice up until the Stanford game with its offense, and it finally came up snake eyes. Now, <b>Charles Chiccoa</b> asks the question: Will the powers-that-be do what it has to do to make this offense effective for the last three games of the season?

Karl Dorrell and Steve Axman seem to have made a conscious decision to live or die with this hybrid of the so-called West Coast Offense (WCO). You'd have to go back to the year Bill Barnes switched from the single wing to a primitive form of the early T formation to find a more bare-bones offense. This Dorrell/Axman production is neither suited to a spread, quick release, horizontal passing game, a more vertical passing game, or a balanced, multi-formation, run-pass offense. And it's not suited to the power running game. Three talented tailbacks have been wasted, banging their heads into these stacked boxes. After nine games only opposing defenses welcome seeing this offense. It's easier to read than a "Dick and Jane" primer. Phil Snow, of course, had some problems with it, but that's about it.

Since the beginning of the five-game win streak we've all been anxiously awaiting some changes, adaptations, tweaks. It was always maybe they'll improve, maybe they'll learn, maybe they'll "open the playbook," maybe next week. And what were we told? Only that there was no problem with this offense; it was simply a matter of "young players," and "execution." And we're all so used to coaches spinning us and the media, some of us actually believed in such rose-tinted scenarios as "the young quarterbacks just need more games under their belts," the wide receivers had the "dropsies," the team had lost their "starting" quarterback, the coaching staff was "saving something" for the big games, the defense was so good the Bruins only needed the offense "to keep from making mistakes." Today the truth is pretty clear: The offensive approach has been seriously delusional, and the only chance to salvage the season is to finally change that approach. What are the chances? I don't know but I haven't seen a lot of signs of flexibility or hard self-criticism.

Before the Stanford kickoff KD said he was hopeful the Bruins "could squeak out another win," which made the outcome that much less surprising (and of course the Bruins were only 5 1/2 point favorites). We all knew the Bruins had been lucking out, week after week, against inferior competition. This team was begging for decisive leadership in order to avert this sort of thing. Rather than anticipate trouble and alter or modify their approach, KD and Axman chose to press their luck on one more roll of the dice, and that decision may have huge consequences. Who knows what the ripple effects might be. After too many years following Bruin football I've developed a somewhat morbid, superstitious imagination. I believe in "the curse," I believe it's self-fulfilling, but I won't bother you with any dark imaginings. I'm sure you have enough of your own.

Far from a quarterback controversy, I now wonder if there's any college quarterback who could successfully operate UCLA's offense. Yes, Matt Moore has a stronger arm; he may be more accurate downfield; he sets up in the pocket more solidly. But Drew Olson still seems to have the quicker release, and he's not a lot less accurate downfield than Moore. Both have benefitted from great catches, both have been victimized by drops. Moore's vaunted "athleticism" has been no real factor so far. Both are sitting ducks for an all-out blitz, and neither of them, just like Drew Bennett, Cory Paus, Ryan McCann and Scott McEwen before them, have shown enough to scare opposing defensive coordinators. As unpopular as Paus was, he still threw for more yards at a comparable stage of his career than either Moore or Olson, and the reason was... he wasn't handicapped by such an easily defensible offense. Ever since Cade McNown left, defensive coordinators have all attacked in the same manner: (1) stuff the run and (2) don't worry about the pass. And it's getting worse. Only some 300-yard, three- or four-touchdown performances will cause defenses to back off the line of scrimmage. But with an offensive line that's been increasingly overwhelmed, outnumbered and demoralized, what chance do the Bruins have against a team the caliber of SC, or Washington St. on the road. Even Oregon's Nick Aliotti will blitz rather than sit back in his usual passive coverages.

I'm beginning to hate the word "packages." I can only assume the short, fourth and one "package" was responsible for that last gasp Olson quarterback sneak that looked dead on delivery. Olson doesn't have good legs, and, earlier, Maurice Drew had punctured a similar Stanford front twice, successfully. But with a timeout, and time to think about it, you suspected Axman and Dorrell would go with the "safe" call.

Only the most stubborn holdouts in the coaching fraternity continue to try "establishing the run." The biggest mismatch on any college football field is the one between an offensive receiver and a defensive back. KD and Axman, rather than spread the defense with receivers and/or consistently threaten them with Marcedes Lewis, have, for the most part, chosen to go with maximum protection "packages," and now that Manny White is gone, and they're frequently left with only a small tailback to help contain the stampede to the quarterback, the result was what we saw last Saturday. No one will confuse Stanford's defensive personnel with Oklahoma's, or SC's, or even Washington State's. They're not the Buddy Teevens joke some BROs were suggesting, but they're also not likely to see another eight sack day in the near future. The Bruin offense has been inviting this sort of response all year, and Stanford's blitz was merely the first to really go the whole hog.

Adapt or die - isn't that one of the rules of nature? The Bruins, particularly if Matt Ware and Rodney Leisle return, still have the talent to upset Washington St. and regain some momentum and respect. If Stanford could do it to UCLA, certainly the Bruins can do it to the Cougars. But does KD have the good sense, the will, and the anger to turn this around, or is he methodically intent on forcing this offense, unmodified, in the face of everything against it? Could he actually make this thing work? Because after a loss in Pullman comes the deluge.


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