In life there's almost nothing that is crystal clear. Usually nothing is black and white. Everything is usually somewhere in the gray area.
But after UCLA's loss to Oregon yesterday and after hearing Head Coach Karl Dorrell's post-game comments, it's now crystal clear.
The future and prospect of Karl Dorrell's program are completely dependent on the offensive scheme he's employing. While you can't always believe what a coach tells the media, and sometimes he later changes his mind, Dorrell was pretty convincing when he said in the post-game press conference that he was completely sold on the offense, they were going to stick with it and it was just a matter of time before it worked.
So, given all the analysis and over-analysis every Bruin fan has done this year of the team, all the projections and prognostications about Dorrell's future, he really simplified it for with those comments. He laid it out for us plainly: Either his offensive scheme works and he survives at UCLA, or the offensive scheme never succeeds and he's let go.
It's now pretty clear (crystal, in fact) that this is Dorrell's offense. At the beginning of the season, remember, Offensive Coordinator Steve Axman said he was learning the offense himself, which is an obvious indication that this isn't his offense – but Dorrell's.
This is Dorrell's baby. He's hitched his future to it. He's going to live or die by it.
Man, this crystal clear stuff is fun – and easy -- isn't it? It's actually a true breath of fresh air to be able to deal with a clear cut-and-dry type of issue. It gives you something very easy to get your mind around. It's an easy criterion in a world of ever-shifting criteria.
Now, it gets a little more "gray area" when you consider where the whole array of Bruin fans will fall in regards to whether they believe the offense will work. It'd be an interesting poll to conduct. I think you'd probably have to say, at this point, with the season at 6-5 and the offense looking worse Saturday than it has all season, that a majority of UCLA fans are very skeptical that this offense is ever going to work. I think, on the other end of the spectrum, you'd have the vast minority believing they've seen indications from the offense that it will work. Then you probably have a pretty big faction in the middle of Bruin fans who probably are skeptical that it will work but are hoping and rooting that it will.
But, to be blunt, what Bruin fans think doesn't really matter much. And actually, what Athletic Director Dan Guerrero thinks ultimately won't matter either. Because eventually Guerrero and the UCLA administration will have it all crystal clear for them also – either the offense works or it doesn't. Either Karl Dorrell is successful or he isn't, based on the productivity of the offense.
So, since this is what we do here at Bruin Report Online, let's now over-analyze what is crystal clear.
First, you look at precedence. When has this type of offense, the so-called West Coast Offense, been run successfully at the college level? I don't have the entire litany of teams that have run this type of offense in college at my disposal, but there are a few immediate examples that come to mind. Tyrone Willingham runs the WCO. He hasn't had much success with it at Notre Dame. He had some degree of success with it at Stanford, primarily in 1999 and 2001 when they went to the Rose Bowl and Seattle Bowl, respectfully, and he generally had veterans on his offense. Paul Hackett ran a version of this type of offense at USC. We don't have to get into Hackett's record at USC to make a point, do we?
There are those that believe this type of offense, one based on a straight-ahead running game and a short passing game, can't be successful consistently on the college level. As we've said before, there are some pretty solid football minds out there that believe, to execute such a pro-style offense, you need pros to execute it. It's dependent on precision and timing, the type of which only seasoned pros can perfect. There is also the theory that, to achieve that kind of perfection in precision, the college game doesn't give coaches enough time to work with its players on a year-round basis, unlike the pros where they have so much more practice time to perfect it.
The offense, it's generally believed, will be successful no matter what kind of defense it comes up against, when it's executed precisely. But it seems to get that level of precision you either need 8-year pros or a college team stocked full of seniors, particularly on the offensive line and at quarterback. Willingham at Stanford was predominantly successful at Stanford in years when he had a veteran, experienced team.
So, you could make a case that the WCO-style of offense might only be successful every couple of years or so at any specific college program, when it happens to have a senior-laden team. Dorrell has made indications, including in his post-game press conference Saturday, that the offense being successful is just a matter of the players getting more experienced in it. But what happens every couple of year when you don't have an experienced quarterback and offensive line to execute it?
If true, that's not enough to get it done at UCLA, that is, having fairly successful seasons every couple of years. It was good enough to get Willingham plaudits at Stanford, but it's a question whether being successful every few years will be good enough at Notre Dame over the long haul.
There's also another point concerning the WCO – whether the offense is entertaining. Now, there are some so-called true-football minds out there who will repeat like a mantra that winning is entertaining enough. But many of those true-football minds are probably now just doing commentary from the press booth rather than actually coaching or playing anymore. Fact is, having an entertaining offense in today's college football provides a coach some breathing room. Really, the only way to have a boring offense and be accepted by your fan community is if you win at a very high level. National championship level. Ohio State's Jim Tressel, with his conservative offense, held the wolves at bay last year when they won the national championship. But when the started off this season with a bit of a sputter, the wolves were right back on him. Now, at 10-1 and third in the BCS, he has another reprieve – for a while.
If you have a wide-open, entertaining offense it will give a coach more time if he's losing since observers and fans at least are entertained by the offense. While losing is losing, losing 60-58 is a lot better than losing 6-3. In 2000, Bob Toledo went 6-6, which very well could end up being the regular season record for this current season. While many were disappointed in that 2000 season, many were still on the bandwagon with Toledo at the time since his offense averaged almost 30 points a game, and scored over thirty six times.
Ask yourself: If Dorrell's offense had scored 30 points a game this year but still was 6-5, wouldn't you feel differently about Dorrell's future? Yes, the defense wouldn't be nearly as good since it would have lost 5 games with an offense scoring an average of 30 points, but you probably would, right now, be giving Dorrell more leeway, and have more hope that he'd be able to get it done at UCLA.
If Dorrell ran a spread offense, and every play was unpredictable, but the personnel just wasn't executing it – wouldn't you give him more leeway and hope rather than the personnel not executing this current offense? Probably, since if his scheme looked like the schemes of programs that have been proven to be successful, like that of Oklahoma, you'd say, "Hey, he's running an Oklahoma-type scheme. He just needs some players and it will happen."
So, on the other hand, are we being unfair to Dorrell in not giving him the same leeway we would if he were running a spread offense? Probably. But again, that's the extra pressure you take on if you decide to run an offense that isn't proven on the college level or isn't entertaining.
And there is always the very direct effect of entertainment on UCLA's finances. An entertaining offense will put people in the seats at the Rose Bowl more readily. An offense predicated on three-yard outs won't.
So why wouldn't Dorrell see the errors here, scrap the offense and go another direction in his second year? Why wouldn't he mothball this WCO and go with a spread? Admittedly, this is the offense he chose to run in his first year and it would be literally impossible to scrap it during the season. He also couldn't, during this season, tell the press and the public, "Hey, this offense basically sucks. I'm not going to run it next year but we have no choice for the rest of the season." Is there a possibility that, in the off-season, he'll scrap it? He very well could surprise us and do it. But, given his comments yesterday about how he's sold on the offense, and his approach to other elements of the game, it would be, well, surprising. It very well might be the only offense Dorrell knows how to run and is comfortable with.
In other words, notwithstanding a huge departure for Dorrell, he's made the issue crystal clear.
What he does in the off-season concerning this offense will tell the tale, and make it even clearer. If he admits publicly that he's scrapping the offense and going with another scheme, that would, you'd have to say, give him quite a bit more time on his clock. Fans and observers would forgive him and give him credit for recognizing the alleged mistake of attempting the WCO and going a different direction. If he continues with this scheme, his clock is definitely still ticking, putting more pressure on him to produce with the scheme more immediately. Hiring a new offensive coordinator in the off-season really doesn't matter unless Dorrell allows that coordinator to employ a different offensive scheme.
There is one other element that we have to always keep in the back of our minds. We're assuming, while Dorrell tries to get this offense off the ground, that the defense is going to be a constant. The defense carried the team this year, and basically gave the team its six wins while the offense provided its five losses. What happens if, while Dorrell is still in the building stages of the offense, future defenses, specifically next year's, isn't as good as this year's? What happens to those six wins? As we said last week, the defense next year should be pretty good, but, on paper, doesn't look to be as good as it is this year, losing six defensive linemen and Brandon Chillar. Dorrell, while he's off in his offensive laboratory trying to tinker, might not have this quality of defense to rely on.
It seems, after the performance of the offense, and after Dorrell's comments, Dorrell has backed himself into a corner a bit. If he decided to go a different direction with the offense he gets himself away from corner – at least for a while. But, as stated above, it doesn't seem like it's in Dorrell's universe to run a different offense, and that the only place he can go is into a corner with his offense. As Dorrell said he would on Saturday, he'll stick with this offense, which will put him deeply into the corner next season -- with no way to go but straight back out. Straight back out would mean that this offense defies the mounting skepticism and is successful next season. Can it happen? It's impossible to tell. We've said that the offensive scheme depends on of an experienced quarterback and a good offensive line. Matt Moore and Drew Olson will be another year experienced, and have more experience running the offense. They are only true sophomores. The offensive line will have to be better than it was this year and only losing one senior lineman from its top six, and having started four lineman that are sophomores or younger, and one a true freshman, you'd have to think the unit will improve. He'll also return Tab Perry opposite of Craig Bragg, a more experienced Marcedes Lewis, and a very experienced group of running backs. So, there are some things that lend itself to the notion that Dorrell will have the experience he needs to possibly make this offense successful next year. If he does forge straight ahead with this offense, you have to give him some credit for being a man of his own mind and convictions. You'd especially have to give him an enormous amount of credit if he pulls it off.
But there's no doubt, by living and dying with this offense, which Dorrell is seemingly doing, he has backed himself into a corner with this offense for next year. That's truly crystal clear.