The way Norm Chow and Matt Leinart were running him around the field (8 catches for 134 yards in the first quarter and a play of the game), visions of Korey Stringer/Rashidi Wheeler began racing through my mind. Especially after Keyshawn noted on camera that Mike needs to push away from the dinner table. Out of shape athlete + strenuous physical exertion = disaster in the making.
Thankfully, the low 60s temperature and breezy conditions and a purposely misplaced helmet prevented any more of a tragedy from occurring than already did when the Southern Cal Trojans dismembered the UCLA Bruins 47-22 in the season finale.
You could still tell how addled Williams was, however, by his postgame comments ("I honestly feel everybody at UCLA wishes they were here — aside from their medical school, because their medical school has a prestigious reputation.") which neglected to mention the beyond-prestigious reputation of The Anderson School at UCLA. Somebody get the kid an oxygen tank!
As badly as the Bruins played in the Stanford game allowing eight sacks…
As badly as the Bruins played in the Wazzu game committing seven turnovers…
As badly as the Bruins played in the Oregon game falling behind 21-3 after one period with the Ducks scoring every way possible…
…this one was worse.
As feared, Karl Dorrell and staff plowed forward with their standard one-size-fits-all game plan patented by the prior regime that allowed Norm Chow and Pete Carroll to predict with near absolute certainty what the Bruins were going to do given down, distance, formation and place on the field.
As a result, Leinart shredded the Bruin secondary and LBs time after time with dart after dart.
Why was Williams so constantly open and so often unmolested off the LOS? Did he forget his deodorant? Was he radioactive and the Bruins forgot their lead shields in their home unis? (Or maybe they were wearing them?)
Whatever the case, even Leinart offered a not-so-subtle reproach to the Bruins and the staff when he noted, "It's kind of shocking how open Mike was at times."
In a little over one half of play, Leinart connected on 23 of 32 passes for 289 yards and 2 TDs. Imagine what Southern Cal's O will look like next year under John David Booty.
While the Trojans were throwing/running the ball with a 2:1 ratio, the Bruins were stubbornly clinging to the notion of being a "balanced" offense, which all-too-often resulted in patterns of play calling along the lines of run/pass/run, or run/sack/throw away.
Possibly the biggest favor someone could do the program would be to stage an intervention, confront the staff, and rip the "blast up the middle" play out of the playbook.
Of course, Karl Dorrell and/or Steve Axman would have to attend the Woody Hayes Clinic and join "Cloud of Dust Anonymous" to make the intervention stick. ("Hi, I'm Karl, and I'm committed to the run.") I think Tyler Ebell and Maurice Drew would be willing to be their sponsors/chauffeurs, to ensure they attended every meeting. Somewhere, Chuck Knox is looking down and smiling…
Maybe we won't see this season what would happen if UCLA used the pass extensively from the start of a game instead of waiting to fall two or three TDs behind, because it will take divine intervention for UCLA to get a bowl bid with its reputation for not traveling well, Bay Area Bruins or not. (Hey, why be optimistic now?)
But if not next year, then Dorrell's tenure will be under serious fire, because it is doubtful that this collection of athletes will be able to out-muscle enough teams (and the right teams) on next year's schedule to keep the wolves, much less the critics, at bay. Like it or not, UCLA stands the best chance to move the ball via the air, so every effort should be expended to make the passing game as superior as possible.
But enough about next year. Time for the soon-to-be-internet-famous BROphies, awarded to the best Bruin in his position group, in an attempt to acknowledge those who delivered during the year.
Defensive Lineman of the Year: Dave Ball. His 16.5 sacks currently lead the nation, and he's a finalist for a number of awards, including the Lombardi and the Nagurski. Renowned for his dry, absurd sense of humor and his attempt to shake the dead rat from Craig Sager's dome with vigorous yet manly hugging, his play this year hopefully ensures that a stand-up act will remain a part-time pursuit and won't be needed to pay the bills. Ball probably won the UW game single-handedly with his sack/forced fumble of Cody Pickett, and the Bruins wouldn't have won the Cal and ASU games without him, either. You knew he was going to have a great year when he sacked Joel Klatt on back-to-back plays in game one, showing reckless abandon to fly over tackles and running backs in his efforts to rend Klatt a new one.
Runner-Up: Mat Ball. Finally getting a chance to play his natural position during his star-crossed UCLA career, Mat teamed with Dave to pincer many QBs this year. IMO, Mat had a better year rushing the passer and stuffing the run than any LDE I can remember at UCLA in the last decade, including Kenyon Coleman.
Linebacker of the Year: Brandon Chillar. His 127 tackles will probably lead the Pac-10. With great size, excellent wheels and stellar hops, Brandon's best days of football are still ahead of him. Just imagine what he might accomplish at UCLA if he had redshirted in 2000 instead of covering Nate Fikse's touchbacks. His single most notable play of the season was his return of Spencer Havner's blocked kick against Cal for a game-winning TD. (If UCLA doesn't get that TD, they don't win the game.) We have Brandon to thank for showing us that the ball can bounce UCLA's way once in a while.
Runner-Up: Justin London. The true SO exploded on the scene this year, playing better and better as the season wore on, and providing the Bruins with a much needed emotional spark. Next year, there will be no doubt whose team the D will be. London was amazing at times this year with his ability to drop 20 or 30 yards and cover the deep middle zone, even picking off a seam pass against Illinois. And his durability and tackling ability are simply outstanding.
Defensive Back of the Year: Jarrad Page. As the season progressed, Jarrad began to make his presence felt more and more as the Bruins' big play guy, whether it was pick for six against UW, a drive-killing pick against Stanford or a big hit against Wazzu. His absence against Arizona probably speaks the loudest about his value to the team, as the Wildcats amassed ridiculous yardage when Jarrad was out with a shoulder injury. Only a true SO, his next two years should be phenomenal.
Runner-Up: Keith Short. Yes, a surprise pick. But look at his contribution: steps in for Matt Clark against Illinois, doesn't get beat deep in a 6-3 game even though IL went after him, and makes some plays in the 4th quarter in a game the Bruins easily could have lost. Put that game in the "won by Short" column. When Matt Ware went down with his ankle injury, Short stood tall in the Cal game and every game thereafter, executing the coaches' game plan, and playing with a confidence befitting a SR, a husband and a dad. If there were any UCLA fans worried about Keith's ability to hold his own, it was all for naught.
Wide Receiver of the Year: Craig Bragg. On his way to becoming the Bruins' all-time leading pass receiver, Craig caught 68 passes on the year for 994 yards, just missing the 1,000 yard mark by a drop or two. At times, he seemed to be the only offensive threat UCLA had, whether it was beating a DB deep on a fly route at CU, returning a punt up the middle against UW/Wazzu/'sc, or laying out for an outrageous catch over the middle against UW. His personal work ethic and his willingness to mentor other WRs like Junior Taylor is indicative of the kind of leadership and effort the Bruins will need next year to become a feared team. I guess that's why his teammates voted him an offensive captain.
Runner-Up: Marcedes Lewis. With 28 catches on the year, Marc didn't get the four or five catches a game I thought he needed to average for the Bruins to be successful on offense. His potential for tangible production is unmatched by any other Bruin on the offensive side of the ball. If/when the coaches decide to move him to WR and utilize him the way the Trojans use Mike Williams, UCLA football will certainly be entertaining to watch.
Offensive Back of the Year: Maurice Drew. The sparkplug true FR from legendary Concord De La Salle was everything fans hoped for: a fast, tough, explosive pinball of a running back who never let down and brought his winning attitude along with him. MoD was the Bruins' big play threat with two kick-off returns for TDs and a game-deciding 73-yard TD off-tackle vs. ASU. Given a little more latitude in running style and a more liberal offense, MoD has the physical gifts to produce 1,000+ yards next year.
Runner-Up: Manuel White. After the Manster went down to injury, the UCLA running game essentially evaporated, as did the blitz pick-up pass protection. UCLA seemed to run the ball best when White took the first few carries and set the table for the change of pace backs in Tyler Ebell and Maurice Drew. Amazingly, Manny has yet one more year with the Bruins, and he's due for the kind of break out senior year guys like Chillar had this year.
Offensive Lineman of the Year: Ed Blanton. While the Bruins allowed 49 sacks on the season, a horrific number, relatively few of them seemed to come from the right OT's spot. At 6-9 and 330 lb, with the feet of an all-state wrestler, Ed was able to steer rushing DEs around the QB almost all season long. And Ed was able to drive block his man off the point of attack with greater regularity than any other Bruin OL this year. If there's a go-to guy on the OL, it's Ed.
Runner-Up: Kevin Brown. Switched over to OG from DT, where he had been having notable success as a true FR, two-thirds into the season, Kevin was thrown into a difficult circumstance. And yet he did what the coaches wanted him to do, and he did it for the team's sake, and he experienced some success, especially against ASU and Stanford, showing a capability to learn at a much greater pace than some of his teammates.
Special Teams Player of the Year: Justin Medlock. Cal Heels Kid, his mesage board moniker, was 14 of 18 on FGs for the year, including the game winner vs. Cal in OT from the dreaded left hash (for a lefty). Justin was incredibly shaky in spring ball, missing many more than he made, and yet he pulled it together during fall camp and had a great year. It would be rash and foolish to proclaim him an automatic make for next year and the years to follow, because we all remember Bjorn Merten's sophomore slump. But who believes that hocus-pocus curse crud anyway? I just want Justin to work on his fumble recovering for next year in preparation for an onside-kick to himself!
Runner-Up: Chris Kluwe. Chris now has the dubious achievement of punting more in one season than any other Bruin in history. I can't wait to hear who Chris will thank during his BROphy acceptance speech. Chris was able to put 16 punts down inside the 20 this year, and barely missed nailing some 1-yard line coffin corners by just inches, it seemed. Some of the most memorable plays of the Bruin season involved Chris' booming right hip flexor and quad. (Why does the foot get all the credit?) The Bruins could have a devastating field position weapon with Chris next year.