Oregon Commentary: Bigger Issues

While you can get mired in second-guessing the Oregon game and come up with no answers, there are bigger issues -- and bigger questions -- that the Oregon game actually answered. Here they are, short and sweet...

There were many questions specifically about the Oregon game – such as whether Toledo should have gone for the two-point conversion, whether he should have played Manuel White more, play-calling, etc. – that are, of course, important issues. But at this point, they're old news and beaten like a dead horse. There are bigger, longer-term issues -- questions that were actually answered by the Oregon game Saturday. Here are a few of those answers:

-- Yes, UCLA sorely missed DeShaun Foster. Akil Harris simply didn't have the ability to break tackles that would have gotten UCLA some critical yards that might have been the difference in the game. But there's no blaming Harris. The blame is placed squarely on the shoulders of Foster. While we always concede that these are just college kids, they make mistakes and that we should cut them some slack, Foster's transgression here has become so pervasive that you have to hand him the blame. Foster has only himself to blame for his suspension. Usually when a situation like this occurs, you always hear how the player let down his teammates, but never was it more conspicuously evident than in the Oregon game. It's just not talk; Foster severely let down his teammates – along with his coaches, fans, and family. It's a true shame, because it's looking more likely that Foster will not put on a UCLA uniform again. The longer-term look at tailback position post-DeShaun Foster seems like Manuel White could be the primary guy. But it would have been nice to see the quickness of Tyler Ebell or Wendell Mathis in that game. And (I can't help myself, I'm inspired by Scott Wolf), it's obvious that, with neither Harris or White clearly stepping up in the Oregon game, someone like Lorenzo Booker or Hershel Dennis could have the opportunity to come in and play as a true freshman next year.

-- Yes, Cory Paus is two different quarterbacks. One week he can look like he doesn't belong on a Pac-10 team, the next week he looks all Pac-10. Some of the explanation has to attributed to his thumb injury, which has been nagging him all season. But Paus, even when he's healthy, seems to have a strange knack at inconsistency. Quarterbacks have good days and bad days, but not to the extreme that Paus has showed this season. Paus, also, lacks one crucial element: He doesn't have the ability to make a play out of nothing. In college football, the ability of a quarterback to make a play – either complete a pass or get a big gainer on a scramble – is huge. At least a few times a game you need your quarterback to make that kind of play. Paus doesn't do it often. Hopefully by next year he will add that to his arsenal. You'd have to hope because that element of a quarterback is really crucial to the position's effectiveness.

-- Yes, UCLA's defense is as good as it's been billed. In three weeks, against three of the best offenses in the country, UCLA out-played the various offenses in 4 out of 6 halfs. In one half (the first half of the Oregon game) it was probably a draw, and only in the first half of the Stanford game did they get out-played themselves. The UCLA defense was particularly effective against Oregon in the second half, holding the Ducks scoreless in the third quarter and shutting down their running game compared to the first half of the game. Robert Thomas was, again, stellar, as was Kenyon Coleman.

-- Yes, UCLA's offensive line is still a work in progress. They've had one really good game this year – against Washington. The others range in their varying degrees of mediocrity. Again, you have to concede that they've been playing with some key contributors injured, but those are the breaks. UCLA's running game plan was to go straight head-to-head against Oregon, and Oregon more or less won the battle. Many were thinking that this game, without Foster, would more clearly determine whether possibly the OL was opening holes that perhaps Foster just wasn't exploiting. But it was pretty obvious with the way that Akil Harris struggled that that wasn't the case. UCLA's OL, though, is very young, with one senior, two juniors, one sophomore and one freshman starting, and only redshirt freshmen and true freshmen on the roster as backups. Hopefully, this year is a strong stepping stone to a completely dominating offensive line next year, and then a process of re-loading every year after that for the near future.

-- Yes, Matt Ware is a potential superstar. Watching him in practice this week working with the offense and then seeing him in the game on Saturday, it's obvious that Ware is just too talented not to be utilized more than just as a defensive back. Every time he touched the ball on offense, either as an option quarterback or a receiver, he made a play. While we know it was scripted how much Ware would be used, and pretty much a risky experiment, too, but by the fourth quarter, it was pretty obvious it was an experiment that was very successful and you would have liked to have seen Ware used more until he was shut down. But there were also other things to consider – he's a freshman, who you might not want with the ball in his hands when the game is on the line (yet anyway), and there was the risk of injury to your starting cornerback. But I think there's now a green light in developing an entire alternative offense designed around Matt Ware. We've heard about some coaches telling recruits and players that they would design an offense around them (many of you know to whom I am referring), and this could definitely be the case. If UCLA could develop an alternative offense for Ware, one in which he can not only run the option, but throw out of it, and also line up at wide receiver, it would make it incredibly difficult for opposing teams to prepare. Plus, it would be great for recruiting. Every two-way player UCLA would recruit over the next few years would be fantasizing that he could be the next Matt Ware.

-- Yes, UCLA's season depends completely on whether it beats USC. If UCLA wins, it stops its three-game slide, it sets them up to finish the regular season 8-3, which would be considered a successful year. Plus, you hand USC a losing season and keep them beaten down. If UCLA wins, it keeps its edge in recruiting over USC. If USC wins, it has something to sell to recruits. It's hard to remember when so much was on the line for both schools in the annual rivalry game. Pretty much, dwelling on the details of the Oregon game seems passe and irrelevant compared to the importance of the USC game this Saturday. It's truly amazing how this has evolved – how USC has pulled itself back from the precipice (based on, admittedly beating some patsies and some dumb luck – witness the Oregon State place kicker) to teeter on the edge of being able to call the season a success if it beats UCLA. And how UCLA has fallen to the point that a win over UCLA decides the success of its season. Even without a Rose Bowl or Pac-10 championship at statke, make no mistake: This is the biggest game in the cross-town rivalry in quite a while…

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