With the season more than likely ending with the ASU game, it didn't seem relevant to re-hash the details of the ASU game itself.
The one primary kudo that needs to be expressed, though, goes out to quarterback Scott McEwan. McEwan played a very good game, throwing for 280 yards and executing the position well enough to move the UCLA offense up and down the field. It's extremely gratifying to see McEwan get rewarded, in his first start as a fifth-year senior in a game which is probably his last as a Bruin. It's good to know that the ASU game – and the season – provided some very deserving reward for a young man like Scott McEwan.
It was bittersweet for UCLA fans, though, to watch McEwan perform so well at quarterback on Saturday. And probably a little more bitter of a taste than sweet. Watching McEwan lead the UCLA offense so well had to make just about every UCLA fan watching the game wonder about what might have been. What if McEwan had been the starter for the majority of the season? As I said in my preview to the game – that if McEwan performed well it would create the biggest "what-if" to the UCLA season, and perhaps the bigggest "what-if" to Bob Toledo's tenure as UCLA head coach.
It's difficult to speculate about what the season might have been had McEwan been the starter. He's given us plenty of proof, though, that he was far more effective in running the offense than Cory Paus was this season. He led the UCLA offense to its biggest offensive output of the season against ASU, and led UCLA to its most explosive offensive output of the season in the second half of the Stanford game. The second half of the Stanford game was also the best example of heart that this team provided all year, and McEwan was the leader of that effort. So, what might have been? While difficult to speculate, I think McEwan has given us enough proof that things might have been different this year had McEwan been the starter since September 1st.
Now that, of course, begs the question – Why wasn't McEwan the starter?
McEwan had looked pretty poor in UCLA practice over the last couple of years. He probably threw more ducks in practice than all of the quarterbacks combined. Last year it was pretty evident from practice that Cory Paus was easily the most effective quarterback on the roster.
But McEwan showed signs of improvement by the end of last season and definitely by spring. It was noted in spring practice reports from this site, and from the coaches themselves. Even so, it still appeared, by spring, that Paus was more effective at the position. By fall practice, the production among the quarterbacks in practice looked to had changed a bit. McEwan had improved and had easily overtaken Ryan McCann as the backup. And the margin between Paus and McEwan had narrowed, but it wasn't as much a marked improvement in McEwan as much as a reflection on Paus. Paus, from the beginning of fall practice, had not looked as sharp as he had in spring. In retrospect, we now know that Paus was nursing an injured thumb and shouldering the responsibility and guilt of the secret of his DUI conviction, both of which impacted his effectiveness.
Paus, even given his drop-off in effectiveness, consistently threw a better ball than McEwan. Perhaps, though, with great 20-20 hindsight, what should have been a key factor in the Paus/McEwan debate, though, was not who threw the better ball but possibly who performed other factors of the position better. Now, from an untrained eye and being just an observer, in fall practice it would be difficult to determine that McEwan would overall be more effective because he was quicker at setting up in the pocket and better at finding an open receiver than Paus. But the question has to be asked: Should the UCLA coaches, who are trained eyes and not mere observers, been able to determine this? These are keys to the performance of any quarterback and the effectiveness of any offense – but especially so in this instance since opposing defenses were stacking the box against UCLA and the UCLA offense needed to execute some key passing plays well to offset it.
It's a tough question, one that I'm uncertain as to the answer to, but the question still needed to be asked given McEwan's performance this season. Remember, though, even for excellent coaches, it's sometimes almost near-impossible to predict that a second-string quarterback would be able to step up into a game situation and be better than you could envision. Dick Vermeil has proven to be a pretty good coach, but it took Trent Green to be injured for Vermeil to discover Kurt Warner for the St. Louis Rams.
But here's something to mull over when you're talking about "what-ifs". What if Paus hadn't hid his DUI conviction, Toledo had demoted him at the beginning of the season and McEwan had then been the starter? McEwan might have performed so well (as well as he has this year) that he never would have relinquished the position back to Paus.
But overall, it again emphasizes how critically important it is for the UCLA quarterback to be good, and be able to execute the position effectively.
And what can you take from this situation in regards to the future? The UCLA quarterback situation is pretty much in shambles right now in regards to next year, and it doesn't appear that there is any really promising option that could change that. In spring practice, the job will be open and Paus and McCann will fight for it, as well as redshirt freshman John Sciarra. Next fall, two committed high school seniors will also take their shot at it, Matt Moore of Newhall Hart, and Drew Olson of Piedmont. Again, with Paus's performance this year, and the pall hanging over him because of the DUI conviction, he doesn't seem like a good option at this point. He would have to come back strong in spring, and demonstrate a newfound quickness in the pocket and in his decision-making. Ryan McCann is more mobile than Paus, but he would have to improve drastically in his decision-making and his passing to be able to compete for the starting job. John Sciarra simply is an extreme longshot to contribute next year. While he has some savviness, he's small and lacks the arm strength to really perform at this level. Combine that with the inexperience of being a redshirt freshman next year makes his odds extremely long. The two incoming freshman will also have extremely long odds given their experience and youth. Matt Moore has great potential, with great mobility, quickness, and a cannon for an arm. But he's only just completing his first year as a starting quarterback in high school. Drew Olson has more experience than Moore, but less natural gifts. But given the uncertainty at quarterback and the importance of the position, it might be a very uncommon situation where a true freshmen might be the better option. You might be more effective at the position even with a limited playbook and an inexperienced player who weighs 180 pounds, but a player who has a better innate feel for the game and better athleticism than Paus.
UCLA could conceivably have other candidates. Trent Edwards, the #1 quarterback prospect in the country, is still strongly considering UCLA and will take his official visit on December 14th. Edwards would be the most ready of the incoming true freshman, with good athleticism, a great arm, intelligence, a great natural feel, and uncommon poise for a high school senior quarterback. UCLA is also scouting Pasadena Community College quarterback Nathan Chandler, who is 6-7 and 245 pounds. UCLA is still uncertain whether they'll pursue Chandler. And, like with the incoming true freshman, the learning curve for an incoming JC quarterback would be huge. But, generally, UCLA should really consider Chandler seriously. At this point, UCLA needs as many options as possible at quarterback next year. W