This site isn't usually one to talk smack, and hopefully this won't be interpreted as smack, per se, but fact.
Washington should feel grateful UCLA even allowed them in this game.
If you take away UCLA's mistakes – the turnovers and the moronic penalties that gave Washington critical new downs on a few drives – you could take away 17 of Washington's points.
The score should have easily have been 37-14. Or it very well could have been 44-14 or at least 40-14 if you also take away the Manuel White fumble that ended another UCLA drive in Washington's end of the field.
Let's say you even allow a couple of UCLA's stupid errors, the game is still probably in the 40-21 range.
Husky watchers (this includes some homerish Seattle newspaper journalists) should maybe realize that UCLA punted only one time the entire game. The only thing that could stop UCLA's offense was its own stupid turnovers.
You have to give Husky fans some slack. They're generally excellent fans and are probably going through some harsh reality that a pretty unformidable UCLA team came into their own usually formidable house and pummeled their usually formidable defense. It's probably the realization for them that, with their upcoming tough schedule (at USC, at Oregon, at rival Washington State, with Cal and Oregon State at home), this loss against UCLA, which puts them at 0-2, has then facing down a losing season.
But if you're talking demoralized, when UCLA went down 24-7 in the first quarter, it wasn't a matter of this UCLA team getting down and demoralized. It appeared they realized pretty easily that they had pretty much scored 17 points for Washington, but that in the trenches, where the real football is played, they could plow through Washington.
And plow Washington is exactly what they did.
Washington defensive coordinator Phil Snow uttered some priceless comments after the game about Maurice Drew and UCLA's running game.
Snow said: ""I mean, he's a good back. We knew that. But he's not that good. A lot of it had to do with us, too. They had only one running play, and we couldn't stop it. On every long running play we had eight or nine guys in the box. We knew what they were going to do, and we practiced like hell against it. As coaches we've got to re-evaluate what we're doing."
There are so many priceless gems in these comments it's difficult to know where to start.
First, with the reference to Maurice Drew. Hey, I'll go with him on this one. Maurice Drew is a very good back but he's not incredible. What was incredible were the holes the UCLA offensive line cut into your defense, coach Snow, that you could drive a diesel through. Drew isn't one of the best backs in the history of college football, but he did a very good job running through huge holes that were the element of the offense that really was "that good."
Snow said: "A lot of it had to do with us, too."
"They only had one running play and we couldn't stop it.... We knew what they were going to do, and we practiced like hell against it. As coaches we've got to re-evaluate what we're doing."
This might be the problem, there, coach Snow. If you look at the tape, UCLA utilized quite a bit more than one running play. Maybe you were practicing against that one play all week and then, it seems during the game, you didn't recognize UCLA was using other running plays? Do all running plays look the same to you?
Maybe you were exactly right when you said: "As coaches we've got to re-evaluate what we're doing."
Just being able to count the different running plays UCLA used would be a start.
Not only do you have to give enormous credit to Drew for his spectacular day, the game ball has to go to the offensive line, and offensive line coach and offensive coordinator Tom Cable. The blocking on Saturday was sincerely a thing of beauty. It's not as if UCLA's blocking is the result of a number of UCLA players destroying their opponents on every down. It's because, in this beautiful blocking scheme, all they need to do is use the natural advantage that the offense always has against the defense (it knows where the plays is going) and not lose it, which it's doing very efficiently. The OL, being experienced and well-drilled, isn't physically overwhelming anyone most of the time, but just executing a superior blocking scheme that works if it's done well.
But you still can't give enough credit to the offensive linemen. It must feel like an enormous amount of vindication for them. The last several years all we've heard is that they were over-rated recruits out of high school that are soft and just plainly bad. And they've gone from that to vaulting into the national spotlight and getting attention as one of the best offensive lines for the 2004 college season. It must feel particularly good for someone like Paul Mociler, who came to UCLA highly regarded as a recruit, and had the rap that he never delivered on that promise. It must feel so good for Mociler, as a senior now, that his coaches, on third-and-eight, are so confident in him and the OL, that they run. And the actual crunch of when Mociler hit and destroyed a Washington defensive end on this exact type of third-and-eight that then sprung Manuel White for a first down must have enormous feelings of absolution.
What's really the most impressive thing about UCLA's offense after three games is that they've been so successful – and in this game unstoppable – without even getting their passing game past second gear. And again, why would you when you can run for 424 yards? It's a great thing to know that UCLA's passing game is still more or less waiting in the wings. And, from the signs we've seen so far this season and in practice, it is, itself, another considerable weapon that UCLA has yet to really have to utilize.
The first quarter and some of the second quarter of this game, though, caused waves of de ja vu. It felt amazingly like last year, with the team killing itself with penalties, turnovers, missed coverage assignments, and strange timeouts, etc. The fact that UCLA literally handed Washington 11 additional points in the first quarter because of inane penalties was enough to cause a UCLA fan who had been through the wars of UCLA football over the last several years to go running from his television set. UCLA had stopped Washington in its first drive of the game at the UCLA 19. But then Spencer Havner was flagged as a result of a new rule that the leaper on the defense during a field goal attempt can't fall forward onto an offensive player. First, can we talk about this new rule? This is football, right? What's next? Not allowing anyone to actually tackle someone because they might get hurt? We could just keep everyone on the sideline and the coaches could go out to midfield and play the NCAA Football 2004 video game.
But even with the incredible inanity of that rule, knowing that it now exists, it makes it a very risky proposition to leap and try to block a field goal. The chance of blocking it is not nearly worth the chance that you'll give the offense a first down with a penalty.
Which is the bad risk UCLA took and lost.
Okay, so let's concede UCLA that error. We'll let that one go. It did allow Washington to then take their 3 points from the field goal off the scoreboard and score 7, giving them an extra four points. And it's not even necessarily the points, but the psychological advantage that UCLA's defense might have gained by holding Washington to just a field goal that they then just handed over to Washington along with those extra four points.
But again, we'll let this one go.
On Washington's next possession, UCLA seemingly stops them again. Seemingly. At third and 16 from UCLA's 49, Washington's quarterback Casey Paus threw an incomplete pass, leaving them with a fourth and long. But no, UCLA's defense was called for offside, giving Washington another chance at third down, which they converted. On the very next play, UCLA blew coverage on Washington wide receiver Charles Frederick, he got behind UCLA's secondary and then caught a 44-yard touchdown pass.
Here you go, Huskies. Here's another seven points. That's a total of 11 additional points UCLA spotted you in the first quarter. You're welcome.
Oh, those Bruins just like to make it interesting, don't they?
The problem here is, once UCLA actually plays a good team they won't be able to come back from these kind of errors. When UCLA's porous defense actually does stop an opposing offense, there is no way UCLA can afford to give the opposing offense's drive new life with penalties.
UCLA's defense, actually though, wasn't nearly as bad as you might have thought. If you just watched this game from a casual standpoint, you would come away with more reinforcement that UCLA's defense wasn't very good. And it was by no means great. It gave up a total of 419 yards to a poor Washington offense, and 264 yards in the first half. But if you do the math, you'd be able to compute, therefore, that UCLA only gave up 155 yards in the second half and (get ready for this) only 49 yards rushing in the second half.
If you analyze why UCLA's defense is so bad at one moment and actually doing fairly well the next moment it doesn't appear to be rocket science. UCLA doesn't have a very strong defensive line and when UCLA plays a standard 4-3, base defense and doesn't employ any gadgetry, it gets blown off the line. More specifically, UCLA's defensive ends are consistently getting sealed by opposing offensive tackles and tight ends. In this game against Washington, the Huskies effectiveness in running in the first half came less from UCLA's interior defensive linemen getting moved off the ball as UCLA's defensive ends getting thoroughly manhandled, allowing for Washington's ball carriers to pop outside for open field.
UCLA went through its first defensive series playing mostly its straight 4-3, base defense, and the ends were beaten.
It then, in the next series, started employing some gadgetry, namely stacking the box with eight or nine players, run blitzing and zone blitzing. And it's almost uncanny how often when UCLA employed any of these different approaches how much more effective they were. For the rest of the game, it was almost completely predictable that every time UCLA ran its base, 4-3 defense they were hurt for a big run by Washington.
It seems that UCLA can't even afford to risk using the base, 4-3 defense, even in its first series in any game. They did so against a mediocre Washington offense, and the Huskies plowed through it.
Now, of course, if you're going to stack the box or blitz your linebackers consistently you're putting a great deal of pressure on your pass defense. But at this point, UCLA's defense is so predictable in giving up a big running play when it doesn't employ a stacked box or a blitz. While it's generally considered risky and tempting fate to put too much pressure on your pass defense, primarily your cornerbacks, because of stacked boxes and blitzes, at this point it's riskier for UCLA not to do it. At this point, you'd rather make the opposing team execute a pass play, and go through all of the risk that takes (risking sacks, quarterback fumbles, deflections, interceptions and then actually having to complete the pass) than just automatically handing them 17 yards on a very low-risk running play.
While UCLA didn't get a sack all game, when they did blitz, they did pressure Paus into some hurries and bad throws. The blitz, overall, was definitely effective on pass plays, and particularly on running plays, when it allowed UCLA's linebackers and defensive backs to come around the backside for tackles.
Probably a move that also needs to be made is at free safety. While we don't have scout films of the games, and we're just going by what we can see by liberally exploiting Tivo, it's difficult not to come to the conclusion that Ben Emanuel made some critical mistakes in this game. In the first quarter, on a couple of running plays, he's caught out of position and then moving the wrong way. When he is in position to make a tackle, he's just plainly not very good at it, over-pursuing or just getting juked. In pass coverage, while we've said it's difficult to draw too many conclusions from just Tivo, it does appear that he's still out of position and making mistakes in his assignments.
If, in fact, UCLA does continue to employ the gadgets – the blitzes and stacked boxes – it's critical that it gets strong, solid play out of its safeties.
And in one play in the fourth quarter, it was very clear what that meant. With UCLA leading just 34-31, with five and a half minutes left in the third quarter, Washington had gained a bit of momentum. The Huskies were driving, at UCLA's 49 yard line. UCLA could't even mount one play where it limits Washington to little yardage. On second and three, the Huskies ran again. UCLA brought up its safeties to put nine in the box, and redshirt freshman safety Chris Horton quickly sliced through the line of scrimmage and popped Washington running back Kenny James for a one-yard loss. It set up a third and four, which (foolishly) Washington considered a passing situation. UCLA blitzed, hurried Paus and Frederick dropped the pass.
But Chris Horton's stop on second and three was the play that kept Washington out of the UCLA endzone for that drive and you might say, the rest of the game. UCLA then took over the ball, and with its offense being its best defense, went on a drive that ate up 7:21 on the clock.
Horton ended the day with eight tackles, playing limited minutes behind Emanuel, who had just four.
We'll see this week if it's now time for Horton to have a shot at considerably more playing time.
In terms of other defensive personnel, it was a big blow to see Justin London hobble off the field after one play. With the bye week and then games against San Diego State and Arizona at home, you would like to see him spend then next four available weeks before the California game getting that high-ankle sprain 100% healthy, or close.
The linebacking situation at UCLA is dire. Redshirt freshman Aaron Whittington, who had some highlights against Washington because of his quickness, but still looks to be making freshman mistakes, suffered a bruised hip. Wesley Walker sat out some of the game with an injury. True freshman Fred Holmes got some playing time.
There was definitely a more limited rotation among the defensive linemen in this game, with UCLA trying to settle in to a smaller rotation. It actually seemed to help, too, as Justin Hickman and Kyle Morgan improved as the game went on. Nikola Dragovic is being brought in to rush the passer in passing situations. Eyoseph Efseaff is shuttling in at defensive tackle and did a fairly good job of holding the line inside.
One gadget that doesn't seem to be working is a stunt the defensive line is employing where the D-end dips inside as the defensive tackle swings outside him. UCLA had this operating on a few running plays, and all it did was move the defensive end, who was already getting consistently sealed off to the outside, moving inside.
The fortunate aspect of the game were some blunders – particularly in coaching – by Washington. Why, with a suspect quarterback and your running game moving the ball very effectively, would you think you had to pass more often? There were a number of situations in the second half when Washington opted to pass when UCLA showed very little signs of stopping them on the ground, especially when UCLA felt the need to go back to its base, 4-3 defense. And it wasn't as if Washington was down by more than two scores and didn't have a great deal of time. The last thing Washington wanted to do was give the ball back to UCLA's offense and allow them to control the clock, which is exactly what it did with its out-of-sync passing game. Luckily.
It does raise the ever-present and weekly question: What happens when UCLA faces a good, well-balanced offense? It might have that question answered in two weeks when it goes against San Diego State after enjoying a bye this week. The Aztecs gave Michigan all they could handle offensively on Saturday.
Some credit also has to be given to Drew Olson. He did throw one interception, again because of a deflected pass at the line of scrimmage, which makes it now painfully obvious there's a problem here with this. But other than that, he played the type of game you wanted out of your quarterback – one that didn't make too many mistakes – when your running game is amassing 424 yards. Olson in fact, added 29 yards to that total himself (19 net yards after you take away the ten-yard loss on the sack). Again, the fact that Olson is recognizing that he can gain some critical, big yards by scrambling when the defense gives it to him has been critical so far this season.
It was as considerable blow to watch Craig Bragg squirming on the ground injured in the second half. With a separated shoulder that they were apparently able to pop back in, and with a bye week coming up, it will be interesting to see if Bragg has a chance to be able to play against San Diego State in two weeks.
If not, it will be Tab Perry time. While Perry hasn't been able to really get his hands on the ball too much, if Bragg is out, it will now give him the opportunity. It's fortunate that, when you lose perhaps your best offensive player you have another experienced, talented veteran to step in. Oh yeah, that's what depth is. While many might cite that Perry has been quiet in his first three games because he's had only one reception, he has been a very effective blocker. He sealed Washington's safety inside beautifully on Drew's first touchdown run.
And while coach Snow might not think Maurice Drew is any big shakes (which merely makes his defensive line culpable for allowing such huge running holes), Drew's spectacular performance was not only the result of him being a very good, inherent running back, but being disciplined within the offensive scheme. Whether you think your grandmother could have run through those holes or not, Drew did it like it was perfectly schemed out to happen. His fifth touchdown run, too, was a highlight-reel-making run, with Drew hitting the hole and then bouncing off tacklers, changing direction, and exploding past defenders for the endzone. And while not to detract from what a good running back Manuel White is, there's a legitimate question of whether White, if he had been given these same calls, would have run for 323 yards. Drew appears far more effective when there's a big hole that needs to be hit quickly, while White seems more effective when the holes are smaller and the pile needs to be moved five yards. It's a testament to good coaching from Cable and running back coach Eric Bieniemy that, early on in this game, they recognized that Drew would probably be more effective with the huge holes being cut out against the Washington defense.
It does bring a big smile to a UCLA fan's face when ABC flashed a stat that, in four carries, Drew was averaging 42.3 yards per carry.
But while it seemed very simply that UCLA just merely dedicated itself to the run and ran down Washington's throat, that wasn't necessarily the case. Despite coach Snow's belief, UCLA didn't just use the same running play over and over again. UCLA instituted a couple of new running plays for this game, and had a pretty nice array. In fact, on Drew's fifth touchdown, that running play is a slight misdirection run. Earlier in the game Washington had run it down from behind, which that play is prone to. But with Washington stacking UCLA's weakside, the call was perfect. The o-line sealed off the majority of Washington's defenders as they tried to blitz from the weakside and Drew, as it's drawn up, cuts back parallel to the line in the other direction – and there was all green grass. I'm sure, after making that play call, when Cable saw Washington come to the line of scrimmage loading the weakside, he practically could have injured himself again jumping up and down.
There were, in fact, a number of situations where there were some great play calls. On a third down, there was a very nice receiver screen call that netted a critical first down in the second half to sustain a drive and allow UCLA's offense to continue to eat up the clock.
But all in all, while you might not superficially come away from this game with the impression that UCLA was the dominant team, it clearly was. Because of the score, and having to come back from being down by 17 points, and the defense giving up big runs in the first half, that might not be your impression. But you take away just one of UCLA's three turnovers and its freakishly badly-timed penalties and the score isn't close.
The other thing that you have to give the team – and the coaching staff – credit for is the heart and resolve the team showed. On the road, in a tough place to play, with the Husky crowd going wild being up 24-7, this young team didn't seem to lose any confidence at all.
Now, again, as we've said every week: You have to be a little reserved in getting too excited since, first, the mistakes UCLA made are worrisome. Secondly, the defense has some major questions; and thirdly, what happens when UCLA actually plays a really good team?
Hopefully if UCLA can get more of its player back to health in this bye week, it can fix some of the issues on defense, be more aggressive in using its defensive gadgets, and maybe utilize some defensive players that look to be ready to step up, UCLA will be competitive with some of those good teams on its schedule.