Even Butch the Cougar, the Wazzou mascot, was surprised by this outcome. Sure, Wazzou has owned UCLA in recent years, but this year was going to be different: the UCLA running game (even minus center Mike McCloskey) vs. a porous WSU run D, an edge in quarterback experience (if nothing else), and an anemic Wazzou running game matched up against a revitalized UCLA D coming off a shutout of a Stanford team that played Southern Cal and Notre Dame very tough were all reasons for Bruin optimism.
So it was no surprise to see major lead in Butch's tail as he cavorted around the Rose Bowl with our Josie Bruin. Talk about adding insult to injury…
Even though the Bruins fought back from an 11-point halftime deficit to get within 31-29, the game represented a severe disappointment for fans expecting a stronger, more urgent performance from Karl Dorrell and his Bruins.
Yes, the warriors we've come to count on showed up: Manuel White made a fantastic, unbelievable TD catch that gave the Bruins the chance to tie the game. The amazing one-hander, reaching behind himself with his left hand to spear a pass intended for Joe Cowan, was divine intervention, because the pass would never have gotten to Cowan, given the way the Cougar DBs were reacting to the ball and the fact that the throw was even behind Cowan, who slipped and fell attempting to adjust to the ball. Great players make great plays in crunch time, and the Manster showed he has what it takes.
Craig Bragg also had a fine game on O, catching five passes to become UCLA's all-time receptions leader. It appeared that CBra was a little tentative returning punts because of his shoulder, but he thankfully let it loose on the game's final punt return, and rocketed up the middle for a 34-yard return. Unfortunately, he didn't have quite enough of a fifth gear to leave WSU punter Kyle Basler in the dust.
Spencer Havner again led the Bruins in tackles, this time racking up 12, despite playing with an injured hand that required a soft cast.
But otherwise, Bruin fans were a decided shade of blue leaving the Rose Bowl or their radios at game's end, if not before.
Once again, the D played listlessly and recklessly. The DL was powerless to make any penetration at the point of attack, or even to shed blockers and get to the ball. The pad level of the DL was unacceptably high all game long, which Wazzou's OL exploited big time, driving UCLA's interior DL off the ball almost every snap. Even a newbie QB can do enough to win a CFB game for a struggling team when the team rushes for 321 yards and your unheralded RB, who shredded Southern Cal for 11 yards on 15 carries, rushes for 247 yards on 42 carries. How many times has UCLA allowed a running back to have a career day against them this year? And yet, does anyone on UCLA's D seem to mind?
To be certain, Jerome Harrison is quicker, faster and fitter than any Bruin defender. That's never a good sign for a D. But that doesn't excuse the numerous Bruins who failed, time after time, to use proper tackling technique. Kids, don't do this in your Pop Warner games: a) run full-speed at a ball carrier and hope that he'll stay right where he is so you can deliver the big hit (the proper technique is to 'break down' your advance about 3 to 5 yards away and zero in on his belt buckle so he doesn't leave you looking for your jock); b) leave your feet when making a tackle, which is easier said than done sometimes (the proper play is to keep your feet under you and continue driving, otherwise a good back will absorb the blow and break the tackle); c) take shallow tackling angles and try to bring a ball carrier down with a hand (the proper play is to judge where the back is going to be and aim ahead, not shoot for where he is now and have to banana curve your pursuit angle); d) allow yourself to be blocked by WRs (the CBs who don't just rip through a WR block need to find a new sport).
The insertion of Dennis Keyes into the FS spot for Ben Emanuel at the start of the 4th quarter seemed to stabilize the D and add another hammer back there that the Bruins desperately need. When UCLA's DBs get out-hit by Wazzou's kicker, you know there's a problem. Hopefully we'll see Keyes early and often. The best UCLA foursome at this point may be Trey Brown and Matt Clark (when he's not getting blocked/committing PIs) at the CB spots, and Jarrad Page and Dennis Keyes at the safeties. Eric McNeal has also played well at the nickel back spot, but teams will continue to try to exploit him in the passing game with quick hitters. McNeal also needs to do a better job of butching up his blitzing.
On O, the loss of Maurice Drew and Marcedes Lewis was devastating. The Bruins went from being home run hitters to singles hitters once those two were relegated to the sidelines. They start and get many touches for a reason: they're the best the Bruins have to offer.
With the running game downgraded, this was a perfect opportunity for Drew Olson to step up and show that he can consistently make the big plays a team needs to win CFB games like this.
Unfortunately, the DO didn't seize the opportunity. Yes, he led the team down the field for the final TD. But then he failed to even give the Bruins a chance to get the two-point conversion: his pass was well short of the end zone. And he once again started very, very slowly. The Bruins punted or had the ball intercepted on five of their first six possessions. Meanwhile, Wazzou put up 21 points in that same timeframe. Ballgame.
Can the DO handle the pressure and expectations of quarterbacking UCLA in big games? After three years, he's yet to carry his team to victory against a favored opponent. He's been along for the ride, if he's even been there. And when the pressure is on, the flaws and ticks of the DO's delivery becomes even more pronounced: holding the ball low, waving it around before throwing it (which just allows more time for the DB to use to jump the receiver), throwing the ball too hard, stepping too far (overthrowing the ball) or not far enough (shoe-topping or skipping the ball to the WR), and misfiring on accuracy. The DO had Cowan twice for TDs if he is a little more accurate, as well as CBra on the out and up route. That throw didn't even stay in bounds.
In any event, it is time for UCLA to utilize some bootleg action to the left. The DO ran for about 40 yards on a keeper vs. Illinois, and also had a good completion to CBra on another great catch. The roll/scramble/bootleg to the right action has gotten completely predictable at this point.
Another area of large predictability has been short yardage; the Bruins will need to incorporate better short routes and deep routes in order to keep moving the chains. The Bruins went 4 for 16 on 3rd down conversion attempts.
Looking forward to Oregon, the Bruins are in a MUST "must win" situation. I thought last week was a big game? Given that UCLA is competing with Oregon for Ben Olson's services, a win here sends a powerful message.
However, the Ducks are a very underappreciated football team.
Kellen Clemens is the trigger man for the Ducks. He is a legitimate threat with his feet. His arm is excellent when he's playing within himself and feeling comfortable. That's the bad news. The good news is that under stress his throwing mechanics get more constricted. The really bad news is that UCLA might not be able to make him experience any stress. If that is the case, expect TE Tim Day and true FR Cameron Colvin to make some noise.
Oregon is a balanced offensive team, and battled Cal hard before falling by a point, 28-27. Heck, they had Cal beat. Given how easily Cal handled UCLA, it appears that Oregon is able to play at a superior level to UCLA.
Bottom line, I expect the Ducks to win, because Oregon has UCLA's number, and Clemens is more likely to make winning plays than Olson is. Final score: UCLA 17, Oregon 38.