WSU Game: The "I Believe Bruins"

The fact that UCLA came from behind for the third straight week to pull out a game, this time against Washington State in overtime, 44-41, isn't just coincidence. There are many elements going on here that contribute to the phenomenon...

When Karl Dorrell took the microphone in his impromptu speeches to the Rose Bowl faithful after the come-from-behind victories over Washington and Cal, he said "Believe in this team."

On the surface, you think everything logically points to not following his advice. You think it's just a matter of time until the bubble bursts. The wheels fall off the wagon. In fact, the bubble and the wheels were close to doing their deal Saturday in Pullman.

But once again, UCLA staged what seemed like another uncanny fourth-quarter comeback, the best yet of the season, to prevail, 44-41.

You can start calling them the I Believe Bruins.

Now, instead of breaking down the entire Washington State game, I'm merely going to try to prove how you should actually do what Dorrell says and believe.

And it's not just about blind faith. If you really look closely, you'll see that it really isn't that uncanny. And it's not that logical to think the bubble will burst or the wheels will fall off the wagon.

You might think you can't figure out this team, that they're unpredictable and hard to put your finger on. But actually, there are some very simple aspects of the team that are making them what they are – that fourth-quarter, Cardiac Kids-type of team.

There is truly a definite reason to believe.

First, UCLA's defense is lacking some horses in the stable. We all know that – it's not hard to see. There have been various Blues from the beginning of the season who have tried to convince you otherwise – that, specifically, the defensive line is fine.

When we predicted on this site that UCLA could very well allow Oklahoma to run for up to 300 yards, yeah, it was a mistake. But that was like predicting the Union Army to win a specific battle that they then lost to the Confederates, while they actually won the war. The prediction was off by a game, but it was right on the mark for the season.

And again, it's not hard to predict.

Can we all put that point to rest now? The defense lacks the manpower, mostly in its front four. It's not embarrassing or something you need to hide – like a family secret you can't tell your children. Come on, repeat after me: "I know we have a mediocre defense and don't have a defensive line that can stop the run."

Good, so we don't have to ever argue the point again.

But see, if you admit that to yourself, what happens for many is that then the doubt and over-rated feelings start to creep in.

Well, yeah, UCLA might not really be the caliber of a typical top-ten team. They'd probably need a better defense for that.

But that doesn't mean you shouldn't believe in them. It means you should realize what we've been telling you all season – that they're going to have to outscore every opponent to win.

The one thing we didn't foresee is that the team would have to consistently come back from huge deficits in the fourth quarter to out-score their opponents. But that's just a minor detail.

And it's actually pretty predictable, if you analyze this team accurately. If you actually try to put your finger on them.

Here are the contributing factors:

-- They have a defense that is prone to giving up a lot of yards on the ground. So, they're going to allow just about every team they face to be in the game.

-- They have an offense that, by design, is meant to wear down defenses, so that they're dominating the opposing teams defensive line by the fourth quarter.

-- They have one of three things, or a combination of all three, at their offensive skill positions – experience, talent and the ability to make the clutch play.

-- They have a defensive coordinator that is able to make some appropriate adjustments in the second half, where he's able to pick the right trick – the correct smoke or mirror – to improve the defense's chances against the opponent's offense.

-- And, on top of all that, the team has a rare never-say-die attitude. You see it in champions all the time. Sometimes you don't even see it in champions. But this team definitely has it. Watching the Washington State game on TV, when UCLA is down by 17 in the fourth quarter, when the Fox telecast pans the UCLA sidelines, the team and coaches looked like deluded fools. They actually looked like they thought they could win, that another comeback was no problem. They've had that look in all three comebacks – particularly Drew Olson, Marcedes Lewis and Dorrell.

For many competitors, they can't really play at their optimum until their adrenaline is pumped as a result of being challenged. There is definitely an element like that to this team, too. That's the element you'd like to have in their eyes from the first snap. But heck, I'll still take it in their eyes at any point in the game. Some teams never have it.

There's that old saying that a team takes on the persona of its coach. Well, if that's true, Dorrell must be really a difficult individual. Can you picture him around the house, with his wife having to deal with him and that darn never-say-die attitude?

"Honey, yeah, it's pouring rain, but I'm going to go mow the lawn because I'm sure it's going to stop anytime now."

"Honey, I'm still here at the market. I know they said they were out of eggs, but I know that those chickens will be laying them soon and I'll be right here to get them when they do."

Put all of these elements together listed above and you have your I Believe Bruins.

The offense is designed to wear down opponent's defenses. It banks on the fact that an offensive line, if it's a decent one, will wear down a defensive line with its blocking scheme by the end of the game. It pounds the ball up the middle early and often, and while you might not think those 2-yard gains are doing much, they actually are. They're contributing to the defensive line slowly losing its strength and energy, making them have to fight blockers head on too much early, or having to run sideline to sideline too often. You can definitely see it in every game this season, even in the games where you would say that UCLA didn't run the ball well overall. By the fourth quarter, UCLA's offensive line had won the battle and taken a complete advantage on the line of scrimmage. And offensive coordinator Tom Cable knows it. That's when the offensive game plan really starts to blossom. Have you noticed that the play-calling seems far more inspired in the fourth quarter? That's not because Cable suddenly gets inspired, while being dense for three quarters. He knows that the offense in the fourth quarter, when the O-line has worn down the opponents' D-line, will be able to do so much more than it was in the first quarter, that he'll have so many more options at his disposal. And it's easy to see. UCLA can finally run the ball. I don't have the statistics, but in the last four games, it'd have to be severely lopsided how much yardage UCLA has gained on the ground in the fourth quarter (particular its average yards per carry) compared to the first quarter. And then the age-old football axiom comes to fruition: When you can run the ball, you can then pass the ball. UCLA's offense is a bit predictable. Its approach is not to necessarily out-guess you, but to execute so well it doesn't necessarily matter that the defense knows what the offense is doing. Now, that doesn't happen all the time. But it does tend to translate into defenses being able to stop UCLA's offense more effectively early, but then getting worn down and being unable to do it late in the game.

Utilizing this philosophy, if you're good enough, there's really not much a defense can do in the fourth quarter, but desperately sit back on its heels and hope that UCLA blows its execution somewhere along the line.

But you see, in terms of execution, now you have experience and savvy working within this offense. You have a battle-tested quarterback in Drew Olson who doesn't get rattled and is at his best in the fourth quarter. The heads-up lateral to Chris Markey when Olson was about to get sacked and UCLA was down by a touchdown with just a couple of minutes left in the game that gave the Bruins a critical first down was a thing of beauty and probably the play of the game.

You have never-say-die players like Drew and Marcedes Lewis, guys who probably feel like they've been through a Civil War and are ready for anything.

Then throw in one of the naturally clutchest receivers UCLA has had in a while in sophomore Marcus Everett, and you have enough tools at the skill positions to get it done.

Olson completed 31 of 43 passes for 338 yards and five touchdowns on the day. He threw for just 118 yards in the first half. 118 in the first half, 220 in the second half.

Maurice Drew ran for 47 yards in the first half, on 14 carries, for a 3.35-yard average. In the second half he carried the ball 15 times for 68 yards and a 4.5-yard average.

516 yards total for UCLA in the game. Only 54 total yards in the first quarter.

The overtime touchdown celebration.
I guess it's safe to say that this is a second-half team. For the season, UCLA is out-scoring its opponent in the second half 133-66. It's out-scoring its opponents in the fourth quarter 88-17. That means, on average, it's' scoring over two touchdowns in the fourth quarter.

Pretty much, if UCLA is down going into the fourth quarter, it's a safe bet to tack on at least 14 points to UCLA's score.

And baby, they've been down. They've come back from some considerable deficits. After doing it consistently the last two weeks, they did it in excessive style against Washington State, coming back from 21-0, 28-7, and then 38-21. But see, that was Washington State's mistake – going up big on UCLA, 38-21, right before the fourth quarter. All future opponents should probably take note: Don't build a strong lead over UCLA heading into the fourth quarter, you'll just get their dander up.

But again, not only is it attributable to UCLA's never-say-die character, with its offense it's by design. This is how the UCLA offense works. Yeah, you'd like to see it dominate from the beginning, and against lesser opponents like SDSU and Rice it did. But if you to had pick, wouldn't you rather see UCLA own the fourth quarter rather than the first? Don't get greedy and say both.

On defense it's been just like most level-headed Bruins predicted. If you had a young d-line to begin with, and then lose probably your two best starters and a third is hobbled, and you're playing a true freshman extensively, you just have too much going against you.

Now, the short-sighted Bruin fan sits around bemoaning how good this team might have been with Kevin Brown and Nikola Dragovic.

But that's mundane. Anyone can do that.

The inspired Bruin fan, at this point, after three remarkable comebacks in a row, now relishes where the Bruins are, and how the under-manned defense is struggling to stay alive.

But again, you're wondering: Why can't the defense perform in the first half like it does in the second half?

Washington State gained 362 yards in the first half, but just 137 in the second. It rushed for 220 yards in the first half, but 110 in the second.

Washington State's running back Jerome Harrison had 182 yards in the first half, but 78 in the second half. He averaged 9.6 yards per carry in the first half but then 5.2 in the second.

It's a combination of a few factors, that also tend to play off each other. First, of course, UCLA's run defense isn't very good, so at the beginning of the game, when opposing offenses come out in straight, head-to-head competition, going with their strength against the Bruins, UCLA's defense won't generally hold up.

Opposing offenses tend to stay on the field quite a bit in the first half against UCLA. Against Washington State, the Cougars had more time of possession in the first quarter than UCLA – and went up 21-0. But then UCLA's offense owned the ball and the game clock for the next three quarters and won the game. WSU gained 224 total yards in the first quarter. They then gained just 91 yards per quarter for the next three quarters. They scored 21 points by just a couple of minutes past the first quarter, then scored 20 more points for the remainder of the game.

So, first, as soon as UCLA's offense gets moving, the defense improves. Of course, we all know that – that your best defense is keeping your offense on the field.

As we've pointed out, it takes UCLA's offense a while to break down defenses. Remember, they're not the out-guess-you offense but the wear-you-down offense.

The problem is, while UCLA's offense is going through its beginning paces in the first quarter, setting the groundwork for wearing down its opponents, UCLA's beleaguered defense is taking it on the chin.

I guess it's the cross they bear.

So, the difference in UCLA's defense in the second half as opposed to the first half has a lot to do with UCLA's offense, to begin with.

Secondly, though, DC Larry Kerr is adjusting once he sees what the opposing offense is doing – and his tinkering is proving to be effective. Now, many of you might ask: Doesn't he have enough film going into the game to make these moves from the first snap? Well, not necessarily. Every team comes out with a fairly unique game plan every week. While you get a grasp of an opponent's basic scheme, you still don't have much of an idea of how they're going to utilize it, at least, if you're facing a competent coaching staff.

And Kerr is, as we've said, playing with smoke and mirrors. Being at a personnel disadvantage, he's moving chess pieces around the board, desperately trying to protect his queen.

What is particularly impressive is how UCLA's defense, in the second half, and particularly in the fourth quarter, is making the stops it needs to give the ball back to its offense to win the game. In all of the three comebacks this season, if UCLA's defense rolls over and plays anything like it did in the first half of those games, their opponents keep racking up points and the game gets out of reach. But UCLA's D steps up when it needs to and gets the stops. Against Washington State, UCLA had four 3-and-outs in the second half, two hugely critical ones in the fourth quarter that were do-or-die situations; if UCLA didn't stop WSU, the game would be over. They did it once and it led to a UCLA field goal that brought the Bruins to 31-38, and then did it again to lead to UCLA's next scoring possession, bringing the game to 38-38.

You have to attribute it a great deal to Kerr, and his adjustments. Opposing teams simply aren't able to run the ball near as well toward the end of the game. In Harrison's last ten runs from scrimmage he average only 2.9 yards per carry, and was stopped for loss on two of those runs. He had just two runs for 10+ in the second half.

With some bit of irony, it also appears that opposing running backs are getting tired. Harrison definitely did. I guess after you've run for 200 yards you're pretty pooped. What a strategy, eh? Let the opposing running back go off for almost 200 yards in the first half to the point he gets so tired he can't be effective in the second half, when the opposition needs him the most to keep pace with UCLA's offense.

So, overall, though, when you put it all together, you can put your finger on this team. Given all of these elements, it makes complete logical sense that they'd be a fourth-quarter team like they have. It truly is an amazing phenomenon, how all of these factors have come together to make for this UCLA team, and the way it wins.

You might not like it. It might offend you that UCLA has to come from behind and can't dominate one of the bottom-half Pac-10 teams from the beginning of the game. But what did you expect? We told you that UCLA would have to out-score its opponents. Did you think they'd be ahead of them in every game at every moment?

You have to come around to thinking that this entire phenomenon isn't a fluke. Because of all of these elements, this is who this team is. It's like analyzing all the factors that go into creating a hurricane in the south Atlantic.

And hey, the phenomenon enabled UCLA to beat a team it traditionally struggles with, in a place where it hasn't won a game since 1993. That's a pretty formidable storm.

So get used to it. This is how the season is going to be. Coming from behind like this has so far been the norm, not the exception.

So, hold out that E-ticket with vigor and enthusiasm, because it's destined that you're in for some more thrill rides before this season is over.

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