That's the way you should reasonably expect games to go this season.
As we've been saying, we expect UCLA to out-score its opponents this year. What you can hope for is that they do it at least in a fashion that it keeps a comfy cushion of a lead throughout the game and not have to stage big, dramatic fourth-quarter comebacks.
The Bruins beat Oregon State, 51-28, Saturday at the Rose Bowl, and did it in precisely that way, to the relief of most UCLA fans.
One more fourth-quarter drama in a row might have been too much - for the fans to take, and for UCLA to win.
Now, if you're a UCLA fan and you weren't satisfied by this game, because UCLA did give up 28 points and 511 total yards to OSU, you'd better take your anti-delusional pills.
This is the best you're going to get.
And it truly is enough.
Even though UCLA's defense is still giving up big yardage and it will make every game a relative contest, given what they're working with, going up against a good offense in OSU, there is no way you could expect more. The UCLA defensive coaches are moving their chess pieces around, trying to mask the obvious deficiencies on the defense, and hoping that they provide the under-manned D some edge in the scheme every game.
It more or less worked against OSU. There were breakdowns, but surprisingly few, and not many that were hugely substantial.
And really, this game lived up to how the UCLA coaches want games to play out defensively - move the ball and score offensively so the defense can limit its time on the field.
The strategy is for UCLA to do enough on D to disrupt and confuse opposing offenses enough to just get a few stops - just a handful - to give UCLA's offense the upperhand.
It worked. UCLA's offense had the upperhand in this game, took control of it when it had to and didn't relinquish it when it might have. That offensive control, that offensive ownership of the game, is how UCLA is winning games this season.
Perhaps the most significant difference in this game compared to the last three was UCLA quarterback Drew Olson being "on" in the first half. Olson has played so well on the season, and you hate to lay the burden of the offense's success (and the team's success) so much at his feet. And of course, many factors play into the end result on the field. But it was very significant that Olson performed better in the first half, when UCLA's offense established its control of the game early, something it hadn't been able to do in the previous three games.
In the last three games, Olson threw a few passes in the first half that were slightly off, and that contributed to stifling the offense enough that it kept the opposition in the game. He didn't do that against OSU, throwing very accurately early. In the last three games there was one big throw early that should have been either a touchdown pass or a big gainer that he just missed. But in this one, on the first UCLA drive, the 43-yard throw-back to Maurice Drew in the endzone was perfectly on the money.
He finished the game completing 16 of 24 for 262 yards and a UCLA record 6 touchdowns, against no interceptions. He's thrown an astounding 11 touchdowns in the last two games.
UCLA was still getting its footing, still having not quite established control of the game, and then OSU punted the ball to Maurice Drew. Drew's 59-yard punt return to the OSU 17-yard line, and UCLA subsequently scoring on a second Drew-to-Drew touchdown pass did it. From that point on, you had the feeling UCLA owned the game.
And it didn't relinquish it. There were a few different moments when the tide could have turned, the mo' could have shifted, but this team, led by warriors like Drew, Drew and Marcedes Lewis, are made of pretty strong ilk. You can just feel their stubbornness in not letting up, their relentlessness. Every time OSU was close to getting back in the game, those three offensive stars would step up and re-establish UCLA's control.
Maurice Drew definitely helped his Heisman profile Saturday, rushing for 120 yards, with 250 all-purpose yards, including two touchdown catches and plenty of highlights to make the television rounds across the country.
The offensive game plan was a very good one. It was pretty clear that the UCLA offensive coaches recognized the soft spots in OSU's defense, particularly in their ineffectiveness to contain the run to the outside and their inability to defend against the pass down the middle of the field. UCLA exploited it, with Olson throwing very effectively down the middle, on three touchdown passes, one to freshman tight end Ryan Moya, one to Drew and another one up top to receiver Brandon Breazell. On all three of the plays, Olson either had his receiver with no one on him or in man coverage.
There were also a few more fun wrinkles - some that worked and some that had you drooling when they slightly missed. The throw-back pass to Drew that Cade McNown and Skip Hicks immortalized in the late 1990s; the much-awaited fade to Lewis in the end zone for a touchdown; the tight end screen that was set up perfectly for a huge gain that Moya dropped, etc. It was a smart and imaginative game plan that kept OSU generally on its heels for most of game.
There were a couple of other big contributors to UCLA's offense - the lack of turnovers and penalties. UCLA improved its already excellent turnover ratio by not giving up the ball at all against OSU, while the Beavers lost one fumble and gave up two interceptions. UCLA has been doing this all season and it's one of those things that you don't necessarily notice until turnovers hurt you, so it has to be noted since the UCLA offense has been exceptional in holding onto the ball, and how critical it's been in UCLA's success. And UCLA wasn't hurt by penalties, getting called for just five for 33 yards, both season lows, and following up a low penalty outing against Washington State a week ago. UCLA's offense had definitely been limited by penalties on many key drives in previous games and it wasn't a factor Saturday.
The O-line was down three starters and still performed admirably. Noah Sutherland stepped in and played for ill Brian Abraham at tackle, and did well. Falling on a fumble and wrestling it away from an OSU defender was a highlight. After senior center Mike McCloskey went down with a shoulder injury, redshirt freshman Aaron Meyer stepped in and also played fairly well.
UCLA had a good day running the ball, their best in quite some time, gaining 235 yards on the ground. Chris Markey, the second-string tailback, had a very good day, exploding through holes on a few runs, finishing with 80 yards on 13 carries.
If you're recognizing the play of some young offensive players, you have to mention Moya and receiver Gavin Ketchum. Moya had the touchdown reception, and Ketchum had one nice catch and also did very well blocking, springing Maurice Drew for a big gainer on a first-quarter drive. It's was a great image -- and a good indication of things to come -- to see two true freshmen, Moya and Ketchum, high-fiving and celebrating in the endzone after Moya's TD.
And we also got to get another glimpse of the future when that other freshman newcomer, Ben Olson, took some snaps from center and threw one incomplete pass in the fourth quarter.
On defense, it was, as we said above, the most you could ask for this season. Yes, UCLA gave up a lot of yardage and 28 points, but the defense did what it had to do -- first, mounting a few stops in the first half to give UCLA's offense the opportunity to control the game, and then limiting OSU's offense the rest of the game enough to keep the Beavers out of it.
UCLA's offense took over the game in the first half, but it was handed that opportunity by UCLA's defense. After OSU's quick-strike first touchdown on its first series, the UCLA defense produced five stops in succession while, in the meantime, UCLA scored 24 straight points and took control of the game. In that stretch, OSU ran ten times for just 39 yards.
It wasn't a matter of UCLA's rushing defense being possessed, or being drastically different. The interior d-line was still more or less beaten. But UCLA's back seven did a better job of filling gaps and making tackles. Freshman John Hale, starting in place of senior Justin London at middle linebacker, brings a different kind of approach to the game, at least for now, as a freshman. He doesn't gamble as much as we're used to with UCLA linebackers, but consistently filled gaps well. It could be that he's just a freshman and the UCLA coaches told him to just be solid and not try to do anything spectacular that is going to get him burned, but it, well, worked. He did miss a couple of tackles, but he was quite often filling the gap and either in on the tackle or being at least an object in the way that held up the runner.
Kyle Morgan, the second-string defensive end who had been expected to be a significant starter when he came to UCLA last year as a much-heralded JC transfer, had a good game, following a good performance last week. Morgan was good in holding the line and then being able to throw off his blocker to get to the runner, or at least disrupt his running lane.
Chane Moline, the freshman nose tackle, played a big portion of the game after Kenneth Lombard sprained an ankle. Moline showed again that he's very effective when he needs to move laterally, either in rushing the quarterback or on stretch running plays. He just needs to get stronger to be able to hold the line on straight-ahead runs, which is understandable as a true freshman.
In the passing defense, UCLA got burned by one of the best receivers in the country, OSU's Mike Hass, who made some great, acrobatic catches. UCLA gave up 330 yards passing, easily a season high. Former UCLA quarterback and OSU starter, Matt Moore, went 14 of 25 for 279 yards, and found receivers many times pretty open and wasn't pressured too much. He was hurried a couple of times, and fumbled when tackled by Bruce Davis in the second half. He also threw two interceptions, one a bad decision that Spencer Havner took advantage of, which helped to stifle OSU's offense in the first quarter. He also didn't see open receivers at times.
While much was made of the showdown between the two former teammates and roomates, Moore and Olson, it really didn't develop into one. And Olson clearly was the superior quarterback Saturday, making better decisions and having more command of his offense. That's not to say that Moore doesn't have a chance to be very good, especially with one more year in the OSU offense when he's a senior next season.
Cornerback Trey Brown had a good game, looking good in coverage. He had one of the plays of the game when, in covering Hass, after Hass had caught the ball, Brown knocked it from his outstretched hands and into those of UCLA safety Eric McNeal for an interception.
The UCLA defensive coaches again tried to mix in many looks, including a 4-2-5 alignment and different blitzes, more zone blitzes, in fact, that were effective sometimes and not at others. UCLA got hurt on a zone blitz in the second half on a fourth down on its own 29, with Moore completing a throw down the field to his running back, Yvenson Bernard, when he had taken advantage of defensive end William Snead having to pick him up in coverage on a zone blitz. UCLA's blitzing against the run was fairly effective, but not against the pass in getting to Moore. There were a number of times when UCLA blitzed and OSU easily picked it up, and Moore had a lot of time to throw and, as a UCLA fan, you were holding your breath.
But again, all in all, you have to come away from this game accepting the defense's performance. There is no way you can expect them to shut down an offense like OSU's. All you can expect is for them to get a number of key stops at critical times in the game to be able to give the ball back to the UCLA offense. The UCLA defense did this in the last three games in the fourth quarter, and in this game they did it in the first half.
The Bruins are 7-0, ranked 8th in the country, and continue to win, and are doing it with some very good coaching. The UCLA coaches have built an offensive juggernaut, one that can grind it out or hit for a big play, and is deep enough that it can plug in two second-string offensive linemen in one game, not miss a beat, and still roll up 497 total yards. They're doing it by getting the most out of a limited defense, getting the few stops they need every game to give their offense enough of an advantage to win.
It's guaranteed Karl Dorrell his first seven-win season and first winning season -- and it's definitely the turn of the corner in the program. The program, as we've said in the past, had been approaching that turn, a couple of times even, but in beating OSU and going 7-0, the turn is now in the rearview mirror.