Analysis of Washington

Watching UCLA lose to a less-talented Washington team Saturday, 29-19, at least succeeded in one thing: It brought Blues and Cranks together to agree on a few things. One sobering, joint conclusion: UCLA better open up its offense or it's going to struggle the rest of the season...

It's difficult to have a snappy opening line about that game.

For one thing, if you're a Bruin fan, you don't probably want a joke right now.

And you certainly don't want an analysis with the type of tone I had after the Rice game. That is certainly one thing that wouldn't be difficult – to be in a pissy mood after watching UCLA lose to what just about everyone can admit isn't a talented Washington team Saturday, 29-19.

Really, just about the only consolation you can take from the game is fairly mean-spirited and complete sour grapes: You know that all of those Husky fans you saw cheering in Husky Stadium, who are under the delusion that they're going to have a good season because they beat UCLA, are in for a very rude awakening.

See, it's easy to joke.

But on a serious note, this loss against Washington did do one remarkable thing: It probably brought all the Cranks and Blues closer to agreement than in any time in recent memory. And I'm not talking about those extreme Cranks that are now calling for Karl Dorrell's job. And I'm not talking about the extreme Blues who are actually making excuses, or trying to convince anyone who will listen that Washington was better than we think. I'm talking about the pretty balanced Cranks and Blues, the ones who could easily have fallen off the fence either way to begin the season based on valid reasons.

I think they're now all firmly up on that fence together. Yes, maybe the Cranks have taken over the BRO message board for the time being (and they're not actually being vicious toward any Blue who will bravely post a message). But those Blues out there who are staying far away from the BRO message board right now are having some of the same thoughts that most of the Cranks are posting on Sunday.

Last night, after the game, I talked to two friends who are both UCLA fans. One leans Blue, the other Crank. They said remarkably the same thing. In fact, the bluish one was probably a little harsher due to the lashing-out factor. But still they were strikingly similar in their conclusions about the game.

Ah, unity. You never thought it could come this way.

But just about any sensible Bruin fan – one either tinged Blue or Cranky – couldn't have watched the game against Washington and not at least been stupefied at what was transpiring before you.

You have to admit, Blue or Crank – when UCLA ran the ball for about the 10th time in a row within the red zone you were wondering why. You actually wondered if something had happened to Ben Olson's arm, that there must be a reason they didn't attempt to throw, didn't you?

We all were.

And don't come here looking for an answer.

I do have a few theories about why UCLA's play-calling went so conservative right before your eyes. The best theory: The game plan called for UCLA to run the ball, the coaches believing it could run effectively. When the offense did do well on the ground early, and the passing game struggled, the coaches thought they'd go with what was working when they needed to get some crucial yardage. But, alas, that assertion didn't seem to take into consideration that, first, it's more difficult to run in the red zone and, secondly, Washington's coaches had adjusted and the Huskies were now far more effective in defending against the run, especially since UCLA seemed to run the same few plays out of the same sets every time.

It was simply baffling.

Maybe UCLA needs not to come out running the ball well, so it feels it has to throw the ball too?

Blue or Crank, watching the game, after true freshmen Terrence Austin had that great punt return in the second half that got UCLA's offense set up in the redzone, most of your jaws were on the ground when the play-calling went like this: a pitch, a throw-back (an equivalent of a lateral), and another run. UCLA settled for a field goal, which made the score 19-14, and just about every UCLA fan, Blue or Crank, knew UCLA was in trouble, hoping they could sneak out of Husky Stadium with a lame win.

While UCLA had been conservative in the redzone a good amount of times before this instance, this was the one that really broke the camel's back – in the game, and among UCLA fans. UCLA was struggling to hang on, and not getting 7 points here, with the momentum turning to Washington, was clearly what shifted the Mo completely to the Huskies. While the UCLA team was struggling to hang on, so were UCLA fans everywhere, trying to give the coaches the benefit of the doubt up until that point.

But that did it.

Now, why is this UCLA football program so conservative? Again, we can only have theories. The play-calling in this game is considerably different than it was in the Utah game. Remember that game? The play-calling had inspiration. It was creative, relying on the one basic element of football that everyone playing it and coaching it should always remember: The offense has the advantage of surprise (Maybe, as we stated above, UCLA needs to struggle on the ground early so it knows it needs to pass). But that play-calling hardened up against Rice and it became concrete against Washington. So, it begs the question: What element in the program is the conservative force that has made this happen?

There are those that will point fingers at the West Coast Offense. They say that trying to dink and dunk your way down the field, throwing 4-yard passes, is far too much execution to expect from college-level players. And that very well might be true. But we saw this WCO go over the top against Utah. We saw it last season. It's not necessarily the WCO, but the way you use it. In this Washington game, UCLA threw past the first-down markers three times. Every other throw was underneath. And maybe the coaches were afraid of the pass protection and Olson not making good decisions. But heck, there wasn't enough evidence yet to support that there was pressure and that Olson was panicking. It wasn't as if UCLA tried to throw the ball over the top and Olson was sacked or the receivers were consistently well-covered. UCLA never did it from the time they came out on the field.

And that's the implementation of the WCO where you can point the finger. The WCO is just a scheme, but it's how you use the scheme that is key. There are certainly passing plays in UCLA's WCO that go down the field. And Washington, coming into this game, had the worst passing defense in the Pac-10. So, wouldn't it make sense to throw the ball down the field, at the very least, to loosen up the defense so you can run or dink and dunk?

Here's another theory: UCLA's version of the WCO wants to be able to create big plays by throwing underneath coverage and allowing its playmakers to create big plays. It definitely can work – we saw it work repeatedly last year with Drew Olson, Marcedes Lewis and Maurice Drew. But this year, UCLA doesn't have the big playmakers, at least not on the same level as those three. So, going underneath, getting the ball into the hands of UCLA's current skill guys and asking them to create big plays is probably asking too much. So, really, in a kind of reverse logic, with less playmakers, UCLA needs to throw down the field more. Without as many guys on the roster who can readily turn a short gainer into a big one, UCLA needs to directly attempt the big play. Without it, the WCO's dinking and dunking down the field is too much to pull off.

But again, such an implementation of the WCO, one where you don't really even attempt to throw the ball down the field but throw underneath and hope someone can create a big-gainer out of it, is deeply conservative. There is some deep conservative cult within the UCLA football program (I'm half-joking here) that turns everything conservative. It's such a strong current within the program that, say, if UCLA hired Ted Kennedy on its staff, he'd probably turn into Pat Robertson within a week.

And that gets right to what I believe is really the worse element that came out of the Washington game: not being able to scout yourself. In sports, if you talk to any smart and experienced coach, he'll tell you that the most important aspect of being successful in sports is to scout yourself accurately. Recognize your strengths and weaknesses with a sober and objective eye. Without it, you'll be basing game plans and play-calling, and making decisions, on possibly delusional ideas about yourself, which will get you beat. In my opinion, that seems to be going on here in the football program, to a degree. There is an element that wants to convince itself of things – like, in this instance, that UCLA does have the playmakers to create big plays from small ones.

Chris Markey had a good game. He's running the ball well. But he knows and we all know that he's not a big game-breaker. Were not offending anyone by saying that. He had a great run where he got behind Washington's defense in the first quarter and ran for 62 yards, but got tackled from behind. Austin, just a mere true freshman, had that great punt return, but he couldn't finish it in the end, probably more due to Austin being so young, probably very hyped and just pooping out at the end of the run.

And again, this isn't anything against Markey, Austin, Kahlil Bell, or anyone else. But you can't say that if UCLA had a big playmaker, specifically Maurice Drew, in this game, the final score wouldn't have been different. It's hard to say, but you'd have to believe that Maurice Drew finishes that run from scrimmage in the end zone, and probably the punt return, too. Again, nothing against Markey or Austin. They are good players and not everyone is Maurice Drew. That's fine. But it's a matter of scouting yourself and recognizing who you are. You have to recognize that you don't have a Maurice Drew to give you two touchdowns in those instances where you came away with just field goals. If there was ever an illustration that UCLA doesn't have the big-time playmakers and that they need to compensate in their game-planning accordingly, this game was it.

I think just about every Blue-leaning Bruin or Crank sympathizer would come to that conclusion.

Hopefully from this game, there will be some sober and objective conclusions coming out of the football program. Sober conclusion #1: UCLA clearly had more talent than the Huskies. It was entirely evident in the first half where UCLA dominated the game, owning both lines of scrimmage, and moved the ball very effectively. But Washington's coaches adjusted and UCLA's coaches went into a play-not-to-lose shell, far too early in the game. So, you just can't win in college football by having more talent than the other team and relying on that.

Sober conclusion #2: UCLA's defense showed to be pretty good. Again, this was just Washington, which isn't very good, but UCLA's defense, under new defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker, proved it could be a good unit. It allowed Washington only 49 yards on the ground, an offense that was leading the Pac-10 in rushing with 200 yards per game. It limited Washington to just 249 total yards. Yes, Washington got scores against UCLA's defense when it needed it, but UCLA's young defense kept the Bruins in the game, and it would have been far too much to expect it to win it by itself. Heck, it provided UCLA's offense four turnovers that it could only turn into 6 points. Washington's offense didn't get a first down until midway through the second quarter (and it was on a bad pass interference call on safety Chris Horton). UCLA's defense shut down Washington for a majority of this game, and gave UCLA's offense ample opportunity to put it away. UCLA should have had 24 points in the first half, instead of 16. UCLA's D did almost everything it could to put away Washington, but UCLA's offense allowed the Huskies back in.

Sober conclusion #3: UCLA needs to open up its offense, give Ben Olson the opportunity to make big plays, throwing down the field, and even make big mistakes. Hey, he made some in this game anyway, when you were trying to do everything you can to prevent it. So, if he's going to throw two interceptions a game, wouldn't you simply rather have them occur on throws down field than on 2-yard outs? If UCLA doesn't open up its offense, Pac-10 coaching staffs are going to scout it out, make adjustments and we'll be seeing more of the same kind of second halves we saw in Seattle. And it will be far uglier, against the likes of Oregon, Cal, etal. Hey, if this is a blueprint, we could a see a more talented UCLA team struggle against the likes of Stanford, Washington State and Arizona. This game at least gives you more of a clue that UCLA has a decent defense and that you can rely on it to help and, at the very least, keep you in games. C'mon, we're all adults, Blues and Cranks. We're all willing to take the possible lumps. The UCLA community is behind you. Go to Conservatives Anonymous, rid yourself of this play-not-to-lose mentality and open it up.

This season, as we said, should prove to be a roller coaster ride. But now, at least, we have Blues and Cranks sitting right next to each other on the roller coaster.

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