This week definitely wasn't an upset.
The clearly superior team won on Saturday, 44-6, and it wasn't close.
It wasn't a matter of a play here or there turning the tide. Many will point to the Marcus Everett blunder in the second half, and say the game turned with that play, that Utah then got the momentum and started running downhill.
Utah had the edge in every phase of the game from the outset, and UCLA, the lesser team, was just scraping to hold on. When Utah's Darrell Mack ran for 10 yards on Utah's first play from scrimmage, running in a huge hole created through UCLA's interior defensive line, it was almost as much yardage as Utah had gained on the ground last week against Air Force (14 yards).
Last week we said that, after beating BYU in an under-whelming fashion, many UCLA fans would have to adjust their expectations for the season.
There are no words to describe what fans should probably do with their expectations after this debacle.
There will be arguments about whether this was the worst loss in Karl Dorrell's tenure. There was the Las Vegas Bowl against Wyoming, the blow-out loss to Arizona in 2005 when UCLA was ranked 7th and undefeated, and the drilling they took at the hands of USC in that same year.
This one is probably the biggest defeat, however, merely because of expectations. Remember, this was the year for Dorrell, proclaimed by sports journalists and the program itself, including by Dorrell. This is his team, the team he's been building toward, with all the expectations for a BCS finish. There was even talk around the program of competing for a national championship.
There isn't a great deal to analyze in terms of the game. It's pretty straight-forward. UCLA was the inferior team, on both sides of the ball, in every facet of the game – in terms of personnel, schemes and coaching.
If you actually want to talk about coaching and scheming: It was as if a team from 2007, Utah, was playing a team from the 1980s. UCLA's schemes look like dinosaurs compared to Utah's. UCLA's offense, the supposed West Coast Offense, is out-dated and obsolete. In fact, it's out-dated and obsolete without ever having really proven itself on the college level. The argument has been made repeatedly but you have to repeat it again in the wake of this game: The West Coast Offense can't be successful on the college level. College kids aren't sophisticated, talented or experienced enough to run an offense based on so much efficiency and precision. In college ball, with how inexperienced the players are, if you're going to take the risk to throw the ball, you'd better make the risk worth your while. Taking risk after risk to throw 4-yard outs isn't worth it.
The jury has been out on Jay Norvell's version of the WCO. In practice and UCLA's first two games, there were some signs that the offense could possibly be more diversified. But within this system, it's still not anything profound. It's diversity on the level of an Amish man wearing a gray hat rather than a black one.
It's time it has to be said. It's Dorrell's fifth year and it's time the piper was paid:
This offense is a failure.
Maybe, possibly, if you had some real elite, experienced talent executing it and some highly imaginative coaches calling the plays, it could be effective on the college level. But it's fairly obvious that, in Dorrell's program, that would be very rare. It's pretty clear UCLA doesn't have elite talent on offense. And we've given Dorrell five years to see if he could deliver a version of this scheme that was imaginative and dynamic. He's been through four coordinators, not counting himself as a de facto one last season, and it hasn't happened.
In the Utah game, there was never more of an example in Dorrell's program of an offense that is poorly coached and undermanned. Okay, so we know that Ben Olson doesn't make quick decisions in the pocket. How about moving the pocket and his launch point on occasion? There was one roll-out in this entire game – the first play from scrimmage. Is it that the offensive brain trust can't conceive of a roll-out or a different launch point unless they have the play scripted? UCLA was also absolutely horrendous in picking up Utah's blitzes, on many cases pass rushers getting to Olson without being touched.
And while many thought that the Stanford game showed UCLA has some big play makers, the last two games have, again, shown otherwise. Brandon Breazell looks like he can get open, but there doesn't seem to be another receiver on the team who can. The running backs are average. The new Kahlil Bell is okay, but not fantastic, lacking game-breaking speed. Chris Markey is an average talent, like he was projected to be out of high school. It's still mind-blowing that the coaching staff doesn't make Bell the premier back. On a drive in the second half, when UCLA was still clinging to some hope of getting back in the game, Markey caught a pass in the flat and when a defender came up beside him, he actually hopped backwards, trying to make a move around him rather than merely plowing up field for the first-down marker. It's preposterous that it hasn't been done yet, but after that play, Bell should have been given the rest of the tailback carries for the game. But UCLA stuck with Markey.
When is the last time UCLA so clearly didn't have a high-level NFL talent at quarterback, running back, receiver or tight end? Oh, yeah, I made that same point last season.
When talking about the defensive scheme, you hate to repeat what has almost become a cliché, but DeWayne Walker's defense struggles against a spread offense. There were quite a few Utah receivers running free for most of the game Saturday, with UCLA's defense struggling mightily to pick up everyone in the pattern.
If you're an opposing offensive coach on UCLA's schedule and you don't run a spread offense, you should install a make-shift spread offense the week of the UCLA game. One that you had just a week to prepare would probably still be effective against UCLA's defense, at least probably moreso than any pro-style scheme.
The back seven truly struggled to find receivers, and when Utah's quarterback Tommy Grady had time to throw, there was always someone open. There were many blown coverages, and the lack of a consistent pass rush didn't help much. In the third quarter, after it seemed Utah had made a few adjustments at halftime to pick up Walker's blitzes, Grady picked apart UCLA's secondary.
UCLA's defense, in its first two games, at least had a strong rushing defense to show for it. But not in this one. Losing Brigham Harwell on the defensive line created a huge hole in the middle, literally. Tackle Jess Ward, in his first start, spent more time on his back than maybe Kenneth Lombard did in 2005. UCLA tried Chase Moline and Jerzy Siewierski, but neither could do any better.
It shows how thin in talent UCLA truly is. It loses one of its stalwart guys and the hole it creates (literally again) has reverberations throughout the defensive unit. With Utah being able to run pretty well, it definitely helped to open up its passing offense, keeping UCLA's defense off-balance even more than it usually is trying to defend the spread.
On the other hand, wasn't Utah missing five starters in this game? Weren't they playing an undersized, converted, average defensive end at defensive tackle? Why is it that Utah can make up for losing five starters and when UCLA loses one significant player it has such a huge impact?
So, let's take stock of this team and program: You have a failure for an offensive scheme, and a defensive scheme that looks baffled by spread offenses and also looks like it's getting scouted out in Walker's second season.
You have average talent. It's talent on a level that a good Mountain West team has a chance to look more talented than you on a given afternoon.
The only thing you have going for you is that, even though your roster is mostly made up of just "solid" guys, you have a great deal of experience.
But, as we've maintained for a very long time, in college sports it's mostly about recruiting talent and coaching. And the UCLA program, in its fifth year under Karl Dorrell, hasn't done well in either of those two most important facets that make up success on the college level.
It's really difficult to blame any of the players. They're doing what they can with what they have. You could make a case that Ben Olson is a letdown, given the hype he came in with as the #1 prospect in the country his senior year in high school. He has definitely struggled and under-performed, and isn't near as good as he should be, given the hype. But how much of this is coaching, too? How good would Ben Olson be under, say, Cal's Jeff Tedford? Or reverse the question: What would Cal's Nate Longshore, who is just a "solid" quarterback, be like under Karl Dorrell?
You can't blame the players generally for not being able to play beyond their capabilities. The fact is UCLA has possibly up to 30 players on the team that shouldn't have scholarships in a program of this level. Heck, most of those guys are average Mountain West players so it's not a mystery why UCLA gets beaten by an average Mountain West team when they're so thoroughly out-coached.
We've said for the last couple of years that Dorrell, if he were going to have a chance to be successful at UCLA, and if he was going to choose to recruit a base of those "solid" lower-Pac-10, Mountain West-level guys with good grades, he'd then also have to bring in a good amount of NFL level talent, too. He hasn't brought in enough NFL talent. On the team right now, how many guys could you say are clearly early-round picks in the NFL draft? Where are the Marcedes Lewises, the DeShaun Fosters, or the Robert Thomases? Even just the Freddie Mitchells? Dorrell has brought in one guy – one – that was at that level, and that's Maurice Jones-Drew. And that was in his initial recruiting class when recruits were aglow over the newness of Dorrell. Since then, there hasn't been much beyond "solid" guys.
The tragedy is that UCLA actually has some difference-makers in the 2008 class, the one that is currently verbally committed but won't sign National Letters of Intent until February. Too bad there isn't an early signing period for football so those guys could have signed that binding Letter. You have to think there's definitely a question whether UCLA will retain all of the difference-maker prospects it has verbally committed if the team flames out this season.
So, for the 2007 season, unless things miraculously turn around, you have a bad offensive unit and an average defensive unit, facing what appears to be a daunting schedule. It might not even be one of those years when UCLA has one good unit and relies on it to carry the other bad unit and get it through the season – like every one of Dorrell's seasons so far. This year, it could be a first: Two poor units.
Are we going out on a limb stating this? The team, still, is 2-1 and 1-0 in the Pac-10. Well, the perspective we have is that the first game was Just Stanford. In the second game, against BYU, UCLA had a very fortuitous first half – and since then UCLA has played three very poor halves, three halves that pretty much exposed the team for what it is when it faces a decent opponent.
And that's just a decent opponent. While UCLA made Utah look like a Top 10 team, they truly aren't. This is what is such an eye-opening slap in the face about this game: Utah is an average Mountain West team that is fairly undersized and inexperienced and vastly depleted due to injury. Even if you concede that this was one of those games that got away from you, you also, on the other hand, have to take into consideration that UCLA has many considerably better teams than Utah on its schedule – like California, Arizona State, Oregon and USC. You could even make a decent case that, given Utah's current injury status, that Washington, Oregon State and Washington State are at least as good as Utah.
It appears that UCLA fans should be hoping for some upsets, like last week's win against BYU.
Many fans are already speculating about Dorrell being fired. Hey, usually, we try to be the balancing voice of reason and quell some of the message board brush fires, but heck, Dorrell put the onus of this season on himself. The program, for years, made excuses, and pointed to this season as the "one." He made it the make-or-break season for his program just as much as any of the fans or pundits. So, in light of that, we think it's justified to talk about the possibility of him making it or breaking it, and whether Dorrell could be fired.
In our estimation, knowing what we know about protocol and UCLA's athletic department and administration, it would more than likely take a losing season for Dorrell to lose his job after this year. Or maybe a 7-6 record, with a drubbing at the hands of USC, a loss in a very minor bowl game and an uprising of discontent among fans, boosters and donors.
Given the way the team looked on Saturday against Utah, it looks like the season Dorrell has been pointing is the one where he'll be fighting for his survival. That's what make-or-break means, right?
Another potential scenario would be Dorrell leaving on his own accord. Let's say he finishes 7-6, or a disappointing (given the expectations going into the season) 8-5 and he isn't fired. From what we've heard, Dorrell very well could opt to go back to the NFL as a wide receiver coach on his own.
Even if he does get through and scrapes together a decent season, isn't fired and decides to stay, how long would it be for? If this is the season where he's supposed to have his best team, with so many seniors and 20 returning starters, and he can barely muddle through, what happens in 2008 when he replaces 17 starters (wow!) and has possibly an even less friendly schedule? What happens when you try to put in 7 or 8 new starters to that offensive scheme? What happens to Walker's scheme, when, for the first time since he's been at UCLA, he has a boat load of inexperience to coach on defense? What happens when you have a poor season in 2008 following a vastly disappointing season in 2007, and that would be, essentially, five disappointing seasons among six for Dorrell? Again, we're not out of line to be discussing the future of Dorrell's job after this game. If you're a Blue, you at least have to concede that this is self-induced by Dorrell, since he pointed to this season himself as the "one." And this wasn't a squeaker loss against Cal, or a couple of close losses against Cal and Oregon. This was a blow-out loss against an average Mountain West team racked with injury. This is completely justified at this time.
It's not us, on an Internet site, that is making or breaking the season and Dorrell's job.