If you're a UCLA fan, there were some good things about the game, But there were enough things that also left you off-balance.
It could be that we're just asking for too much. Coming off the Utah game, you wanted the Bruins to look dominating against Washington, in every phase of the game, just to erase the memory of last week and make you feel good about the prospects for the rest of the season.
Probably the most frustrating was that UCLA did appear to be the dominating team. If you put the two teams out on the field and let them play, probably 95% of the time UCLA would dominate both sides of the ball against Washington. But there were so many snafus along the way that muddied up that picture of dominance.
It was good, on a purely basic level, to see that UCLA was clearly the better team on the field Saturday night. After Utah, there was a distinct worry that the UCLA 2007 edition, after all, just wasn't very good. There was a worry that a combination of the USC win and 20 of 22 returning starters skewered expectations and that the Bruins we saw in Salt Lake City were the real deal.
After all, this was a Washington team that last week played # 10 Ohio State tough. If you took UCLA and Ohio State, eliminated all the bonehead mistakes on the field and on the sidelines, and just compared how effective each team's offensive and defensive units were against Washington, you'd say the Bruins were the better team than the Buckeyes. Yeah, you have to consider that Ohio State was on the road against Washington, and UCLA had the Huskies in the Rose Bowl. But you can at least make the argument that UCLA looked as good, if not better, against Washington as Ohio State did.
Ohio State is ranked #10, and UCLA, before that cataclysmic Utah game, was ranked #11. Could it be that UCLA should, actually, be ranked among the top 15 teams or so in the country?
Or could it be, like we said last week, that Ohio State is vastly over-rated, as is all of the Big 10 every year?
The tragedy is, we might not never know just how good this UCLA team actually is, or what they could have been this year, if they continue to be their worst enemy like they have been the last two weeks. If UCLA, indeed, is actually a top 15 national team and they allowed Utah to roll over them like they did then that's beyond preposterous. There aren't words to describe how angering that is. It's one thing if UCLA actually wasn't very good and Utah had a legitimate reason to be competitive with UCLA. But if the Bruins are legitimately good enough to be a top 15-ranked team and allowed Utah to destroy them that's reason enough to question the coaching and leadership of the program.
Then, this week, they almost shot themselves in the foot often enough that they put the game against Washington, that shouldn't have been close, into question.
UCLA, in the first half, had 8 penalties for 62 yards, one that cost them a punt return for a touchdown and others that did their damndest to either stop a UCLA drive or aid a Washington drive. There was the bad turnover on a Washington punt when the ball bounced and hit Michael Norris in the head and Washington recovered in UCLA territory. There were a number of times when UCLA's unit on the field was disorganized and didn't look like they had any idea what they were doing before the ball was snapped. When Washington went ahead, 7-3, on a touchdown pass to Marce Reece from Jake Locker (as a result of the field position gained by Norris's snafu), it was on a play that came after two timeouts, giving UCLA ample time to get its defense set. But when Washington lined up, UCLA's defensive players were hopping around confused, and Reece, Washington's best receiver and the guy the defense definitely should have been keeping track of, wandered into the endzone unguarded and wide open. UCLA returned to its Dorrellian aspect of having to call timeouts on offense because it couldn't get the play in on time.
There was also the issue of a tailback who has a whole the size of a Mack truck to run through, untouched, and is five yards ahead of any defender heading for the end zone, who then gets run down from behind like he was standing still. To his credit, Chris Markey ran better in this game than he did in the first three of the season. He was running north to south and breaking tackles. And, if you're giving out credit, you have to give him some for being smart enough to run through a huge whole when it's created for you by your offensive line. But man, you also have to hit yourself in the forehead when Markey has a clear path to the endzone, out ahead of any Washington defender by five yards, and is run down from behind like he was running in quicksand. That play should have been a touchdown but UCLA only got a field goal out of it. Ultimately, because of the wild second half, it didn't mean much, but if the game had come down to four points, it certainly would have. Markey, in the second half, busted another – the same kind of play with a huge hole and no one touching him -- and luckily he did it without a Washington defensive back but only a linebacker in the vicinity to try to run him down.
UCLA just simply didn't take advantage of so many opportunities in this game early and gave Washington so many that, at half time, with the score 10-10, and with UCLA clearly out-playing Washington, there wasn't a Bruin fan alive who didn't think UCLA could give away this game.
But then there was the wild second half. There was only 20 points scored total in the first half, and then 55 in the second half. And even though it was completely different than the first half, and it was in different ways, UCLA still showed that it was a clearly better team but very willing to help Washington stay in the game.
UCLA was up 24-10 after the third quarter, after it had played easily its best quarter of the season. It scored its first touchdown of the second half on its first series, driving 62 yards, which was easily its best drive of the season. After a first half of UCLA primarily running the ball, obviously wanted to get Patrick Cowan feeling comfortable before they asked him to throw much, UCLA came out in the second half and was effective in its short passing game. Combining that with the holes it was getting on the ground, UCLA's offense looked impressively balanced driving the field, capping it off with an 8-yard touchdown run by Kahlil Bell.
So, it's then 17-10.
UCLA's defense then looked very good, shutting down Washington in its three drives of the quarter. The Huskies had two three-and-outs in a row, where they gained a total of 7 yards, and looked overwhelmed by UCLA's defense. On its third possession of the quarter, Washington actually got one first down, but then UCLA's safety Dennis Keyes stepped in front of a lazy Locker pass and took it to the house, and UCLA was up 24-10.
It was a time when you were thinking UCLA was looking like it was getting this game under control, and if it could possibly play a fairly clean fourth quarter, UCLA could put some cushion points on the board and Washington will be challenged to add to its 10 points.
Whenever you're brave enough to actually start believing in this team, the Football Gods swat you down with a rolled up newspaper to your nose like a puppy.
Within just a few minutes the Bruin world went topsy turvy again. Cowan throws an interception that leads to a touchdown, and Washington comes up from being pinned to the mat to only trailing 24-17. And then, on top of it, Cowan, during the interception, hyper-extends his knee and is on the sideline for the rest of the game with a towel on his head.
I guess there is just no way to stem the tide of the overwhelmingly farcical force of nature that is UCLA's football program. After a half of slapstick, it looks like UCLA is starting to put things together. But then, within just a couple of minutes, UCLA goes from its best quarter of the season -- looking like it could step up and become the team we all expect it to be – to being up just one touchdown with 13 minutes left in the game and led by a walk-on quarterback.
Like we said last week, strap yourself in because the season's going to be a rollercoaster ride.
And the rest of the game certainly was. Chris Markey then explodes for the 72-yard burst that puts UCLA up 31-17. Ah, that nice cushion again. But don't get comfortable. A little over a minute later, Washington scores on a 63-yard touchdown pass and it's 31-24. Then, literally ten seconds later, Matt Slater returns the kick-off for a touchdown and it's 38-24.
How's this for farcical? UCLA wins the game, 41-31, and the last 17 points it scores it does so without its walk-on quarterback having to throw one pass.
Whooo…oooo…(that's the sound of the roller coaster that we all should get very used to.)
And the ultimate farce: Cowan, after being hurt for the first three weeks of the season, takes over the starting quarterback position and looks good. Not fantastic, but at least he's a playmaker, scrambling for first downs and pitching the ball while he's been sacked to a receiver for another first down. The touchdown throw to Dominique Johnson was a beauty, a fade thrown the way it should be thrown, so it's either a touchdown or incomplete. Cowan clearly was making a statement that he deserves to be the starting quarterback, able to do whatever it takes to move the chains and engineer drives. So, UCLA fans, by the end of the third quarter, were saying to themselves, "Great, finally we have some certainty on who should be the starting quarterback…" And then, in slow motion, we see Cowan's knee bend back like a contortionist, and UCLA fans have to collectively have their mouth wide open, stunned. You had to know that the farcical force of Dorrell's program couldn't allow you to be comfortable, right?
It truly is amazing. It's so farcical you would get flatly turned down if you pitched it to studio as a potential movie.
But the question is: Is it really the "Football Gods," or is all the farce, the bad luck, the ups and downs, the roller coaster, just endemic to Dorrell's program?
You can rightly understand why Cowan had the towel over his head on the sideline after he was injured. It's just too much to take. Every Bruin fan in the stands felt like putting a towel over their head, too. Every one watching at home was sitting in front of the TV with a blanket over their head.
You just want to hide from the farce.
But heck, it is entertaining, isn't it? You definitely want to flip to the end of the script to see how this whole thing will end, don't you?
Giving out credit, a ton has to be given to Pat Cowan, for the guts, leadership and moxy he showed Saturday. And even though he was probably what many would consider the player of the game, vying for that honor would also be Matt Slater. Yes, Matt Slater. His kick-off return was the biggest play of the game. With UCLA up by just a touchdown and its one starting quarterback on the sideline with a towel on his head and the other in warm-ups with headaches, those seven points were huge. Plus, is there anyone else on kick-off coverage who can make a tackle besides Slater?
Give credit to Markey, for getting his mojo back and running with conviction.
You also have to give a great deal of credit to UCLA's offensive line. With its best player, Shannon Tevaga out, and coming off a very poor performance against Utah, they were the dominating force that secured the win. With a walk-on quarterback that the coaches were obviously reluctant to have throw the ball, what if UCLA hadn't been able to run the ball for the fourth quarter? They would have given the ball back to Washington pretty quickly and the Huskies very well might have won the game, even with Slater's kick-off return for a touchdown. UCLA ran for 155 yards in the fourth quarter and a whopping 333 yards total, mostly because of huge holes created by UCLA's offensive line.
Give some credit to Jay Norvell, for having to manage a pretty daunting situation. First, having to call a game to get a quarterback comfortable who's been out for four weeks; for recognizing that his offensive line would be able to run against Washington; for putting together a few balanced series; and for not being afraid to go to the trick play. Brandon Breazell's receiver pass to Terrence Austin was something we had seen them going over in practice for weeks and we were wondering if it was going to be another situation where they practice it but don't use it, like in years past.
But because of the Farcical Force of Nature, it definitely was a win that you couldn't quite feel completely satisfied about.
It's kind of how you feel coming off the roller coaster – exhilarated but a bit queasy.