Oregon State Game Review

Trailing in the fourth quarter, UCLA finally overcomes its mistakes and takes advantage of OSU's uncanny sequence of its own mistakes, to win 40-14. The Bruin D stepped up and took control, and, again, had to make up for its low-probability offense...

You'll take ‘em any way you can get ‘em.

That's what just about every UCLA fan was saying at the end of UCLA's victory over Oregon State Saturday in Corvallis, 40-14.

But you also were probably saying, "What a mess of game that was."

If you want to condemn the UCLA administration for hiring Karl Dorrell, consider that the two finalists for the job were Dorrell and OSU's Mike Riley.

That had to be one of the ugliest games in recent memory. Well, maybe not, since there has been quite a bit of ugliness in the last four and a half years.

Is this too harsh? After all, UCLA won the game, on the road. They're 4-1 and 3-0 in the Pac-10.

So, let's give them credit for the win. The Bruins perservered through quite a bit of adversity, some really poor and sloppy play, some bad breaks and, again, their unwieldy offense, to overcome the Beavers.

You have to give the players credit for continuing to fight, when it looked like they very well could lose a game of futility, 14-12.

But, then, in the last 9 minutes of the game, Riley's Beavers showed that they could out-bonehead the Bruins.

That kick-off return by the Beavers with 9 minutes left in the game has to go down as one of the top-ten blow-its in college football in recent years. Then, to have another kick-off fumbled and lost by the same team within a minute is uncanny.

Heck, the Beavers fumbled the next kick-off, too, and would have lost it if the field had been five yards wider, or they played in Canada.

The Beavers then managed three plays without giving the ball to UCLA. Consider that a major success since the fourth play was a blocked punt.

So, let's review:

-- Beaver's allow UCLA a 69-yard touchdown on a bubble screen.
-- UCLA kicks off, and Beavers fumble, leading to a UCLA touchdown.
-- UCLA kicks off, and Beavers fumble, leading to a UCLA touchdown.
-- UCLA kicks off, and Beavers fumble, but it luckily, for the Beavers, rolls out of bounds.
-- Beavers have three offensive plays (one of them a pretty bad sack).
-- Beavers have their punt blocked, leading to a UCLA touchdown.

If you were cynical, you'd say there was something going on here, like some payola being slipped into the pads of #5, Gerard Lawson, or Mike Riley himself, to throw this game and allow UCLA to cover the spread.

Couldn't the Beavs have just done this early on in the game so we wouldn't have had to go through three and a half quarters of pain? The guys paying off the Beavers have to deliver the package at the beginning of the game.

Luckily, the majority of the nation only scans the scores of west coast games and doesn't really know how the games went. If they look at "UCLA 40, Oregon State 14," they'll think the Bruins dominated OSU and could possibly be living up to its pre-season, top-25 ranking.

But if you were one of the unlucky ones who actually watched the first three and a half quarters, you know that wasn't really the case.

Maybe it'd be better, if you're a Bruin fan, just to forget the game, forget the fact that UCLA was still trailing with 9:25 left, and only file the score and the win in your memory banks.

Just remember 40-14.

And if you just want to remember that, you probably shouldn't read on.

Before Oregon State wore the dunce hat, UCLA had it on for the first three and a half quarters.

UCLA was probably the better team, with more talent. But there are so many elements of this program that seem not to take advantage of their obvious edge.

And all of those elements always seem to be related to UCLA's offense.

We said it a couple of weeks ago, and it bears repeating: UCLA's offense under Dorrell is a failure. Such a complicated offense can't work consistently in college, utilizing college players. Its philosophy of a short passing game based on precision, timing, split-second decision-making and exact execution demands too much from 20-year-olds to consistently produce. The only time in four years when Dorrell's offense has been successful was when it had Drew Olson, a fifth-year senior quarterback with some guts, and two NFL players, Maurice Jones-Drew and Marcedes Lewis. And it only did well that year, in 2005, when, after three quarters of a game, it couldn't move the ball and it came down to the offense having to throw the ball down the field and those three somewhat abandoning the offensive scheme to improvise and make plays. They were probably drawing up plays on their palm in the huddle.

Everything that was bad about the Oregon State game was related to UCLA's offense. First, of course, is the inability to gain yards, which is a pretty big one. But the Bruin mistakes – the penalties, burning unnecessary timeouts, and the turnovers – are all a result of this offense. Heck, 7 of the 14 points scored by OSU were given to it by UCLA's offense.

Imagine if you plugged in, say, Texas Tech's offense into this program – to go along with the talent and UCLA's defense. There probably wouldn't be any issues, would there? Would anyone probably be complaining? (I mean, other than those Cranks that are complaining that Ben Howland can't win the big one.)

Again, it's all about the offense.

UCLA has a decent amount of talent, and it's the coaches' primary job to put that talent in its best position to succeed, which this offense hasn't done.

There are some that insist Dorrell's offense needs to be scrapped, but realistically that's not possible. It's not just that it's too deep into Dorrell's tenure to switch to something else, but Dorrell doesn't know anything else.

If Dorrell ultimately fails to keep his job at UCLA it will be because of his dogged dedication to this offense. It's like a ship, and Dorrell is a stubborn captain, and it's his only vessel. He's decided he's either going to sail the mother, or go down with it.

Four and a half years into the voyage, the ship is listing.

This game was a vivid representation of Dorrell's program and how it's being dragged down by his offense. The defense, under DeWayne Walker, has shown in the last season and a half, that it can be good, and it was good Saturday. The game showed that UCLA can get enough talent, even when it's not recruiting on the elite level that it can, to beat an average Pac-10 opponent on the road.

But it again illustrated that the offense is going to be the program's undoing.

The defense held OSU to just 248 yards. But it's also the way the defense did it that was impressive. Every time they made a stop, UCLA's offense would sputter and put the pressure right back on the defense to produce – and it did. Time and time again. UCLA's defense allowed OSU to score only 7 points.

What was also impressive was how the defense improved and adjusted. In the first quarter, the Beavers were slicing right through UCLA's D, able to run very easily and even Sean Canfield, OSU's own beleaguered lefty quarterback, had some success.

In fact, OSU looked like they had the game in hand by the end of the first quarter. They were able to move the ball and UCLA's offense, of course, couldn't. And then, leading 14-0, the Beavers sacked Olson twice to start the second quarter. It looked pretty bleak. But then the UCLA defense took control of the game. From then on out, OSU couldn't move the ball. UCLA looked like a completely different defense. Oregon State gained 147 yards in the first quarter, and then just 101 in the last three quarters.

That's a good defensive scheme, devised by a good coach, that's also able to make adjustments to be effective.

Unlike the offense.

I remember my first day of high school football as a freshman. My old, concussion-raddled freshman coach, who could barely complete a sentence, said something that was, actually, brilliant in its simplicity: "I'll tell you the secret to football. The offense knows what it's going to do and the defense doesn't. The offense has the element of surprise and it should never lose it." I grew up always thinking of that, and seeing how it repeatedly proved to be true while observing football, and how it could be applied to life.

And it's still proving itself to be true watching UCLA's offense. UCLA's offense has given up the element of surprise. There is no surprise to its running game. There is no misdirection. Its philosophy is: We know what we're going to do, and you know what we're going to do, but we're going to do it so well you can't stop it.

Yeah, well, it's proving that it's difficult to do that well enough unless you have ten-year NFL veterans.

And that's just the running game. The philosophy behind UCLA's passing game is even more mind-boggling. It seems a vast majority of the time it consists of dink-dink-post. First down, throw for five yards. Second down, throw behind the line of scrimmage to a receiver. Then, on third and 8, throw it deep down field to a streaking receiver.

The second thing I learned in life (the first being that nugget from my freshman football coach) came from some nice, gum-smacking old woman I met at a craps table in Caesar's Palace when I was 21 years old: You have to always play the odds. If you have any sense or logic, you are perpetually making decisions based on a quick assessment of probability. If I roll dice, how often will they come up seven? Can I change lanes fast enough to get to the off-ramp? Would it be smart to move to the other check-out line? Is this woman I'm talking to in the bar worth the five drinks I'm going to have to buy her?

Life is about risk/reward assessment. We're just all little risk-reward assessment machines going through life.

There are many physicists all over the world that, in fact, spend all their time working out the odds of certain occurrences and probabilities. I'd love to know how they would assess the probability of UCLA's dink-dink-post passing game. What are the odds that you can progress at ten-yard increments with this approach? Isn't it more likely to advance if you attempt 12-30 yard passes, rather than one five-yarder, another five-yarder, and then a 50-yard bomb? Isn't it more worth the risk to attempt a 15-yard pass than two five-yard passes?

These are legitimate and just not rhetorical questions. It'd be interesting to actually find out – if there has ever been a study in college football of the percentage of completion on, say, five-yard passes as compared to 12-yard passes and 40+-yard passes. And then to figure the risk-reward in terms of gaining first downs.

We'd probably find that the risk-reward for two five-yard passes and then a bomb, when you want to move at ten-yard increments, are most likely lower-probability ventures compared to three twelve-yard passes.

Dorrell's offense, on the college level, doesn't make risk-reward sense.

So, UCLA has that going against it – then add up some of the things that happened in the first three quarters – like the penalties, turnovers and general mistakes and blunders – and it makes it far more imperative that this offense utilize better risk-reward ventures. Because, as UCLA has repeatedly discovered with its offense, and almost discovered Saturday, you need to score enough to make up for this offense's mistakes if you're going to win.

UCLA's offense, as it has in its first three games, repeatedly shot itself in the foot in this game. When UCLA was looking at a 14-12 score with 9:30 left in the game, every single Bruin fan was starting to believe that it was entirely probable that UCLA, which had taken over the game because of its defense, would lose this game because of its shooting-itself-in-the-foot, bad risk-reward offense. How many times could OSU practically hand the game to UCLA in the first three quarters, with botched special teams, bonehead mistakes or turnovers – but the Bruins were too obtuse themselves to take advantage of it? With OSU, luckily, it was just a matter of time until that sequence took place at 9:30 left in the game.

Luckily, UCLA's players, sometimes, also eventually step up and succeed despite the offensive scheme. That is -- sometimes -- that's why Bruin fans were thinking there was a good chance UCLA would continue its offensive futility for the last 9 ½ minutes and lose, 14-12.

But Brandon Breazell, who has definitely emerged as the lone, consistent playmaker in what has been billed as a deep receivers group, made an individual play. It is a low-percentage probability, that a receiver will break a slip screen to the house. But, again, not even the scheme can keep the players down for long.

Ben Olson, also, was able to overcome the scheme at times and succeed. In the fourth quarter, when Olson, who was under constant pressure from OSU (being sacked three times) took his highly predictable conventional drop, as he so often is asked to do in this offense, he stepped up to avoid the pressure and did what he does best, throw down the field in the 15-30 yard range, hitting, of course, Breazell for a pretty 30-yard touchdown that put the score at 33-14. Has there been a moment so far this season when Olson looked more comfortable and in his element? Is it really that difficult to see? This is what the personnel in UCLA's passing game probably does best. Olson is easily better at throwing intermediate to longer passes, and most of UCLA's receivers are better at getting open in that range. Doesn't it make sense to occasionally move the launching point for the immobile Olson, at least a few times a game, and let him look 15-30 yards down the field? The UCLA coaches are trying so hard to make Olson into something he isn't rather than taking advantage of what he does best.

The third thing I learned in life – and this one came from a very experienced college basketball coach – is: Scout yourself. Know your own limitations and really exploit the things you do best to succeed.

This is the life lesson where UCLA's offense really fails. Not only does it fail to take advantage of where its offensive talent lies, it is dogged in its one-minded idea to pursue something that you have to determine, after 4 ½ years, isn't working. If Dorrell scouted himself well, he'd have some sort of self-realization that the offense isn't working. But Dorrell, with his athlete and military family background, is all about keeping the nose to the grindstone, thinking positively and having faith and hope that it will eventually pay off. It was never more evident than in his post-practice interview from Thursday; when asked about whether Osaar Rasshan would possibly be the third-string quarterback on Saturday he didn't even want to think about such negativity, since that would mean your first- and second-string quarterbacks had gone down. You'd have to wonder, if Dorrell had a lifetime contract with UCLA and could never be fired, how long would he continue to pursue this offense? We could be 20 years into it and maybe have a few good offensive seasons, but he'd still be plugging away, with no chance at a realization that the probability of it being consistently successful on the college level isn't likely.

While Texas Tech, with not near the talent that UCLA has but taking advantage of its talent in a spread offense, is putting up an average of 54.6 points per game.

But we won't be greedy and unreasonable and ask Dorrell to completely scrap this offense. We'll compromise. Can't the offense please be a little less predictable on where Olson sets up and then have him throw down the field in the 15-30 yard range more often? Can't, at least, Offensive Coordinator Jay Norvell make some tweaks like this? Heck, we'll take that to go along with this pretty good running game at this point.

Again, a great deal of credit for this game has to go out to UCLA's defense and its players on both sides of the ball. The defense was very impressive, allowing OSU just 248 total yards and just 146 passing, a team that last week on the road against Arizona State gained 514 total yards and 324 through the air. So far this season there had been no real indication that UCLA had the capability of playing like a top 25 team – until the game the defense delivered on Saturday. And on offense, UCLA's talent will squeak through the scheme and find itself some success, and it did it here. Not only was Breazell exceptional, but the running backs, Kahlil Bell and Chris Markey, who left the game for a while with turf toe but returned, ran hard, gaining 138 yards between them. This was an OSU defense that was giving up just 29 yards per game on the ground and UCLA finished with 133 net yards. After being stuffed for the first quarter, the offensive line started to create some holes and Bell and Markey hit them hard.

This could also be considered a positive step forward for Ben Olson, who finished with 220 yards on 14-of-25 for two touchdowns and one interception, on the road. On one third down, he looked Cowan-esque, improvising a quick flick of a pass when close to being sacked for a first down. There were a couple of offensive sequences when he got in a rhythm and was hitting his short throws, too.

This was a big win for the Bruins. With the way they were playing, going on the road, against a good OSU defense, there wasn't a high probability they'd win it.

With this offense, they'll need more performances that defy probability the rest of the season.

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