Notre Dame Game Review

UCLA suffers one of its worse losses under Karl Dorrell, falling to previously winless Notre Dame, 20-6, at the Rose Bowl. There are a few half-hearted points to make in the aftermath of the game, but there truly isn't much to say since most UCLA fans should be stunned and speechless...

There just isn't much to say after UCLA lost to Notre Dame Saturday night in the Rose Bowl, 20-6.


Basketball practice starts this week?

UCLA is definitely a basketball school in the Karl Dorrell/Ben Howland era.

But that doesn't mean it couldn't quickly become a football school, if...

But let's not go there.

If you want to talk about the game...then you're a masochist.

But here goes...

It probably was the worst defeat in Dorrell's career at UCLA. There probably weren't too many times his Bruins were favored by three touchdowns and lost by 14 points. Perhaps the schelacking at Arizona in 2005.

Whether it rings the death knell for Dorrell at UCLA is debatable.

It certainly was a game that just about every Bruin fan had thought would be a win in the last few weeks when projecting the UCLA season record. With a loss against lowly Notre Dame, it really makes UCLA's quest for a winning season challenging, to say the least. The prospect of heading into the tough part of UCLA's schedule is daunting; UCLA's first six opponents have a combined record of 14-19, and UCLA's last six opponents are 23-10.

And the prospect of doing it with a completely unknown situation at quarterback is almost chilling.

Since last week, when we wrote some very long and well-conceived thoughts to support some conclusions, most of the message board posters that were contentious picked away at how we came to the conclusions – but not many could refute the conclusion.

So, instead, this week, we're just going to draw conclusions without too much supporting argument.

After four and a half seasons, it's time to conclude that Karl Dorrell's offense is a failure. Whether you want to say the West Coast Offense can't succeed on the college level or not is, really, moot. The fact is that Dorrell's version of the West Coast Offense hasn't succeeded on the college level. It'd be interesting to see if, with this same playbook, but with a different, less-conservative philosophy, more imaginative playcalling and more willingness to exploit the strengths of the players you have, if the offense could succeed. My bet is that it could.

DeWayne Walker's defense is good, and played a very good game. It allowed Notre Dame just 140 total yards. While Notre Dame, admittedly, has a horrible offense, it still was a very good defensive performance. The Fighting Irish had only one run from scrimmage that went over 10 yards, and that was for an 11-yard gain. They averaged 1.2 yards per carry. UCLA's defense, arguably, didn't give up any of Notre Dame's 20 points, unless you want to say they allowed the Irish that one, 29-yard drive to put them in field position after McLeod Bethel-Thompson was sacked on a fourth down at UCLA's 40-yard line. The seniors – Dennis Keyes, Trey Brown, Chris Horton and Bruce Davis -- all had good games.

So, in other words, UCLA's offense can score points. It essentially scored 23 points total – six of its own and 17 for Notre Dame.

And since the subject of "Football 101" has repeatedly come up since Dorrell mentioned it condescendingly toward the media in an interview, we do have to go there when discussing this game.

If we did, indeed, take a Football 101 class, in the week that the professor discussed strategy, you'd have to ask: Is it smart to call a pass play on fourth and 1, with an empty backfield and no doubt that you're going to throw, with a walk-on quarterback playing in his first significant game, when you have a couple of running backs who are very good at picking up short-yardage first downs?

I'd also have to raise my hand and ask: With a walk-on quarterback, playing in his first significant game, wouldn't you want to run the ball predominantly, since you have a good running game, rather than put that quarterback in the position to commit five turnovers (one fumble was committed by Ben Olson) and be sacked five times, which basically lost the game for you?

When Ben Olson went out of the game with his strained knee, it was on the play where he fumbled and Notre Dame subsequently kicked a field goal. So, the game was tied, 3-3, by the end of the first quarter.

UCLA, up to that point, had run for a respectable 36 yards and had shown it could run against the Irish, which we all knew coming into the game. UCLA's running game, too, is notorious for starting slow and then, as it loosens up the opposing front seven, really then starting to gain some yards as the game progresses. It's perplexing that UCLA chose to throw the ball predominantly with Bethel-Thompson rather than run the ball with Kahlil Bell and Chane Moline. UCLA finished with just 89 yards rushing, which is shocking for an offense that was averaging 199 yards on the ground per game, going up against truly a poor rush defense.

It's perplexing that, for UCLA's first five games, you were itching for them to throw the ball more often with Ben Olson and Patrick Cowan. At least, throw more on first down. Then, when they have to go to their third-string, walk-on quarterback you naturally, and understandably, expect them to get conservative and run the ball, but they go to the air. UCLA attempted 33 pass plays with Bethel-Thompson in three quarters and, admittedly, that is a little skewed since UCLA was playing comeback in the fourth quarter. But for the second and third quarters, when UCLA didn't have to really play catch-up and just needed to move the ball, it was mind-boggling to watch how much they threw the ball with Bethel-Thompson. It's almost as if that was the set game plan with Olson and, even though it was now Bethel-Thompson running the offense, the UCLA offensive mind trust couldn't think quickly enough on its feet to change the game plan.

Notre Dame understood the winning game plan on Saturday. It understood that, among these two teams, especially with two young, inexperienced quarterbacks running the offenses, the team that made the least amount of turnovers and mistakes would win. While Notre Dame was playing it conservatively, trying to put their young offensive players in a position to not make mistakes, UCLA was almost flippantly putting its even more inexperienced quarterback in a position to make mistakes.

Ironically, for four and a half years, UCLA observers have been clamoring for UCLA to be less conservative offensively. But if there ever was a game to go conservative, this was it, and UCLA didn't.

Downright strange. Inexplicable.

Some are questioning, now, that Dorrell moved Osaar Rasshan to receiver from quarterback. It wasn't a questionable move. What people are missing is that Rasshan was moved to receiver because Bethel-Thompson was better than Rasshan. He had beaten him out as the third-string quarterback. What you should be questioning is that Karl Dorrell, in five years of recruiting, has only brought in two quarterbacks who, this season, can play at the Pac-10 level. And, boys, that's counting Ben Olson and Patrick Cowan as the two quarterbacks, so, for many Cranks, that's even stretching it. He got Cowan, who wasn't a big recruiting coup by any means, but give Dorrell credit for finding a Pac-10 level back-up quarterback in a guy that most thought, coming out of high school, was a Big Sky guy. He brought in Olson, who has been a disappointment. He got Rasshan, who was moved to receiver because he couldn't beat out a walk-on for the third-string quarterback position. And he brought in Chris Forcier, who could end up being a good get but is really light years off in being able to produce on the field, both physically and mentally.

So, if you want to give Dorrell the excuse that he's lost his two quarterbacks, you can. It's fair. But, to be fair, you also have to point out that UCLA should have a very good redshirt sophomore or redshirt freshman quarterback in the system who could, at least, operate a bare-bones version of Dorrell's offense to lead them to a win over a three-touchdown underdog at home. Even Tavita Pritchard would have sufficed.

We've said that Dorrell's demise could be his offense. It also might end up being his quarterback recruiting. It definitely was a major factor in sinking Bob Toledo's ship at UCLA. He went many years, after Cade McNown, without getting a top-notch quarterback and there's a case you could make, that if he had, indeed, brought in one, or if he had been able to keep J.P. Losman, Toledo very well might have been at UCLA longer.

The quarterback position is unlike any other in any sport. It's just too highly important not to make it the biggest priority in recruiting. It seems that some coaching staffs start to arrogantly believe that their offensive system is so good that they don't necessarily need a superstar but can plug in someone competent and their offense will still be good. But, time and time again, college football itself has refuted that arrogance. We've said in the past that college sports is all about coaching and recruiting, but there's a small addendum to that in regard to football. It's about coaching, recruiting, and quarterback recruiting.

Looking down the road of the remaining games of the season, it doesn't look good for UCLA, or its fans. It's been a tough year so far, and it looks to get tougher. And this was supposed to be the year. Every fan, on either side of the Dorrell equation, has to admit that this was the year the program has been pointing to as the one.

And it very well might be the one. And the Notre Dame game might very well might be remembered as the game.

But it's getting to the point that the arguments among UCLA fans, among the Blues and the Cranks, are just too old and worn -- just sound and fury signifying nothing. The Cranks will tiringly call for Dorrell's job now and the Blues will cite the injury excuse and hold out hope for a Pac-10 championship.

But after the Notre Dame loss, most UCLA fans should be thoughtless and speechless. The only solace (and it's actually considerable) was what happened across town at the Coliseum last night.

But in the afermath of Notre Dame, to twist a Bruce Sprinsteen lyric, there isn't much for a UCLA fan to do but stand back and let it all be.

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