Review of the WSU Game

The roller coaster ride is endless...One week UCLA is up and the next it's down. It beats then-#9-ranked Cal one week, to lose to lowly Washington State the next week, 27-7. The last hopes of a successful season, along with a Pac-10 championship, are waning...

The roller coaster analogy is getting tired.

But is there any other analogy that so reflects going up and down and getting nauseous like we are with this UCLA football season?

UCLA again hit a low, losing to a poor Washington State team in Pullman, 27-7.

This really was so predictable. All Bruin fans knew very clearly that, after beating #9 ranked Cal last week, and playing its best game of the season, UCLA could very likely lose against WSU, and play one of its worst games of the season.

You could, actually, get in a very prolonged argument over what has been UCLA's worst game of the season.

And this one wasn't probably as bad as Utah or Notre Dame.

I know, little consolation.

But very simply, UCLA's defense, even though it gave up 545 yards, still had UCLA in the game. Early in the 4th quarter, UCLA had the ball, down only 13-7 – just one touchdown away from winning it.

You can't blame the D. It was on the field defending against Washington State for a whopping 38 minutes, with UCLA's offense possessing the ball for a measley 22 minutes. It's understandable that you'd give up 545 yards when the other team has the ball for 38 minutes and attempts 98 plays. It's commendable that you'd give up only 13 points halfway through the fourth quarter and still had your team in a position to win.

And this is a defense that definitely can play the injury card, too. There are times when you looked out on the field at UCLA's defense against Washington State and couldn't recognize most of the players and saw uniforms that looked like they had never been touched. UCLA was without four of its front starting seven for this game.

And there might be many that cite the fact that UCLA gave up 274 yards on the ground to a Washington State team that was averaging only 108 yards rushing per game. It certainly made WSU's decent tailback, Dwight Tardy, look like Emmitt Smith. But, on the other hand, it was probably a very smart tactical move to concede Washington State rushing yards. UCLA was without many of its best run stoppers, including Brigham Harwell and Christian Taylor (perhaps its two best overall defensive players, too), so it was probably inevitable that UCLA would give up yards on the ground. It used a nickel alignment primarily, with just two linebackers, and generally two linebackers who are only back-up quality players. So, tactically, if you give Washington State room on the ground, they'll be compelled to run, which they were, running the ball 51 times. And they'll have to utilize the run to move the ball down the field in small increments, killing the clock and keeping the score down. It was effective in keeping one of the best passing offenses in the country relatively under wraps, with WSU gaining below their average through the air (271 yards through the air, which has to mark a first in recent Cougar history when their running game actually produced more yards than their passing game), and not benefitting from the big pass play, which their offense relies on.

If that was the defensive game plan, given how UCLA was without some key defensive personnel, it worked.

But UCLA's offense, once again, couldn't live up to its end.

When UCLA's defense stopped Washington State on a goal-line stand and then Kevin Brown blocked the Cougar field goal at the end of the fourth quarter, that was just about as much as you could possibly expect the UCLA defense to do. It handed the ball back to UCLA's offense, with plenty of time, and within striking distance. But UCLA's offense proceeded to go through three three-and-outs in a row, again putting the responsibility of the game back onto UCLA's defense.

But don't be mistaken, the responsibility of this game rides on the shoulders of the offense.

Once again, this failure of an offense failed to produce. It gained a total of 267 yards against perhaps the worst defense in the Pac-10 and one of the dozen or so worst in the country. Kahlil Bell busted a run on UCLA's first possession for 50 yards, and that means that UCLA's offense gained just 217 yards during the rest of the game. It didn't have bad field position; in fact, it generally started drives in decent to good field position. It just, plainly, is a poor offense that doesn't work.

Now, since we're letting the UCLA defense use the injury excuse, you have to look at its availability for UCLA's offense, too. UCLA did lose its best running back, Kahlil Bell, early on, to a knee injury, and its best receiver, Brandon Breazell, to a rib injury. Those are significant losses. But, still, wasn't it Chris Markey who the coaching staff tapped as the #1 running back on this team anyway? And you can't use the Ben Olson excuse since just about everyone has conceded that Patrick Cowan is the more effective quarterback (which brings up another mis-evaluation by the coaching staff of its own personnel). Breazell is a loss, true, but UCLA has every one of its offensive line starters intact, and its other starting receiver, and its tight end. It is missing its starting fullback in Michael Pitre, but, realistically, the fullback position impacts this offense so minimally anyway.

And was the loss of Breazell really that significant of one? If UCLA were, perhaps, up against a tough passing defense it would be. But Washington State's passing defense is horrendous, 104th in the nation. In this game, UCLA didn't need Breazell necessarily because the receivers it did have were pretty open. Cowan, also, had plenty of time to throw the ball generally. But UCLA's passing scheme is so poor that it couldn't succeed, even when given such easy opportunities.

This was a case of a bad offense, bad game plan.

With a WSU defense that was giving wide swaths of the field to UCLA to throw into, UCLA's passing game couldn't do it. Some of it definitely was execution. Cowan missed on a number of throws he should have made and there were some dropped balls. But, if you watched Washington State play at all this year it was easy to see a huge vulnerability to passes down the middle of field about 15-30 yards. If you go back and record UCLA's passing attempts, it might be difficult to find one that would fall into that category. UCLA's passing game consists of 3-to-8 yard throws, a receiver slip screen and then a post.

While there have been some frustrating games watching UCLA's offense this season, this one could very possibly have been the most frustrating. With the quarterback getting a good amount of protection, why wouldn't UCLA merely attempt a couple of 20-yard slants or hitches? It's inexplicable.

Everyone has said how complicated the Dorrell offense is, and that's the reason why college players have struggled with it. But, realistically, how difficult can it be when you're only running a handful of plays? You have those same limited passing plays, and then very little variety in the running game beyond a dive or a stretch. If your playbook is a couple of dozen plays, say, why is this offense so difficult?

We've speculated, and UCLA fans have endlessly speculated, about what there is about Dorrell's offense that fails. But, at this point, it's beyond trying to find the reason. There must be some deep-seated flaw. In this game it looked like a really poor game plan, where UCLA failed to take advantage of Washington State's obvious weaknesses in their pass defense. But who knows at this point?

There are some props to give out. While many of his young, inexperienced counterparts on the interior defensive line were getting pushed off the ball a few yards, Kevin Brown was in there fighting the good fight. It's tough for him, because if, perhaps, he gets beat on one play there is no one else there to cover for him. Every time he did get beat WSU had a huge run. But he played well, and had that block of a field goal. Bruce Davis was double-teamed often but still disrupted WSU's offense, especially on some key plays. Safety Chris Horton missed a couple of tackles but also was all around the ball and had some good hits. Even though the secondary got rung up with many PIs, they still generally didn't allow Washington State to beat them deep.

It definitely makes you appreciate the work that Christian Taylor does every week. Without him, there was a considerably huge amount of real estate in the middle of the field for Tardy and his co-horts to run through. But UCLA's defense, without Taylor, which is the equivalent of losing Patrick Cowan for the offense, did much better in this one, keeping UCLA in the game, than UCLA's offense did against Notre Dame without Cowan.

UCLA fans are just about spent. I don't want to write anymore because I truly don't feel there's anyone out there that wants to read anymore.

So, succinctly, where do we go from here? Well, we've proven it's futile to try to predict how this season will go. We'll concede that we've never been worse at predicting games than this season. It's hard to know where you're going when you're riding a roller coaster with a blind fold.

We do see some trends, however. If UCLA plays against a team with a good, experienced quarterback, on the road, they're in trouble. The season is pretty much up to UCLA's defense. With it depleted from injury, it not only is going to have to limit other teams' scoring but create some points itself for UCLA to win. It either actually scored the winning points itself or created the situation in its victories over Cal, Oregon State, and Washington.

If you predict what UCLA would typically do, you could easily see the Bruins losing to Arizona on the road next week, coming back for a big victory over Arizona State at home, then, with expectations growing over a bye week, losing to Oregon in a blow out. And then finishing off the season by scraping out a win against USC.

If they did, in fact, go 2-2 in their remaining games, which would have to be considered a decent finish given where the team is right now, they'd finish the season at 7-5, and in line for a no-name bowl game.

At this point, 7-5 and a minor bowl game would be expecting a lot. But if that did happen, there is still some tarnish on this season. While many fans go up and down on the Bruin roller coaster, getting high over Cal and low over Notre Dame and Washington State, there's no denying the underlying, ligering nausea. When UCLA beat Cal most UCLA fans couldn't get behind it completely, because the Tums just wasn't beating down that overall queasiness. It could be because there have been far more dips on the ride than peaks, and that will inevitably get you sick. It's also that the expectation of the 10+ win season isn't conceivable now after the loss to Washington State, and winning the Pac-10 conference, which was what many were pointing to as the potential salvation of the season, looks unlikely.

So, it's like a Twilight Zone episode, where we're tied to the seat of the roller coaster, forced to ride endlessly, getting high and low, and after riding it so many times we just can't get over the feeling in the pit of our stomach.


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