Cal Review

Many of the lingering issues about the football program surface in the Cal game, and one in particular. The rest of the season could be an uphill climb...

More than likely, if you're a Bruin fan, you have quite a few different feelings swirling around in the aftermath of Saturday's game against Cal.

And the most disappointing thing is – the feelings you have about the Cal game are the same familiar feelings you've had about UCLA teams in recent years – and the same questions.

But when it comes to all the on-the-field issues, there is one that was quite evident in the Cal game that has probably been the biggest, single problem with UCLA's teams in recent years. It limited UCLA's team last year, and certainly the year before. And instead of laundry-listing all the problems, and getting angrier by all of those swirling feelings, it's possibly better to just focus on this one particular problem and focus that frustration. In analyzing the Cal game it was easy to conclude that this one problem was the primary cause of the loss: pass protection. It's the reason UCLA's offense sputtered. It's the primary reason UCLA's top two quarterbacks left the game injured. It's probably the primary reason UCLA's green, third-string quarterback was disoriented and couldn't execute adequately. Pass protection. It truly has been probably the most frustrating on-the-field issue concerning this program in recent years.

When analzying the pass protection itself in the Cal game, there truly is a team- and coaching-wide culpability. Just about everyone involved in pass protection is to blame for the result on Saturday. And no matter how much you look at it, you definitely can't avoid blaming the offensive line. On the first two sacks, UCLA's tackles were beat one-on-one pretty soundly. On most of the other sacks, Cal was blitzing, sending its linebackers and defensive backs through huge holes, without a UCLA blocker picking them up. On many pass plays where UCLA's quarterback was pressured, a UCLA blocker on one side of the line didn't have anyone to block while a Cal defender blitzed through a hole on the other side of the line untouched. Now, let's concede that this analysis is coming from an untrained eye, but it appears that the offensive line and the entire pass blocking scheme had some pretty considerable breakdowns in this game and was very ill-prepared for Cal's pass rush. It's hard to determine whether Cal altered some things in its pass rush from what it's done previously this season. But it also wasn't just a matter of players beating others, it definitely appeared that Cal's defense knew where to send pressure – and knew when. Cal did an excellent job of scouting UCLA's offensive tendencies.

Now, if this were just a one-time aberration in the last several years, it wouldn't be an issue. But for years this has been a continuing problem with UCLA's offense – its inability to protect its quarterbacks. Yes, Cory Paus isn't the quickest quarterback and sometimes seemingly struggles to get the ball off in time; but in the Cal game, this didn't appear to contribute to the pass protection problems. So, after years of watching this – watching UCLA struggle to protect its quarterback – it's hard to pinpoint what the problem is. Is it that the offensive line just hasn't been very talented at pass protection? Is it that they're getting coached well, but just having mental breakdowns on the field? Is it that they're coached poorly? Is it that UCLA's offense doesn't try to move its quarterback and the pocket around enough? Is it that UCLA's offense is so predictable and so easily scouted that pass blockers are at a disadvantage?

Instead of continuing to whine here, let's throw out some praise for those who deserve it. Truly Tyler Ebell is proving that he's an effective running back and capable of handling UCLA's running responsibilities. It will be particularly great when Manuel White returns and UCLA gets its power runner who can get the 2-3 yards it needs on third and short, which is Ebell's shortcoming. UCLA's defense played an excellent game – all three units, the defensive line, linebackers and defensive backs. The Cal running game had one series in the first half where it actually moved the ball, but was shut down for the rest of the afternoon. UCLA's linebackers continue to be the strength and soul of the defense. UCLA's defensive backs, except for a few mistakes, played very well, limiting Cal's receivers and forcing most of the pressure that Cal's quarterback Kyle Boller felt for the game because his receivers were covered. Safety Ben Emanuel had a particularly good game. UCLA also can have some good special teams play when it goes after it aggressively, blocking two punts in the fourth quarter when it desperately needed it. The team also overall played their butts off and didn't give up.

Not to avoid the lingering issues and those swirling feelings, but it's probably better at this point not to whine about the specific issues concerning the program. The overall, bottom-line here is that the Cal game might have turned up the heat on the seat that Head Coach Bob Toledo is sitting on. Looking ahead at UCLA's schedule, with its fifth-year senior quarterback more than likely out for the season and its second-string true freshman probably out for at least a while, it looks like an extreme uphill climb. Coming off of three seasons with a collective record of 17-17, and currently 4-3, it makes sense that Toledo will have to climb that hill to retain his job. Seven wins and a bowl game would more than likely be the minimum expectation for job salvation.

Still two days after the game, with all of those feeling still swirling, like I wrote on the message board, the only thing I do have straight in my mind is that all Bruin fans should be wishing Cory Paus best wishes at this point. I've known Cory since he was a senior in high school. We've had a pretty good relationship. I've tried to be objective about him, and level some criticism when it was warranted, and praise his play on the field when that was warranted also.

But there is one thing that isn't a matter of opinion or subjectivity when it comes to Cory: He's a great kid who gave this program his heart and soul for five years. He's been through a great deal since he's been at UCLA, more than any fan could know, and he's never given up, never given in, and has come back from some pretty devastating set-backs and just kept trying and working hard. There is so much behind the scenes that the public doesn't know about Cory, and if fans did, they would greatly admire the young man. If you're really a Bruin, and you want UCLA to produce good, young individuals through both its academics and athletics, you should be proud that Cory Paus represented UCLA for the last five years.

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