UCLA played a solid game, and was in a position to come away from a dismal season with a slightly good feeling.
It is a shame that all the seniors, who have been through one of the least successful periods in UCLA football history, couldn't get a little satisfaction.
It seems sometimes life knows what is a fitting end. The people running the universe, when they were devising an end to the Karl Dorrell saga at UCLA, came up with this one and thought, "Yeah, that's fitting."
But we're going to just ignore the missed field goal at the end. Why not? We can do whatever we want, right? Yeah, it would have been nice for UCLA's seniors to get a win in their final game and I'm sure they don't want to hear about moral victories. But really, there was really nothing riding on winning the game. They should legitimately take enough satisfaction from how they played the rest of the game, besides that last play.
This isn't to say that it was an excellently played game. There were plenty of mistakes. That offense is, still, a failure. But the fact that the team, given everything it's been through this season – the injuries, the Dorrell distractions, the head coaching search – still showed its heart. You could see the team was playing hard.
They out-played the #17-ranked team in the country with a fourth-string quarterback.
Interim Head Coach DeWayne Walker didn't do anything that was particularly noteworthy. There was nothing that jumped out at you about this game that indicated clearly, "Hey, this guy can really coach." Of course, it's hard to make drastic changes in three weeks. Walker did, though, get his defense to play a stellar game, had that ill-conceived offense do enough to win the game, and had the players prepared to play.
Now that you think about it, that's more than what Dorrell did many times with the same personnel.
But, if we're talking about an audition for the head coaching position, it wasn't something that you can away from thinking he clearly proved himself to be worthy of being UCLA's head coach.
He certainly can run a defense. UCLA's D kept the tenth-ranked offense in the country to just 265 yards total for the game, and kept them scoreless in the second half. On top of that, you could say the defense was also directly responsible for 10 of UCLA's 16 points. Bruce Davis' sack of Max Hall in the first quarter and subsequent fumble set up UCLA's first field goal. And then, Brian Price's tackle and forced fumble on a Harvey Unga run at the BYU 4-yard line set up UCLA's only touchdown of the day, the pretty pass from McLeod Bethel-Thompson to a diving Brandon Breazell in the back of the end zone.
Sometimes during Dorrell's tenure at UCLA you thought that perhaps the UCLA offense should just punt the ball to the opposing team, and let UCLA's defense try to score some points instead of UCLA's offense.
UCLA allowed BYU just 34 yards on the ground, came up with some big stops, especially a fourth-down stop, and constantly pressured Hall into poor throws. Bruce Davis was key in the defensive effort, coming at Hall with ferociousness and almost taking his head off in his two sacks. But how good is true freshman defensive tackle Brian Price? He was just too quick off the ball for BYU's bigger, slower linemen, constantly in the backfield disrupting the Cougar's running game.
Let's even give some credit to UCLA's offense. It out-gained BYU, 316 to 265, with Chris Markey being the only 100-yard rusher against BYU all season (he had 117 yards on 27 carries). UCLA's running game was very good, especially given that everyone in the stadium knew they were going to run the ball 90% of the time. The offensive line created nice holes and Markey, Christian Ramirez and Chane Moline ran hard through them.
You have to give credit to the walk-on fourth-stringer at quarterback, too. Bethel-Thompson looked quite a bit better than he did against Notre Dame, completing 11 passes for 154 yards. He definitely was getting more and more comfortable and threw the ball fairly accurately. Right now he lacks a feel in the pocket and escapability but, heck, he's a redshirt freshman walk-on. He's not supposed to be the man.
It is, though, clear, that if you actually need a quarterback to give you a chance to complete some passes, he gives you more of a chance than Osaar Rasshan.
There were some bad plays, that made you have to look away. The two muffed punts. The dropped pass on a big third down in the fourth quarter, just a yard away from the first-down marker.
And, of course, the blocked field goal.
But, as we stated above, there wasn't really anything riding on whether UCLA won this game. The biggest curiosity was to see just what Walker could do with the head coach head set. Never in five years under Dorrell were you comfortable with Dorrell's presence on the sideline. You can't really put a finger on it; perhaps it was because, in his first year, when he off-handedly admitted to being "in the way" on the sidelines, that impression stuck with him. Walker, at the very least, looked more like a head coach.
I think Walker showed that, if UCLA can't get a coach with head coaching experience and hired him, it would be a step up from what we've had in the last five years. It wouldn't be keystone cops kind of mess. We've said before that we think Walker, unlike Dorrell, has the inherent chops to be a head coach.
But, at this point, after Dorrell, Bob Toledo, Steve Lavin and even Terry Donahue, that's a combined 37 seasons of guys at the helm who came from being assistant coaches and under-qualified for the job. This isn't to make a case against Walker to be UCLA's head coach, but just generally to remind everyone that there were very intelligent people calling for Lavin to have the interim tag taken off his title, too. Of course, Walker is not Lavin, but remember what is the #1 prevailing element here that has kept down UCLA's football and basketball programs? Hiring under-qualified head coaches.
Again, if UCLA can't find a suitably qualified head coach, I wouldn't feel badly about hiring Walker. It certainly wouldn't be the equivalent of hiring Lavin or Dorrell. With Walker you know, at the very least, he is going to deliver you a good defense year in and year out, which is more you could say for either Lavin or Dorrell. And, from what I've heard, Walker would go out and try to find an offensive coordinator with a dynamic scheme. Just merely with that you have quite an improvement in the program.
So, really, UCLA fans should take a little satisfaction about the coaching search themselves from this game. It showed that if UCLA does hire Walker, he does, indeed, look to have the chops to be a head coach, and would give UCLA a far better chance at having an under-qualified head coach develop into a good one than it has in the past.