On one hand, it's good for UCLA to get back on the winning track. A "W" is always a good thing.
On the other hand, it's difficult to take much from beating what is arguably the worst team in D-1 football, and perhaps the worst Pac-10 team any of us have seen – ever.
In listing the things UCLA did better in this game, it has to be listed with an asterisk next to it.
And it's just not that you can't necessarily derive any takeaways from this game because WSU is so bad (which is clearly true); you also can't make any conclusions because UCLA didn't show much in this game, utilizing a very conservative game plan that was sufficient to beat the Cougars without giving away anything to the opponents remaining on the schedule.
So, instead of some takeaways, it's almost entirely a throwaway game.
Perhaps there are a few takeaways you can get based on what UCLA couldn't do. We can call them takeaway worries. It's very worrisome that UCLA couldn't run the ball on Washington State, who has one of the worst – if not the worst – rushing defenses in the country. WSU was giving up an average of 7.2 yards per carry before Saturday night. UCLA averaged 2.7 in the game. And if you don't figure in that meaningless, 31-yard run by Derrick Coleman in the last few minutes of the game, it would be 1.9 yards per carry.
Of course, you have to concede that WSU was stacking the box, many times with nine players, in an attempt to limit UCLA's running game and make Kevin Craft beat them. And you must concede that UCLA didn't use much deception in its running game, with very few counters and mis-directions.
So, again, it's hard to derive much from it. You would think, though, even given the stacked box and the limited playbook, that UCLA would be able to run better against such a horrible rushing defense.
It does look like the direct snap to a UCLA running back has become a staple, and its worthiness is up for debate. The theory behind it is, if you split out the quarterback wide, the defense has to send a defender with him, so that's one less tackler you have going against you on the running play. But there's also the risk that you have so much ball-handling and execution being done by running backs. In fact, on one snafued direct snap, Terrence Austin bumped into Kahlil Bell, and Austin should have been given credit for the tackle. I don't have the official stats, but I don't think a direct snap has gone for more than four yards, and it's arguable if the risk is worth the reward.
UCLA ran 37 times, while it attempted 37 passes. You could call that a balanced attack, or you could call that a very conservative attack when the defense is stacking the box against you and it's pretty clear its poor, inexperience and under-sized cornerbacks are being left on an island. Kevin Craft went 23 of 36 for a completion percentage of 63%, while (again) there were a number of dropped balls that skewered that stat further. UCLA could have passed all night, but it clearly didn't choose to. In the very conservative game plan put together for WSU, it was clear UCLA wanted to try to establish a running game at all costs, with the theory of keeping the UCLA offense on the field and running the clock. But when you're gaining 1.9 yards per carry, and going three-and-out you're really not eating up too much clock.
That conservative game plan, to go along with how bad WSU is, and how mediocre UCLA is this year, made for a mind-numbingly monotonous game. The first quarter was perhaps one of the worst quarters ever played in college football without a turnover. The crowd (which was announced to be 65,000? Does that include all of the family members of fans that stayed home?) was so bored at one point it resurrected the Wave to entertain itself.
Instead of being dedicated to trying to get the running game to work, it might have been a better opportunity to get the passing game to work. Craft clearly has settled down and is playing better, and it might have been a good time to work the kinks out of a deep passing game, or getting more experience for him to throw on a roll-out (which UCLA is going to have to do the rest of the season quite a bit). The UCLA receivers, also, could use more opportunities to create after the catch, which they are pretty poor at doing at this point. How many receptions this season have been characterized by a UCLA wide receiver gaining considerable yards after the catch? Terrence Austin had a decent one in the second half where he caught what looked like a curl, made a guy miss and turned it up for a 27-yard gain to set up a touchdown. But Austin and Taylor Embree, who have emerged as your best receivers, are still inexperienced – and probably a bit tentative in trying to gain some YAC. Even though the two of them combined for 12 receptions, it would have been nice to get the ball in their hands even more, to enable them to gain some confidence in trying to get YAC. Because clearly, in this year's offense, Craft will have to get rid of the ball quickly to avoid a sack, which dictates mostly short routes, which could greatly be enhanced with some YAC.
Even when Marcus Everett returns, he's not a great YAC guy himself, and it's clear that UCLA is severely lacking in receivers with some shake who can create extra yardage. It makes you long for the days of even Brandon Breazell or Craig Bragg.
Continuing to be disappointing is receiver Dominique Johnson, who had 1 catch for 11 yards in this one.
It's good to see Ryan Moya coming into his own as a pass-catching tight end. His two touchdown catches were particularly good ones; the first he had to wrestle away from a defender, and with the second he showed great concentration to make the catch while keeping one foot in.
Give Craft more credit. He, again, did most of what you asked of him in this one. He didn't make a glaring mistake, and actually made some plays that seemingly weren't there. On one third down, he was almost sacked, his foot being held onto by a Cougar, when he threw for first-down yardage. He didn't get sacked all night, but again, take it with a grain of salt since WSU's pass rush is the equivalent of a Mighty Mite team. Craft, also got lucky on some throws that were potential picks, benefiting when a UCLA receiver wrestled away the ball from a WSU defender.
Perhaps the most entertaining aspect of the offense in this game was the use of defensive tackle Brian Price as a fullback on goal-line dives. He led Kahlil Bell to his two rushing touchdowns. The first time was, well, kind of hilarious since Price, who is supposed to lay his 300-pound body on someone, ran right through the hole and into the endzone like he was the ballcarrier. On the second touchdown he looked like he had learned his lesson and put a block on someone.
It might have been that Price was just so used to running through holes, since he was doing it so often playing defensive tackle. Price had a number of plays that he flashed past his blocker and was in the WSU backfield so quickly you thought he was close to getting the handoff.
As I said above, while it's difficult to derive takeaways, it's easier to come away with some takeaway worries. If UCLA can't get a pass rush against WSU, who will they be able to pressure? Washington State had allowed 15 sacks coming into this game, and while UCLA got three, they simply didn't put much pressure on the inexperienced WSU quarterback Marshall Lobbestael. Luckily Lobbestael missed on many, if not most, of his passes. The defense didn't blitz much at all, commonly using a three-man rush in passing situations, in fact. All we can attribute this to is Defensive Coordinator DeWayne Walker having confidence in his secondary to stop Lobbestael, and not to show any more blitzing packages to future opponents. It worked, since Lobbestael, even when given time quite often, couldn't get off an accurate past the majority of the time, but it made for snoozy football. Chinonsu Anyanwu, who has been converted back to a defensive end, particularly as a rush end in passing situations, got a sack, as did another linebacker-type end, Korey Bosworth.
A takeaway worry was the play of Bret Lockett, who badly missed some tackles early on in the game. After he missed two within the first five minutes or so, the biggest suspense of the night was whether this was the threshold that Walker referred to in practice this week, one that would force him to go "in another direction." But Walker stuck with Lockett and he settled down.
Cornerback Alterraun Verner had a good night, leading the team in tackles (7) and getting an excellent interception where he jumped the route beautifully. He had a couple of very nice open-field tackles, too, one in particularly when WSU's tailback Dwight Tardy had some real estate in front of him.
So, it terms of takeaways, it's particularly good that UCLA got the win. No matter how bad your opponent, a win is a win. Every down that Craft executes well, even against a bad defense, is a building block in his continued improvement. It was good that Kahlil Bell had a gimme game to get back in the swing of things, running the ball 21 times and looking unbothered by his ankle or knee. It's good that UCLA can beat someone by 25 points and do it without giving away any more of its offensive or defensive wrinkles.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway from this game is the contrast in the level of programs. Each program is in its first year after a coach was fired, and each has a pretty bare talent cupboard. But UCLA, in its state of bare-cupboardness, is still light years more talented than a bare-cupboard Washington State. So, as a UCLA fan, if you're a bit disconsolate about the season so far, cheer up. UCLA, given its natural advantages, starts from a square one that is so far advanced than an average program like WSU's. It's like, in golf, if you were able to tee off from the women's tee instead of the black, pro tees. If you're a Washington State fan, you don't have a lot to lead you to believe that your program has a chance to ever be consistently successful. The takeaway is that UCLA always has a chance.