Worrisome, But It's Still a Win

It certainly wasn't a great performance by UCLA, beating a bad Kansas State team, 23-9. It was poorly executed, by players and coaches alike. But give credit to Kevin Craft for getting UCLA a win, and the BRO Game Ball goes to the UCLA offensive line...

Rick Neuheisel always says that, after watching the film of the game, you were never as bad as you thought and you were never as good as you thought.

This axiom really held up for UCLA's win over Kansas State, 23-9.

The fans that are reacting negatively are over-reacting, and the other fans that are saying this was a good win and that you can't dwell on the negative are mostly near-sighted.

Like always, the truth lies somewhere in that middle region between both extremes.

It wasn't a great game for UCLA, clearly. When your relentlessly positive head coach even says this was an "ugly win," you know it wasn't an ideal performance.

There were many issues for UCLA in this game that weren't positive. UCLA's offense struggled to sustain drives. UCLA's defense had easily its poorest performance of the season so far, looking unfocused and missing many tackles against a poor offense. UCLA really hurt itself with many critical penalties. The offensive coaching staff called a strange game, didn't take advantage of UCLA's strength in running the ball, and struggled to get the call in and the right personnel on the field. The defensive staff looked unprepared and had to scramble to adjust.

On the other hand, Kevin Craft, the back-up quarterback who is trying to live down last season's 20-interception debacle, doesn't deserve the criticism he's getting in the post-game autopsies by many fans on the BRO message board. You have to first put everything in perspective: Craft isn't a starting Pac-10 level quarterback. He's a back-up. He was supposed to be third-string last season, and if UCLA didn't have freshman quarterbacks, he'd probably be third-string again this season. Given that, he did pretty well Saturday, going 13 for 24 for 186 yards, one touchdown and one interception. If you analyze every throw, he made more good throws than bad, and actually didn't make very many bad throws or decisions. Yes, there were some errant throws, balls thrown behind receivers; the interception, which was a bad decision; and a couple of balls where he thought the receiver would zig and the receiver zagged, so to speak. But that was a vastly improved Craft from last season. On third down, he threw a good number of throws for first downs, where he put the ball in the hands of receivers.

Would UCLA probably have a winning season with Craft under center? It's questionable. Did they get through this game and get a win with Craft? Yep, and that was the objective.

For the fans that are clamoring for Richard Brehaut, you need to get something clearly in your collective head: Brehaut wasn't as good as Craft all week in practice. If you didn't like Craft's performance Saturday, it's pretty sure you wouldn't have been pleased with Brehaut's. He's just not there yet in terms of knowing the offense, making the reads, going through the progressions and being able to make the throws. Now, whether he can get there in two weeks before the Stanford game is another issue. But this week, for this game, Craft was clearly the better option and it wasn't close.

I think I can safely say that UCLA would have come closer to giving up this game with Brehaut at quarterback – or would have lost it.

This is no slight on Brehaut, or his long-term potential. As Craft isn't a Pac-10 level quarterback, Brehaut is. He's just young, inexperienced and still learning the offense.

But the offense wasn't limited by Craft as much as it was from its penalties and perhaps some questionable play-calling.

The penalties held back the offense in the first quarter and completely disabled it in the third quarter. Two crackback block calls took away some big plays. Crackback blocks? Really? The culprits were Terrence Austin and Taylor Embree, two veterans who should completely know better.

The play-calling got curious when, in the third quarter, it was clear UCLA could run the ball but it went to the pass. On the UCLA series at about the 5-minute mark of the third quarter, Craft threw three incomplete passes in a row. At that point in the game, the Bruins were averaging 6.7 yards per rush. For us non-football coaches who always hear football coaches say, "Take what the defense is giving you," it's curious that UCLA didn't.

On Craft's interception, the play call was also questionable. It was third and 1, and UCLA was running the ball well.

If you might have noticed, we've mentioned that pesky third quarter quite often. It was well, in Neuheisel's words, "ugly." UCLA had 29 yards of offense, while KSU had 97 yards. At that point in the game, that was 2/3s of all the yardage KSU gained for the game, in that one quarter.

In fact, KSU almost gained as much yardage on UCLA penalties (20 yards) as UCLA gained on offense (29). Akeem Ayers picked up his third personal foul of the season when he was called for a helmet-to-helmet call that kept a KSU drive alive.

It was a quarter when all the stars misaligned for UCLA – when the defense looked particularly bad, and the offense was out of sync – both the players and seemingly the coaches.

In fact, if you were alien and you beamed down to the Rose Bowl for just the third quarter, and you knew human football pretty well, you would said that the team in the white jerseys is better than the team in those pretty blue jerseys.

At the beginning of the 4th quarter, it was 13-9 and the Bruins were back on their heels. K-State was able to move the ball offensively, UCLA's defense looked confused and sloppy, and UCLA's offense couldn't sustain a drive. KSU drove to the UCLA 23, and lined up for a 40-yard field goal, which would have brought them to within 13-12. It felt like KSU was taking over the game, and if that momentum kept going UCLA was going to lose. But the K-State kicker missed the field goal, and UCLA got on track in the 4th quarter – at least enough – to close out the game.

Give a great deal of credit to the UCLA offensive line. It might have been the best performance by a UCLA offensive line in three years. Not only were there big holes to run through (gaining 173 yards) but the pass protection was easily the best it's been in any game in recent memory. Craft might not have been touched throughout the game. The OL gets the BRO game ball.

Give credit not only to the offensive line for its blocking, but to the running backs and tight ends also. Their blocking performance was much improved over the first two weeks of the season.

Running back Johnathan Franklin was clearly the offensive MVP. Yes, he had holes to run through, but he exploited them well, and created some yardage on his own also. He also gains yardage after contact. He gained 119 yards on 23 carries. And, he also was quite a bit better in picking up blitzes when he remained in to block.

Nelson Rosario had perhaps his best game as a Bruin. With Randall Carroll and Morrell Presley out due to suspension, and Gavin Ketchum still not 100% yet, Rosario took advantage of the extra playing time, with a team-high three catches for 48 yards, all three of his catches being huge first-down makers. And, of course, he had the ESPN Sports Center highlight of the one-handed grab. His hand is so big it was seemingly like you or me plucking a tennis ball out of the air.

Defensively was a different story. There were a few good performances, but there were a number of poor ones also.

The poor one that stood out was that of Reggie Carter. We've praised Carter quite a bit over his UCLA career, but this was a particularly poor game on his part. He over-pursued so many plays we lost count. So many of those KSU "Wildcat" gains were made with Carter out of position over-pursuing.

The Bosworths, though, came to the rescue. Kyle Bosworth made numerous big plays, slicing through the KSU line to disrupt plays and make tackles. Korey Bosworth had a couple of huge plays, which came at critical times of the game. He made a huge tackle on the throw-back screen in the fourth quarter that stopped a first down and possibly more, on a drive that very easily could have put KSU ahead.

Tony Dye led the team with 9 tackles, and was active, and played a good game.

The third quarter was the microcosm, but overall the defense was out of position, over-pursuing and looked generally dismayed by what KSU was showing them. Defensive coordinator Chuck Bullough said the UCLA defensive brain trust had to make some big adjustments. But why? K-State did exactly what it did in its first two games. UCLA had seen the Wildcat formation, and the shovel pass.

Could it have been that letdown-itis? It certainly seemed like there was a lack of sharpness and focus.

And the argument that "bottom line, UCLA only allowed 9 points" is a weak one. If a team gained 700 yards but for whatever reason couldn't put the ball in the endzone or kick it between the uprights would you call that a good defensive performance? If UCLA's defense plays any other defensive games the way it did against KSU it's going to give up more like 30 points than 9 and lose.

It was done, also, against a pretty lousy offense. They had no passing attack; in fact, they didn't throw the ball down the field more than 15 yards. They could barely even complete most of their passes in the flat with UCLA DBs giving them an 8-yard cushion. They had poor pass protection, with UCLA blitzing infrequently.

If the UCLA defensive coaches think it's hard to adjust against this offense, then the Pac-10 is going to look like calculus.

And what about that cushion? Yeah, it's amazingly annoying, but we understand the theory. The K-State quarterback Coffman isn't a very good passer, and UCLA would rather make him execute for an 8-yard gain than run the ball or throw it over the top. This way UCLA keeps Brandon Banks in front of them. It's a sound theory, but it doesn't work as well if you're allowing the offense to get 5 or 6 yards per carry on the ground.

The biggest concern is that the team overall – including the players and coaches – looked sloppy and undisciplined. On defense, there was the poor tackling and the over-pursuit, and the fact that UCLA's defensive minds had to adjust to what that pitiful KSU offense was showing. On offense, UCLA struggled to get plays and personnel on the field.

And there were the penalties, on both offense and defense.

If UCLA takes this type of game into Pac-10 play, it's going to be, well, ugly.

Luckily, K-State isn't very good. It would be surprising if they don't get pounded in the Big 12.

Of course, give UCLA enough credit for being good enough this year to win a game in which they played generally poorly, and executed poorly – both the players and the coaches. Except for the offensive line, Johnathan Franklin – and yes, Kevin Craft.

If Craft is going to be the quarterback for Stanford, it could be a very tough game. But he wasn't nearly as bad as everyone thought he was in this game. In fact, he was clearly better than he was in just about any game last season. Of course, he's not Kevin Prince, and it's a tough blow that UCLA will have to go into the Stanford game and possibly the Oregon game without Prince. It's hard not to speculate about what this team would have been like if Prince hadn't gotten hurt, and how good the offense might have been in Palo Alto. His injury very well might end up costing UCLA a couple of losses this season.

Or, you never know…Kevin Craft could continue to improve with the first-string offensive reps over the next two weeks. He simply could, again, help UCLA get through a game or two without Prince and get UCLA those ugly wins.

The Stanford game is shaping up to be a huge one, for UCLA and Craft. If UCLA can, actually, eke out a win in Palo Alto with Prince on the sideline and Craft at the helm, even if it's as unseemly a win as the one Saturday night, UCLA fans will have to give Craft credit for stepping up and doing what it was hoped he could do – get some wins while UCLA's starting quarterback is out.


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