Everyone wants to place some blame. Some tend to blame the coaches. Some tend to blame the players.
It's pretty clear. There's blame enough to go around for everybody.
This is the thing: We are signed on to the bandwagon for at least another two seasons. So don't come here if you're looking for any discussion right now about the firing the coaching staff.
But come here if you want some communal venting. Hey, it's only fair. UCLA has to be able to concede the venting. UCLA fans have been going through hell for a longer time than they deserve. And if they've signed on to riding this out on the bandwagon, UCLA is going to have to take some criticism.
Here are the issues that were very clear in the Arizona game.
-- The offense is still anemic. There isn't much experienced talent, and the offensive scheme doesn't seem to be getting the most out of the talent that is there.
-- The defense has been anywhere from a disappointment to a disaster. The play-calling isn't aggressive, and the defensive coaches seem to need the entire first half before they understand what the opposing offense is doing. The players aren't playing well, missing gaps and tackles.
-- The team is just plainly not very talented on either side of the ball. At least the players that have enough experience to play aren't very talented.
That pretty much covers everything.
So, let's vent.
We'll start with the defense.
This says so much: Arizona ran the same end-around play 6 times for double-digit yards before UCLA did anything to stop it.
Defensive Coordinator Chuck Bullough has a very conservative defensive philosophy. He's more about preventing the big play, sitting back in coverage, bending-and-not-breaking, and making the opposing offense have to execute over and over to drive the ball down the field. From what I could see, UCLA only blitzed a couple of times in the first half. One of the seemingly first blitzes put pressure on Arizona quarterback Nick Foles, nicked his arm when throwing, which caused an interception by defensive tackle Jerzy Siewierski. On Arizona's first possession of the second half, UCLA blitzed on a third-and-eight and the pressure caused Foles to throw incomplete. Just about every time UCLA sent pressure, it harrassed Foles into a mistake or an errant pass.
Bullough tends to get more aggressive in the second half in his defensive play-calling. But that's usually after opposing offenses have sliced through UCLA's defense in the first half as if no UCLA coach had watched any film of the opposing offense. It's as if the first half of every game is the first time the coaches have seen the opposing offense. Yeah, we know that there are different offensive game plans for every game and that you need to get a look at it to be able to adjust, but the learning curve is far too huge. It's not unreasonable to expect UCLA's defense to appear more prepared in the first half of each game.
As we said last week, there is a considerable talent deficit. When you have Kyle Bosworth as your middle linebacker, a guy who is moderately talented and had his modicum of success by over-achieving, and Sean Westgate, a guy who isn't a UCLA-level player, at weakside linebacker, and those are the two guys who need to make a tackle to stop a first-down gain, you definitely don't have enough talent.
I talked about the Inflated Bruin Syndrome last week, and the Arizona game reinforced the theory. That's the idea that Bruin fans tend to believe a player is better than they are just because they wear those handsome blue-and-gold uniforms. Even a future NFLer like defensive Brian Price isn't as good as the Bruin community believes. He has considerable natural talent, with great quickness for his size, but he technically is still very raw, and because of that there are many plays where he's ineffective or irrelevant. He's simply not very good against the run. The general word is that Price is going to put his name in the NFL draft after this season, and it will be interesting to see if he does indeed get drafted in the first two rounds. If he does go in the second round, which is where he project at this time, that says something - -that the guy heralded as the elite talent on UCLA's defense is, at best, a second-rounder. Last year, USC had four players from its defense go in the first two rounds, two in the first round.
And if Price does go in the second round, that would be by far the best draft results of a UCLA defensive player in a long time.
With the offense, there are many problems, admittedly. It's almost too sad to write that the only touchdown in this game came from a strange play where UCLA safety Tony Dye was smart enough to pick up a not-dead ball that was a lateral and run it in for a touchdown. But really, about 75% of UCLA's lack of offensive productivity is that Rick Neuheisel and Norm Chow can't get anyone to execute the quarterback position even moderately effectively.
Kevin Craft isn't a UCLA-level quarterback. Kevin Prince has a chance to be one, but he's a redshirt freshman who suffered a fractured jaw, which retarded his development this season. He obviously needs to develop some pocket sense; he tends to stand in there until the opposing defensive tackle's grandmother could roll her wheelchair through the pass protection. Richard Brehaut has a chance to be a Pac-10-level quarterback but he is a true freshman. There are very, very few true freshmen quarterbacks who can execute at the high-major college level, and the ones that are doing it or have done it well have been surrounded by some experienced talent on their offense – particularly an experienced, talented offensive line.
There probably isn't an NFL-level player at any offensive position for UCLA who is a sophomore, junior or senior.
The offensive scheme is a proven one. We won't even presume to second-guess Norm Chow's scheme and whether it can be effective. We will, though, assert that Chow's scheme probably isn't the most ideal in getting the most out of players that are only moderately talented or talented but young and inexperienced. His pro-style scheme is the type that, if you have experienced talent executing it, any kind of defense is going to struggle to stop you. But, there are other schemes – like the spread – which are easier to learn, and more young-player-friendly that would probably be more productive far quicker with the talent UCLA currently has.
Fans lament the missed tackles on defense, and the dropped passes on offense, and other similar issues, and blame the coaches, asserting that the coaches aren't doing their job in teaching the players the fundamentals. The coaches are probably partially to blame, but for the most part you can blame missed tackles and dropped passes on the players – or more accurately – their lack of talent.
Take sophomore wide receiver Nelson Rosario. Everyone talks about the talent and potential he has. Playing hard and focused, though, is part of your talent package as a player. We're not shutting the door on Rosario developing into a very good receiver, but right now his inconsistency and inability to hang on to balls makes him not a very good football player.
Just like with the movie "He's Just Not That Into You," it's a case of:
"They're Just Not That Good."
It's a tough thing to overcome, the Inflated Bruin Syndrome. It's easy to get infected with it. But the only way to fight the affliction is to put things in perspective in terms of legitimately talented players. In fall camp, when an NFL-level player walks out onto Spaulding Field, you know immediately. When DeShaun Foster took his first snap as a freshman at UCLA, you knew he was the real deal. When Marcedes Lewis caught his first pass. Even Freddie Mitchell. Definitely Maurice Drew.
UCLA simply doesn't have very many guys of that talent caliber. And if they're going to get them, it's going to take some time.
More Arizona game random observations:
-- UCLA would be in an even bigger world of hurt if it didn't have kicker Kai Forbath and punter Jeff Locke. It's amazing that, they're on the field for a total of 5 to 10 plays a game but they're having the most positive effective of any Bruin player this season. Forbath is the only guy who can put points on the board, and Locke affects field position more than any other influence on the game.
-- The excessive penalties are, perhaps, the next biggest influence on a UCLA game.
-- The coaches' fascination with Christian Ramirez is truly baffling. It's tough to criticize him, because we know he's a good kid and has tried hard to get himself on the field. But it's hard to see what the coaches see in him. He's not nearly as explosive or effective as Johnathan Franklin. His fumble was a critical turning point in the game.
-- We've heard that Reggie Carter has an MCL tear of his knee and is trying to gut it out and play through it.
-- It's tough to be effective in a nickel aligment when you have sophomore Courtney Viney, who is about 5-8, Andrew Abbott, who is about a 5-9 redshirt freshman walk-on, and Sheldon Price, who is a true freshman, as part of the package.
While we're all going through this dark time, in terms of the offensive and defensive schemes, it's reasonable to question Bullough's creds. He is a first-year defensive coordinator, so the jury is understandably still out on him. But it's probably unreasonable to question Chow's. Could Chow be obsolete? Possibly. But more than likely, if UCLA had a good amount of talent to plug into his offense just about every UCLA fan would believe it would be an effective one. Heck, if they just had a quarterback.
So, that's the only thing to cling to in this dark time, Bruin fans. The promise. The reasonable idea that, once this coaching staff gets a decent amount of talent, the team will turn that elusive corner.
It's all we have right now.