I guess you could say that UCLA at least didn't let down and got the win.
Even though it was 43-7, though, it wasn't a truly dominating performance.
UCLA's offensive line didn't dominate. Yeah, Washington State was stacking the box and not allowing UCLA much running room. But still, this Washington State team is one of the worst Pac-10 teams in recent memory. UCLA should have been able to run the ball if Washington State had 15 guys in the box. UCLA ran for 232 yards, but it was the quietest 232 yards on the ground imaginable. 232 yards against Washington State is like rushing for 35 yards against Arizona State. The UCLA O-line, too, allowed Washington State to get a decent amount of pressure on UCLA quarterback Kevin Prince. Washington State, desperate to create something defensively, blitzed often, and UCLA didn't do a great job picking it up.
On the other side of the ball, on the defensive line, UCLA did get 10 tackles for loss, but the pressure on the Washington State quarterback wasn't overwhelming. WSU, too, broke some runs from the line of scrimmage, created by the same issues the UCLA defense has had all season – gap integrity.
So, the UCLA defense, in reality, wasn't better, but the same. It just played against a far inferior opponent.
On both sides of the ball UCLA just didn't truly dominate the line of scrimmage. It definitely won the line of scrimmage on offense and defense but by no means was it a dominating performance.
In my mind, going into the WSU game, regardless of the final score, I was going to determine whether UCLA really prevailed – that is, showed advancement – by line-of-scrimmage domination, and it wasn't there. I was expecting UCLA to blow open huge holes for UCLA's tailbacks to run through, and that didn't happen. And I was expecting UCLA to not allow any big runs from scrimmage, which it did.
I guess you could say my expectations were raised by UCLA's recent upturn, and, with Arizona State and USC on the horizon, expectations of dominating the line of scrimmage against Washington State, in my mind, were imperative.
Perhaps it was asking too much. Perhaps I got a little ahead of myself.
There was also just okay performances by UCLA's key personnel. Quarterback Kevin Price was good but not, say, amazing. He made some plays, particularly some good, accurate throws in the second half (one to Ryan Moya and one to Nelson Rosario), and he definitely made plays with his feet (a 68-yard scramble for a touchdown? Huh?), but he missed on some plays, too. He missed on some easy short throws, some when he wasn't under much pressure, and there were some times (again) he just didn't seem to sense the pressure was coming – when WSU had 8 guys on the line and it was pretty obvious a blitz was on it way. And he definitely has struggled this season throwing screens. Perhaps these are too high of expectations for Prince, too, at this point. It's probably too much to have Neuheiselian expectations of perfection from him just yet. His performance was impressive statistically, 27 of 40 for 315 yards and a touchdown. And he did get the job done, clearly beating a team he should. But again, there just wasn't enough clear superiority against a very inferior opponent to make me feel good about ASU and USC.
It's also not a great time to clearly have an issue at running back, as UCLA does. Johnathan Franklin found himself in the doghouse after fumbling the ball again in the second quarter and he never returned to the game. That handed the tailback chores mostly to Derrick Coleman and, against WSU's poor defense, it really illustrated how Coleman just doesn't have the explosiveness to be the featured back. In fact, just like we said when Coleman first arrived at UCLA, he still looks more like a fullback. The coaches went to freshman Damien Thigpen, and he fumbled. Milton Knox, who was really overdue to get a shot, finally got one and, despite having a few good runs in garbage time and looking comfortable in the Wildcat, couldn't convert on a relatively important third-and-one in the third quarter.
At this point, after this game, for this season the guy who looks to be the most effective at tailback is senior Chane Moline. He had the most catches of any Bruin (7 for 60 yards), and ran the ball well (3 rushes for 25 yards), gaining good yards after the catch, bouncing one run outside for a 16-yard touchdown. He doesn't have Franklin's explosion and elusiveness, but he does have the savviness not to put the ball on the ground. He's just as explosive as Coleman, if not moreso, and better at gaining yards after the initial hit. He's certainly the best at catching the ball out of the backfield.
It might have been an excessive lesson not to reinstate Franklin sometime in this game after his second-quarter fumble. It seems, given UCLA's option at tailback, Franklin is clearly the best, despite his fumbling penchant. With UCLA up 26-0 at halftime, Franklin would have had to fumble a half-dozen times to put the game in jeopardy in the second half, and it might have been more important to get him back on the horse, to give him a chance to gain confidence, because it's clear you're going to need him. I guess it's a question of what would make him more effective in the next two games: putting him in sometime in the second half or sitting him the entire second half to send him a message? It seems UCLA has tried everything it could to send a message, benching him in previous games and not starting him in this one. Like any good parent, you have to learn to recognize when punishment isn't effective and some other recourse might be.
UCLA fans have been saying there's an embarrassment of riches at running back, with Malcolm Jones and Jordon James having committed from the 2010 class, and adding them to the players returning next season. But heck, so far no one currently on the roster has shown they're the guy. Looking down the line of the next several years, UCLA really needs to find a guy, someone who's going to step up and be a big-impact tailback, if it hopes to make the run it seems poised to do.
And, for the immediate future, it'd be nice if at least a guy happened to step forward by next Saturday. The best candidate still seems to be Franklin.
The defense, like we said above, wasn't dominating, and not nearly as much as the statistics would indicate. Washington State gained only a total of 180 yards, and 108 through the air. But if you watched the game you would think the yardage totals weren't necessarily reflective of what happened on the field. If you take away the considerable yards Washington State lost in sacks, they would have run for about 100 yards on the ground. You probably thought Washington State was pitiful for giving up a 68-yard scramble to a not-fast quarterback, but UCLA was right there with the Cougars for giving up a 42-yarder to WSU's third-string QB Matt Lopina. Also, those four WSU turnovers went a long way to making the game appear a far better one defensively for UCLA than it was. Can you give UCLA a lot of credit for those turnovers? Well, some, at least. They were in the right place at the right time on the three interceptions. But it probably was more due to WSU's offense being so poor, and the fact that their back-up quarterback just isn't very good. There's a reason why he lost the starting job to a true freshman.
You do have to give a lot of credit to Defensive Coordinator Chuck Bullough. Even though WSU was pretty easy to scheme against, it did appear that UCLA had scouted the Cougars so well they might have been sitting in on their offensive meetings this week. There were times a UCLA defender seemed to be clairvoyant, holding his ground a few seconds before a play ultimately ran his way. UCLA also utilized a zone more, and it was directly responsible for UCLA's three early interceptions, with Bullough obviously seeing some vulnerability (among many) in the Washington State offense that would induce him to use it. Bullough also continued to throw in some different wrinkles, like rushing linebacker Akeem Ayers from the defensive end position, which resulted in two sacks. Defensive end was Ayers' position in high school, and heck if he didn't look particularly comfortable blasting by WSU's slow-footed tackle.
Brian Price, a future high NFL draft pick, really stood out against the talent-lacking Cougars. He exploded through the WSU offensive line, often times when he was double-teamed.
Now that we're thinking about it, maybe we should get off the buzz-kill bent. Instead of believing it wasn't a greatly dominating performance by UCLA from what we saw on the field, let's get out of the details and the expectations and make ourselves feel better by looking at how UCLA stacked up statistically against other WSU opponents in Pullman, shall we?
UCLA's 556 total offensive yards were better than Arizona (471), Arizona State (410), and Stanford (481).
In fact, it was better than what USC did in the Coliseum against WSU (403), or even Oregon in Eugene (514).
UCLA's defense held WSU to 180 yards, compared to the 185 yards WSU gained against Arizona, 206 against Notre Dame, 440 against Cal (what the heck?), 181 against Arizona State, 229 against USC, and 351 against Stanford.
Yeah, WSU was without its starting quarterback when it played UCLA, but Jeff Tuel didn't even play in some of those other games.
So let's overlook the actual play on the field and go with that. It's so much more fun to look at it that way, huh?
Regardless if you're the type who watched that game and came away satisfied (Blue), or came away thinking there wasn't much you could take away from it and it didn't give you great expectations for facing ASU and USC (Crank) – or a little bit of both (most of us) – it was good to see UCLA have an easy, blow-out win for the first time in a while. It clearly kept Prince and Co. in the same productive, offensive rhythm established in the OSU 4th quarter and against Washington last week, which is a good thing. It's also good that the defense maintained its bottom-line successful M.O. – looking vulnerable but doing enough to put UCLA in a position to win.
Even with the concerns in the back of our mind that the Washington State game didn't allay, the game still continued to keep UCLA moving forward. There is still plenty there to take into UCLA returning home against Arizona State next week and then going across town to take on a now-beatable USC the following week to continue the late-season sense of renewed hope.