Despite our youth and inexperience we must create a NEW CULTURE within UCLA Football

Bumped. GO BRUINS. -N

Like everyone else on this site, I have been LIVID the last 36 hours.  My worst fears when we were 3-0 (WAY back when) have been realized.  Back then, when I looked at the schedule and saw that we had three tough games ahead, for a split second I thought '3-3'.  I was ashamed to think it then, but here we are, about a month later, staring at a four-game losing streak (an out-of-control 3-4 record) and a potential three or four more losses in 2009.  I hated being pessimistic in that one instant, but that is, I suppose, what a culture of mediocrity breeds (the last few years -- a handful of Donahue years too):  Doubt.

That being said, however, I believe we still should look at this season, and Neuheisel's focus on turning this thing around, with a bit of perspective.  We are very very young and extremely inexperienced and that has less to do with what Coach Neuheisel is doing than with the program he inherited, which as we know -- especially now -- was an absolute mess. This isn't to say we should excuse CRN entirely, there have been a few questionable decisions made by CRN thus far in addition to more than a few concerns that I believe start with the head coach (platooning three QB's? a seemingly less-than-passionate approach to a few games? an inconsistent and undisciplined Defense?) 

After this past Saturday's loss in the desert (yet again -- when was the last time we actually won in Tucson??), I have forced myself to take a step back, look at the big picture and not panic.  I took the time to read most of the posts here at Bruins Nation and the overall theme and mood is obviously utter frustration. Who can blame us?? We seem to be mired in a perpetual black hole of medocrity, with nothing on the horizon to provide us with any kind of hope. It's gotten so bad that we're even looking at NEXT year's schedule, and already making dire predictions (0-3? 1-6?). Let's acknowledge, however, without making any excuses, that our team is ridiculously young, green, in every sense of the word. I think that can only mean that we can only go up from here, as crazy as that sounds.  We need to remember a few things, however...

1-  Our QBs are 18-19 years old (Craft, obviously older, but he may as well be that age -- no offense, KC).  Prior to this season Prince hadn't taken a snap since HIGH SCHOOL.  He showed us what he can do in a controlled and organized environment in the SDSU game and the Tennessee game... we even saw traces of it against Cal. He also broke his jaw and has been running for his life since.  It's going to take a good streak to get him back in full form. Either way though, he's as green as one can be. Sure, he's probably not the next Cade McNown, who by now we know is more the anomaly than the norm.

If you think about it, rarely does any program have it's freshman QB playing four straight years, with few injuries and a decent record overall. What USC is doing with Barkley is NOT the norm... clearly that kid is talented, but he's also playing in a system that has been in place for YEARS behind a mammoth o-line that is seasoned, tough, and well-groomed. When one of their horses goes down, Cheaty Petey simply plugs in another 330-lb boar and they don't miss a beat.  We, on the other hand, still to some degree have a patchwork O-line and most of them are very very young. More importantly we're still developing a system, where USC already has one in place. $C has been perfecting their O-lines for YEARS whereas we have neglected ours or suffered bad luck due to injuries. Point is that a freshman QB cannot do well unless he has that type of protection and decent receivers who CATCH the DAMN BALL!  When was the last time $C had a core of no-name receivers or when it didn't have at least ONE BIG GAME wideout? It's been at least 20 years, I would say. Our receivers still have so much to prove. No one seems to want to step up.

Again, my point is that Prince not only has to play a near-flawless game to do very well, he has to flourish if we are to actually win a game. Brehaut is much the same... he may actually be less a liability because he's played more recently than Prince (as you probably know, he was actually playing in high school one year ago, as opposed to Prince who wasn't).  Brehaut, the fact, is, probably needs to be given more of a shot. He hasn't taken enough snaps for us to know how good (or how bad) he actually is right now.  It's almost unfair to criticize Brehaut because he is a true Frosh, he doesn't get as many reps in practice, and he has (as explained above) has little in the way of support on the field, esp. against teams that are clearly superior to ours (certainly in execution, possibly in talent). 

Craft, let's face it, should be an emergency QB at this point. I love the kid's fire and his heart and his drive, but he simply is third or fourth string material at this level. He reminds me of the third-fourth stringers we had in the 1992 season (prior to John Barnes' grand entrance) when all our QBs were hurt.  They played their hearts out, as does KC, but you just can't expect to win with him in there. Craft has five games left as a Bruin, he should only be playing if Prince or Brehaut go down -- in an emergency.  He was playing at Mount SAC (community college) two years ago and played (fairly well) at SDSU under his father. He's barely a Div. I QB, so why even play hi? at this point when our QBs of the future need time and experience to develop?  He came through for us last year giving it his all, but my point is he should remain QB #3 at this point in the season.   But as a couple of you already mentioned Coach Chow's quote: 

"I have never played with a freshman quarterback before. That's the situation we're in. Most kids get two years before they have to do this job."

that in many ways says it all... it's simply not normal for a Fr. QB to do well from the get-go. Mistakes have to be made and lessons need to be learned.  That means we'll likely be very frustrated at times with our QBs certainly this year and quite possibly much of next year.  That being said, expect Barkley at SC to crash and burn at some point, unless of course he is the next Joe Montana.  Remember, Cade being more the EXCEPTION than the norm. Troy Aikman flourished, but he only played two years and began as the starter as a junior. If Prince or Brehaut are the real deal, they need time.

2- Every part of the team is young. No more needs to be said about our O-line (young and still jelling); our receivers (young and inexperienced or [simply incompetent]), or our Defense and Sp. Teams (once again, young, inconsistent and inexperienced).  Look at all of them and they're simply UNDERPERFORMING, mostly due to youth (and some bad play calling). The lone bright spot in my opinion is our corps of running backs... if our line were stronger and more consistent Franklin would be dominating and Thigpen, or Knox or Coleman would be coming in and adding another 50-70 yards a game as backups... We're also young in this department but it tells you how good we can be with solid raw talent and experience (that is gained with time) across the board. But for our running game to continue to develop we have to commit to the run and and allow our QBs to gain some experience just controlling the tempo of a game. We're far enough into the season where we should focus more on building what we have and perfecting it than panicking and shuffling people around. 

3-  I hate to keep using this as the same excuse, but we're still suffering from the Dorrell 'hangover'... in this case it was hangover from a party that went terribly awry.  We're paying the price for inattention to the O-line, for not adequately recruiting at QB, thus a dearth of durable QBs (we should have had a halfway decent senior playing by now)... and a culture (as mentioned, going back to the Donahue days) that was for the longest time content with winning 8-9 games and a Bowl invitation. Sure, CRN is well into his second year, but most of HIS players are these very green FR and SOPH kids or jr college transfers who are just that: Kids with very limited experience.  We were asleep during the Dorrell years on so many fronts, esp. at O-line and at QB.  We put so much faith in Ben Olson for so long, thinking he'd be the next Cade (mature, fiery, southpaw, highly touted) that we failed to adequately recruit at that position.  The next best thing we had was Cowan, and despite his desire and his leadership and that 13-9 MAJOR win, the kid wasn't even close to being Heisman material and arguably a two-year starter. He was hardly durable, like his teammate Olson (some of this bad luck, also one can argue due to weak o-lines who couldn't block). Other than that, who did we have? Osaar Rashaan? Forcier? a walk-on who is now the starter at Sacramento State? C'mon people, please.  We forget how far we fell during the Dorrell years. It will take a lot of work, patience, solid recruiting and teaching to change this team and make it into a well-oiled, tough, methodical and consistent machine. We just have to give it time. Not that much time, but some degree of time.

my last point...

4- Building a culture of success and high expectations (the HIGHEST!, in our book) does not and will not happen overnight.  I hate to use $C as the model here, but again, they have a system in place, much like the SF Niners of the '80s under Bill Walsh or currently Bill Belichick's in New England with Tom Brady at QB.  You build a culture of success over time and you PLUG IN players where there are occasional holes.  At SC they STOCKPILE talent and don't miss a beat when someone goes down.  But look at their individual players when OUTSIDE that system once they've moved on?  It's almost as if they are bare naked to the world and the cruelties of the NFL once they leave 'the system' and the cosey confines of South Central ... Fred Davis, former standout TE at $C? he now is considered somewhat of a bust with the Washington Redskins.  Matt Leinart barely gets any snaps with the Arizona Cardinals.  John David Booty is FOURTH or fifth (haha) string at Minnesota.  Sanchez has the raw talent, but is now suffering growing pains with the Jets realizing he prob didn't have as much experience (in 'the system') as he thought (he played the Raiders yesterday, so don't cut him some slack).  Reggie Bush? What happened to Reggie Bush?? Anyone hear anything special he's done in recent years? Carson Palmer? Decent but not a lights-out Super Bowl-winning QB at Cincy. Matt Cassel couldn't have gone to a better team when he was drafted (the Patriots) after not having played at all while second string at SC. He did well under yet another 'system'... one in place not requiring much innovation from a QB. He goes to KC this year and he's pretty average (granted, KC stinks, but still the argument can be made)... Hell, I would even argue that if you take Tom Brady out of New England, he'd be an average QB. {I may get a lot of arguments with that one, but I do believe that to be the case to some extent}.  Steve Young stunk it up at Tampa Bay in the early '80s only to go to SF and Bill Walsh's system and fit in like a glove when Montana was hurt and/or when he retired.  It's a SYSTEM that is in place. A culture that makes these players better.

My point is that we NEED something like this at UCLA.  High Expectations. Solid recruiting.  A cutthroat philosophy of winning and winning big and a fire that INTIMIDATES opponents. No one fears us, that's half of our problem. They FEAR $C. I hate saying it but they do. Half of their games are won because they already have that psychological edge over their opponents.

SC's team is NOT that good this year. I sincerely doubt they're a #4 team (nationally) esp. with a frosh. QB.  But they have won a couple close ones this year SOLELY because they incite fear into their opponents (read Notre Dame and Ohio State esp.).  It's gutsy and underachieving teams with nothing to lose that end up beating SC, throwing out records and just hitting them hard (read Stanford a couple years ago, Oregon State, Washington this year, etc.).  Again, my point is that this sort of culture takes time to grow, takes time to develop but that can only happen with a methodical approach that GRINDS out victories, not a program that panics, and loses and wins games consecutively.  Look at most of our games the last few years (including this season)...we're talking big big streaks of losses or wins ... which screams of a weak pyschology, a weak and uninspired culture.

anyway... I'm giving Neuheisel the benefit of the doubt -- for now.  We can't for the life of us -- in my humble opinion -- start complaining about NEXT year when we don't know how this year quite ends.  Prince may develop into a decent leader this year and head into a sophomore year with a more solid line, a lights-out ability to deliver in practice and a confidence we haven't seen since Cade McNown. Who knows, it could very well be Brehaut that does this.  Point is, let's not give up quite yet. Let's put pressure on the coaching staff to preach consistency, to teach the FUNDAMENTALS and to do a BETTER JOB coaching during games. I think they're ALL to blame right now, but the biggest hurdle is our youth. It's only a matter of time, in my opinion, (IF we've recruited as well as we said we have) before we begin to see some of the rewards.  

I do think that it is our job as alums, the force that we ourselves are becoming, to keep added pressure on the coaches (esp. CRN) and the administration to set HIGHER expectations, to create an atmosphere that EXPECTS to win the Pac-10 every year, and that EXPECTS to at the very least compete for national championships year in and year out.

so, take a deep breath...look at the big picture, but let's not lose our fire and OUR OWN focus.  If the team lacks such skills, it's up to us to remind the powers-that-be that we will do our part in pushing for this type of ethos within the UCLA football program.

<em>This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of BruinsNation's (BN) editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of BN's editors.</em>

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