This is a slight reiteration of UCLA 13_USC 9's post ('Past, Present, Future: A Quick Outline' )yesterday (5 Oct.) Great points, all of them. But I'm going to add a few here, and in the process, raise the bar a bit and go out on a limb and say we should EXPECT our Bruins to win this week against Oregon at the Rose Bowl. If that happens, we have every reason to believe we're now in the upper echelon of the Pac-10, and on our way to that status nationally.
Now, don't get me wrong, I am a realist most of the time and like many of you --deep down -- probably believe a 7-6 season (8-4?) along with a Bowl invite (and subsequent Bowl win) would be a success. I think most of us are in agreement there. Anything sub-.500 would be all-too-reminiscent of the Dorrell era and would leave us enormously frustrated, so naturally, at worst, 7-6 is somewhat acceptable given the parity that exists in the Pac-10 today. Most of us think that our return to greatness should occur incrementally -- that is, after all, what Coach Neuheisel has preached and what any sensible fan should expect, esp. after a 4-8 season, with a very young team.
However, IF we win on Saturday, there is an awful lot of damage we can do the remainder of the year and it will send a strong message to the rest of the conference. If Kevin Prince returns this weekend -- and all indications are that he will -- this game becomes that much more vital to the team and to the season.
Why is this game so important?
1- This will be Prince's first real test at home (an advantage, obviously). He already proved he's capable of coming through in the clutch (at Tennessee) and this game arguably becomes one of the more pressure-filled moments of the season for him and for the team. If Prince manages to play well and win the game, not only is the Tenn. game NOT a fluke, but we have a legit. starter and leader for possibly three more years. It will set up some great competition with other current solid Pac-10 Frosh Qbs in the coming years. Simply put, we still don't know HOW GOOD Prince is or how good he can be, but we have a pretty good feeling about it. Chances are, if he's comfortable in the pocket and more or less back at full form (easy on the jaw!), this could be a breakout game for him. And if it is, we are moving -- step-by-step, game-by-game, in the right direction. If Prince can come out and beat Oregon this week, we obviously have a lot to look forward to in the coming weeks (at a minimum)
2- If we win, we are INSTANTLY recognized as one of the better teams (top two, three?) in the conference. With Cal having washed out (predictably) already, that leaves us battling against SUC for sure, possibly Oregon State and definitely Stanford (for the title, not literally obviously). Again, most of us don't envision us vying for the conference anymore, esp. after last Saturday, but given the level of parity in the conf. this year, anything can happen. U$C is totally beatable esp. with the greenhorn (and somewhat hurt) Barkley at the helm, and after that, any team in the conf. can be knocked out on any given day. We beat Oregon and we INSTANTLY take the program up a notch -- immediately raising expectations. I'll admit, after beating KSU, and not feeling ecstatic about HOW we did it, I was immediately wary of the schedule seeing Stanford, Oregon and Cal, thinking 3-3 immediately. I was ashamed to think that, but given how Cal was doing at the time, I thought we had our work cut out for us. But now that Cal has come down to earth once again (as any of us should have expected) and given how we hung in there against Stanford on the road (with our 2d/3d stringer, and I don't mean that to slight Craft in any way), this Oregon game, and at home no less, means it is totally within our power to win and to build enormous momentum. Put it this way, we lose to Oregon Saturday and we can still claim we're in a rebuilding year, AND we can still lay claim to 7-6 or even 8-4 come December. But if we win, all bets are off; we can actually aim for 9-3 or hey, why not (??) 10-2.! Why the hell not?? Seriously... We get past Oregon, then Cal, at that point we're one solid winning streak away from seriously competing. And with SUC being less dominant this year (think of our D THROTTLING Barkley in a 13-9-type of game in late November!) ANYTHING can happen. So, in a nutshell, we win at home against the Ducks, and we can do ourselves one HUGE favor. Now I always preach the one-game-at-a-time philosophy and won't be a fool and look that far ahead (despite what I just wrote), but it is ok to imagine that once in a while. But if one can do that, this is one year one can afford to do so.
How can we win???
Now I'm simply reiterating what many of you have posted here... but I'll emphasize a few key points.
- Oregon is beatable. That means our Defense has to be 'on' this Saturday. Sure, Oregon's offense is a little intimidating given what they did to Cal, but they are playing us at the Rose Bowl. Their offense has the obvious potential to do some serious damage, but they tend to do that at home, not on the road. If we become the 'hostile' crowd to them -- as they are to us whenever we head up to their place -- we'll only better our chances. Their Defense is good, like ours, but totally beatable. I don't doubt Coaches Neuheisel and Chow will come up with a plan to score points on these guys. If Prince plays, that just improves our chances. Our D has shown spurts of some real solid play, esp. against Tennessee, and to some degree (at times) against Stanford (the two games that 'count' on our schedule thus far, in my humble opinion). They tormented the TN QB (a senior) and they did a few good things against Stanford, jarring three fumbles loose (approx.)... they were one big play (or one better call from the refs) away from getting six points and making the game even closer. Sure they had little to say or do about Gerhart, but i think even SC will have problems with Gerhart. He is a tough back to beat unless you stack the line with nine guys, but you can't do that with the current weapon that is Stanford's QB. Against Oregon, our D has to INTENSIFY and DOMINATE. Our D has to deliver a few knockout punches and rise to the occasion and take it up a notch. Our D-line is dominant, as are most of our LB's... it's our secondary that needs to be a little more disciplined. They need to play it cool, be less emotional and more poised.
- No more penalties!! Yes, we are a young team, somewhat undisciplined (which has cost us dearly at times), but I'm tired of using that as an excuse. Penalties happen, they're a part of the game, sure, but ours come much too frequently, sometimes in bunches and they are mistakes that are entirely avoidable. Even though we are young, we need to become methodical in our ways, machine-like, OVERLY disciplined, smart and collected. I can't wait for the day when we are scored on on some fluke play, igniting the opposing crowd into a frenzy, only to MARCH back up the field, like an amphibious assault and silence the crowd and frustrate the opponent because they know they're playing a SUPERIOR team that is poised and that doesn't get rattled. This team needs to learn this lesson quick, or it could potentially be a long season. They can't afford to play dumb against the Ducks this week. This is a team that will pounce on our mistakes and not look back (only to get plowed by USC later, but that's a story for another day)...
- Think TOUCHDOWN! (not field goal). Enough is enough. Simply put, if we'd scored TDs early in every game thus far (like we're capable of doing), not only would we have ANNIHILATED SDSU and KSU but we would have possbly avoided Prince's injury in Tennessee and likely beaten Stanford in Palo Alto last week. I know, 20-20 hindsight is not always productive, but one can't help but think 'what if' in this case. We can't change what has happened, but only learn from it all... Our offense under Craft is less vertical, as we all know, thus there's more chance of FG's than anything else, and while taking the points has kept these games closer, it still isn't a recipe for victory. It's too Terry Donahue-esque in my opinion. Yes, we're young on offense and I have no doubt Coach Chow has pondered this all to a point where he is even lacking sleep a few nights a week, but the fact is we need to score more TD's. You leave a team like Oregon hanging, with a 13-7, 16-10 lead and you're done, whether or not you're at home. We need to march down the field, consistently, methodically, eat time off the clock, and SCORE six. If we don't find a way to do this soon, it could be a longer season than we'd hoped. Again, with Prince possibly back, our chances improve, but we must also realize, he's still a Frosh. He will make mistakes every now and again. But the sooner he learns to drive the engine all the way to the endzone, instead of through the uprights, the better, more focused and more confident a team we will be. Again, we are a TD or two (per game) from blowing our opponents out of the water.
- We need to use our speed to our advantage. Against a quick team like Oregon, we need to test what we have, just in case. If we can gradually start using our burners more often (esp. on offense), we'll become that much more dangerous. As is often the case, speed sometimes means less discipline, more fumbles, missed catches, etc. Somehow, however, we have to find a way to use our prized tools in key situations. IF this is very much the re-building year as most of us believe it is, why not give the Thigpens, Presleys, etc. the experience they need at certain key moments?. I realize they have had some playing time, but the more mistakes they make now, the less they will in the future. I trust the coaches more on this one, but it would be nice to see. In this I include Austin, our senior wideout. This guy I would argue has be to used even more. Even though he is somewhat our go-to guy, and has delivered, esp. on Special Teams, he needs to step up a bit too.
- Our running game is capable of improving. Our line and our backs have shown a few spurts of greatness. If shown daylight, Franklin can take the ball deep into the heart of the D any given play. Our O-line is TREMENDOUSLY improved from last year -- in fact, it is night and day when comparing the two. I'd like for us to commit to Franklin or go by committee using Franklin, Knox, Coleman and Thigpen -- keeping them fresh and keeping the D guessing. Each of these guys is talented and it would be a shame for any of them to be sitting for too long. Our O-line is still a work in progress, but if we slowly start to develop a grind-it-out philosophy (a la Stanford and Gerhart), we're in for a return to the Skip Hicks, Deshawn Foster and Gaston Green days, when we had feature backs and sometimes, backs-by-committee that either dominated or at worst, held their own.
If for some reason, Prince doesn't play we have to rally around Craft (or Brehaut, if that were to happen). Obviously, we can't afford to fall behind against Oregon if that happens, but the point is, we can still win and SHOULD be able to win, if we play this game to our full potential. This is the type of win that would electrify our season, entice recruits, and show everyone our program is moving forward. Most UCLA cynics (across the Pac-10 and the nation) were EXPECTING us to lose against Stanford and now Oregon for sure. Our team has to change that perception. We can be confident and not cocky and win this thing and prove to our detractors that this program is on the rise, not the other way around.
We beat Oregon Saturday and our season can be a HUGE success. We lose, and we can still accomplish our short-term goals, but what good is that, if come December, we're wondering why we could have and should have gone farther in the season. Just a thought. I think we can win Saturday, but we have to simply take it up a notch and play sound Bruin football.