All right. We have spent a little too much time talking about our quarterbacks this week (for good reason). As we get ready for another game day at the Rose Bowl, let's talk a little bit about the meat and potatoes of our entire offense. I am talking about the "Filthy Five" - the UCLA OL developed by Coach Bob Palcic and Mike Lyn (through his offseason S&C program - who to date has been the most pleasant surprise during first third of the season.
It's kind of funny to hear people talk about UCLA as some kind of "smash mouth" football team. Amusing not just because of our recent history (as I can't recall having a physical UCLA football team to root for since the 1997 season) but also because of the stigma around Coach Rick Neuheisel for not putting together physical teams towards his later years at University of Washington. Yet here we are, talking about a UCLA football team and hoping we can get a passing game going which can be "efficient" and put together a 140-160 yard per game as if we are some kind of classic Big-10 team or from Lincoln, Nebraska. As mentioned before I am loving it just like it was wonderful to embrace the "defense mind" mindset of Ben Howland, shaking up the wine and cheese loving crowd in LA (clamoring for "showtime" offense). That's a topic for another day (we have the hoops season still ahead of us).
Anyway going back to the reason for this post was this interview Jon Gold did (one of his best yet) with Bruin LG Darius Savage. Darius has been through a lot during his career (along with rest of his senior compadres at the OL) and he is finally enjoying the kind of success we all thought he would have given his immense size and athletic potential he brought to Westwood. Here is Gold talking to Darius on wide range of topics ranging from that epic back-breaking drive to start the second half and eating edamames:
Gold wrote a great feature on that epic drive (which you can read here). What is really interesting in terms of pure football standpoint is Darius talking about the mindset of UCLA OL under Palcic in the zone blocking scheme within the revolver offense. Darius explained how for the UCLA OL, they no longer focus on just pancaking opposing DLs, but more on maintaining their blocks and creating lanes for our running backs. Gold observed astutely how during our game against Texas Savage and lot of our OL were doing such a good job of maintaining their blocks that they were getting up to the second level helping what used to be 3-4 yards game last season into 4-6 yards this year. This is something UCLA can build on rest of this season setting up a long term foundation of success in this program.
I know there is a lot of worry about having to get our passing game in order so that we can deal with the 8-9 men front that we are going to see from here on out. I don't necessarily see that's what our offense needs to be consume about. What I think is crucial for Savage and his offensive team-mates is to continue to work along this scheme and perfect it.
Let's put it another way. If we were still playing along last year's pro-set offense, this OL would be dead meat. They would essentially get blown apart and I am willing to bet we wouldn't have seen the substantial improvement we have seen in our ground game numbers. What the revolver formation has done is that it has enable Chow and Palcic to optimize their talents through a scheme that essentially deals through a good amount of deception at LOS. It's because the defense can't tell until the ball is snapped which way the ball is going to go or whether the QB is going to keep it for himself, allows the OL to have split second advantage in deciding how they would leverage the flow of the offense and get the running game generated accordingly. It is something that is pretty exquisite to watch (if you enjoy watching hardnosed football).
Now this is something UCLA is still working on and hasn't mastered it yet. So I don't think Bruins should get into a mindset of chucking around the ball on a sudden against Washington State just to get the passing game going. If anything I'd like to see UCLA keep pounding the ball against the Cougars 40 or more times and then take advantage of whatever passing opportunities show up. I remain convinced that passing opportunities will come (no matter who is at QB) if we keep working on perfecting our zone blocking scheme.
That said our guys up front do need to get better with pass protection just a bit. Last weekend Prince fumbled couple of time when he was sacked. That can also be addressed if our QBs are doing a better job of not locking on to receivers and our receivers are doing a better job getting separation and fighting off the DBs. Ultimately it all goes together. However, it always helps once the base of the offense is working to perfection.
BTW, going back to Savage note how he gave a lot of credit to Mike Lynn (in addition to give due props to Palcic). He did the same when he talked Ralph couple of weeks ago when the world was lot gloomier around us at 0-2:
Of course it's not the first time we have seen Lynn's name pop up this season. The last time UCLA football trainer has gotten this kind of props was when we had Kevin Yoxall under Bob Toledo, who ended up moving to Auburn. The early signs on Lynn is certainly encouraging and I hope CRN and if they continue to be positive, I hope CRN does what it takes to hang on to him.
Savage also mentioned in those two videos that the designation "Filthy Five" was not just for the five starters but whoever is playing OL for UCLA. Micah Kia echoed the same sentiment while talking about Mike Harris in the LAT today. Savage referred to as a mindset developed by Coach Palcic of just being "nasty" and aggressive. Really hope they come in with that exact "nasty" and hungry perspective tomorrow afternoon. If they keep leading the team with that kind of intensity and have the team taking cues from them, it could shape up to be another fun Saturday.