Heading into our last two games against California and Oregon, my outlook was decidedly negative. I was dreading about Bruins chances in Berkeley and was basically expecting a total annihilation in Eugene. At the time there were few here on BN, who thought those posts were overtly negative and were selling our team short. I didn't think so because going into those games I thought the Bruins didn't have the personnel to pull out victories in those contests (although there are still no excuses for the way we lost two games, looking out-schemed and unprepared).
At 3-4 (1-3) there are few who have already given up on this season. I have see some comments breathlessly wondering what is going to happen if the Bruins end up finishing with records of 3-9 and 4-8. If anyone here has already conceded rest of this season, I would recommend that he or she stop reading this blog. While we are disheartened and disappointed at number of aspects of our team, we are not going to quit on them and engage in constant bitchfest.
There will be plenty of time to go over the future of the coaching staff. If Rick Neuheisel doesn't live up to his promise of putting together a Pac-10 championship contending program by the end of his fifth season, he will not be around in Westwood. I don't believe it is going to require any kind of added online activism to push him out (should he fail to live up those goals). The momentum against him both on and offline will be so strong that it is not going to require any kind of extra boost like it was required during Karl Dorrell era.
All that said, there are 5 games left in this season. While we don't recommend anyone resorting to blind faith and thinking that we are not going to lose any more games this season, I do believe there are good reasons to think, Bruins will have opportunities to be competitive in every single one of their remaining games and will have a decent shot of salvaging this season, and meeting the pre-season expectations of winning 5-7 games this year. If anyone wants to revise history about our expectation being something else, they could go through posts after posts discussing the expectations for 2010 season to be somewhere in the range of 5-7 wins.
First and foremost, Bruins have a huge opportunity in their next couple of games to reshape the momentum for 2010 season. While they are going to be underdogs against Arizona and Oregon State, I do believe there are some numbers that gives us some reasons to be optimistic that a focused and motivated UCLA team will have decent shots of pulling our victories in both of those games. If our guys can make a stand in next two games at the Rose Bowl and win either one or both of these games in competitive contests, they will have a shot at turning around the negative vibes from last 3 weeks.
Oregon State had a bye this past weekend after losing a heart-breaker against Washington. While everyone gives a lot of credit to Mike Riley (who deserves it), I think the Bruins should have very good chances of pulling out a victory against a team, that currently ranks 9th in the conference in total defense and 8th in total offense. Moreover, Oregon State recently lost James Rodgers for the entire season. We will of course have more on the Beavers, when we get to their game week.
However, for now we need to focus on Arizona. If the Bruins can pull out an upset this weekend against Arizona Wildcats, they will get back to .500 with a great chance of getting back their mojo against Oregon State Beavers (with games still coming up against not so impressive Washington Huskies and Arizona State Sun Devils).
Arizona of course is coming off against a pretty nice win as they recently blew out Steve Sarkasian's Huskies by a score of 44-14. Backup QB Matt Scott looked spectacular in that game completing 18 of 22 passes for 233 yards and 2 TDs. He also rushed for 65 yards in 7 carries, as Arizona clearly exploited the vulnerabilities in a Husky offense that got torched by Nebraska's Taylor Martinez. Of course Scott was in the game because starter Nick Foles was out from a dislocated right kneecap. The latest report was that Foles was "close to returning" however, it is unclear whether he will start against UCLA.
As for Zona's demolition of the Huskies before you read too much into that score note the fact that as disappointing as UCLA's defense has been in recent Pac-10 games, Washington's defense has been worse. It is currently ranked 8th in the conference (UCLA is 6th) as it's defensive line has gotten blown up into bits game after game. Arizona's OL no doubt was impressive against the Huskies, but its rushing attack ranks 8th in the conference (136.9 yards per game).
I think the UCLA team should have a puncher's chance against a Wildcat team, which won by a score of 27-13 and didn't pull away until late in the game. While Matt Scott was impressive against an extremely mediocre Husky defense his career statistics is not all that imposing. In fact his line against Washington State (14 out of 20 for 139 yards and 1 pick) was not all that dramatically different from Richard Brehaut's numbers against the Cougars (12 out of 23 for 128 yards and 1 rushing TD).
If the UCLA defense can gather itself again, regain some of its aggressiveness and attitude (it displayed against the Texas teams), I do think they should have a shot in putting some pressure on Scott. Of course this would require focus and discipline as Scott has demonstrated his ability to beat a team with his mobility (like he did against Washington State).
Meanwhile, on the other side of the ball, call me extremely curious in terms of what transpired with Richard Brehaut from here on out. Don't get me wrong. I have my expectations in check. I fully realize Brehaut's stats against Oregon was somewhat padded because a huge chunk of his passing yardage came in the second half when the game was all but decided. However, what I kind of liked in Brehaut (despite the (somewhat expected) mistakes he made in his first road start as a Bruin) was his body language in that TD scoring drive. He didn't quit until the very last minute and he went all out when he rushed into the end zone. There is another thing. From silverlakebruin:
One thing you did see with Bre was the receivers are much more confident they are going to get thrown a catchable ball. Both his distribution of the ball and his accuracy of throws is so much better than the 2010 version of Prince it is hard to adequately convey. This will have a huge effect on the effort and execution of the WRs, as they will believe that Bre can effectively distribute the ball and will play harder. I know they should anyway, but receivers don't run crisp routes the whole game if they are going to get the ball thrown to them once and it is going to be behind them and uncatchable anyway. That's just a fact of life with most 18-22 year old athletes.
I think that is a very important point. Also, I realize the Brehaut has a lot of work to do in terms of getting comfortable with zone reads in the offense and make the right call. It will be interesting to see how he performs now that he is going to have majority of the reps heading into every game. There is a chance that he could develop a rhythm and get more comfortable as he gets more reps. Oh, he might not be as fast as Prince, but I think Brehaut is mobile enough. He showed it during high school and he showed flashes of it number of times against the Ducks.
Bruins will have couple of other factors going in for them against Arizona. They are going to get Josh Smith and Morrell Presley back. Of course, I can sense the eyes rolling, when reading that line (with barbs about coaches not using their personnel). However, I am also intrigued about the idea whether those guys will get more catches with Brehaut in the offense. After all it was interesting to see how Cory Harkey was catching all those balls from Brehaut passes on Thursday night (a little note positive trend that got lost in the deluge of justified gloom and doom).
So, in closing for this opening post this Monday, I fully appreciate the Rick Neuheisel paradox, Achilles laid out so beautifully this Sunday. However, I also strongly believe that this season is long way from being over. I don't think anyone here is going to mistake me for pimping sunshine if they have read my posts through the entire season (and particularly with games coming up against Texas, California and Stanford). Based on what I see in season stats and numbers and games I have seen over the year, I do believe Bruins should be competitive in every single one of our remaining games. I can easily visualize scenarios of Bruins winning all of them. However, the responsibility is upon Rick Neuheisel and his staff to make sure their players are ready, focused and properly prepared for every one of those contests.
We will have plenty more opportunities to do big picture postmortems and analysis about where the program is headed. We will have opportunities to discuss coordinator candidates for both sides of the ball (not just defense). Of course will have opportunities to talk about Neuheisel himself. However, the chapter of 2010 season is not over.
We are going to take it game by game, week by week, to see if the coaches can meet the expectations that were set for them before the season. There is still time to refocus, meet those expectations, and keep the Bruins moving towards a positive direction heading into 2011. For those who think the season is lost, as mentioned above they need to stop hanging around on BN. As for rest of us, we are going to stick together - especially now - and go through rest of the year to see whether the Bruins can rebound before making definitive conclusions about the big picture. We will certainly not quit on our team, especially when they still have realistic shots to make a stand.