Some Meta Thoughts On UCLA’s Pre-Season "Scrimmages"

The Blue team usually has the edge during scrimmages at UCLA. Photo Credit: Erkki Corpuz

The Bruins held their second mini scrimmage of this summer camp yesterday.  According to Jon Gold, it sounds like the offense shined a little bit this time around.  Apparently the team in white picked up 3 TDs including 2 from Jet Ski:

* Both of Franklin's touchdowns were short-yardage, one for three yards, one for four, but he had a few other nice plays. He had a 22-yard gain on a beautiful screen pass and scored on the next play, and he had a couple of runs up the middle that elicited a cheer.

* The big bruiser on Tuesday, though, was Malcolm Jones. Jones had a seven-yard run that should have gone for two, breaking two or three tackles, and a very nice draw play that went for more than 20 yards, with three more broken tackles. I've written before about "football speed" - maintaining the same speed even in pads - and Jones has it. He initiates contact, but his legs are so strong that he basically bullies himself forward. It's the difference between a one-yard loss and a two-yard gain, and that means everything.

* Richard Brehaut was solid but not spectacular, save for a 25-yard touchdown pass to Taylor Embree on the first play of the scrimmage. It wasn't the prettiest throw, but it was delivered to a spot that only Embree could reach, and that's a big change for Brehaut, who often had trouble with precision last season. He's improving, and he is solid as the No. 2 QB.

Read rest of Gold notes here. The description of our offense as "much improved" certainly sounds certainly encouraging. More from the LA Times:

The Bruins had 77 yards rushing during the red-zone scrimmage, a considerable improvement from Saturday's lost-in-the-wilderness performance during the first scrimmage.

Quarterback Richard Brehaut threw two touchdown passes. Twice the Bruins converted on third-and-long plays. Jones skittered outside for 23 yards on a third-and-20 play. Franklin made an impressive 17-yard run on a screen pass on third-and-10. [...]

True, the first-team offense did go against the second-team defense at times. But moving the ball was a "confidence builder," Brehaut said.

It is good to hear the offense making some plays after it struggled a bit because of self-inflicted mistakes on Saturday. Here is the catch though. As mentioned the coaches were scrimmaging the number 1 offense against our number 2 defense. On Saturday when our offense struggled to get in rhythm we had the 1s on both sides going up against each other and not surprisingly the defense got the better of our offense.  During spring game this year, we also had the 1s going against each other and the defense also got the better of our offense.

UCLA is going to hold its scrimmage this Saturday. I am guessing the coaches will have the 1s going at it and it will not be a surprise if the defense gets the better of the offense again. I was really interested in hearing the thoughts of veteran practice goers on this topic.

Let me throw out some additional thoughts which you can take in before chiming in on this. I don't really follow the scrimmages and practices of other schools. So I don't have a good handle the breakdown on whether other programs had their number 1 offense square off against their number 1 defense. Although this detail from Scott Wolf few days ago was very interesting:

Carroll usually let the first team square off against the second team, which sometimes made it difficult to determine how improved a quarterback or linebacker might be until the season started.

But Kiffin let the first-team offense face the first-team defense in Sunday's initial scrimmage from Howard Jones Field, and the defense clearly flexed its muscles.

The starting offense generated only one touchdown in the scrimmage and starting tailback Allen Bradford lost five yards in six carries.  

The conventional wisdom around these camps seem to be that defense generally have an upper hand against offense. As Sean Westgate mentioned in his interview with Gold, while the defensive guys have to work on reacting (and using techniques), the offensive guys have to get used to each other and get in rhythm.

So it is difficult to get a handle on exactly where our offense (or defense) is by watching these practices

I do think during Pete Carroll era Southern Cal used to put a lot of emphasis on ginning up excitement and buzz around their scrimmages. One of the reasons he had 1s going against 2s because the offense would get gathered crowd (not to mention recruits) all fired up. By comparison at UCLA we have gotten used to vanilla scrimmages where coaches stuck to conservative playbook and have the 1s going against each other.

So the question I have is whether it is worth for CRN to "loosen" up the scrimmage a bit by having going 1s against 2s and also open up his offensive playbook. I am not sure about the answer. Personally, I understand the need to take the cautious route making sure we are minimizing the risk of injuries and not showing all our cards. On the other hand, I could also see an argument that CRN and his coaches need to put on a show to get the crowd all excited. Not to mention if the offense looks well, it has the potential to generate positive press for nimrod reporters who to date have not shown any kind of sophistication in terms of taking in the big picture.

Another reason, I bring this up is no matter what happens this Saturday, we have to keep the big picture in mind. If the offense has few good plays and then defense tightens up in battle between 1s, we shouldn't be drawing any kind of drastic conclusions (positive or negative) like we see in the tradmed. Then again everyone who reads this blog already kind of knew that.

BTW in case you didn't know by now, our official scrimmage is scheduled for this Saturday at Drake Stadium starting at 5pm. You can see the full practice (tentative) schedule here.

Anyway, just thought I throw this up as discussion point. Would love to hear everyone's thoughts on this.

GO BRUINS.

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