Sunday Thoughts: Staying Even Keeled & Keeping That "Chip" on Bruins’ Shoulders

There is a lot of euphoria and happy feeling after UCLA's first win of the season against a Houston Cougars team that came in with a vaunted offense, looking to bury the Bruins for rest of this season. I could sense the positive energy on television through the loud noise of the Rose Bowl crowd, which seemed to fire up the Bruins early on (BTW huge props to all the die hards who showed up at the Rose Bowl to support the team through thick and thin).  Bruins on their part looked inspired (and relieved) following the win looking to carry it through rest of the season.

Now all of that feels pretty cool. It's finally nice to have a Sunday during 2010 season we are not dreading about football and dealing with irrational, reactionary rhetoric from drive by trolls (who only show up after tough losses) here on BN. That said, we all need to collectively check our excitement and maintain our perspective keeping us even keeled through this game week and rest of the season. As good as the W felt last night, the Bruins still have major rooms for improvements on both sides of the ball. Moreover, UCLA's offense still has ways to go, despite the positive steps the OL have taken thanks to the revolver formation in 2010.

Let's start with the good stuff and I will start on defense. It's worth repeating the kind of numbers Houston offense had before it rolled into the Rose Bowl for its "business trip":

  • Cougars were ranked number 1 in the country averaging a mindboggling 61 points per game
  • Cougars passing offense was ranked number 9 in the nation averaging 347 yards per game
  • Cougars rushing attack averaged 229.5 yards per game and was ranked in the top-25 (no. 23) among FBS teams

Then the Bruin defense came out with Chuck Bullough's nickel package and instead of sitting back, they went out and attacked the Cougars. The Bruins physically attacked the Cougs like a pack of hounds, blowing up their QBs, and throttling the RB at the LOS. Instead of sitting back and letting Cougars dictate issue, this time Bullough unleashed his defenders with a package of blitzes and different looks from his base set.

The numbers last night speak for themselves. Bruins pounded their QBs and sent Case Keenum and Cotton Turner to the locker room (hope they are doing ok). The Cougars were limited to 360 total yards with only 108 of them coming on the ground. Cougars last TD was result of Bruins' second stringers getting little sloppy with personal fouls (more on that later) when the game was mostly out of reach.

So credit to Bullough for perhaps calling the best game of his career to date. He was under a lot of pressure (for good reasons) and he responded with fielding a team that was ready to attack and attack it did most of the night. I also specifically appreciated the personnel adjustments Bullough unveiled as Nate Chandler took over Justin Edison's spot at DT and Keenan Graham got the spot at DE. Those moves I believe played a part in Patrick Larimore letting it loose from the Mike LB. Those guys blew up Cougars with vicious hits all night long, making life hellish for Sumlin's squad which might have been looking to make a "statement" at the Rose Bowl.

All that said, our younger guys need to get themselves under control. There were some incredibly dumb personal fouls late in the game when the Bruins gave up chunk of free yardage for no reason. It was frustrating to see Damien Holmes committing multiple mistakes.

Also as good as Rahim was in his interception, he got tricked out by Case Keenum early in the game, and then looked rather ordinary in his attempt tackle. Don't get me wrong. Rahim is one of my favorite players and I absolutely love the passion and energy he brings to the game. However, for all the grief we have given kids like Sheldon Price in his need to get better at tackling, Moore still needs to make similar improvement to build himself up as one of the premiere if not the best free safety in the game.

Moving over to offense, let's start with the positive notes and it has to begin with our OL. Bruins rushed for 266 yards last night averaging 5.2 yards in about 51 attempts. Heading into the game we pointed out how for the Bruins to have a chance against the Cougars, they would have to run with the same effectiveness Cougars victorious opponents did last year. Well the Bruins came out and set the tone early with their revolver formation and running it straight at the Cougars undersized DL. They did it with the Jet Ski providing early spark and Kevin Prince starting to look like his old self when he got in a groove upon his return from injury last season.

I had to LOL a little about commentators on TV and some here and other places voicing surprising at Prince's mobility and Jet Ski's explosion. Lot of these guys were the same guys questioning UCLA coaches move to use the "revolver formation" as their base set completing forgetting the mobility Prince showed last season. Lot of these guys also forgot how last night wasn't Jet Ski's first 100 yard rushing game, as he had 2 of those before getting banged up last season.

What is clear at this point is that UCLA coaches should stick with Jet Ski as their starter (even when Derrick Coleman is 100 percent healthy). Jet Ski provides the kind of spark that Coleman will never be able to provide. Moreover, Jet Ski should work closely with Malcolm Jones to make sure the freshman doesn't get into any kind of funk from his fumbling issues from last night.

Speaking of the running back spot, it was good to see Damien Thigpen return at the F-Back spot. He also clearly provided a spark. It will be interesting to see if he can keep that up. If Thigpen continues to be productive from the F-Back spot, I wouldn't mind seeing Barr shifted over to defense, where he can used at the Will LB spot given his size, speed and athleticism. Just something to think about.

As for Prince his overall leadership was solid (loved how he got excited during Ayers' interception return). He was instrumental in giving UCLA momentum early on as he manufactured TDs with 57 rushing yards. However, his passing numbers remained mediocre.  Prince completed 9 of 17 passes for 99 yards. Although he was stung by (at least) 3 drops from Corey Harkey, Ricky Marvray and Taylor Embree. Harkey dropped a 3rd down conversion which would have kept the drive going, while Embree dropped what appeared to be a TD pass for the second time this season. I like the effort Embree brings to practice. However, as an upperclassmen he really needs to make those catches and help out his QB.

The offense as a whole  has ways to go to improve as a unit. FWIW our receivers did a great job blocking last night. Couple of Jet Ski's TDs were helped out by great blocks from Embree and Morrell Presley (who seemed to have crushed a hapless Cougar). But they need to get way more aggressive in attacking the ball. They just seem passive as a group (except for Marvray) when the passes are thrown to them. This is something that Reggie Moore has to teach and instill in his unit. While they took some baby steps last night, they are still way behind in terms of optimizing their talent level.

Honestly, I was also not a big fan of some our offensive play calling last night. I don't like QB sneaks (especially with Kevin Prince) on 3rd and short situations. As Coach Neuheisel mentioned himself during his post-game interview, the offense also became a little too conservative towards the end. After getting off to a solid start running the ball and putting together some long drives, our offense sagged with 2 fumbles, interception, FG and 3 punts in our last few possessions. I think three of our TOs came in or right around the red zone as were in position to score.

Norm Chow has to find a way to unlock this offense a little more. It might also mean not being afraid to change up personnel, who will show the tendency to go after the ball. It would have been nice to see kids like Josh Smith and Joe Fauria get little more opportunities during the second half.

Going back to the big picture, it's worth reemphasizing again not to get too caught up over one win. Houston was a top-25 team but as detailed this past week they didn't have any significant road win last season except for a victory over Oklahoma State at Stillwater. Their defense was obviously porous and undersized and our offense didn't completely take advantage of them. Meanwhile, our own team was not as bad as our 0-2 record suggested, given our 2 opponents are now 6-0.

Things could have easily be different if we played a little cleaner against Kansas State.  The second game of the season would have been more competitive if the Bruins didn't shoot themselves in the foot with mistakes and go into the locker room down 7-13. Similarly, Bruins can't hurt themselves with visions of grandeur after what was basically just a nice win over decent team. As Jet Ski said following the game:

"All of us had a chip on the shoulder coming into this game," said running back Johnathan Franklin, who gained a career-high 158 yards and scored three touchdowns. "We need to keep that chip on our shoulder. We haven't done anything yet.

"We were 0-2 and 4-8 [in 2008] and 7-6 [in 2009]. We haven't done anything as the UCLA Bruins."

As Rick Neuheisel said following the game Bruins still have "thousands of things to correct" (via Blair Angulo):

BTW speaking of CRN I thought kneeling down to close out the clock was the absolutely the right move. I always expect a UCLA coach to do that kind of sportsmanship. IMO he did send a message to the team when we went for it on 4th and 1, effectively icing the game. There was nothing to be gained from pouring it on. I would only suggest CRN save that kind of karma for certain team (we all know who they are) when opportunities present themselves.

For now , let's hope the Bruins stick with the mindset described by Jet Ski heading into this upcoming weekend's monster challenge. They will need to stay even keeled and keep perspective no matter what happens against Texas, so that they can fight through rest of the season.

GO BRUINS.

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