Bumped. GO BRUINS. -N
First off, I am incredibly pumped about this victory. I think this is the sort of victory that defines coaches and programs. I don't mean that to say that we are going to go win the PAC-10 right now; rather, this shows us what we are capable of. This young team is very talented, and as we grow more experienced we can only get better. But we are young, and I fully expect some hiccups.
Back to this incredibly entertaining game. How did we go about winning this game? Well, there are a few broad things to say first. Yes, this Texas team was overrated; they were certainly not the number 7 team in the nation. They hadn't particularly earned it to this point, beyond being great last year and returning a number of people, plus bringing in a lot of talent. That is not to say, however, that UCLA did not go out and win this game, or that Texas handed it to us; the Bruins made a lot of their own luck today. Not all of it, but a lot. I'll break down what I saw after the jump, and then you can add your own commentary (or tell me I'm a crackpot).
1. Shutdown run defense: one of the weaknesses to this point in the season had been our run defense. Last week it did not hurt us, but that was unsurprising against a Houston team that heavily favors the pass. Surely Texas would be able to exploit our large but slightly slow d-line. Unfortunately for Texas fans and players, however, it appears that one of two things is true: our run D is better than has been shown in the past, and we were just beaten up by two very good running teams in Stanford and K State, or Texas' run offense is exactly as has been shown in the past, that being not very good. My guess is somewhere in between the two. I also think we were given an assist by Texas OC Greg Davis (much maligned by Texas fans), who continued to attempt to pound the ball in the middle, despite the obvious ineffectiveness of that effort. For some reason, he avoided going to more of a spread attack, even though they were much more successful in that.
2. Defensive creativity: Our D kept the pressure on Garrett Gilbert (GG) for much of the game, through blitzes, good scheming, and tremendous individual efforts (Akeem Ayers). Bullough did a good job of getting his playmakers on the field and allowing them to make plays (Dalton Hilliard is a good example of this). We did not provide GG with too many easy reads, and GG was forced to sit in the pocket and wait for something to get open, which did not happen often (more on that next). The fact that he had so much time is concerning, but not incredibly so at this point.
3. Coverage: We played a lot of loose coverage today. Texas has some very good receivers (although they did lose true freshman Mike Davis early, which was a big loss), and it would appear Bullough thought it best to keep everything in front and shut down their playmaking ability. After a result like today's, I think I'll agree with him. We did not allow any deep balls until one late in the game, but notice this: GG was not attempting many deep passes, because they weren't there. Sheldon Price did a fantastic job today, and Hester did well (despite the two penalties, which were both in their own way questionable). I will note, that despite our mostly superb coverage, we were given help by Texas receivers who insisted on dropping catchable balls.
4. Turnovers: This is where some might say that Texas handed us the game, and in some ways, they are right. Major programs like Texas can not make mistakes like Curtis Brown's fumbled punt return (shouldn't have tried to return it, but hey) and expect to win. That was a very costly mistake that directly lead to UCLA points. That, as well as the GG-Monroe fumbled exchange and the dropped kickoff return, were all major lapses in concentration rather than great efforts on our part. However, both of Ayers' turnovers were self made and important. Ayers' interception was on a play in which GG missed his target by a foot or so; that is, had he gotten the ball a foot or more higher, he hits his (wide open) receiver for a big gain. As it was, Ayers hung in space and made a good read, killing a drive and saving us points. His forced fumble was just Ayers being a man. While UCLA had a couple of turnovers themselves, they were not killers, mostly because our defense was playing well. I also do not blame JetSki for his fumble, despite his history. When carrying a ball, even properly, someone hitting that ball directly with their helmet has a good chance of knocking it loose. The full force of a human being went directly into that ball, and that makes it hard to hold onto that ball.
5. The running game: This is a big one. We really changed the game with our ability to run the ball. It kept the Texas offense off the field, reducing their chances to find rhythm and make big plays, kept us moving towards the endzone and more points, and put us in better field position. Big props to our O-Line, the filthy five, for getting it done today. Texas has great athletes on the D-Line, between future pros like Acho, Jones, and Randall, and future All-Americans like Jeffcoat, but our boys, along with KP's defense-reading capabilities (which cannot be understated, though this does not absolve him of his lack of explosiveness in the passing game) were able to neutralize their speed and athleticism through constant pounding and good decision making. Go read jttthirtyfour's excellent breakdown on the pistol if you want more info on that, but I will try my best to describe how well KP read the defense today with one example in particular: KP's 38-yard TD scamper. The play can be found at the 3:04 mark in this video. You see the snap come to KP, the linemen block down effectively, and KP and JetSki meet. The end, E. Jones, is free and reading the play. KP looks at the end, sees him slightly turn and take one step towards the dive. KP keeps the ball and bursts past Jones just as he realizes his mistake. The good delivery by the rest of the team meant that the end Jones was essentially the only guy who could stop him (also because Barr makes a sufficient block on the remaining man outside) before a big gain, and since he chose wrong, KP capitalized. The exciting thing is that our running game got stronger throughout the game, despite the increasing presence of 8+ man fronts by Texas. Is Texas the best run defense in the nation? Maybe not, but the more important thing here is that our running game works; independent of our opponent. We are unlikely to play many teams (except USC) with athletes like Texas, and if we can run on them, we should (in theory) be able to run on anyone.
6. Dedication: This is an important one. Our team remained dedicated through fire. Our fans remained dedicated. Our coaches remained dedicated to their system and their players, despite fans clamoring for Brehaut (myself included, at one point). They knew that this stuff worked, and they believed it and made it happen. Others have said it, I'll repeat it. The Pistol is the sort of system that you cannot just dabble in. It is more effective, in fact, if you commit to it. It is built to work with itself, and not as a fun play toy when you want to confuse the defense. At the point where the coaches said that we will run the ball, passing be damned, that is where we became a team that could win this game. KP has not fully developed as a passer, and to force him to throw a bunch just because he is the quarterback and we have some talented receivers would have been (and was) foolish when our running game was all we needed. The coaches decision to go for it, really go for broke with the Pistol, was an important one. Our team, coaches, and fans stayed dedicated and it paid off.
Closing Thoughts: This was an important and dominating win for UCLA, and could pay major dividends in terms of respect, national exposure, recruiting momentum, confidence, etc. We were not without fault; but, as I hopefully laid out above, we did a lot of things right in combination with a few lucky breaks and took advantage. Our team needs to take this win and build on it (passing game, maybe?).