So, two weeks ago who had the Bruins getting off to a 2-2 start? If you raised your hand, you're lying or should move to Vegas. Wins over Houston and Texas, both in convincing fashion, have UCLA sitting in a good position. Prior to the season, the expectations for this team were set and a successful season was deemed to be another bowl game and winning record in Pac-10 play. Now, at 0-1 in the conference and the Pac-10 looking very strong the Bruins have a long way to go if they are to get to five conference wins, but if they do it then they will have had a very successful season. I don't think anyone in blue and gold could possibly complain about a 7-5 season, likely top half Pac-10 finish and some more postseason football.
The issue now is how to get to those five Pac-10 wins. It will be a tough road to haul and as is the case with any team in the conference this year, if UCLA can find their way into the top half of the conference, they're at least a half way decent team. There's no faking your way to many wins in the Pac-10 this year. Saturday's win over Texas, while not a conference victory, does a lot for the UCLA program, though. Featured on the ESPN.com home page, a first-segment spot on SportsCenter and features in every sporting website, UCLA's footprint extended well beyond Westwood and Austin on Saturday. Wins like Saturday's are a boost for recruiting and help set the bar for what this team can be now and what the program can be in the future. Any dreams of a nine win season are preposterous, but this is a team that can win five more games and don't let anyone else tell you otherwise. Likewise, this is a program that with continued progress can beat a team like Texas in the future without the words shock or upset in the headline. A realistic bar has been set so let's go chasing.
Filthy Five and Then Some- Even in the first two games of the season, the UCLA offensive line, dubbed "The Filthy Five," had drawn generally good reviews. The patchwork unit had looked anything but and had been the strength of a shaky offense. Handed a rather simple scheme of hat on a hat and drive, the offensive line did just that. Missed assignments were few and far between, while holes were opening up time and time again. The front five did that again in Austin, but they got some help this week too. Cory Harkey has had a case of the dropsies this season, but he continually drove Longhorns back to essentially give the Bruins six linemen. At the same time, whoever was playing F-back, be it Anthony Barr or Morrell Presley, laid some vicious blocks, two of which by Barr allowed Kevin Prince and Derrick Coleman to score the final two touchdowns of the game. In addition, the receivers were chipping away at guys downfield and a complete team blocking effort.
Third Quarter- Lots of teams in search of an upset take halftime leads. The favorite is surprised, probably a little bit unprepared and gets knocked on their butts. Then they wake up at halftime, the underdog gets flustered, shoots themselves in the foot a few times and the rest of the game goes as it was originally supposed to. A dominant third quarter by UCLA made sure the game was never going to go as scripted. The Bruins opened up the second half by marching down the field on an 80 yard drive, the last 74 of which came on the ground. In fact, those 80 yards were more than Texas mustered in the entire first half and sent a message to the Longhorns that those miserable first 30 minutes that they had were going to be the norm for the second half. By the time the third quarter came to an end UCLA had averaged 10.5 yards for the period and outscored the Longhorns 14-3 without the help of a turnover, but with the help of a Josh Smith 45 yard kickoff return.
Palcic and Bullough- Keeping with the praise for the blocking, the man behind it is offensive line coach Bob Palcic. After polishing off a reputation as one of the nation's premier offensive line coaches at Wisconsin, Palcic is showing the West Coast fellas exactly why he's so high regarded. Palcic has had to work in a new five linemen in each of his three years with UCLA, but that hasn't stopped him from orchestrating a remarkable turnaround job. As the Bruins owned the line of scrimmage on Saturday, Palcic was pacing the sidelines watching three years of tremendous work pay off. Defensive Coordinator Chuck Bullough didn't have near the reputation Palcic had when he got the job, in fact he had never been a defensive coordinator. For 15 games it looked like he'd never called a game before, but after calling a good one against Houston, he topped it against Texas. The Longhorns aren't a team to go crazy with on the blitz, but that didn't stop Bullough from getting creative bring stunts, zone blitzes and an array of different looks to shut down a befuddled Texas offense. Bullough's ability to balance conservative with creative was masterful on Saturday.
Ball Control- For several years the UCLA defense has spent what seemed like hours on the field, resulting in their being gassed at the end of the game. The offense played a big part in it because they couldn't put together a drive, but the defense didn't help itself out any by failing to get third down stops. On Saturday, the Bruins allowed the Longhorns to convert on just six of their 14 third down tries and forced five turnovers to keep the Longhorn defense on the field. The offense also helped out by staying committed to a running game that actually worked unlike in past seasons and one drive told the entire story. In the fourth quarter UCLA had a drive that went merely 34 yards, but with the help of a Texas penalty and a punishing ground attack, that drive lasted eight minutes and 19 seconds to put the ribbon on the game. By the end, UCLA had the ball for almost 11 minutes more than Texas.
Secondary- Games are usually won up front and funnel their way on back, as was the case with the UCLA offense, but the UCLA defense worked back to front. Dalton Hilliard laid a big hit in the early going to set the tone and Rahim Moore made a key tackle around the line of scrimmage in the early going as well. Sheldon Price was tremendous, putting the clamps on whoever he was matched up with by using his long arms to get physical and he also did everything in his power to shed the label of "weak in run support" by laying a couple bone crushing hits. Aaron Hester didn't appear too often, but on three straight pass plays Texas' first read was his man and Garrett Gilbert moved on to his second read quickly. On the fourth play, Gilbert went down on a sack after going through three reads, none of them to Hester's man. Tony Dye was the quiet man of the secondary, but he had five tackles and nearly a pick. It was the physicality of the UCLA secondary, both in run support and in coverage that forced Texas to first abandon the run and then resort to short passes that allowed the linebackers and defensive line to put the blinders on.
Passing Game- 27 yards through the air is usually cause of a big fat ugly, but you're only going to throw for so many yards when you only attempt eight passes. That said, the UCLA passing game has still yet to click this season and while Prince did go 5-8, you add in the Longhorns' four sacks and you have five completions on 12 real pass attempts with just 2.25 yards per drop back. Saturday marked the third straight game that the Bruins didn't complete a pass of 25 yards or more and this despite a couple athletes who can turn short passes into long gains. The Bruin receivers are still struggling to get separation and Prince is not getting the ball out quickly enough. Most concerning is the Bruins' inability to use the middle of the field, treating the space between the hashmarks like the 17th parallel. In the revolver, the middle of the field, specifically the space between the linebackers and safeties should be the sweet spot for the UCLA passing game.
Penalties- A few of the penalties can be attributed to the road environment, specifically the false start and pair of offsides and one penalty was an intentional delay of game to get some more room to punt, but the Bruins still finished with eight penalties. Worst of all, two of the penalties were personal fouls that have become all too common for UCLA. Through four games, UCLA has committed eight personal fouls and have at least one in each game. Some things, like UCLA's pass interference and illegal block penalties will happen when the ref mistakes contact for tangled feet or a player is trying to get an extra block in, but the personal fouls have gotten out of hand,
Capitalizing on Turnovers- For all the talk about turnovers, UCLA took minimal advantage of the Longhorns' five giveaways and managed a mere 10 points off of them. That includes getting the ball at the Texas 20 off of a fumble return only to go 11 yards the wrong way before missing a long field goal. That includes getting the ball at the Texas 33 on a fumble and managing just two yards before a good field goal and fumbling at the Texas 21 after getting the ball in Texas territory one again, that time off of a interception. If a team gives you the ball five times, you need more the 10 points off of them, plain and simple, especially if you keep getting it in their half of the field.
Recent History- Since 2006, UCLA has had one marquee win each season. In 2006 it was the 13-9 upset of USC, but the Bruins followed that up with an embarrassing performance in their Emerald Bowl loss to Florida St. In 2007 UCLA took down then #10 Cal only to getting knocked around 27-7 to a Washington St. team that has won just one Pac-10 game since then against someone other than Washington. A season-opening overtime win over Tennessee in 2008 was followed by a 59-0 schalacking at the hands of BYU and last season the Bruins won on the road at Tennessee just to lose five of their next wins. Individual marquee wins are the norm in Westwood, but parlaying that win into success is anything but. Nobody will speak about the win in Texas too fondly if the Bruins go out and repeat recent history.