I'm sorry, but was anybody expecting a drastically different outcome against a genuine top-10 team and all-world QB in Andrew Luck? Because I was. I was expecting our team to come out and get blown to smithereens by the Furd, and look awful doing it. But this was the one game where our team exceeded my eye-test expectations (short of the stupid TOs by our team - which I was fully expecting).
Let me be clear - I am NOT defending RN here. I have already conceded to myself that at this point, he's most likely not our guy, that he doesn't show the gumption, resolve, and strategic thinking of an excellent leader, and that we would be better off moving forward with someone else. But let's analyze just this one game after the jump (I've always wanted to do that):
Of all of the games in our season, this was the one we were supposed to get blown out in. I was beyond frustrated while at the Rose Bowl for the SJSU game. Furious for the Texas game. Unimpressed during the Oregon State game. Why? Because regardless of the outcomes, I knew our team could (and should) do better, that the coaches made stupid tactical errors and we were killing ourselves with stupid penalties and a lack of discipline.
But in this game? We had a chance to win, which is not what I was expecting. Our team needed to play a perfect game to stay in it, which is asking a lot for any team. And we would have to stop Stanford's offense, which, let's be honest, nobody has done and probably will not do in the near future. They dropped 45 on us, which was the average that the Furd scored on their three previous opponents this season, but the score did not reflect how close this game could have been.
So let's take a look at some figures, since I know my talk will get me nowhere.
Penalties - UCLA 3-25, Stanford 7-80. I would have guessed that those figures would be flipped around before the game started.
Offensive stats - 33 Passes, 29 Rushes. 202 yards passing, 141 yard rushing. Pretty balanced. RB did a decent job, hitting 55% of his passes to 8 different receivers for 200+ yards. Not all-worldly like Luck, who hit 86% of his passes for 240 yards, but not bad. JetSki almost hit the century mark rushing against the vaunted Stanford run D, and we averaged 4.9 yards per carry. Better than I expected. We hit 19 first downs vs. Stanford's 24. Again, better than I expected. So, all things considered, I think the offense did a decent job yesterday, despite coming up with only 3 TDs.
Defensive stats - Yes, these were pretty ugly, as we've grown used to. Again, Luck hit 86% of his passes, but most of them were short-ranged passes in the 0-10 yard range. And let's be real, the guy makes something out of nothing, even when we do manage to apply some decent pressure on him. He was NFL-ready in the middle of last season, and he was destined to carve us up like it was Thanksgiving yesterday. But the total yardage accrued by Stanford was 442. Not a great figure for us, but for comparison, Stanford rolled up 567 against Arizona and 504 against Duke (yes, I know I may be shooting myself in the foot by including a stat with Duke in it). We made a key defensive stand in the third quarter deep in Stanford's territory, but lost all of that momentum when Embree proceeded to gift it back to Stanford on the punt. We have a very long way to go with the D (please, no more shoulder-bumping and noodle-arm tackles!), but I thought I actually saw some progress vis-a-vis our past games.
Turnovers - UCLA 2, Stanford 0. This is where we really, really got killed. We really could have used a Stanford TO, but we never got one. The turnover by Brehaut was terrible, but not egregious. The TO by Embree was... well, it made me feel sick inside. Both were in our territory, and ended up in Stanford TDs.
My argument here is that we played a decent game in terms of fundamentals. There were just a few key moments that really turned the game against us. These are:
1. The first drive. We marched down the entire field, only to blow it on 1-2-3-4th and goal. I did like that RN went for it on 4th and goal, but like many mentioned here, the plays called were questionable, in hindsight. Had we scored on our first drive, we have a different ballgame. And yes, it is fair to blame the coaches on the playcalling here.
2. The first TO by Brehaut. From the Play-by-play on ESPN:
On the ensuing drive, the Furd would march down the short field and score a TD. 14-0, Stanford.
3. The Embree fumble. At this point in the 3rd quarter, we were down 13-24 - i.e., still in the game. After a key stop by the defense at Stanford's 15 yard line, Embree [mis]fields the punt at our 39, and coughs it up so Stanford starts at our 34. Ensuing drive, TD, Stanford. 13-31.
4. The onside kick. After Johnson rumbled in for that awesome TD in the beginning of the 4th quarter (PAT - missed by Locke), bringing the score to 19-31, Locke attempted an on-side kick. Ballsy call, but mediocre execution. Stanford recovers at their 41, and they march down the field and score another TD. 19-38. Game has officially gotten out of reach.
If two of these four incidents broke our way, we might have won. Or at least have been much closer. But things did not break our way. I am not a believer in moral victories, and this loss still stings. But at least in this one game, I saw a modicum of progress that was not reflected in the final score. Yes, there are still glaring problems. But I'm just not feeling as frustrated after this game as I did the three before. The defense was faced with three short fields that resulted in Stanford TDs, and I'm willing to forgive them for at least 1 or 2 of those. The offense is getting better under Brehaut (we should have started him a long, long time ago). I'm very curious to see how we come out against WSU next week, but I think we could be pleasantly surprised.
Or maybe not... I don't know. Sigh.