The Morning After, Part 10: Utah

Utah.  Not my favorite state.

The Beehive State has been my nemesis since childhood.  Growing up, my family drove from our home in Lancaster to Dillon, Colorado to visit my grandparents for vacations.  We'd do this twice a year usually, once over spring break and then again toward the end of summer.  It was a 16-18 hour drive in those days, the longest stretch being the 8+ hour trek across Utah.  Utah represented a long arduous grind, which, though scenic in a few parts, was mostly just a giant pain in the ass to cross, especially the 120 mile stretch of I-70 between Salina and Green River where there are no services, and where I always assumed a flat tire or empty tank meant a slow death from dehydration and starvation (I won't mention how I felt about Kansas when we continued on to visit my other grandparents in Missouri in the summer).  I was young, so I grew to fear and dislike Utah.

Utah hasn't done much to win me over since.  That cold fusion achievement trumpeted by scientists at the University of Utah was a mean trick.  Way to make us think the planet's energy issues were solved forever.  Also, I was never much of a Jazz fan.  Karl Malone ran the same play over and over for an entire career and no one seemed to do anything about it. This bothered me, though not as much as John Stockton's shorts did.  Then the SLC Olympics became the first time since 1932 that the U.S. had hosted the games without our men's hockey team winning gold.  I blamed the state.  Utah tortures me today by mocking me with the "closest" In-n-Out to me - just a mere 8 hours away near St George. The LDS discourages caffeine and alcohol, but they have no problem offering Double Double animals.  Really?  Nine locations in Utah but none in Colorado?  And no matter how they propagandize their license plates, Colorado has better snow.  And beer.

Things, of course, have been even worse in football.  The Utes dropped 44 points on us the last time we met.  Our last trip to the Beehive state (vs BYU) saw us get a 59-0 ass kicking.  Utah tacked on a mere 31 points yesterday.  But when you compare that to our two whole field goals, it adds up to yet another humbling experience with my nemesis.   

But there is one great thing about Utah.  It was a catalyst for change before, and I hope it will be again.  And that's important, because we have a population of Neubs, and one in particular, that we need to convert.

Over the last two weeks, following wins at home over a schizophrenic Cal and an ASU team that is decidedly weaker on the road, the Neubs suddenly appeared in force.  It was like a mosquito bloom after a flood, because all these annoying little pests appeared from out of nowhere.  We tried to use reason and facts to quell the pestilence, but it's hard to overcome beliefs based on nothing more concrete than hope.  As N likes to say, hope is not a strategy.  Well, Neubs, I know no one likes an I told you so, but really, we don't make this stuff up.  None of us wants failure.  We're just not blinded to what's going on with this team.  Neuheisel's body of work was simply too much to overcome by just two decent (but not impressive) wins, and the Bruin football team that we have come to know and dread returned in force yesterday in Salt Lake City. 

But I will give the Neubs on BN an ounce of slack. Everyone has his or her own breaking point, and maybe the Bruin fans who were clinging to hope after the last 2 weeks were just so desperate for something good to happen that they were grasping for any sign of an end to the misery that is U.C.L.A. football.  I'll bet that some of them even knew deep down in their hearts that we were right in calling for regime change, but they just couldn't bear going through the process of starting over.  I understand that.  As with a job, a relationship, a home, or any significant commitment, it's hard to admit that something you want to work out isn't working out at all.  It's a big step to admit that change is needed, and a bigger one to actually take that step.  Sometimes, it's easier just to convince yourself that it really isn't as bad as it seems and avoid taking those steps.  But we already covered cognitive dissonance last week, and if we want any real work to get done around here, we have to get back to my South Campus roots and talk some physics and chemistry, and see why things happen. 

In chemistry, for any reaction to begin, there is an energy of activation that has to be overcome.  A simple analogy for this is to consider a hiker who wants to get from Point A to Point B, but finds a hill separating the two points.  The hiker must expend energy to climb over the hill to arrive at Point B.  Molecules behave in a similar fashion, as reactions require at least some amount of energy to begin before they can proceed to completion.  Sometimes the activation energy is so low that room temperature is enough to trigger them so that the reaction seems to proceed spontaneously.  In other cases, the activation energy is extremely high.  For instance, if you want to fuse hydrogen atoms, you need a nuclear detonation to provide adequate energy.  (See how that works, Utah?).

The activation energy of a reaction can be lowered by introducing a catalyst, a substance that lowers the energy needed to start the reaction, and thus makes the reaction proceed more readily.  In the example of the hiker above, a tunnel would be analogous to a catalyst, as the hiker does not have to climb as high to get over the hill to point B.  It's obviously more complicated than that in real life, but the Chem 11 series doesn't have the same pleasant memories for me as most of my classes at Westwood, so I'll do us all a favor and leave it at that.  But the principles remain.  For many Neubs, the activation energy needed to take those steps toward change has been substantial.  Yesterday's Utah game should be the catalyst that makes it easier for the remaining Neubs to react.  We must have regime change in Westwood

Last night's game was a perfect microcosm of the Rick Neuheisel era.  Everything that we have discussed as the failures of Neuheisel's era showed up. Flags, conservative play calling, turnovers, more flags, wrong personnel, and a 25 point loss on the road.  It was like his own personal lowlight film.  Rick showed us exactly what we can expect with him continuing at the helm of this program.  The team may get a nice win over an average conference team or two, but we are sure to see a lot more Houstons and Texases and Stanfords and Utahs and Arizonas, and that's just this year.  Throw out Stanford, and are there any of those games that weren't winnable?

Although Utah was favored, this was another winnable game for us.  This wasn't a 45 point spread type of game.  Utah was 2-4 in the Pac-12, and was playing with a backup QB who transferred from a D II school that cut football last year.

Hey...cut football...that's an idea...

Anyway, back to the game, if U.C.L.A. played the way it had the last 2 weeks and added some specific adjustments for the Utes, they had as much chance at winning as the Utes.  Instead, they laid an egg in all 3 phases of the game and were blown out.  The only thing consistent is our inconsistency.

Once again, the Bruins came in to a winnable game, and never had a chance at winning.   The players were poorly prepared (anyone want to stop the Utah running back?), poorly coached (12 men in the huddle, again?!, wasting a timeout at the start of the second half, another bad offensive scheme), and poorly disciplined (penalty after penalty after penalty).  It showed what we get with Rick Neuheisel - a team that loses winnable games more often than it wins them, a team that makes the same mistakes over and over, a team that isn't competitive in the conference, let alone on a national scale.

A team will never reach its potential.

Think back to the start of this year when we were making predictions for the season.  Think about the differences between what we expected, and what we felt we were capable of.  Most of us thought we would be in the 6-8 win range, but most of us believed we could win more than that, especially in a weak Pac-12 south division.  Sadly, and not surprisingly, this year has played out just how we expected.  And doesn't that tell us something when we expect to win fewer games than we know we are capable of winning?  We already know that our team will underachieve.  And that is not acceptable, and the responsible parties must be fired immediately.

So like the Utah game in 2007 that served as part of the catalyst to get rid of Karl Dorrell, this Utah game has to be a catalyst to convince the remaining Neubs that we are right and they are wrong, and that U.C.L.A. football will not be successful or competitive or financially viable with Neuheisel and Guerreror running the show.

The key is that there is really only one Neub we need to convert.  Chancellor Gene Block.  It is his call to pull the plug on Guerrero.  Block needs to find and hire an Athletic Director who will run U.C.L.A. Athletics like a modern day University Athletic program, and not like some lazy low key apathetic D II school.  The new AD would recognize the need and opportunity for bringing in a big time football coach.  In fact, if Block had any sense at all, he could get athletics out of his hair altogether by making the right hire.  Then Athletics runs itself and Block can focus on the things he cares about, like hospitals and hotels.

Unfortunately, the activation energy necessary to get him to do anything productive with our athletics programs appears to be very very high.  And if Arizona wasn't enough of a nuclear explosion to get him moving, then I can only hope that yesterday was enough of a catalyst to finally get the ball rolling.  But since I already said hope isn't a strategy, here are his phone number and email address. 

Phone: 310 825-2151.  Email: chancellor@ucla.edu

Let's keep adding energy until this process begins.  Let the Chancellor know that we want a new culture in Morgan Center, and that Dan Guerrero must go.

I know football rules the world right now, but the problems with football are more than just Neuheisel.   If you want proof that Guerreror is an equally big part of the problem, just wait until our basketball team starts unraveling.  Oh, wait...

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