These are my quick hits after wathcing a really entertaining win by UCLA. Let’s enjoy this, celebrate this, but understand what kind of game we’ve witnessed keeping in mind the big picture of our beloved program.
First, MAJOR MAJOR PROPS to the players. Coleman continues to be an inspiration. He runs with power and vision, his blocking is great (that flip on Burfict the second time he tried to leap him was awesome. I hope he gets the chance to continue to show us his game on Sundays. Also, the much maligned Rosario played very well after one of the worst performances I’ve ever seen from a Bruin WR at Arizona. Lastly, Tevin McDonald and Randall Carroll (the DB not the WR) need to see significant time for the rest of their careers as Bruins, they did a great job back there.
But there's more to this story.
Next, let’s understand why we win these games, and why we also lose in such spectacularly bad ways. The Pistol offense under Kevin Prince is an offense with VERY LITTLE ROOM FOR ERROR (3rd and 29 miracle aside).
If we “stay on schedule” (as the announcers like to say over and over) by picking up our 3 to 4 yards on 1st and 2nd down, the Offense does well. We are able to pound it between the tackles, have Prince scamper around the crashing end when needed, and throw in just enough passes to keep the Defense off guard and not expose Prince’s passing woes.
HOWEVER, the flipside is this kind of Offense requires two things to succeed: an extremely disciplined offense and a Defense that is able to make some stops. We have such very little room to overcome false starts, holding penalties, or heaven forbid turnovers. This offense – both in terms of pass protection and our QB-WR execution - is not tailored to get around 1st and 20s or 2nd and 15’s (again, miracle long throws aside). We also don’t have any room for falling down 21-0. If we try to grind it out against a team that is torching us on the other side of the ball, we’re grind ourselves to a 42-14 loss.
And that’s been the rub this season. Before playing against Cal, we hadn’t been able to avoid penalties, turnovers and giving the big plays on defense. Our defense has been at best decent and at worst clowns on a vespa, but the limits of the Pistol offense have placed a disproportionately heavy burden on our Defense to perform and perform well every game. That’s why our team has been getting blown out against the good teams, and has been grinding out ugly wins against the poor teams.
Against Cal, the Defense played well, our penalties were low and our turnover ratio was positive (Thanks TevinMc for that). The result: a good win against a decent team.
This game, the Defense also played VERY well – limiting ASU to well under their season average despite some crippling turnovers. The offense also did JUST enough to win. In the 1st half, we were on schedule in our drives, took advantage of an ASU busted coverage, and were in a good spot. Penalties and turnovers were brutalizing us in the second half, but the team made JUST enough big plays (and ASU made just enough bonehead plays/special teams blunders) to give us some breathing room. A little luck (the fumble recovery), a little grit (DC’s runs), and a 3rd and 29 conversion later, and we stand for now at the top of our artificially divided conference division.
So, what is my take away from this game?
We have an offense that needs absolute perfection to succeed, and that’s asking too much of the kids. This is College – players are less experienced and practice less, hence mistakes are inevitable.
I believe that if these kids continue to play with this kind of fire, we are going to have a few more good wins like this. However, the dark side is that when mistakes are made, we’re gonna have a few more woefully brutal losses. These kids are winning despite Neuheisel’s schemes, not because of them.