The "Eye Test": Bruins GPA After A "Mixed Bag" Against Oregon State

Last week I wrote that I wasn't sure if was going to be able to continue to subject myself through this kind of blogging, if we saw another Texas and San Jose State like putrid performance in Corvallis. Well I was kind of excited to go through this exercise this past weekend until we saw the punt return for TD at the end of first half..

Arguably the Bruins played their best half of the season in Corvallis, only to revert to old form thanks to the conservative mindset that has been the source of everyone's frustration in the greater Bruin Nation. freesia39 and gbruin captured perfectly with the right mix of snark, facts and level headed perspective on the bipolar state of mind of Bruin alums, students and fans who bleed blue and gold.

I think what is driving everyone up the wall is that we can all "see" and "sense" the potential in this team, which arguably is one of the most talented team in the conference. The ingredients are clearly there. However, based on what we have seen, the overall picture remains murky on where this team is headed. Many of us believe the team has the talent to win 6 to 7 games in our conference, if the coaches trust our talent, develop them, and turn them loose, shedding the conservative mindset.

Yet there we were this weekend. We were teased with the team's potential in the first half, only to relieve the old night mares thanks to coaches clinging to their shockingly conservative shells in the second. I want to believe badly that this program can still turn it around. I think all the ingredients are there and the Pac-12 landscape is set up perfectly.  Mediocrity prevails through most of the conference except for 1 or 2 teams. Yet it's a matter of whether or not our coaches will let our players lose and trust them. I still think there is a chance but the window is closing and it will shut fast if we don't shed that "playing not to lose" mindset.

The "eye test" grades after the jump.

1) Is our defense prepared for each and every team we play?

The answer to this question is not clear cut. I am very ambivalent about what I saw from our defense yesterday. For the sake of fairness, let's try to list the positive data points first:

  • The Bruin Defense put together its best half together in the first half when it held the Beaver "offense" (LOL) to 3 total points.
  • IIRC at the half the Beaver "offense" had total of 10 yards on the ground.

However, look at the context. The Beavers were starting a freshman at QB. They also just gave the ball away due to freshman QB mistakes twice in the first half.  If not for those two mistakes and freshman QB factor, I cringe at the thought of what an average offense with an average QB would have done to our "bend don't break" defense.

Ah, yes, Bruin legend J.J. Stokes himself busted out the "bend don't break" Donahue mantra at least twice in the first half. From what I saw with my own eyes I saw defense, that continued to look soft. I saw a defense that continued to look poor in tackling fundamentals as play after play our defenders tried to land a shot instead of trying to wrap up the opponents. Sometimes from what I saw on TV it looked like our guys were not even interested in tackling. It's the only explanation I can think of watching QBs continue to elude whenever our DL generate a semblance of pressure. In one play Sean Mannion just casually sidestepped Nate Chandler, who seem to have a clear shot at the Oregon State QB and complete a pass.  I saw our defense getting carved up underneath with short to medium passes most of the afternoon as Mannion racked up 287 yards in passing.

I also saw a defense that looked predictable when it was blitzing and executing it poorly. Let me try to explain what I am saying here. I continue to see a defense that doesn't mix up its blitzing packages at all. Earlier in the day I was watching the game between Pitt and Notre Dame. There was one series in which Pitt rushed one of their LBers from the end, but then dropped another one off into coverage. So they basically had 4 guys rushing the QB but because they mixed it up ND OL and QB looked confused, resulting in a sack.

I actually saw Niners defense do the same against the Cowboys last weekend (gah! - before they choked). There were multiple instances when Vic Fangio's D just rushed 4, but because they were bringing it from different angles it messed up the O. These concepts/schemes don't seem all that radical but just a matter of the coaches throwing different templates. Why can't our defense do this? When we bring in pressure it looks pretty predictable to anyone watching it. It's hard not to be predictable when we keep rushing with 3 linemen (oy).

Anyway, the bottom line here is that what I saw from our defense didn't give me much confidence heading into rest of the conference season. Yesterday, I saw a defense that barely did enough against a talent starved Oregon State team that was playing with a freshman QB. My grade for this category is a C-: 1.7.

2) Do we call offensive plays to catch our opponents off guard?

At the end of first half, I was really looking forward to writing up this section of the eye-test. Then we were treated to the eye sore that was the second half. I am one of those who is looking for any glimmer of hope and life from this offense and I thought I saw some clear signs of life in the first half.

I saw a Richard Brehaut who seemed to be in command of our offense. Not only Brehaut was slinging it (when given the few opportunities he was afforded by the coaching staff), but proved himself to be an efficient manager of the team (more on Brehaut later). I liked the shot Brehaut took in the endzone in first half when Taylor Embree attacked the ball and caught it for a TD. Brehaut also got the offense started with a fantastic throw to Josh Smith in the second series.

There was also actually a trick play in the first half when Josh Smith on what looked to be reverse threw to Nelson Rosario in the end zone. However, that play (much like our offense a lot of the times) was too slow developing. Coaches also made an aggressive call towards the end of first half, when Brehaut threw a bomb to Randall Carroll on 2nd and 1, but the ball was underthrown.

This was also the first game coaches made a credible attempt to incorporate Jordon James speed and athleticism into our game plan. The TD run from James in the endzone was a nice touch. James also had couple of electric carries in the second half from F-Back slot which ESPN is crediting to Tony Dye (presumably because they both wear number 6).

One thing I don't understand is why our running backs are not switched up during the series. The way our rotation works is that coaches use Johnathan Franklin in the first 3 or 4 series. Then they bring in Derrick Coleman and then in second half they throw some carries to our underclassmen. Given the obvious advantages guys like Coleman bring with his power and James with his speed, why not put them in even during a series started by the Jet Ski? Wouldn't that keep the opposing defenses on their heels?

The offense became absurdly conservative in the second half. We just have to look at the final box score which shows 49 rushing attempts to 11 passing attempts. This is the clear "playing not to lose" conservative mindset that has hobbled this program for years.

A particular series in the second half was telling. After Oregon State had scored a TD, Josh Smith put together a nice return giving Bruins the ball at our 40. Bruins then put a nice drive together sparked by a clutch Brehaut completion to Smith on 3rd and 4, getting to the Beavers 28. Then the coaches gave the ball to Malcolm Jones who rushed for 7 on first down. On second down, the Bruins had a great set up to attack or take a shot at the end zone. Instead the coaches decided to ram it up the middle with Jones for a short gain before getting stopped again on 3rd. The result was a blocked FG.

That is the kind of conservative mindset that drives everyone crazy. It is unbelievable that with a weapon like Joe Fauria we didn't throw it to him once the entire game. I understand the mindset of wanting to control the clock against an explosive offense but Oregon State is not Oregon Ducks. Stokes made a funny comment about Fauria being "held in check" in passive voice. If he were to use the active voice in that commentary he would have to point at the Bruin coaching staff.

So for this category I have to give out a grade of C: 2.0. I wish I could give higher grade but it's tough to justify anything better for a milquetoast offense, which from what I saw put together an underwhelming and underachieving performance against a hapless team in Corvallis.

3) Do our players look like they know what they should be doing at all times?

Well here is another category where the datapoints are murky even after a win. I saw a lot of good things mixed in with terrible yesterday in Corvallis.

The positives here are the performances of Brehaut, Coleman, James, and Josh Smith. Even if you are a pessimist, you can't deny you were heartened by what you saw from them yesterday. This game was a golden opportunity for Brehaut to lock down the starting sport. Even if the coaches didn't give him many opportunities in just 11 passing attempts, he did exactly that. He was as efficient as a QB can get. What was particularly impressive from Brehaut was the check down throws he was making on 3rd down situations. One of them was to Smith on a huge 3rd down play. He had another check down completion to Coleman on 3rd and short, which was nullified by a holding call.

The offense still had its bad moments and it seemed to be result of confusion coming from the sidelines. During a key series in second half (which ultimately resulted in a TD) we had to burn 2 timeouts in the end zone to get the right play in. Following the second timeout we saw Joe Fauria screaming at Neuheisel, while Brehaut was trying to restrain him. That surely wasn't a sign of an offense in total control.

Now speaking of the holding call, our OL could have had a better day. They did a nice job giving Brehaut time and opening up running room for our backs. However, the 3 holding penalties really cost us.

There were also other examples of brain cramps with players showing zero situational awareness. In the first half, on a key third down, Rosario caught a nice slant pass from Brehaut, but showed zero awareness (or show signs of effort) in running after the first down marker. Stokes called him out right after that play. And then there was Aaron Hester ... well being Hester. He committed a ridiculous, weak personal foul in the Beavers' first drive in the second half (with a weak push outside the lines). Hester also continues to show poor fundamentals in tackling (which goes for lot of this team) when instead of trying to wrap up the opponents, he tries to dish out hard hits.

So based on everything I saw yesterday, I would have to give another C: 2.0 for this category as well. I wish I could grade higher but tough to do given all the negatives I mentioned above.

4) Do our players play for 60 G-D minutes every game?

This is probably the most positive aspect from yesterday's game. Leading into this game there was a report from Jon Gold that described the Bruins as an emotionally "defeated team" following the humiliating loss against Texas. Well to their credit Bruins played with effort on both sides of the field in what was essentially a do-or-die game for the program in Corvallis.

Now there were instances which clearly brought up the questions of effort. I noted Rosario's weak attempt to go after the first down marker above. The defense also seemed to be lacking fire and passion in the first drives of both halves. In fact from what I saw, the defense looked a bit "relaxed" in that first series against the Beavers in second half, playing as if they were expecting the Beavers just quit and go home. They did tighten up a little.

Then again I wonder if our defense looks relaxed because of the dreaded "bend don't break" conservative mindset, which leads to our DBs giving lots of cushion space for the opposing QB to carve us up underneath. It also helped that Mike Riley was coaching with a milquetoast conservative mindset from the sidelines, waving the white flag in a key fourth down and then going with an unimaginative slam up the middle call with another. Those were essentially gifts to our embattled defense.

Still, considering the circumstances, I think the players deserve some credit for the effort they gave in Corvallis. They didn't play like a team that was emotionally "defeated." The grade for this category is a "B-: 2.7."

5) Do our players execute?

This is another category with a mixed bag. Yes, I will bring up Brehaut again. Let's go over his line from yesterday. He completed 7 of 11 passes for 146 yards, averaging 13.27 YPA. He had no picks and no fumbles. In two away games this season he has now thrown for over 410 yards with 3 TDs and no picks, and with a QB rating of 184.7. He is also doing more than enough on the ground. He had another TD run yesterday from the end zone. The kid is getting it done. I just wish the coaches incorporated some pro-set formations in our offense that would also fit Bre's skill set. I think Bre has the potential to be one of the better QBs in the Pac-12. I always believed that. He has taken his game to another level. The question is whether he will get the opportunity from coaches.

Derrick Coleman continues to get it done on the ground. He also threw a massive block in James' TD run in the first half. I will have more on him in next section. I think the players in general did okay in this department. The negatives here are the holding penalties. There were bad holding penalties from veteran OL such as Jeff Baca and Mike Harris. The second one from Harris negated a nice 3rd down conversion by Brehaut in a check down pass to Coleman.

Players were also hand cuffed by terrible clock and game management at key juncture in the game.  As Orlando Bruin noted, we did not call timeout after stopping them on 3rd down towards the end of first half and let the clock go from 2:30 to 1:45 even though we had 3. After we got the ball, we then showed no urgency by running on two straight plays, burning up time and putting the team in precarious position. Not sure how that can be explained.  

In terms of execution, the special teams was a disaster. I don't really feel like reliving in detail the pathetic punt coverage at the end of first half, the blocked FG and the blocked extra point. It was total implosion and unacceptable. Because of the special teams mess and poor clock management, the grade for this category is C+:2.3.  I understand the argument that players are not responsible for poor clock management, given it wasn't them calling the running plays towards the end of first half. Note though it's the coaches who are going to be held accountable for these grades.

6) Do we have leaders on the field?

Well we certainly have leadership potential on offense. I have talked about Brehaut already in the analysis above. I think VeniceBruin's thoughts are worth sharing here as well calling Brehaut the"biggest bright spot"on Saturday:

There has never been a doubt that he has the arm and good enough athleticism to be a successful QB for our team; but the questions about his mastery of the offense and decision-making have kept the QB competition alive.

Today was the game where I thought Brehaut had made strides in the mental aspects:

1) a few good audibles into better plays
2) only throwing into traffic when there was a mismatch
3) being willing to take a hit - or tuck and run for a small gain - rather than risk a turnover on a play that isn't there
4) good pocket awareness and check-downs

additionally, watching his play in the mesh and with the playaction/deception, I thought he was much improved from previous appearances.

I have really believed that Prince and Brehaut have different strengths and weaknesses when it comes to running this offense, without clear overall advantage; based on today's performance, I think Brehaut has upped his game in the areas where Prince had an advantage. I don't want to make too much of one game, but I think Brehaut did a lot to justify the faith CRN showed in naming him the starter at the start of the week. If he keeps it up, he should remain the undisputed starter.

As for Coleman, he has been refreshing as well. He has gotten it done whenever he stepped in. What I also like about Coleman is that he has developed from his early years. Not sure if you guys remember when Coleman used to get hit at LOS he would always fall backwards (the goal line series against Oregon at the Rose Bowl two years ago bring up painful memories). Coleman now has learned to always barrel with forward momentum (something I hope Malcolm Jones picks up in near future).

I still like Jet Ski as the starter but I hope coaches don't wait too long to bring in Coleman. I'd like to see a mix of Jet Ski, Coleman and even some Jordon James in the same series to keep our offense being too predictable.  We will see.

I think we can say on offense we saw leadership from these guys. It's the defense that continues to be a mystery. Perhaps we'd see more leadership on D if we saw more talented players (cough*Erik Kendricks*cough) get more opportunities. Datone Jones continues to be disappointingly absent and Sean Westgate despite his pick, continues to find himself blocked out or taken out of the play. We desperately need some leadership in this unit. If the coaches find a way to trust and develop talent, perhaps there will be some hope but until then it continues to be a source of frustration.

The grade for this category given the ineffectiveness of our D is a C: 2.0.

Final Grade Card for Oregon State Beavers

Based on the discussion here is how it shapes up:

1) Is our defense prepared for each and every team we play? [C- : 1.7]
2) Do we call offensive plays to catch our opponents off guard? [C: 2.0]
3) Do our players look like they know what they should be doing at all times? [C: 2.0]
4) Do our players play for 60 G-D minutes every game? [B- : 2.7]
5) Do our players execute? [C+: 2.3]
6) Do we have leaders on the field? [C: 2.0]

Oregon State GPA: 2.12

The grade card for Texas was 0.22, the grade card for San Jose State was 0.67, and the grade card for Houston was 2.05. So the cumulative GPA after 4 games according to our "Eye Test" is now at 1.27.

Again to be fair, this week at least number wise the Bruins moved in the positive direction, moving the needle up. However, the numbers were lukewarm and it came against what is projecting to be the worst team in the conference.

Still last week I mentioned that we will be interested in how the numbers look after the first 3 games in the Pac-12. Coach Neuheisel can make the point that his team "got it done" scoreboard wise against Oregon State. However, based on what we are seeing on the field, the margin of error continues to dwindle.

According to conventional wisdom, Bruins are going to be overwhelming underdogs next Saturday. We are not going to see it that way. We believe Bruins have more than enough talent on both sides of the field to compete hard against the Trees and put themselves in position of the win. We are going to expect uptick in this eye test scores next week and at least a 2-1 record at the end of the first quarter of Pac-12 play, with GPA that should look dramatically improved from the 0.98 GPA after OOC. No excuses.

GO BRUINS.

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