Sunday morning. Where do we go from here?
We can break down yesterday's game in any number of ways. The BN readers did a great job of this already in the game and post-game threads yesterday.
I see some hope in the defense. They held Houston to a mere 7 points in the second half, giving the team a chance to close the gap and steal the victory.
I'm disappointed in the defense. They appeared unprepared from the first drive and never seemed to make any effective adjustments. Our linebackers looked slow, our corners looked passive, the pass rush was a non-factor, the overall scheme was a failure. The defense let Houston pass dink and dump up and down the field for 38 points and we played from behind from the opening drive. A 27 second TD drive before half is never excusable.
I see some hope in our kicker. He converted his first 4 PAT's. He's a freshman. He has the opportunity to become a reliable weapon for our offense.
I'm disappointed with our kicker. In the waning minutes of a winnable game, a narrow miss in a big wind from short range and a low PAT that finally got swatted cost us 4 possible points, in a game we lost by 4.
I see some hope for our offense. Both QB's played very well. Our running game was nearly everything we expected. The wide receivers actually received, and did it very well. The offensive line provided good pass protection. The overall scheme was creative and involved all the positions on the field. There was no hesitation on 4th and goal. The offense almost did enough to pull back the Cougars' big early lead.
I'm disappointed with the offense. A bad snap killed our first drive. An early fumble was turned into 7 points by Houston. There were senseless false starts and taunting penalties. Clock management at the end of the game hampered the Bruins' fading chances at the comeback.
So, the morning after, we can find some highlights from each of the units and coaches and celebrate the things that went well. But moral victories are what the losers celebrate. And I'm personally tired of being on the losing team.
And the morning after, we can find fault with any one of the units and their coaches. But football is a team game and it is shortsighted merely to blame the defense or the kicker. And no matter the outcome of the game, we should always learn from the mistakes and focus on areas for improvement.
So for all the analysis, we don't have any concrete answers for this team, which makes me fall back on our more subjective analysis: What do I feel in my gut and in my heart? How does this team meet the eye?
In my eye-test, I can only see this game as a failure, because this is a game that we didn't have to lose. That's the bottom line. If we execute two or three plays differently, the final score is different. Writing off the Houston offense a "gimmick" is a copout. Gimmick or not, there is another team across the field. There will be no asterisk next to this loss to minimize it. And we continue to lose more games that we could win than win games we should lose.
But when the eye-test is aimed at this team in the perspective of the season as a whole, there are some good signs. I expect this year to be an improvement over last year. Last year was a giant step backwards and we debated endlessly the reasons for it: holes in the roster, key injuries, unprepared players in key positions, an ineffective passing game, a new offensive system, coordinators who were the wrong fit, predictable schemes, conservative play calling, poor support from the Athletic Department and school administration, and on and on and on.
Some of those issues look to have been addressed. We had two game ready QB's, and both were effective. The play calling was aggressive. The Pistol was more unpredictable and lots of players got involved. The defensive performance was not any worse than many of the games last year. Overall, there appear to be fewer holes to fill to get this to be a complete team. In my eye, progress has been made since last year. Whether it is enough is too soon to tell.
Finally, a word to our Bruin faithful, and particularly the unfaithful. I know that the venting and venom that appeared early in the first half was a product of years of frustration mixed with the enthusiasm of opening day of a new season. But trashing the team after a quarter isn't rational or fair. Many of the complaints in the first quarter weren't valid by the end of the fourth. Games are 60 minutes, and this season has 11 more games. Show some loyalty. Stick with this team for another 2 or 3 weeks. If we are 1-3 by that time, there will be plenty of people to call for wholesale change and jump off the bandwagon with you, including myself.
So the morning after, the picture of U.C.L.A. football really depends on what you are looking at. Looking at yesterday, frustration is understandable. That was a bad game. But with an eye on the season as a whole, for the time being, optimism is still warranted. Let's see what happens in another week.