Being a Bruin fan can be pretty confusing.
The variety of opinion in the game thread and post game bears this out, I think. We saw people who were really happy with this win. Utah is a decent team with a good coach, and though they have struggled some this year, we should remember how it went the last time we played them. The Bruins were ahead throughout the game, and thanks to a solid defensive effort, the game wasn't as close as the score might suggest.
On the other hand, we have people who thought it was a pretty ugly game. We only scored 21 points at home, and though the Bruins seemed to be in control throughout the game, they were never able to put the Utes away. We saw a couple bonehead plays on special teams, Utah's freshman QB put up some pretty decent numbers, and the Bruins went pretty conservative in the 4th quarter instead of going for the throat.
I think we can all agree on one thing, though. We all feel a lot better than we did last weekend. But that's not really the sort of benchmark we want.
From a football standpoint, yesterday was a pretty respectable effort by U.C.L.A. The offense this week was much more tilted toward the Bruins' strength, with 21 passes to 47 runs, almost the reverse of last week's debacle). The passing game was an efficient 15 of 21. The run game was steady, getting 3.6 yards a carry. We were responsible with the football, avoiding the huge turnovers that killed us last week. Our defense was solid against the run, forcing Utah to rely on a brand new starting QB to try to beat us. It seemed like the coaches were content to do what would get us the win, which suggests a sound adjustment in philosophy.
Reasonable. Sound. Efficient. Solid. Steady. Responsible. All pretty decent qualities, but nothing very exciting. It kind of makes us sound like a Toyota. But it doesn't make us look very spectacular.
Of course, in contrast, our play against Cal was pretty spectacular, albeit in a completely awful way. So I'm fine if the Bruins want to win in a boring and unspectacular way. Like IE Angel said in the game thread, you have to win these sorts of games.
But there is still discontent in Bruins Nation. And while I appreciate the win, yesterday honestly didn't really excite me much either. I think there is still a big hangover effect from Cal, You could see it in all the comments here during the week and throughout the game thread, by those both pleased and dissatisfied with the game. Bruin fans just aren't willing to rely on this team. It's kind of the way you don't head out on a long road trip in a car you don't trust.
It would be much better if we could add one very important Toyota-like word to our list: reliable. That word is desperately missing from our collection of adjectives. A reliable team doesn't suffer last week's embarrassment. A reliable team has fans appreciating this week's win. A reliable team gets fans along for the ride and they stay there, because they know they'll get where they expect. I say this thinking of my 10 year old Toyota, which I need to take in because the rear wiper stopped working, but which in all other aspects keeps rolling along with my complete faith.
I can see where the "ugly win" feelings come from. When you consider our team that was scoring in the 40's and gaining 600+ yards and was spitting out big plays to start the season, yesterday's offensive effort looks pretty feeble. It's clear now that the fast start gave a lot of us a falsely high perception of this team, and I think I fell for that, too. While our expectations for what this team should be have not changed, the reality is that they will probably fall short of those expectations. The key is reliability and consistency, or in our case, the lack of either of those. While we have the potential to be a very good team, we aren't consistent enough to be that sort of team every week. If we were always a Toyota, then we'd win a lot of games in steady workmanlike unspectacular fashion. But we aren't reliable like that. We can be a Porsche, but we can also be a Yugo, and I hear the maintenance on both is a nightmare. It's frustrating when you never know what sort of ride you're gonna get from week to week. Being stranded on the side of the freeway in your sports car still makes you look silly. We always silently smile when we see that, right? Ask West Virginia. In the end, you really just want something that you can rely on.
If you are looking for a week-to-week improvement from this team, there were some things to appreciate yesterday. We had only 7 penalties and for just 45 yards, and none of the killer 15 yard types that extend opponents scoring drives or kill ours. Our best rusher got 22 carries. We relied much more on our ground game, which is our best offensive asset. The defense didn't give up big plays or prolonged drives. Unlike last week, the game plan was designed to defeat our opponent's strength, Utah's run game, and dare an untested QB to beat us. Those were all solid improvements, but nothing that is going to make us all sleep more confidently at night. The Bruins did a lot of the things we were asking for after last week. At 5-2, we are still theoretically on track to meet this season's expectations, especially as the loss to OSU gains context each week. Just think how much that other loss has changed our perception of this team and its coaches.
Overall, there isn't a lot of excitement over the Utah win and this team right now, and I think it is due to the unreliability of our team. The Bruins need to build some trust. And they can do it by being reliable.
The Bruins have a bye next Saturday (of course, on the weekend I'm not working) and will get two weeks to prepare for Arizona State. This is going to be another one of those games the Bruins have to find a way to win. U.C.L.A. has managed 5 road conference wins in the last 6 years now, with those wins being against pretty weak opponents. Well, ASU is not a weak opponent. They are actually in first place in the Pac-12 South as we speak. They won at Cal. They upped we did to Colorado. Us beating Utah was nice, but our next game will be a major test, like I-70 through the mountains in a blizzard. I know my unflashy but steady Toyota can handle that. But can our Bruins?
If we can consistently play the type of football of which we are capable, I like our chances against anyone. It's up to this team to convince its fans that this is a team that they can trust, and that it is a team that it is definitely worth going along for the ride, because we will get where we expect to go.