Let me start with something I said during yesterday's depressing post-game thread. I had mentioned how loss like yesterday doesn't bother me as much as it used. I suppose I should add to that comment a bit more.
Every Sunday after a UCLA loss is kind of painful. It's not fun watching football after seeing the Bruins pull out their usual underachieving losses due to shoddy fundamentals, lack of discipline and the all familiar scene of sleep walking through the Rose Bowl while taking on an opponent who "wants it more." It is not fun going through the routine of "what ifs" wondering what if someone made the catches or didn't commit stupid penalties or the coaches showed more confidence in their decision making process.
That said a loss like yesterday doesn't bother me as it used to more than 10 years ago when Bruin football program was relevant. The fact is heading into this season I have been somewhat agonistic about the prospects of UCLA program under Jim Mora. I never really bought the propaganda/hype of "culture change" that comes with every new hire. I have generally been in a "show me" mode wrt to new staff which inherited a fairly talented UCLA football program with the good fortune of going through one of the easiest football schedule in decades (not going to relitigate those assertions given we discussed all of that ad nausea during the long off-season).
So yesteday's loss was disappointing. But wasn't the kind of gut punch we have experienced over the years in usual Bruin choke jobs with lot more riding for the program (think the Washington State-Tim Rosenbach in 1988 or of course December 5, 1998). Yesterday's loss was just the usual standard UCLA loss of losing against a better prepared, better coached team with less talent after coming off a week with a lot of media hype. We have seen that movie many times before.
As gbruin said this am after one disappointing loss it is hard to draw any conclusion of whether we are watching the "same old U.C.L.A." Similarly, it was silly to make premature conclusions about Mora being a potentially a better hire than Chris Petersen after just 3 games at UCLA. At this point of time none of us have any idea how this experiment of taking a flyer on a former NFL coach who had a record of 34-34 with no college experience will turn out in Westwood - especially if we continue to be led by the worst athletic director in college sports.
IE Angel just put up the "Eye Test" results from yesterday's game and the grades aren't pretty. We will feature his thoughts a bit more prominently later today or early tomorrow. But for now, want to get to few macro points from yesterday's game that are kind of discomforting. And, those discomforting thoughts are going to hover around this program unless UCLA breaks out with a huge season this year, which will need to include a win against Southern Cal on November 17. Let's get to those thoughts after the jump.
Out-coached by Mike Riley's conventional game plan: Mike Riley is a decent head coach. He has done more than less better than perhaps any coach out in the West Coast. But, the fact is Riley's Oregon State do not really have any special groundbreaking college scheme. The Beavers use basic pro schemes on both offense and defense. They are a fundamentally sound program that tries to win with power football. So it's not like Mora and Lou Spanos were taking on some program with crazy offenses they hadn't experienced in the NFL. In Noel Mazzone's case he already had experience coaching against them through his days at Arizona State. And yet there were our coaches getting PWNed seemingly on both sides of the ball in first half.
It is kind of amusing to read at this point hoping Mora and his coaches will have the right second half adjustment. Why should it take our coaches two quarters to adjust. As mentioned above it's not like Mora and Spanos were coaching against some cutting edge, college offense they hadn't seen before. They were getting schooled by a basic pro-offense and getting our team torched by leaving in senior cornerbacks on one on coverage, who have generally not gotten in done during their times at UCLA.
Mazzone's head scratching game plan: Last three weeks UCLA offense had experienced success by stretching the field. We have racked up yardage by getting our backs in open spaces through swing passes, busting them loose on the outside. Yet Mazzone had Jet Ski trying to gain yardage by running in between the tackles most of first half? I get that we have a young offensive line, that was struggling to hold it done. One would think Mazzone would play to our strength and get our speedy guys to the outside. Yet, we had UCLA trying to beat the Beavers playing power football, without having Jeff Baca in the line-up.
And what happened to the tempo? I felt like I was watching another Neuheisel and Dorrell coached offense showing zero sense of urgency. Bruins finally sped up the tempo a bit late in the second half (in early Q4), which left me wondering where the heck was that sense of urgency early in the first half?
Youth excuse: Yes, it's back. To the delight of Chianti, once again we are reading the same old nonsense of UCLA team being too "young" and "inexperienced" as if we are the only college program in the country with those issues. We have had the "youth" issue for 10+ years - every freaking year. It wasn't a freshman Joe Fauria making the same mistakes (reminding all of us of Logan Paulsen from his senior year). It weren't two freshmen at cornerbacks, killing our defense time and again most of the game.
In fact our young guys played well. Brett Hundley threw for 372 yards and an OL found ways to get him some time. It was our upperclassmen making costly mistakes all over the field, costing us a winnable game on our home turf. The "youth" excuse is a crutch, UCLA fans have used year after year to make excuses for poor coaching. It's pathetically predictable. Now of course as mentioned above, one game doesn't tell us the story of the entire season. Hopefully our coaches and players will get it together. But at the same time, just stop that "young" excuse. It's tiresome and none of us really have a lot of patience to read that same old BS after 10+ years of mediocrity.
Lack of discipline and fundamentals: Drops, penalties, and general lack of execution. We saw some disturbing signs of it against Houston. But the issues blew out in the open yesterday afternoon. Perhaps it's just a two game funk the Bruins are going through after the high of Nebraska. But we need the coaches to get these issues addresses sooner rather than later. I don't really care about Mora or his staff saying how things need to get "cleaned up." Again, we have been hearing all that for more than a decade.
The head-scratching sequence on 4th and 2: We all had our jaws on the floor when Mora decided to go for a 42 yard FG on 4th and 2, only to have the team change up its formation to go for it. Then he ended up burning a TO, followed by Fairbarn's missed kick. So many things went wrong there.
First, of all what the Bruins did there wasn't something new. We already tried that against Rice few weeks ago. So Oregon State had it well scouted. The question then becomes why come up with something we had used up (against Rice of all schools) previously this season. If Mora wanted to go for it, instead of being cute, he and Mazzone should have dialed up something else with better chances of catching the Beavers off-guard. Instead, it blew up in our faces
Bad karma: I don't think this had an impact on the final results from yesterday but screwing around with karma is never a good idea. Before the game we heard about the issues with Geoff Strand. We heard how "UCLA athletics" had told him on Monday that his "service" would no longer be needed at the Rose Bowl. Now, I personally have always been somewhat ambivalent about Strand's routine. I didn't care all that much about but it didn't get me all that worked up. I do think we need a fresh approach to how we get our crowd engaged and also liven up our home environment.
That said, the way UCLA athletics executed Strand's removal reeked of usual Chianti incompetence. If Chianti had any class or sense of how this stuff is done, he'd make sure that Strand was given sufficient notice and was "eased" into retirement. He could have been given a nice little retirement reception and Bruins could look forward to whatever is next. Instead, we now have kind of a messy situation that reeks of bad karma and usual total mismanagement. It didn't have anything to do with last afternoon's final results, but karma is something we shouldn't be screwing around with.
Anyway, again it's worth emphasizing we are not making any conclusions on the Mora regime one way or another after one loss or just 4 games. Just like we didn't get too high on Mora after last three weeks, declaring him the second coming, we are not going to get too depressed after another classic UCLA loss. Let's see how he responds against (a resurgent?) Colorado and then against California. If the Bruins can return from their upcoming roadtrip with a 2-0 record, they will have another chance to seize control of this season. Let's hope they get it done.