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5 macro thoughts of concerns and questions after UCLA's somewhat "unpolished" 42-14 blowout win over Colorado in Boulder.
Bruins went to Boulder on Saturday night and put together their second straight road win of this season by an impressive score of 42-14. Although the level of competition wasn't really great (apologies to our good friends from Rice and Colorado, who were nothing short of gracious during our game week), I guess it counts for something. Bruins at 4-1 (for the first time since 2007) and a 1-1 conference record has a shot perhaps making some kind of run if they can get out a win in Strawberry Canyon next Saturday night, where we haven't won since Cade McNown was our quarterback (1998).
I feel good about yesterday's win. Can't really complain about the numbers on paper as Brett Hundley put together another superb statistical performance, completing 25 of his 38 attempts for 281 passing yards, 2 passing TDs, and 2 rushing TDs in 11 attempts (compiling 35 yards). His numbers from his first five games have been nothing short of stunning and blown past all of our wildest expectations, and yet the exciting thing here is we all know there is still a lot of room for improvement, as he is still getting in sync with his passing rhythm in the college game (he missed a few last night that he is not going to miss in the future).
Colorado was undermanned as Jon Embree's Buffaloes reminded us of the talentless and hapless Bruins of Dorrell era with no speed and athleticism. Yet, even though the Bruins were going up against an undermanned team, the defensive performance had few highlights led by the monster that is Anthony Barr, who IMHO may be making a case for perhaps the best conference defensive player of the year. Damien Holmes had a solid game at OLB, moving over there to replace Jordan Zumwalt, and Tevin McDonald had a pretty decent second game.
Yet, even though we have number of things to feel good about from last night's game, I also have this weird, incomplete feeling I experienced after that "dominating" win (at least on the scoreboard) against Houston Cougars at the Rose Bowl, where we all got the sense that we didn't see a polished performance from the Bruins. Let's get to the some of the issues that are kind of nagging us at this point of time and we hope they don't metastize into serious issues through rest of the conference season.
Penalties: Man, when is this going to stop? Early, in the game we kept shooting ourselves in the foot with one bad mistake after another. Heading into the game UCLA was one of the worst teams in the NCAA in terms of most penalties per game (averaging 8.5 penalties per game for 87.75 yards). Things didn't get any better against Colorado as the Bruins committed 7 penalties for 69 yards. They were not just being committed by freshman in the OL, they were also coming from seniors like Jeff Baca. Really frustrating. Coach Mora once again in his immediate post game comment talked about the need for things to be "cleaned" up a phrase he has been using a lot seemingly after every game this season. He is running out of time because sooner or later this issue is going to cost us in a big way. This is kind of a surprise because heading into this year we heard a lot of about being disciplined and playing smart football were supposed to be big parts of culture change. That hasn't happened yet.
Offensive play-calls: I think Noel Mazzone has had the best debut as a Bruin OC since Homer Smith came back to Westwood in early 90s to save Terry Donahue's job. For the first time in years, Bruin offense seem to have a foundation based on a dynamic offensive scheme that looks to optimize the explosive talents that were accumulated by Rick Neuheisel and his staff. That said, while I like Mazzone's big picture vision around offense, sometimes his individual game decision to have Johnathan Franklin slam in between our tackles kind of baffle me. We saw that a lot last weekend and I thought I saw a little bit of the same yesterday. The strength of Jet Ski and our other RBs like Thigpen and Jordan James are on the outside when they get to operate in the open space. Yet for some reason Mazzone sometimes have them going up in between tackles. Now every now and Jet Ski seems to get some yardage out of those calls but they don't seem to be the high percentage, chunk of yardage gainers when we get him out on the flat through quick toss, and screen passes. It is something we are going to have to watch for next weekend when we take on a Cal team, which will feature a pretty solid defensive line.
About Manfro: Look, I like Steve Manfro story. I appreciate all the reports about how hard he has worked during spring ball and the options he often presents for our offense. He definitely has a place in our team as a solid contributor and he has had his moments as heading into last night's game he was the second leading receiver of the team. That said though, I think coaches should think about using more of Damien Thigpen and perhaps Kenny Walker in our offensive sets. Manfro had great game against Nebraska but he has had some tough moments with bad drops and penalties. Something to think about.
The Island Twins: I don't get the confidence Lou Spanos has on Sheldon Price and Aaron Hester. And I know this is not a very original worry. This is probably one of the most perplexing things about this year's defensive team. Last year Tressey had these guys give up 10 yard cushion on every down and this year Spanos seemed to have taken the opposite approach. Perhaps he thinks Price and Hester can be left in their islands like he could his cornerbacks when he was coaching in the NFL. But this is certainly isn't the NFL. I do like the idea of having our guys playing tight coverage, but it seems like it would help us if mix in zone early to help out these guys, or perhaps switch one of them out for Andrew Abbot and get Goforth playing the safety?
Our linebacker combination: This is more of a thought that concern. And, I'd love to get everyone's take on this. Damien Holmes had a decent game at OLB yesterday. It was easily his best performance of the year. I feel great for him because he seems like a great student athlete and wonderful representative of the school. That said, he has been struggling at ILB in first quarter of this season. What about the idea of moving Jordan Zumwalt into the ILB, and using a combination of Holmes and perhaps Dalton Hilliard at OLB? Wouldn't our defense be stronger and faster with that combination? Thoughts?
Well those are my initial thoughts from last night's game. Next Saturday is going to be a difficult game against a wounded Bears team, which will look to beat up UCLA to make their season. And they have lot more talent than Colorado or perhaps most teams in the conference except for the ultra-elite programs at the top. Here is to Coach Mora finally getting some of these issues addressed and "cleaned up" this coming week.