The good news is that Colorado is coming to Pasadena next week.
Ah, but then there is the bad news...
We said a couple weeks ago that our next two games would tell us a lot about where our program is. Well, those two games have come now we see where the program is, and the scenery isn't as pretty as we hoped.
I had to work yesterday during the game and didn't get to watch it live, but I was following the score closely. I knew we were up early. I knew we were tied at halftime. And I knew that it all washed away through the second half. I didn't want to write about the game without watching it so when I got home from work at 1 am I fired up the DVR and watched the replay, rewound to see who made or missed blocks or tackles or coverage, read the post game comments, checked stats, and tried to find something in this game to generate some inspiration to write. But after watching the recording, I was left with the sense that yesterday's game looked just like last week's, only more so. So instead of inspiration, mostly I found desperation. And frustration. And exasperation.
And then I watched Coach Mora's post game press conference, and his words and emotions kinda said it all. He looked and sounded just as pained and I felt. You could see and hear his anguish and frustration. And that cheered me up a little. I loved Coach Neuheisel for being a great Bruin, but his post game pep talks to the Rose Bowl sounded so much like Coach PR and spin and were never the right tone for the team or the fan base. And as a result, both his teams and the fans' expectations were soft. At least I don't think that's as much of a problem with Coach Mora.
But there is still a big difference between Mora's words and what we are seeing on the field, and it accounts for a lot of the anger that is being directed towards him and particularly his offensive coordinator. Instead of our team getting better every week, the team seems to have plateaued and the offense is regressing. These story of our last two games really had the same plot, just with slightly different scores in the end. The Bruins played even with both Stanford and Oregon in the first halves, but then saw the offense tank and the defense tire as both the Cardinal and the Ducks pulled away in the second halves, and the Bruins never really looked like they had a chance in the end of either game.
So while I like the words Coach Mora is saying, because it is clear that he isn't satisfied with these last two games and he wants more from this team, they are still just words. I picked some of his best quotes from after the game to show that what Mora is saying and where we want U.C.L.A. Football to be are still a long way apart.
So close but so far. It showed me how close we are and yet how far we are away and how many things we gotta get better at.
The Bruins certainly looked competitive with both Stanford and Oregon in the first halves the last two weeks. But football is a 60 minute game, and being close at halftime doesn't get you a participation ribbon. It just increases the pressure to have a good plan and execute it in the second half, and the Bruins have failed in that regard against the two top teams. Watching that second half, I was struck by how wide open the Duck receivers were on seeming every pass play, and how often their backs were gaining 4 - 5 yards per carry and every play was a positive. Conversely, our receivers struggled to get any separation, our line could not consistently open holes to extend drives, and our QB struggled to complete passes. Close, for a half, but so far away at the end of the game.
We're not after being close. To heck with being close. Losers can be close.
Well, then quit playing to be close! Which teams looked like they were playing to win these games? On Oregon's opening drive of the game, they faced a 4th and 14 on their own 26. We know Oregon loves to go for it on 4th down, but this was just too far and too deep in their own end of the field for such daring, right? Wrong. Their fake punt netted 66 yards and a touchdown at the end of the drive. Compare this to the Bruins who later in the same half had a 4th and very manageable 5 at Oregon's 46, but then elected to punt the ball away. And that followed an even worse example last week in Palo Alto when we had a 4th and 6 at Stanford's 35 but played it safe and punted the ball then, too. We played conservatively to keep things close, and we have 2 losses to show for it.
The coulda the woulda the shoulda all that cra... we don't want that I'm tired of that. It's time for UCLA to turn the frickin page. And be something different. And win those games.
We're ready, Coach. Anytime. In the Jim Mora era, U.C.L.A. is now 14-7. Not bad. But consider that in that same time frame, Oregon is 20-1 and Stanford is 19-3. The Bruins have generally done well against teams in their level, with last year's loss to Cal being the only completely inexplicable error in that time. But the Bruins have not beaten Oregon since 2007 and have lost 6 in a row to Stanford. U.C.L.A. can't and won't and shouldn't be considered in the same category as Stanford or Oregon until they can start beating those two teams.
We're not good enough yet. I'm not good enough. Our coaching staff is not good enough. Our program's not where it needs to be yet.
Remember early in the season when we were all pretty frustrated that the Bruins seemed to wait until halftime to make adjustments, and we wondered why they couldn't make those adjustments earlier in the game? Well, that sure looks like the gold old days now. After dominating lesser teams in the second halves all season, the Bruins have seen that pattern flip the last two weeks. In the second half last week against Stanford, we ran 34 plays for 177 yards, and threw 2 interceptions. Compare that to Stanford's second half that saw them gain 202 yards on 33 plays (6.1 yds/play) and score 21 points with no turnovers.
The second half numbers last night were even worse. If you exclude our final garbage time possession we ran 26 plays for a mere 49 yards. Eight of our second half plays were either for no gain or negative yards. All that in a game where we were tied with the country's #3 team to start that half. Compare that to Oregon which ran 40 plays for 299 yds (7.5 yds/play) and had only 3 negative or no gain plays in the second half. Which teams looked like they made the right moves at halftime and came out stronger in the 3rd and 4th quarters of games that were up for grabs at the halfway point?
You have to believe you can. You have to learn. You have to do it, and you have to do it more than once. You got to do it on a consistent basis if you want to be a champion. That's what we're working for. That's what we're striving for. It's not there yet.
As a fan, I like how Coach Mora has represented my university. He seems like a very good man. I like his tough leadership style, and it seems to resonate with the players. I especially like how he has taken to the college game and genuinely cares about our student-athletes as people. But in this day and age, being a really good guy is really good enough. By Mora's own admission, we are not good enough now. Coach Mora has openly talked about winning championships, and that is the right goal to have. But the upward path over the last year seems to be leveling off and the current trajectory doesn't look like we will get to the same level as Stanford or Oregon anytime soon. And we need to start asking ourselves if third place in the Pac-12 and annual trips to San Antonio or San Diego are good enough. For me, they aren't, and fortunately, by Mora's own words, they aren't for him either.
If we take this as a moral victory because we went in at 14-14 we will go, whoosh, right down the hill.
U.C.L.A. Football is definitely better off than it was during the last decade, but then we are talking about the worst decade of U.C.L.A. football since the 1940's, so the bar was pretty low. There is no question we have improved, but that isn't good enough for Mora and it shouldn't be good enough for any of the fans. Unfortunately, there were too many people this week who essentially conceded this game last night before it had been played, or who were happy with how close we were with Stanford until late in the 4th quarter. Before the season started, there were plenty of fans who would have gladly taken a 5-2 record at this point and accepted that we weren't ready to challenge the conference powers this season. Tight scores at half are meaningless. Only winning scores at the end of the game will get this team where it needs to go. Until the Bruin fan base quits accepting mediocrity, we're likely to keep getting more and more of it.
In the end, I'm trying to remember to not make things personal. I know our players are trying their best, but it's looks a lot of times like they aren't being given the best opportunity to succeed. I know our coaches are doing their best, but it could be that their best just isn't as good as their top peers who have equivalent skill and depth on their rosters. Our offensive staff is really going to need to reconsider how it is doing things because that unit is really letting this team down right now. And we all hope they get it figured out. After Colorado next week, we have Washington, Arizona, ASU, and *$c, and how does everyone feel about those games given what we've just seen over the last 2 weeks?
I'm not disappointed in anyone, it's just disappointing.
Same here, Coach.