Earlier this am I was looking over my instant recap in last night's post-game thread, and was wondering if I had been too harsh on our Bruins. After all Bruins are sitting at 5-0 and ranked in the top-10 for the first time in 8 years. Yet for some reason, I can't shake of an uneasy feeling about this year's football team given what I have seen to date in our first five games.
Something is off about this year's team and it appears that we are not the only one feeling uncomfortable about where the team is at this point of the season. Tracy Pierson over at BruinReportOnline.com offers some frank thoughts of his own in his post-game analysis concluding that while UCLA is winning, the Bruins are not playing to expectation.
Tracy's post, which is not behind subscription firewall at the time of this post on BN is a must read (and once again underscores why BRO is well worth the subscription for it's frontpage articles and recruiting notes). I will lift up some of the poignant nuggets that are worth special mention.
Tracy asserts (and I completely agree) that despite having top-10 talent, UCLA hasn't played up to it's potential (emphasis mine throughout)
We do believe that UCLA has top-ten national talent this season. After watching enough college football (an average of 12 games a weekend), the Bruins do have the level of talent to compete among the top ten teams in the nation.
But so far this season, the team's performance hasn't yet realized that potential. UCLA, really, has yet to put together a good game. Here's the season in a nutshell: It beat Nebraska with one truly great half, and the win over Utah was good (especially taken in light of Utah's win over Stanford), but you wouldn't call that a good game; while the other three games were wins over three pretty bad teams, and all three games were a bit disappointing, in terms of UCLA's true dominance on the field, given its talent, not the score or the stats.
Tracy also raises serious concerns about our offensive performance to date, noting how Bruins' offensive performance against an impotent Berkeley defense was disappointing with "head-scratching" playcalling throughout the night:
If there was something else that stood out about the disappointing offensive performance it was the playcalling. This was a game full of play-calling head-scratchers, and we'll get more into that in the unit-by-unit. Really simply: When your team has pretty much proven through two quarters there's something amiss in the running game, and that you're able to pass pretty easily, it would be time to abandon the balanced offense and air it out. I thought the two-minute offense to end the first half, where UCLA used 8 plays to go 73 yards in 1:55, and didn't run once, was going to be the proverbial light bulb going off. Perhaps the coaches recognized that Hundley was struggling to see his receivers downfield, but the Bruins went right back to their run-oriented attack in the second half. Results: UCLA gained a total of 12 yards in its first three possessions of the second half. The only reason it got a first down was because of Cal's penalties, and the only reason it scored was because it converted a field goal out of an interception by Randall Goforth. And it only got a field goal - not a touchdown - because it couldn't move the ball by insisting on running. Yes, there was also the element that Hundley made some of his worst throws of the night in those first three possessions of the second half but, like was seemingly evident in the two-minute offense to end the first half, if on Saturday night you give this offense more chances to move the ball throwing it rather than running it you'd probably be more successful.
Lastly, Tracy makes the point that despite having a record of 5-0 and a top-10 ranking for the first time since that meaningless "10 win" season from 2005, no one knows what kind of team UCLA has in week 8 of 2013 season:
And that leads us to the biggest takeaway from Saturday night: We really don't have a good feel for this team, five games into the season and 5-0. More accurately, we really haven't seen this team close to playing up to its potential. It's played a few good halves here and there, but hasn't put together a good, even-close-to-complete game. On one hand, it's disappointing. You can see the potential, in terms of the talent and the schemes. You look at this team, on paper and on the field, and you look at its competition, and you can honestly say it should be better than it's been. That has made some of the wins this season a little hollow, with a sneaking suspicion that UCLA, because it's under-achieving, could be setting itself up for a fall. But on the other hand, if this is under-achieving, what's over-achieving, or even just playing up to expectation? The one unit of the biggest pre-season worry, the secondary, is turning out to be a considerable strength. UCLA is 5-0 and, realistically hasn't played a really good game yet. So, naturally, it follows that: What happens when UCLA actually puts it all together?
Not comforting that we are asking these questions at this point of the season.