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Sunday Roundup & Thoughts

Meriones has already written up an early debriefing of yesterday's game listing his positives, negatives, and questions from Palo Alto. To echo his conclusion it was a pretty good game, but still there is a lot of need for improvement in order for Dorrell to deliver on the expectations for this highly anticipated season.

Let's get to today's stories giving us a picture of a team that knew it was not playing up to its potential in the first half and came out played much inspired ball in the second half.

And, to his credit, apparently it was Karl Dorrell, who lit a fire under the team in the locker room. From Brian Dohn:

As if the 90-degree sun wasn't hot enough, as if the non-air conditioned visitor's locker room didn't cause UCLA enough discomfort at halftime, coach Karl Dorrell turned up the heat on his underperforming Bruins with a blistering halftime speech.

Bruins safety Chris Horton said Dorrell laid down the challenge to prove UCLA was better, and left guard Shannon Tevaga said "Dorrell went crazy" at halftime and "got us all hyped up."

Dorrell's words worked, and nearly made the fact that No. 14 UCLA led hapless Stanford by a mere seven points at the half an afterthought. Behind Kahlil Bell's career-best 195 rushing yards and Ben Olson's career-high five touchdown passes, UCLA pushed away the early shortcomings in a 45-17 beating of the Cardinal in Saturday's season opener at Stanford Stadium.

"Coach Dorrell gave us a pretty motivating speech at halftime," Bell said. "He told us that we're on TV for the nation, and is this how you want to debut your 2007 season? We were feeling sorry for ourselves in the heat, and this is how we responded."

Olson completed 16 of 29 passes for 286yards, including 216 yards and three touchdowns in the second half, and the Bruins pushed Stanford around for 338rushing yards as UCLA, under the play-calling of new coordinator Jay Norvell, rolled up 624 yards of offense.
I am glad to hear it was Dorrell, and not some assistant coach (like DeWayne Walker or Tom Cable in the past), who had to light into the players to get them fired up. But the question for me is why was our team in a position that it had to get fired up against a pathetic and hapless opponent like Stanford? I hope this doesn't become a pattern in which our team is coming out not as focused and inspired as our coaches would like them to be in the first halves in the future games. Regardless, though, it is still encouraging (at least for me) to hear Dorrell taking charge of the team and letting them hear it. That's the kind of story we hear coming out of the home team locker rooms at Pauley, and it is nice to hear that being the case for the football team at least for once.

So, SPJ had a pretty big day. But, unlike last year, when he also exploded out of the gate in his first game, this time folks (as they should) are staying cautious about his performance from the first game:
The 6-foot-4 Olson completed 16 of 29 passes for 286 yards and five touchdowns. That equaled his number of touchdown passes from all of last season.

"It wasn't a perfect game by any means," Olson said. "We have a lot of things to improve upon. I feel like we should have played better."

But he led UCLA to an impressive 624 yards of total offense. The rushing attack added 338 yards on the ground, 195 coming from Kahlil Bell.

Olson looked more composed than last season, more comfortable and sure of himself, particularly in the second half when Dorrell opened up the offense some.

"He showed a lot of confidence and poise, and that's what we need," said UCLA receiver Brandon Breazell. "And he showed a lot of faith in us, to let us go out and make plays."
To me, the area Olson (and his receivers) need to make more improvement in is their timing in the short, 3 step drop, quick fire passes. Not sure how many of you got to watch the Tenn @ Cal (great first week for the Pac) game. But, one of the really cool things that Herbie zeroed in was how Longshore was getting rid of his passes (while being on the mark) before his receivers were actually turning back to catch the ball. The timing was pretty cool to watch. I think Olson is just as capable of being efficient and precise in making those passes. It's a matter of Norvell and Dorrell making sure that Olson and his receivers get that timing pattern down and get in rhythm in the next couple of games before heading into rest of the conference season.

Unlike last year's game against Stanford, in which Olson looked a little unsure (due to some atrocious playcalling), this year the second half was a little different because of some variation in the playcalling. It was nice to see some reverses, tosses back to our RBs, allowing them to run outside, and also not being afraid to mix it up. From the LA Times on the flea-flicker that changed the complexion of the game in the third quarter:
That happened on the Bruins' second series in the third quarter. Norvell, the team's third offensive coordinator in four seasons, called for a flea-flicker.

"I started laughing in the huddle," wide receiver Brandon Breazell said.

Said Olson: "We all were. I had been begging Coach to call that play."

Said Breazell: "I just knew the safety was ripe for that one."
Isn't it amazing how a little bit of trickery and imagination can fire up the whole offense? These are kids in college after all. This kind of stuff gets them fired up, excited, and not to mention it puts the opposing defense on their heels a bit. From the same article (emphasis mine):
"We want people to defend the field, and we feel like we have lot of players who make those kind of plays," Norvell said.

As for the flea-flicker, Norvell said: "We don't need to save anything. We got a lot of plays, more plays than we'll be able to use in one season."
That is a fantastic quote and it has me excited about the next game. But, despite that excitement, there was also lot of the 'ole run-run-pass stuff going on yesterday. It worked in the second half because of strong, powerful, and determined running by Kahlil Bell, who racked up a career best 195 yards in 19 carries. Daily News has a feature story on the Bruin RB going through a maturation process:
With UCLA holding on to a 14-7 lead and backed up on its own 3-yard line with 11:02 left in the third quarter, new Bruins offensive coordinator Jay Norvell called for three straight runs by Bell.

The last one went for 22 yards on a third-and-1, and Bell broke two tackles behind the line of scrimmage and several others after picking up the first down.

"Kahlil always runs hard, but physically, he's in much better shape," Dorrell said. "He's bigger, he's stronger, he's got a little bit more explosiveness."

This isn't the first time Bell exploded out of the backfield. As a freshman at the Sun Bowl, Bell and Markey teamed up to tear apart Northwestern. Bell ran for 136yards, and Markey had 161.

Yet, Bell had a different air about him after the Stanford game.

"I think it's just growing up," Bell said. "I'm trying to mature as a young adult and trying to find my place on the team, and as a man. I think that's the biggest part about it."
Let's hope the Stanford game doesn't become an aberration for Bell. Because the Northwestern game sure felt like one, while we watched the kid repeatedly slamming up the middle for one no-to-short gain after another whenever he was getting the call last season.

I tell you, though, I was kind of excited to see Ramirez in garbage time. The kid needs to get a little bigger. But, man, there is something about him. He seems natural and seems to have the nose for where to slide and glide to rack up yardage. Hopefully we will get to see more of him in the coming weeks.

Oh and BTW welcome back Joe:

Photo Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times

Another note about the offense that is worth mentioning given the nightmare from last season was yesterday's efficiency in the red zone:
The Bruins gained 395 yards in the third and fourth quarters and their 31 second half points were more than they scored in 11 of its 13 games a year ago.

They also were able to punch the football into the end zone on its red zone possessions, scoring four out of five trips inside the 20. That, as well, is a significant difference from a year ago, when they scored fewer touchdowns in the red zone than all but one Pac-10 team.

Against a haggard Stanford defense, last in the Pac-10 last season in scoring and total defense and apparently not much better this year, the Bruins just took off.
That's the disclaimer. The performance came against a joke of a Stanford defense. They will need to repeat that performance in a consistent manner throughout the season to truly claim that the offense has improved from last season.

Now we have talked up our offense, which showed some good signs yesterday. There isn't much to say about our defense except to say they looked very average and frankly kind of disappointing. These guys gave up more than 330 yards passing, including a number of huge plays, that were giving the Cardinals some life in the second half:
Among those plays was a 70-yard touchdown reception by Richard Sherman, a 46-yard catch by tight end Jim Dray off busted coverage and a 42-yard reception by Evan Moore, who slipped a few tackles on the play.

Those are the plays that stood out to UCLA defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker, who didn't give his unit high marks after it allowed 383 total yards in the 14th-ranked Bruins' 45-17 win at Stanford Stadium.

"I thought it was an average game for us," Walker said. "We want to play above average."

The 17 points were the most Stanford scored at home since 2005, and overshadowed a strong effort by the Bruins' front seven against the run. The Cardinal rushed 26 times, netting 52 yards.

But UCLA's defense wants to be considered one of the best in the nation, and allowing 17 points and 331 yards passing to a poor offensive team isn't the sought-after start.

"As a complete defense, no, I don't think we did (play well)," UCLA senior defensive tackle Kevin Brown said. "We know we're better than what we performed. We're going to go back and watch the film and figure out where we went wrong."
What was disconcerting was that the defensive line didn't seem to generate much pressure. Bruce Davis was frustrated through most of the day, although Bosworth did get to the QB couple of times. Also, Reggie Carter had a team high 10 tackles.

The bottom line for this defense was that we didn't see the attacking, pit bull (don't get excited TrOJies), relentless, vicious, and lockdown D that we had been hearing about the whole summer. These guys still have lot more work to do. Perhaps yesterday's ordinary performance was due to the scorching heat, but I don't really care much about conditioning issues because of all the hype I have heard about our guys being faster and stronger heading into this season. They need to show more improvement in the next game to match the hype surrounding them all off-season.

All in all, not a bad Saturday. Now lets do the same thing against BYU next weekend.