Before getting into some of my specific impressions from yesterday’s thrilling win let’s quickly reset the big picture here a bit. We now have a record of 3-4 with a conference record of 2-2. Looking back at last 7 games, the loss that really hurts right now is the one against Fresno State. Given what we have now seen from Kevin Craft (more on his clutch second half below of course), I think we would have had a good shot at winning that game if we hadn’t turned the ball over in that last drive. If we had won that game we could have probably looked at a record of 4-3 (and if we had gotten lucky at Oregon) perhaps 5-2.
Given what we have been through in terms of injury situation that pretty much wiped away an entire starting offense from last spring, lack of experienced talent in our roster , what the coaches have done is nothing short of remarkable. I am still not sure whether we are going to get to a bowl game this season. My brain tells me it’s a tall order since every game for this team will be a challenge. But it’s obvious now that when CRN and his players and coaches talk about "relentless optimism" and not giving up on this season, we are hearing more than just words:
Photo Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Time
So with that here are some thoughts from yesterday’s afternoon hear stopper. For today though, I will start with the portion from yesterday’s notes that are disconcerting before going on to the positive/inspiring moments from yesterday’s resilient win.
I will break up my negative notes in two sections. First, talking about personnel related issues then raising question about decisions (just for discussion’s sake).
So let's start with the personnel issues. Here is my question that I think is on lot of people’s mind: can we afford to stick with Kahlil Bell as our starting tailback?
Let’s first look at the numbers from yesterday: Bell had 28 yards in 11 carries (2.5 avg), while Coleman rushed for 20 yards in 4 carries (5.0 avg). For the season now Bell has rushed for 187 yards in 71 carries (2.6 avg) and 5 TDs. While Coleman to date has rushed for 191 yards in 32 carries (6.0 avg) and 1 TD.
In terms of number, right now I think it is pretty clear who has been the more productive back at least when it comes to sustaining drives and getting us into more manageable 2nd and 3rd down situations at a more consistent level. From what my eyes are seeing, it appears that Bell is playing injured. He still has the power to go straight up, but he is not as effective as he was before getting injured, when he tries to make his cuts. I have nothing but admiration and respect for the effort this kid is giving for this team and the leadership he brings to the table. But at the same time, I think we have to ask the question whether the coaches need to lessen his load a bit so that we can look at more productive options.
I think based on numbers at least it makes sense to increase the work load of Coleman a bit and also give Aundre Dean some good looks so that perhaps we can take advantage of the speed and power he brings to the table. Am I off here? One explanation I can think of about why Bell is getting more time is perhaps Chow and Palcic think he is a better option when it comes to providing Craft a little extra protection as he is more familiar with blocking schemes and in sync with our OL. They see the tapes lot more than I do and I will not question their eyes given their proven track record. However, I am still a little perplexed.
Staying on the theme of personnel issues, Bret Lockett was getting lit up against yesterday. I am sure you have seen the highlights Tele posted below and saw the block Gerhart made on the poor kid. Lockett at times looked helpless when it comes to providing help against the Stanford rushing attack. But Walker stayed with him yesterday:
After playing poorly last week at Oregon and nearly losing his job, Bruins senior strong safety Bret Lockett played so well Walker scrapped plans to use redshirt freshman Glenn Love to spell Lockett.
"It was probably the toughest week, this and the Tennessee week when I did not play (because of suspension)," Lockett said. "All the criticism and the people doubting me, but I just used it as motivation."
Lockett finished with three tackles and also forced a first-quarter fumble.
"I felt like he was playing well enough to where it was like, `OK, let's not break the rhythm,' because he's been ridiculed the whole season," Walker said. "For him to be having a little bit of success, in terms of doing his job, I thought that was important for his confidence."
I actually thought Walker had a good game scheme wise yesterday. Our tackling looked much better than it did against Oregon (and previous game) and he seemed to put our two monster DTs in best position to contain the Stanford running attack. Moreover, I think he deserves credit for the coverage our secondary provided the whole game, which completely shut down the Stanford passing game. Still that said, I would have love to see a little bit of Glenn Love at SS and see what the kid could do. It’s obvious Love can hit, as he showed in that hit during Stanford punt return leading to turnover. He is a physical player. I think it would be good to see him in there in the coming weeks and see what he can do. Again just my 2 cents because whenever I see an opposing TB bowling towards Lockett, I think I am not the only one with a lump in my throat.
Those are the two personnel issues that stick out to me for now. Now let’s get to one specific decision from yesterday’s game. Here was the sequence after UCLA had a 1st and goal on the Stanford 6 yard line towards the end of 3rd leading to a Forbath FG:
- 1st and Goal at STAN 6: Chris Forcier rush for a loss of 1 yard to the Stanf 7.
2nd and Goal at STAN 7: Kevin Craft sacked for a loss of 3 yards to the Stanf 10.
- 3rd and Goal at STAN 10: Kevin Craft rush for a loss of 1 yard to the Stanf 11.
I will never question Chow’s over all game scheme just like I have never called out Coach Howland’s game schemes. Chow had no peer when it comes to devising schemes. None (at least in college football). But honestly just in this specific case, those three plays left me confused. Perhaps it showed he is merely human. :-) I would have loved to hear his explanation for those calls and find out what his thought process was behind those calls. I don’t write that to be snarky at all. I am genuinely curious behind what he was thinking.
So those were the negatives. Let’s pivot from the negatives to yesterday’s heroes and great storylines, and the perfect transition is this guy:
Photo Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times
Uh yeah … count me in as one of those who got excited when Forcier was warming up on the sidelines. I have been supportive of Kevin Craft all season and I more than understand how at this point it is probably the best decision on RN and Chow’s part to stick with this kid. But at the same time while watching the first half, the question kept popping in my head: could Forcier be any worse?
After KC fumbled in the first half, I don’t think I was the only one somewhat excited in reading CRN’s lips saying something like, "that’s it. We are going with Forcier." From CRN in today’s DN:
"There was a point in the game where I did consider it, and sometimes it gets the better of me because I'm an old quarterback and an old quarterback coach," Neuheisel said. " It was probably a little irrational on my part, but the kid, God bless him, he responded. His resiliency is one of the reasons why we're standing here with a victory. Norm calmed me down."
Two things here. First, and 66 already noted this in his as usual brilliant observations, note how CRN had no problem checking his ego and deferring to Chow. For those who have been involved in leadership positions or observing effective executive decisions, that is pretty much perfect example of how an effective CiC takes in the feedback of his trusted advisors and has the instincts to overrule himself after careful insta-analysis. That’s good stuff. Second, going back to Chow, given how KC has his trust, I think rest of Bruin Nation should have the same faith in this kid who is doing as much as he can within his athletic ability to listen to his coaches.
The last play Craft made up was a scrambling throw to backup tight end Cory Harkey, a freshman who has had a bum ankle.
It came with 10 seconds left, it was for a seven-yard touchdown, and Chow said that if Craft hadn't trusted his instincts he might have settled for a receiver who was open on the one- or two-yard line.
"The initial read Kevin wasn't real patient with," Chow said. "The initial read would have gotten us four or five yards, and we needed seven. Kevin scrambled around and made that play. If he would always trust that instinct, he's a really good player."
"He's clutch," UCLA offensive lineman Nick Ekbatani said. "I really believe he's a clutch player. When it comes down to it and it's on the line, he's going to make plays. I love blocking for him."
Craft, the son of former San Diego State coach Tom Craft, could spend the game ripping his offensive linemen for ridiculously poor protection - they allowed seven sacks against Stanford - but he doesn't.
After a roughing-the-passer penalty, lineman Jeff Baca tried to help Craft up and make sure he was OK, and Craft flung his arm away.
Craft can take a hit and bounce back on his own.
What was even more impressive was how Craft handled himself after the game. Instead of being over exuberant, he was ice cold, composed and talked about how he needs to address all the issues from first half. To me that was even more impressive on how didn’t lose perspective despite the great win.
Speaking of instincts perhaps the coaches should think about getting Craft and co in the "hurry up" no-huddle mode all game? The results kind of speak for themselves. No?
In addition to Craft’s clutch turnaround there were other heroes in our offense. From the LA Times:
UCLA wide receiver Nelson Rosario, a freshman from Oceanside who has been slowed by a sore knee, had a career-high four catches for 71 yards. One catch came over the middle where he was unfazed by the hard tackle that came immediately, and another came during UCLA's game-winning touchdown drive.
"It feels so great," Rosario said. "I think I'll get more chances as I'm healthy, and when I make catches the quarterback will have more faith in me."
Another freshman, Taylor Embree, was on the receiving end of a 43-yard pass from Craft in the third quarter -- UCLA's longest gain on a pass play this season.
In addition to Rosario and Embree, huge props go out Terrence Austin. Austin was nothing short of a warrior, leading the team with 5 receptions (for 50 yards) and catching that huge TD of Craft’s shovel pass. There was also Chane Moline’s clutch run in that last drive when he rumbled up for 17 yards on 3rd and 1. Ryan Moya also came up big with not only a huge catch, but also to have the smart instinct to run up and hustle towards the sideline to save time on the clock.
Going back to game winning touchdown the LA Times has some interesting quotes from Micah Reed on what went on in the huddle:
"I told those guys, this was a moment we could look back on down the line," Reed said.
If hindsight is 20-20, Reed's foresight turned out to be 23-20 -- the numbers favoring UCLA on the scoreboard at the end.
Craft scrambled to his right and flipped a pass to Cory Harkey, who was in the back of the end zone.
"Micah told us," guard Scott Glicksberg said. "This was a chance to move forward as a team. This makes it easier to believe in what we're doing and keep doing it."
Reggie Carter had this to say about the same play:
I know I am probably not covering number of other details from yesterday’s game (i.e. we still need to see better coverage from our special teams) … but I can’t think of any better way to end on that note for this Sunday, before starting to focus on what will be an incredibly difficult and challenging game next weekend.
"I had a few tears," UCLA linebacker Reggie Carter said. "After the offense scored that touchdown, my eyes watered up. You get emotional. It's hard to hold all that emotion in. Winning is fun."
I like this team … a lot. They are making football fun (despite the frustrations we experience as fans), which I haven’t had following UCLA football since Cade left Westwood.