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Dealing With Reality: Bouncing Back With Basics

So where to pick up the day after?

All off season we had been mentally preparing ourselves for a very tough season during Rick Neuheisel’s first year at UCLA. There were a number of outsiders who mocked those pre-season projections asserting that somehow we were low balling the expectations game to protect a first year coach. What we saw yesterday was a realization of all the warning signs we flashed this off season based on our thorough analysis of our entire roster. Sure the jolt of 0-59 was beyond jarring:


Photo Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times

However, the kind of low we are all collectively experiencing this morning, shouldn’t have been a surprise to any knowledgeable Bruin football fan who has been following this program on a day to day basis for last few years. This was coming and there wasn’t much even the best coaching combination in the country could do about it.

The victory against Tennessee was magical. No doubt. But there was a reason we posted this warning sign moments after that missed Volunteer OT kick at the Rose Bowl (emphasis added):

Tonight is just a start. We are experiencing the kind of high we haven't experienced since 13-9. We know there are tough times ahead. We are going to experience our share of adversity. It is going to happen.

So it has happened. Within 2 weeks, the reality around UCLA football has brought everyone back crashing to earth. The question is how everyone is going to react?

Well, a good place to start would be not to get into any kind of blame game and recognize the reality that right now we don’t have the horses to compete at an elite level. Please note that when I make that assertion it’s not meant to be an attack on any of our players in the team. I have no doubt these kids are doing everything they can and will do everything they can to help the new regime build a foundation for the long term future of this program. But that doesn’t preclude us from making the observation that right now we don’t have the talent and experience to compete at the top level of the Pac-10 conference or even the MWC.

Let’s take our defense for example.  Over here we have been critical and difficult on DeWayne Walker and have raised questions about his ability to scheme against the spread offense. Yet, today I am not sure it would be wise to single him out for failing to properly scheme against BYU’s lethal passing attack. Let’s go back to the discussion we had on stopping spread type of offense before the Tennessee game:

The most effective way to stop spread offense is to have speedy defenders who can offset any mismatches spread OCs try to create with their skill position players. So what can a DC like Walker do to spread the effective passing attack of Max Hall? He can compete when he can field a defense with speedy LBs and a fast and athletic defensive secondary. Does he have that? Well again just look through our roster. Walker is working with 3 new starters in his defensive backfield and his experience safety Lockett was getting in his first action of the season. At LB with all due respect to Bosworth and Hale (who are playing their hearts out), Walker has a blue chipper in Reggie Carter who is playing a new position at Mike, replacing the experience and brain of last two year’s unit in Christian Taylor.

I guess the question here could be is why did our DBs give Cougars receivers so much cushion? From Dohn:

Collie matched a career-high with 10 receptions - all in the first half - and scored two touchdowns as quarterback Max Hall picked apart UCLA's secondary, Verner in particular, en route to No. 18 BYU's 59-0 thrashing of the Bruins on Saturday at LaVell Edwards Stadium.

"It was a shocker," Walker said. "We've got to get (Verner) going. I'm just as shocked as you guys. I thought he could handle (Collie).

"That was our whole game plan going in, and it didn't work out that way."

Walker said he did not want Verner to give Collie much of a cushion at the line of scrimmage, but time and again Verner lined up 10 yards off the line of scrimmage.

It allowed Hall to constantly complete short passes to Collie, and kept UCLA's defensive line and blitzing linebackers from pressuring Hall. He finished 27 of 35 for 271 yards and seven touchdowns, and was a big reason the Cougars were 13 of 17 converting third downs.

"I played off too much," Verner said. "They were doing short routes most of the game, taking 5- or 6- or 8-yard gains all day. I played too far off him and gave him too much room to make catches. That type of guy you have to get up and try to take their space away and make them go over the top on you.

"I didn't do that in the beginning, and I tried to change it up at the end."

I think the fact that our best cover corner felt like he had to give Austin Collie a cushion to effectively cover him tells us all we need to know about the talent level in our defense. This is the kind of reality that might not be pleasant for fan but this is where we are after what has transpired in the recruiting front over last five years. I know we have lot of youngsters who came in this last recruiting class. But football is not basketball where kids can just come in and take over. There are some exceptions but it generally takes 2-3 years for a high school kid to get comfortable in the college game.

The obvious difference in this year’s matchup with Cougars from last year was the absence of Bruce Davis. Davis was a terror who brought the heat on Hall from the outside. There was only so much the combination of Harwell and Price could do. They tried to push from the inside, but the BYU OL was able to neutralize them given the fact that we were not getting any pressure from our DEs and backers.  As a result, Hall had enough time in the pocket to write up terms papers and slice up the UCLA secondary. And when Unga was getting outside he was simply bulldozing over our ends and LBers. They were undersized and overmatched.

There was not much Walker could do.  Could he have gone for broke time and again by bringing in LB and safety blitzes? I am honestly not sure if that would have worked because as mentioned above he doesn’t have seniors like Davis, Horton or Keyes in the roster.   Only thing he can do right now is to try to get back with his players and get them to refocus on the fundamentals for next weekend at the Rose Bowl.

Now let’s shift our attention towards the offense. Again there is not much either Neuheisel or Chow could do yesterday. If you go through the game, I am not sure how much second guessing we can do about their play calling. If anything, they actually tried to be aggressive. They head faked the BYU coaches into taking a TO, when they showed as if they were going for it on 4th and 1 in our first drive. They mixed in good calls on first downs. Loved those quick outs and bubble screens to WRs on first downs that worked like running play.

But all that didn’t hide the stone cold reality about our OL, which once again generated only 16 yards in 9 carries (See box score). I have always liked the effort the Chane Train gives out there. But he is not really an every down back. We didn’t have Bell out there and Carter got dinged up early on. My main reservation from yesterday was that I wish our coaches had tried out Dean or Franklin out there early. My understanding is that Dean was out there for 1 carry and got hurt (update below). I think it would be good for coaches to get these kids out there lot more (if Dean is healthy) next week and just give them their chances. Because they need something.

As for Craft, again this is a kid who is giving everything they have. He did missed couple of easy passes. But his production was decent (23 for 39, 240 yards, 1 pick). He did what he could to move the chains. Then again we saw the extent of his athleticism when his hailmary pass at the end of the first half fell more than 20 yards short of the end zone. Once again, it’s telling about the talent level of our program when our best QB prospect (including the current kids on the roster) is probably a helicopter ride away from Westwood.

What happened yesterday was a total implosion that’s a result of a decade long roster and recruiting mismanagement in this football program. And the problems on both offense and defense metastasized and spilled over into every facets of the team which we saw in the repeated breakdown of special teams. As painful and dispiriting as it is, there is not much we can do about it.

We already posted CRN’s message re. adversity. As  T pointed he has standing when he talks about dealing with adversity given what he has gone through last few years. There is no one better in terms of offering to lead by his own example. He also had this to say about yesterday’s loss:

"We have to get better, and that's across the board," Neuheisel said. "All of us have to get better. This loss is pinned on every one of us. The bottom line is what do we do to fix it?"

I think in terms of fixing the problems, as alluded it will probably start with going back to basics on defense. Same goes for both offense and the special teams. I imagine coaches are going to be working on with basic drills of holding on to the ball. CRN had to say this about our offense:

"Our game is always going to be the same; we're going to have to stay on the field, keep our defense off of it,'' Neuheisel said. "We could not do that. We left our defense out there far too long, and BYU was methodical.''

And that plan falls apart when the offense keeps turning the ball over. For the long term issues silverlakebruin nailed it:

The Key now is to get the troops rallied, play with pride the next 10 games, hope for a .500 season, and one more thing::


Then we will be in a position to be excellent in 2010.

As for injuries here was the update from Don following the game:

Center Micah Reed injured the medial collateral ligament in his right knee, and it appears he will not be ready for next week against Arizona.
Linebacker Kyle Bosworth injured the MCL in his left knee, and was pulled from the game so not to injure it more.
Running back Raymond Carter has a bruised knee, but said he didn't believe it was serious.
All three will have MRIs Monday or Tuesday.
Running back Aundre Dean sprained his ankle on his only carry and defensive tackle Jerzy Siewierski suffered a strained neck. Not sure on either's status for next week until the next few days.

I haven’t seen any updates yet. If you see it, please post it in the comments on the fan shots.

Right now ... we don't need outsider's "pity" or calls for "gut check" who in their cursory interest in writing about our program never really cared to deal with with facts and failed to recognize what our program has gone through this past decade. Let the MSM types cackle all they want. We need to stick together with this team and with each other.

So, I will reiterate what I wrote last night. We saw this play out in Howland’s first couple of years again, again, and again. Under the best coach in college hoops, kids with UCLA stitched in front of their jerseys were getting humiliated at Pauley and on the road in blowout losses to Arizona, Notre Dame, St. Johns and on and on. In fact Howland’s best moment his first season was a close loss against Tubby Smith’s Kentucky team in Anaheim. I remember those days clearly because it makes the taste of success we have experience last three years that much sweeter. Especially sweet for those of us who stay with the team for the entire ride.

So chin up … take a deep breath.