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More Thoughts During This Afterglow

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Thank God we don’t have a game coming up this weekend. If we did, I have no idea how collectively we would have been able to pivot and put our focus on the next opponent. It will take at least another day to shake off last night’s exhilaration:

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Photo Credit: Leigh Alvarez/The Daily Bruin

It sure looks like last night’s fireworks have already sent a shockwave coast to coast in the world of college football. Bruins have already cracked the Top-25 and showing up in some prominent polls. This is where everyone needs to slow down just a little bit and catch up with reality. Instead of getting ahead and start coming up with readjusted predictions for rest of the season, we still need to reassess more on what took place last night and the price we had to pay. And then look over the issues our coaches can resolve for helping this team improve from week to week.

So let’s start with the injury news. Once again the news is somewhat sobering (via Dohn):

He (Rick Neuheisel – BN Ed.) said tight end Logan Paulsen's broken right foot will keep him out for the long-term. Paulsen is expected to have a screw inserted in his foot, and is likely out at least eight weeks.
Talking about tailback Kahlil Bell's high ankle sprain, Neuheisel said it was "anybody's guess" how long he would be out. More should be known after Bell's MRI is read.
Receiver Marcus Everett has a dislocated big right toe, and Neuheisel said "I don't know how long that will be, but that's a very, very painful injury" and Everett will "just have to battle through it." I'm hearing there is a chance he could play against BYU.
And, finally, middle linebacker Reggie Carter has a partially torn medial collateral ligament in his left knee, but it is only believed to be a slight tear. He will likely undergo an MRI, but Neuheisel said "I think he'll be ok."

The news on Paulsen is a huge bummer. It’s disappointing especially considering it looks like TE will indeed be prominently featured in our offense. It was awesome to see Moya to step up in such a huge way. But having a healthy Paulsen will help. Hopefully Cory Harkey can step up like other true frosh.

We will have to cross our fingers re. Bell. However, in the next game I would love to see little more of Carter (and perhaps Dean) and little less of Moline. I like Moline a lot. He seems like a tough back. But I think may be we can use him in certain short yardage situations that calls for tough running up the gut or in plays allowing him to catch short passes for tough YACs. But I would love to see some more speed at our TB courtesy of Carter and perhaps Dean. I am assuming this is something the coaches will be thinking about and working on next week.

As for Everett’s injury, that’s tough. But I rather not have the kid rush back. Looks like we have some depth (knock on wood) at the WR spot right now. Also, don’t forget we will get Gavin Kethcum back in couple of weeks (hopefully) as he battles back from mono. Re. Reggie Carter’s injury, I have no idea what to think of that. If the MRI will shows that he is ok and if he gets clearance from his physicians, hopefully he can play and be effective. I will not be surprised with Carter’s injury we see some shuffling around our LB corps, allowing a kid like Ayers to break into the rotation.

Speaking of our defense, let’s get back to the chatter re. our prevent defense. From Jill Painter in the Daily News:

Tennessee had a pair of fourth-quarter scoring drives in the final six minutes. The Volunteers used a 13-play, 67-yard drive that ran nearly five minutes off the clock. Montario Hardesty broke free for a 20-yard touchdown run with 1:54 left to give Tennessee a 21-17 lead.

The Bruins marched down the field and scored with 27 seconds left to put UCLA ahead 24-21.

And the defense failed to deliver again.

Tennessee used a five-play, 27-yard drive that resulted in Daniel Lincoln's 47-yard field goal as time expired to send the game to overtime.

"My defense worked really hard," Harwell said. "It was the first game, and they got us a couple of times but the guys didn't stop believing and the coaches said it was going to come down to a field goal and that's what (happened)."

I voiced some concern re. the defense in last two drives in my first post today. However, there are other fair points we need to take into consideration. bucknellbruin pointed out it wasn’t so much the last drive of the regular period, but the last TD drive he was more concerned about:

My only problem with Walker’s scheme was the end of Tennessee’s last TD drive. We were blitzing on every single play to start that drive, and after they converted that 4th and 1 we stopped. Only 3 or 4 guys were rushing each play, and Crompton was able to move down the field enough to give the RB’s a look at the endzone. I love Walker, and he blitzed more that game than anyone else would dream of doing (which is, in my opinion, a huge reason we won), but I don’t understand why he got so conservative on that drive.
As for the last drive, what can you do…they had to avoid giving up a potential TD play. The staff had the confidence that we would win if it got to OT, so if Tenn made a play to get in FG range, so be it.

Then ryebreadaz pointed out that we went to prevent defense on the final play of the drive (I am assuming he is referring to the TD drive)

Given the way our defense played its heart out the entire game, keeping us in competitive even though we were facing some unreal adverse situations with our QB and injury issues, I don’t think we can really complain too much here. Moreover, as CRN pointed out it was him who had asked Walker to call a "conservative" scheme playing the field position:

UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel gave defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker and his defense credit for solid play but perhaps Neuheisel should have made sure there was an asterisk by that statement, to note that it didn't include play at the end of regulation.

"DeWayne's defense kept us in the game," Rick Neuheisel said. "The seven points they had to make it 14-7 was an interception for a score.

"We came into the game with an idea of how to manage field position. I told him to be a little more conservative on their end of the field. I thought it worked to a 'T.' It was a field position game. I told them at halftime, 'Get it to the fourth quarter.' ... that's all you could ask for."

Considering all the blitz packages we saw from Walker throughout the game, cannot imagine what happens when he decides to get ultra aggressive. I would have to think once his secondary gets more experience (and get Brett Lockett back) Walker is going to get even more aggressive in the coming weeks. Fun stuff.

Moving on, we also have some work to do on special teams despite that crucial punt block from last night. From bornagainbruin:

I disagree with your analysis of special teams. Sure, we blocked a punt early for 6, but other than that the special teams were very poor, in my opinion. For instance, we were totally dominated on both kick offs and kick off returns. Second, on punt returns we never again came close to the punter and didn’t have any good returns. On our punts, Tenn had a few good punt returns. These special team issues cost us field position all night long.

To throw in a few numbers, Tennessee averaged starting on their own 36 after UCLA kickoffs, while we averaged our own 25 after Tennessee kickoffs.

Fair enough. I imagine Coach Gansz has already looked at the tapes and those data points and I think we can assume, this is something we are going to be working on during next 10 days. Man, it would have been nice to have Matt Slater for one more year.

Going back to the big picture scheme of things, Scott Wilson’s write up on Fox Sports has this how CRN motivated the team heading into last night:

"There's so much passion associated with college football," Neuheisel said. "Not that there isn't in the NFL ... but it doesn't have the same feeling of everything hinging on every play. You have to get used to that and weather the storm and not get too high or too low. The other thing is you never know when you're winning or when you're losing. You don't keep hoping for things, you just keep playing. I was really impressed with the way we did it first time out."

Neuheisel's players said he kept things very positive in the weeks leading up to the game, despite the obstacles that injuries and a thin depth chart overall presented.

"He's a great motivator," defensive tackle Brigham Harwell said. "In his meetings, everybody's sitting up. He's so emotional. In the hotel, he just told us to keep fighting for four quarters. It went to overtime, but we still kept fighting."

I would add couple of more notes to this big picture stuff.

First, what lot of folks haven’t touch on yet is CRN’s vision. Heading into last night’s game we read a lot about how it was a huge risk for Neuheisel to shake up the schedule so that his team could debut in the national spotlight. rye's post sums it up beautifully the kind of risk CRN took in moving this game to Monday night on Labor Day. We haven’t had a head coach in my lifetime of following UCLA football (I have no idea how Dick Vermeil operated as the leader of this program off the field in the public area) with the CRN’s vision of our program. He as much any hard core UCLA football fanatics has total command over our history, our tradition as a college football program, and knows exactly where this program needs to go in the coming years so we can honestly say that we are indeed back. And he knows to push the right psychological buttons to get everyone around the program fired up and ready to go, while he is taking his players on the way to redemption. What could work out perfectly for UCLA is the tough and painstaking experiences he underwent as a brash/young HC at Colorado and at UDub is the exact seasoning he needed to emerge as a polished and seasoned head coach, enabling him to do this for the third time, the right way.

Second, have I mentioned the feeling of seeing our head coach PLAYING TO WIN? There was one grumbling comment in the game thread last night, about CRN/Chow deciding to throw the ball towards the end of the first half resulting in that pick 6. I absolutely had no problem with that. As painful as that pick 6 was, CRN/Chow sent the right signal to his team and the opponent that they were not going to sit back and play it safe. They were going for it. They were coming at it. They were relentless. It’s obvious that mindset has taken hold of our entire team, given the valiant and tenacious total team effort in the second half.

Now … we still need to slow things down. Yes, we are ranked. But we can’t get caught up in all that. We still have some serious injury issues to deal with and our entire offense still is a work in progress. Moreover, now that the whole country knows what is transpiring in Westwood, we are not going to sneak up on teams and pull off another ambush. So, I still think we are looking at a long, tough season, but it is going to be one during which our coaches and players are going to fight week after week. Still it is nice to finally have hope and a dream a little bit about our program’s future.

It’s been a while to experience this kind of afterglow following a UCLA football game:

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Photo Credit: Jack Rosenfeld

That's not the last time Rose Bowl will look like that at the end of UCLA football game in this new era of Bruin football

GO BRUINS.