Earlier in the week the Daily Bruin attacked Rick Neuheisel in just 19 games into his tenure in Westwood in an article entitled "Neuheisel's Team Falling Apart." I found that kind of funny for a newspaper that was too busy licking Steve Lavin's boots, assaulting Karl Dorrell's critics, and patherically celebrating close loss to Southern Cal all those years. Well unlike those guys, here on BN we are not going to celebrate moral victories. That will never happen. However, one thing we know after another heartbreaking loss in the month of October (which is thankfully over) that our Bruins have not quit on Coach Rick Neuheisel and his entire staff. They made whoever wrote that piece for the Daily Bruin look as clueless as his previous predecessors making himself appear total tonedeaf when it comes to having pulse of the program.
The game was set up perfectly for a classic Bruin nightmarish explosion yesterday. I think many here and all over the greater Bruin Nation were bracing for the worst expecting the kind of humiliating defeats we had suffered in the hands of BYU last year, against Arizona in 2005, and against the Oregon State bunch earlier in the decade. The way the game was going early on when our offense was handcuffing itself with one frustrating mistakes after another, the chances were very good that the Bruins would fall apart. Instead of quitting on the coaches and on each other, not only didn't Bruins came back with a memorable charge, they almost had a chance to win the game in the last mins when senior leader ATV dropped a sure fire pick-6.
I felt sick to my stomach for ATV. If there is one Bruin who deserved that moment more than anyone else, it was him. I got even more upset after watching the defense then kind of fall apart to Roger brothers in that last Beaver drive but still this morning for some reason I am not as frustrated as I had been in last 5 weeks. This Sunday I am taking some form of comfort in the way our boys fought back yesterday. But I believe the only way the flicker of good feelings some of us might be experiencing this Sunday will be validated, is if our team can genuinely grab hold of this momentum by pouncing on the Washington Huskies next Saturday. Right now I cannot wait for the game this Saturday and it's a good feeling to have this deep into this college football season. I think it is time we rally behind our coaches, players and the entire program to help them any way we can to get them over the hump against Washington.
Yesterday's game was a mixed bag. There are some key issues that I find myself extremely frustrated with. On the other hand for the first time after watching that fourth quarter replay of our offense, I had that feeling of looking forward to the next offensive series. The last time I experienced anything close to that was the 2LIVEDrew's last season in Westwood when they carried them team on their backs. We will find out whether Kevin Prince, Nelson Rosario, Taylor Embree and rest of the UCLA offense can build on the clear momentum they gained in the cold and wet afternoon in Corvallis next weekend. I can't wait to find out and as I said above I like that feeling. More after the jump.I will start with Kevin Prince. His team-mate Embree saw something yesterday:
"Kevin showed today that he is ready to be the guy," Embree said.
"He calmed down and made some plays," Neuheisel said. "Hopefully, this was a precursor to more consistent play."
Prince finished having completed 22 of 34 passes for 323 yards and two touchdowns, directing an offense that had scored only two touchdowns in the previous three games.
Richard Brehaut like both Kevins have done throughout this year put this team first and was excited about his team-mate's afternoon:
"Kevin did a great job," said Brehaut, a freshman. "He was doing everything he could to help this team win. That's the most important thing right now."
I really don't have anyhing to add in terms of Brehaut/Prince discussion. I think Brehaut possibly deserved another series in the first half. But Kevin got it done in the second half and I think sealed the deal in terms of having the starting job rest of this season. I just hope he can build on it and show the same confidence he did in those last two quarters. I am also not going to look back at this point and wonder what would have happened if Prince hadn't gotten hurt. That kind of looking just doesn't help.
Prince wasn't the only bright spot in offense yesterday. Nelson Rosario had the best game for a UCLA receiver in years. In face his game reminded me of J.J. Stokes' coming out party against Oregon in Eugene in 1992 (the game before "Barnes Burner") when he showed of his surreal athleticism as a college receiver. Again the key for Rosario right now is to build on yesterday afternoon and put together a complete performance next weekend when he is running aggressive routes and also executing the easy catches.
In addition to Prince and Rosario's performances, I was encouraged by the offensive play calling in general. I think the play calling at the outset of the game was interesting. Chow certainly was making an earnest effort to get the ball in the hand of our athletes. I loved that double reverse call with Randall Carroll (for 5 yard game). Wished we had seen more of that. I think if we didn't have problems holding on the ball in the first half (was it weather related?) the outcome might have been a little different. Then when Prince got in his grove Chow really opened it up. Loved the 4 WR sets and QB draws when the opposing defense was least expecting it. It was fun to watch.
Now I am still perturbed by Coach Chow's call on 3rd and goal early in the second half. He said during the post game that he made that call because of the coverage. I would definitely like to hear more on that point. And I'd like to know not because I dont' trust Chow but more because I'd actually like to learn about it. I was pretty upset with the decision not to go for either the first down or TD in that sequence. The more I have thought about it, the more I have come around to Roger's line of thinking:
I also wanted to add that I thought the decision to go for the field goal on 4th and 1 was definitely the right decision. With the way our offense has been struggling running the ball there was probably about a 40% chance they wouldn't have made the first down (and even making it wouldn't guarantee a subsequent touchdown). The chances of Kai Forbath making a field goal from there were about 98%. Most importantly it could have been disastrous to go for it and not make it by demoralizing the offense and maybe the whole team playing on the road. By taking the 3 points they put something on the board and established some momentum. And there was plenty of time left in the game. Playing to win doesn't necessarily mean going for it on fourth and short. Playing to win means playing the percentages in the smartest way.
Guess I think that's a fair explanation. Still have to say at the time it was extremely frustrating and in the back of my mind I was thinking what kind of message it would send to rest of our offense. Clearly it didn't hamper their fire given how they came back in the fourth.
As for other negatives on offense, it's tough to say this but our seniors haven't really shown leadership on the field. Paulsen once again disrupted drives by taking more penalties. Austin had the dropsies and he seems so snakebitten that even when busts lose for a big return TD, it gets called back by dumb penalties (although Austin can't be blamed for Sloan's bad play). Still it would be awesome to see one of our seniors step up and make a play. They just haven't and it perhaps tells us something about the level of talent recruited by the previous coaching regime.
Moving to the other side the defense choked in that last drive. There is no other way to describe. It certainly sounds like Chuck Bullough is facing intense scrutiny from the fanbase (at least all over online). Our defense is extremely frustrating to watch. They make their share of plays and I guess we have to give them some props for holding a fairly explosive Oregon State offense to 26 points. However, the bend don't break philosophy is not going to win us many games.
I think in today's world of Pac-10 football which features so many explosives offenses with multi-dimensional athletes we need a defensive philospophy that should be centered around making the trigger man (QB) uncomfortable. It's a broken record now. Every week we seemed to write and discuss how our defense needs to come out and exert serious pressure on the opposing QB to throw him off his rhythm and get him uncomfortable. We talked about how Bullough needed to mix in some blitzes (not after we fall behind) and get Canfield rattled early on. It didn't happen as we saw the defense once again sat in its base 4-3 scheme and played with a strategy of containing the other guys to FGs. It only works to a certain extent but it also faciliates the classic death by a thousan cuts that can demoralize the entire team.
At this point with just 4 games left in this season is Bullough even capable of shifting and adjusting his philosophy? I have no idea. What I am seeing though on a week to week basis is how the opposing team keeps burning our defense with the same plays. Last weekend it was Arizona screwing us with reverses, this weekend we once again looked hapless against the Rogers brothers. Even us novices pointed out the "wild beaver" formation earlier during game week, yet we looked thoroughly confused and lost when Oregon State scored their TD out of that play. No other words to describe except that it's just frustrating.
I am not sure what it is going to take but I would love to see the UCLA defense come out and play with the same aggression we haven't seen since Tennessee. I still remember how Courtney Viney was coming after Crompton in corner blitzes to destroy him in that last series. Feels like haven't seen any of that since those moments in Neyland stadium.
Anyway, as mentioned up top, despite the frustrations from yesterday I believe this team has a chance of really coming together this November. We all kind of felt it and sensed it in the fourt quarter. Now collectively we need to will our team to a victory this Saturday. Thank fully the players and coaches seem to be in the exact mindset. Here is Tony Dye:
"To be honest with you, there's no such thing as a moral victory to me," sophomore safety Tony Dye said. "The only stat that ever matters is the wins and the losses. We came out with another `L' today. It's heartbreaking to get so close."
"I don't even know what the hell that is," UCLA senior linebacker Reggie Carter said. "That ... don't mean nothing. Ain't no such things as moral victories. There's victories and there's losses. We just took a loss."
And Rick Neuhiesel:
"We're not in the business of moral victories. But there were some positive signs."
Let's rally and will our team to real victory this Saturday.