I will not lie. Deep into the second quarter of last night - especially after Prince threw the pick - I was very tempted to log into our game thread and type something about that wall. :-) Yet I kept myself from doing it for one big reason. Even though the Bruins looked totally frozen and a little shell shocked from the cold weather and icy turf, while watching the game it was clear our guys were better athletes than the well coached Temple Owls.
I got the sense that our guys were just one step behind on all facets of the game which was led to Temple jumping ahead. Austin looked even more hesitant than usual on his returns (despite the big one), our front-7 were barely missing the tackles and getting juked by Vaughn Charlton, and on offense our receivers looked a step slower and Prince (at least to me) looked very tentative as if he was thinking about his shoulder.
Despite all the adversity I think the turning point of the game really took place in Temple's last possession before the end of first half. Temple was up 21-7 and had a 3rd and 3 with 32 seconds left on their own 27 yard line. At that point I thought Al Golden (who up to that point was coaching a great game) thought was going to go the obvious route by calling on his running backs. Instead he called for a bomb (targeting ATV) which went for an incomplete pass. I thought (from the angle I saw it and I had good seats) that ATV might have held the Temple receiver but it didn't get called. More importantly, it saved us a time out forcing Temple to punt. We took full advantage of it to drive down on their prevent defense (thanks again to Al Golden) and get 3 and a modicum of momentum heading into half. It gave some of a sense of hope we desperately needed heading into half time.
The second big moment of the game was again Temple getting stopped short on 3rd down deep in our territory in their first possession of the second half. From my vantage point it looked like the right spot although some of my friends watching it on TV texted me that we had gotten a generous one. In any event, Reggie made a huge stop on that possession essentially setting the tone for the second half.
Those were the two moments that I think changed the complexion of the game in our favor. Few more thoughts on the game after the jump.Let me see what I can remember about the playcalling. I was pretty happy that we stayed with Chane Moline most of the game to be honest. If the weather condition was different - perhaps 10-15 degrees less colder and no wind - then I would have preferred a little more of JetSki and a little razzle, dazzle with Knox 9(via Wildcat). Not with the conditions from the last night. With the wind blowing and icy turf, we needed a dependable north-south runner who would protect the ball. Moline was the guy. I was hoping for a little more from Coleman but we didn't get it from him.
As for Thigpen when he came in, it looked like he wasn't on the same page with rest of the team. That leads me to two questions though. First, why did the coaches wait till second half to go for Thigpen's speed and fancy, gadget plays (especially on first down). Second, it's a little disconcerting that underclassmen are still not up to speed on the playbook. The second issue is a topic we will be discussing I think number of times in the coming weeks/months. I also didn't get the need for tackle-eligible throw to XSF in second half. Seems like our bread and butter approach was working fine.
Speaking of playcalls, I liked the calls the coaches made with Prince. He missed some open receivers. That wasn't the coach's fault. Although, again I was wondering whether his shoulder was all right. Gotta say I think it is a big deal that coaches stayed with Prince even after that interception and allowed him to get confidence in that last minute drive resulting in FG. I got the sense that was HUGE for Prince in terms of building up confidence and relaxing a little heading into second. Then that call on 4th and 1 to Austin was just money. Here is what TA told Jon Golden about that play:
"We needed that; we came into the locker room and talked about how we needed to get more effective on offense," Austin said. "It goes back to what we've been practicing; that specific play is for short yardage, but we call it in practice and it works and it works and it works. We lined up, got the defense we wanted, and all it was was a pitch-and-catch."
Going back to Prince I was impressed with the courage and guts he showed yesterday. I don't want to draw conclusions on him missing some open receivers because he was playing with a hurt shoulder. I do want him to work on his sliding skills and really working on realizing when he needs to pull back for the interest of the team.
In terms of defense, what else is there to say. I am still scratching my head over why we have to wait till second half to make adjustments. From the same Golden report linked above, here is what CRN had to say:
"Some of it was structural - you have to see what they're doing and figure out how to get into different gaps to see if you can combat what they're beating you with," Neuheisel said. "And then the second thing was adapting our plan to the field. Despite all the hard work to make sure everything was perfect, the field had frozen over. There was a lot of skating - literally skating on top of it - especially on the end of the field where Akeem made his decisive touchdown."
Honestly not sure if that explanation works. It was obvious to everyone that we needed to mix up our scheme, throw in some blitz packages and rough up Charlton. Not sure why we had to wait till second half to get started on that plan. It is going to be very interesting to see how our defense performs next year without Price and Carter. Right now I have very mixed feelings about Bullough. I will give him credit for his second half adjustment but I am still not sure why we have to wait so long to get started on throttling our opponents. It will be interesting to see what Bullough does with young players tomorrow. Although, he will have the luxury to build it around anchors such as Moore and Ayers.
As for the Temple Owls we have to give it up to Al Golden. Except for the two interesting decisions he made (throwing deep end of second half and then going for it on 4th instead of kicking a FG) he had his guys focused, well prepared and locked in. They were impressive. They only committed three penalties and minimized their mistakes until they imploded late in the game.
Similarly, our guys actually committed only 4 penalties. We also have to give big props to our offensive line. They started off a little slow. Then they settled down and opened things up for Chane and also gave Prince a lot of time to find his receivers. We have to give credit to kids like Jake Dean and Nick Ekabatani for stepping up in filling for Kai Maiava, Ryan Taylor. They got stronger as the game went into fourth quarter and I thought that was a testament to the desire and determination of the team.
As for some long term thoughts, I sure hope no one here falls for the LAT's concern trolling about Price and XSF. None of that should be a surprise to anyone who follows UCLA football. We have known that for months and we expect our coaches to have their contingency plan in place. The bottom line when it comes down to it is the Bruins improved from a 4 win season (resulting from Dorrell's talent decimation and freak QB injuries) by 3 games and now find themselves to bring in more talent via this year's recruiting class.
I have no doubt CRN will be bringing in more talent into Westwood this season. It's a matter of our program taking gradual steps of progress getting us back to where we were in the early 80s and the potential we flashed during the Cade era of late 90s. I think we have a good chance at getting to another happy ending next year. Hopefully it will happen at a later date than December 29th. After what I saw last night I am feeling even better about the coming months and will be even more excited about 2010-11 season that I was for this one.