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UCLA at 3-0, U$C* at 2-1: Signs Of Clear (Bruin) Blue Sky On The Horizon

I think it will be obvious to anyone reading through the game thread last night that we weren't feeling very warm and fuzzy about our football team right after the second half started. I don't need to go into details about the ugliness of that third quarter when Kansas State (KSU) rallied behind the inspired runs of Daniel Thomas and closed the gap by taking advantage of some sloppy play of our offense. I didn't see it here. However, there were some fairly toxic post game reactions directed towards Kevin Craft and the UCLA offensive coaching staff (for not giving Richard Brehaut a chance) around the internet. Well after chewing over the game the morning after and thinking about the big picture, I can't help but feel good about where our program is right now and where we are headed.

Yes, I know we are not perfect. Then again I said pretty straight up at the beginning of this season my expectation for this year is what my expectations were at the beginning of Coach Howland's second season at UCLA. I want us to get into a bowl game and 6-7 win season, that will set us up really well on the recruiting front this season and for future success. Well after three games it looks  like we are on track and perhaps slightly ahead of schedule.

Consider some factors in play before UCLA took on KSU:

  • UCLA was playing without its starting quarterback, two starters at cornerback, a key tailback, and two extremely talented receivers. I won't even mention the injuries we have suffered this season early on to senior OL, RB, and DT which would have demoralized previous UCLA teams in the past.
  • UCLA was playing in a classic let down game, the kind of ones it has laid eggs in time after time in recent season.
  • Not only that UCLA was taking on one of the better teams against one of the best game tacticians in college football who has a history of pulling of mind boggling (assclowning ESPN pundits) upsets.

As Jon Gold from the Daily News noted on that Bruins went into last night's game with 80 percent of its football team. Despite all that UCLA came out with a 23-9 win against KSU in which they:

  • Accomplished the objection of running 4 yards per carry, racking up 173 rushing yards in 34 attempts (averaging 5.1 per attempt)
  • Gave up 0 (yes "ZERO") sacks against a pretty stingy KSU defense
  • Got 186 yards out of its backup QB who threw for a perfect TD strike, had another one called back for penalty and was averaging almost 8 yards per completion
  • Despite some rough defensive moments, our guys kept the opponent to single digits, and bottled them up for 69 yards on the ground and less than 270 total offensive yards

Seems like a team that did what we were hoping it would do to start last week: cowboy up.

Could we have played better? Of course, and I will go into some of our issues plaguing this young team after the jump. However, before anyone (not the regulars in this community) gets drowned by the negativity around sloppiness of one quarter, again consider the big picture. A 4-8 team from last season (which had cratered as a program) is sitting with a record of 3-0 with lot more room to improve in a bye week. All of this happened at the same week, when a certain team across town with the hype of the entire national and local media behind it, laid an egg against a team that hadn't won a single conference game in a more than a year.  More after the jump.

Let's start with the supposed hot topic that caused a lot of consternation and angry rants on a certain UCLA message board on the internets. I honestly don't care about the QB situation. I am not going to get worked up over a spot which is under the jurisdiction of a legend such as Norm Chow (just like if our young Ben Ball warriors are struggling to D up this coming season, I am not going to get worried over Howland's defensive schemes). From the Daily News:

Asked if it he was disappointed he wasn't able to get Brehaut in Saturday, Bruins offensive coordinator Norm Chow said: "Yeah, he certainly deserves a chance, but so do a lot of other guys, like the backup linemen. Everyone deserves a chance to play. You have to understand the idea is to try to win and do the best you can."

Makes sense to me. I am not going to worry how much time Craft or Brehaut gets next game.

What I do like is that not only our program is showing a sign of pulse, but there is an energy and it is all going in thr right direction. Finally, I am seeing some tangible signs (record wise) of smog clearing up with appearance of (Bruin) blue in (UC) Los Angeles and I am liking it. Let's start with the LA Times coverage which actually is surreally positive. From Chris Foster in the LA Times:

Coach Rick Neuheisel had already framed its meaning this week, saying, "Last year there were 23 teams in Division I that started 3-0, out of 119 teams, and 20 of those 23 went to a bowl game."

Before the Bruins get too giddy, this is the ninth time they have entered Pacific 10 Conference play with a 3-0 record since 1971. Only twice have they gone on to win the conference title and go to the Rose Bowl.

Still, this was progress.

Similar sentiments can be read into reporting of Kevin Craft's performance. Well, I guess it helps when the kid is always gracious and humble no matter what the game result is:

Craft completed 13 of 24 passes for 186 yards. He had one pass intercepted, but also had a second touchdown pass nullified by a penalty. He said afterward he wasn’t concerned whether he’d get another chance this season.

"You know, I don’t really have that mind-set," Craft said. "I just kind of felt that I would get a chance to get back out there. I don’t ever want to see a kid go down like Kev did. I know his spirits are still high. But it was also fun to get out there too."

His coach was appreciative of his effort:

"I’m so pleased for Kevin Craft," UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel said. "He had taken a lot of abuse, none of it intended to be malicious, but when you don’t do as well as you hope at a position that is as much a focal point as quarterback, it’s a tough thing to swallow."

And his team-mates were also rooting for him:

"I just knew he was going to come out today," said offensive tackle Mike Harris, one of twoa returning starter from last season.

"This whole week of practice he just had a fire in his eye that I didn't see last year. I knew he had something to prove today."

Now Craft's third quarter performance was ugly. No way around it. However, I think Craft went off rhythm for a bit after a specific play call in second quarter. UCLA had a 3rd and 1 at its own 46 yard line with a 10-3 lead. At that point Craft had complete 5 of 7 passes in a classic ball control game. So with a 3rd and 1, coaches dialed up a long bomb, which ended up being underthrown and intercepted. I think that's when Craft got out of sync for a while and the complexion of the game changed. That's probably a call Chow (assuming he called it) will like to have back.

Obvious penalties were killers all night. If Craft's TD to Moya was called back because what appeared to be a correct call on Paulsen, the game's complexion could have been different. As usual SPTRs played their roles, however, we have to do a much better job of playing a cleaner game. Our blocking around the edges need to get much more polished while Ayers need to find a way to play smart and within control. From the Daily News:

"We have to fix that," UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel said. "(Saturday), just in the urgency to try to keep things going we were lining up wrong, guys were trying to make plays and blocking below the waist.

"We have to fix all that, and this is the perfect time to do it. We were lucky to get to do it without having (a loss) in our ledger."

UCLA, which has a bye next week and plays at Stanford on Oct. 3 in the Pac-10 opener, will rest today and Monday before a revamped practice scheduled next week.

"It'll be a training camp-type atmosphere," Neuheisel said.

In addition to working on minimizing the penalties, I am hoping the coaches will also refocus on our special teams. While the kicking game was great again, the kickoff coverage reverted to the bad habits of last year, when the players were overpursuing their lanes. I think this is something that is correctible and I really hope will be improved upon in next two weeks. I did like Thigpen returining kickoffs. He clearly showed the burst of speed we were hearing about from those practice reports.

Classof66 has already laid out his concerns about our defense. I think his concerns do have merit. Specifically our defense need to be much better prepared out of the gate. However, I also think we need to give some credit Bill Snyder and the Wildcats. I loved the gameplan he had devised against UCLA. His offensive scheme was all about misdirection (via his spread option reads) and it did wonder to neutralize our speed and aggression. We did adjust by the time fourth quarter rolled around. However, I would think the tapes from last night will come in very handy when we prepare with other teams using similar schemes (cough*Oregon*cough).

Going forward, Bruins now have two weeks to prepare for a Pac-10 opener against another well coached football team, who we were lucky to beat at the Rose Bowl last season. I sure hope our defense is working over time to figure out how they will stop the running attack of Toby Gerhart and improved QB play from Stanford Cardinal. Just like Tennessee those guys will be out for revenge, and we will need to go in there with same fire and intensity we did in Tennessee. The bye week will also hopefully get some guys to heal back and return to the team and hopefully we will have kids like Viney, Knox, Carroll and Presley participated with renewed focus and determination. I am excited to read about the news coming out of Spaulding in next couple of weeks heading into Palo Alto. This is fun.