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The Roller Coaster Trip Begins: Thoughts After The First Stop

Last night was very different than the euphoria we experienced in CRN's first game as the UCLA head coach last season. When I was writing the post game thread post last night, I wasn't quiet sure how I was feeling about that 33-14 win.

In the back of my mind I was very annoyed with the slow start our defense had in those first two drives. I was feeling sick to my stomach about Aaron Hester who had worked so hard since his arrival in Westwood to make his much anticipated debut on the other side of ATV. On the flip side, I was feeling downright giddy (despite his freshman mistakes) about Kevin Prince, the progress showed by our OL, the multidimensional looks offered up by our four running backs, Kai Forbath's amazing kicks, the improved level of special teams play, and the way our defense bounced back after the first two drives in rest of the game.

There were so many glimpses we saw throughout the game in terms of where we want out our team eventually to end up at, yet we constantly kept being reminded by all those freshman mistakes about how long this trip is going to be. There were so many freshman mistakes it reminded me of, well AA/JF's first year, which also happened to be Coach Ben Howland's second year at UCLA, when we scraped by to get into first round (which felt like we had made the Sweet-16 after two years of toiling in the gutter thanks to burning down of the program by previous poser of a head coach).

On the balance though, I believe this team is way ahead of the team from last year that was jumping up and down at the Rose Bowl, after that missed FG from Tennessee. More on that and some other extended thoughts after the jump.

I think Chris Dufresne from the LA Times really nails down how I am feeling about the team this morning:

UCLA played OK against a mediocre team but exits this Labor Day with a team superior to the one that beat Tennessee.

College football is often a game of perception versus reality -- what you see in relation to what you ultimately get.

"It's a different team," defensive tackle Brian Price said. "It's a different chemistry."

For one, moving the ball no longer seems like an Arctic expedition. The offense totaled 359 yards, the line surged, the tailbacks darted and freshman quarterback Kevin Prince mostly threw line drives.

UCLA's offense averaged 5.2 yards a play against the Aztecs, which allowed defensive players to get reacquainted with their water bottles.

"It always helps when you don't have to be on defense for 80 plays," end Korey Bosworth said. "The offense moved the ball better than I've ever seen them."

Reggie Carter had a pretty funny comment about the offense moving the ball following the game:

There was such a different feel to UCLA's 33-14 victory over San Diego State that defensive players even complained a little about their offense keeping them off the field.

"I was like, 'Come on, man, either score or punt,' " senior linebacker Reggie Carter. "We kept getting three-and-outs and the offense was holding onto the ball. I wanted to hit somebody. But I can't complain. This was fun."

More on the defensive guys feeling good thanks to the play of our revamped OL:

The line, a source of "a lot of exasperation last season," line coach Bob Palcic said, set tailbacks Derrick Coleman and Johnathan Franklin on touchdown runs. Coleman's run covered 29 yards and washed clean a slow start, giving UCLA a 16-14 lead with 5 minutes 33 seconds left in the first half. The Bruins' longest scoring play was 21 yards last season.

Those things left the defense as spectators for long stretches -- the Bruins had a 10-minute edge in time of possession.

"It felt good not to be out there for 80 plays," defensive end Korey Bosworth said. "It felt real good."

Now obviously the night wasn't perfect. It wasn't even close. But I got the same feelings, I use to have watching those Ben Ball warriors growing up in Howland's second season. It's going to be like this - a roller coaster withing games/quarters - throughout the whole season. And you know what I am going to be enjoying this trip, just like I did during those early years of Howland era.

So let's start with Prince. From Jon Gold in the Daily News:

"We're 1-0 and I'm pleased with that, but I'm obviously a little disappointed in myself for some of the things I did," said Prince, who was 12 of 16 for 140 yards and a touchdown in the first half but then just 6 of 13 for 36 yards and two interceptions in the second.

"I'm also pleased with how I came out and started. It's going to be a great tape to watch (today); seeing what I did well and building on that and seeing what I didn't do well and learning from that to make sure I don't do it again."

Prince had a picture perfect start in his first drive as a UCLA Bruin completing first straight passes. As Gold wrote above in terms of completion/efficiency stats he had a perfect first half. However, we were immediately reminded how he was a freshman in the way he handled couple of snaps and those picks in the second half. Seriously I was glad that he kind of struggled a bit and had those lapses. It made him normal just like - wait for it - Cade McNown, the greatest quarterback ever to play in a UCLA uniform. Anyone who was annoyed by those freshman mistakes should look up Cade's old game tapes from his first two years. They should also be looking up game tapes of Tommy Maddox's red shirt freshman year.

Despite those mistakes Prince looked miles ahead of Drew Olson/Matt Moore from their first year. He was miles ahead of Cory Paus. I am glad that his first game wasn't perfect because if it was, then I would remind everyone about what Ben Olson did in his first game as a UCLA quarterback.

The QB issue brings me to Richard Brehaut. I don't get the confusion (and in certain corners whining) about CRN's decision to play the kid. What is so confusing about letting the second best quarterback of the team in when Prince was done in the game. To me it was not only the right decision but a perfect one. He got Brehaut in a non pressure situation to get him game experience and then call decent plays out of the game plan to get him started. Given how fragile the QBs are (hellooooo Mr. Stoops), I thought it was the right decsion to get the second best QB in the program started right away. More importantly, now that Brehaut is going to be in the mix, it will keep Prince on the edge during practices and forcing him to be more competitive. I like that.

However, we also have to given huge props to Kevin Craft. I heard there were some boos when he came in. Those who booed him should be ashamed of themselves. I understand being sarcastic and having dark sense of humor about last year's memories, but there is absolutely no excuse for insulting this kid. Those who were at the Rose Bowl and booed him, should be ashamed of themselves. I don't know how many of you noticed but when Prince threw those picks, it was Craft going up to him, encouraging him, and keeping his spirits up. This guy is as classy as one can get and we are lucky to have someone of his character in our program. My HT to Kevin Craft.

Turning over to the defense, I am with 66 in the sense that I was disappointed by the slow start last night. The only explanation I have is that perhaps Coach Bullough was handicapped a bit because he didn't have any kind of game film to analyze. The pressure upfront towards the beginning of the game was non-existent. Seemed like Lindley had all day. However, we did seem to make decent adjustments after the first few series, and turned it on. Perhaps another reason we weren't getting to him faster was because he seemed to be taking 10-15 step drops to elude our pressure.

I like the fact that our defense seemed to be getting stronger as the game went on. Reggie Carter and Bosworth (although I am blanking out which one) had couple of vicious pops in the second half. However, I would like to see even more (controlled?) aggression in the first half, allowing the defense to make a statement. We are going to need that next week, if we want to stay in that game.

The play from special teams was encouraging last night. We started a little sloppy with our kickoffs (carrying over the trend from last year) allowing SDSU good early field position, while backing us up. However, the team really picked it up. Two of our touch downs were direct results of outstanding special teams play: 1) Austin's electrifying return setting up the Jet Ski TD, 2) Jerzy's block leading to ATV housing it in the second half. Coaches gotta love that. However, we still need to get deeper in our kickoffs, setting the opposing team behind 25 yard line as much as possible.

Heading into next week frankly I am not very confident about getting a victory. I am not seeing how we can pull out a win in Tennessee with the team we have. We couldn't do it with a sophomore Cade McNown (96) and Tommy Maddox (91). However, I am not discouraged. Here is against what Dufresne wrote today:

UCLA heads to Knoxville next week to play Tennessee. It's a game the Bruins might very well lose.

Yet they could return a better team than the one that beat Tennessee last year.

Like we said, it's weird.

"Last year was one of the best wins I've ever been a part of," sophomore safety Rahim Moore, who tied a UCLA record Saturday with three interceptions, said of the Tennessee victory.

"This is a good win, too. . . . But the team has to learn more. We can't let this victory go to our heads. We have work to do."

That sounds about right to me. As I wrote above I am not delusional about our prospects in Knoxville next weekend. We are going to be overwhelming underdogs. However, what I really want to see from our Bruins is the same composure and sense of not panicking they showed last night after they felt behind. If they keep grinding out, chipping away on offense, while sustaining a ferocious intensity on defense on every play (provided they get more breathers like they did last night), they will get a chance to fight, and keep the tone of this roller coaster trip positive.