Yesterday I finally went down to DC's local alumni gathering in downtown to watch the game (since it was blacked out on all Fox Networks). There was a huge turnout at Mad Hatters and it was fun catching up with some old friends. After the game was over a regular reader of BN and occasional blogger - dcbruingirl - came over and introduced herself. She said something that really hit me.
dcbruingirl grew up a Bruin. If I have it right, she started going to games when she was 7 or 8 years old and her Dad has been a diehard Bruin for almost four decades. She was talking about her Dad's view on UCLA football. Apparently he compares it to the experience and feelings of "waiting for a train" in a desolate railway station where it never shows up. After a while, you get tired of that "waiting" feeling and yet you remain stuck on that railway platform, knowing you have nowhere else to go.
Well it certainly feels like that today and unfortunately for us it's a familiar feeling we have lived through for decades. I don't blame long term alums, athletic program supporters, and season ticket holders feeling angry, frustrated and letting it all out, sometimes beautifully and sometimes without making a lot of sense. Certainly can't blame folks if they want to stop caring about UCLA football when we see images of our QBs laughing it up on the sidelines, when the team is getting humiliated.
Why should people feel obligated to emotionally invest in a program, when the players who keep talking a big game (I mean fixing "little things) only to embarrass the school time after time. You can also understand now why we didn't care too much about jumping on the "signature victory" nonsense following the Texas game.
The question though is why the losses like yesterday keep happening at UCLA. I think these questions require us to look at macro issues around our program instead of analyzing the micro issues from yesterday's game. So if you still care, you can't jump over the flip.
UCLA's dreadful quarterback situation
I really like Kevin Prince a lot. I think this moment during the Texas game when he brushed off the trainer to score that TD will be etched in collective brain for a long time. There is no doubt he plays with a lot of heart and has been fearless during his starts as UCLA QB. I don't see him in the same mold as QBs like Cory Paus, Ryan McCann, Rob Walker, Ryan Fien, Jim Bonds or Brett Johnsons, QBs careers that didn't work out too well at UCLA. That said, right now I am having a very hard time envisioning him as the long term starter at UCLA. I know Norm Chow sees him as "Heisman" caliber QB but frankly not seeing it right now.
To be successful using revolver as the base formation in our offense, we need a multi-dimensional QB who can do both run and pass efficiently out of it. From what we have seen after 6 games in 2010 season, the picture is very cloudy and uncertain around Prince. He might have the potential to be successful, however, it will be very difficult for that dreaded potential to materialize if he continues to be an injury prone QB. Yesterday, he once again looked out of sync and physically handicapped. He was having difficulty with the long throws and didn't seem to have any kind of pocket presence whatsoever, costing the team time after time.
Honestly, at this point I am not sure how Rick Neuheisel can maintain his confidence in Prince. I get that he is Chow's guy and Chow has his utmost confidence him. I also get that Richard Brehaut might not be the optimal option in this offense. However, from what we have seen to date Prince is not getting it done. I think it makes sense for UCLA coaches to give Prince one more true shot. He needs to put together a credible performance in our next game at Eugene. If he doesn't get it done against the Ducks in terms of leading an efficient offense, UCLA coaches IMHO will need to go with Richard Brehaut when they come back to the Rose Bowl.
In addition coaches need to think about putting packages together featuring Darius Bell, who might be the only option QB available in our roster and suitable for an offense that is supposed to be a sophisticated option attack. We can't keep doing what we have been doing with Prince. It's not working.
Holding Norm Chow accountable
The QB situation brings me to the topic of Norm Chow. There is no need to go over Chow's incredible resume. He is an offensive legend. Yet the problem is what we have seen with our eyes in last two and half years have simply not matched Chow's track record. We still are aware of the big picture view which is the empty cupboard he and the rest of the staff inherited when they stepped into Westwood. That said, the fact is UCLA injected speed and athleticisms into its program through talents like Randall Carroll, Morrell Pressley, Josh Smith, Damien Thigpen, who were highly coveted by other big time FBS programs as well.
It's time for Chow to figure out how to effectively integrate the raw talent he has at his disposal. If kids like Carroll, Pressley, Thigpen went to other programs, not sure if it would have taken this long for them to make any kind of discernible impact. Week after week, we have not seen any incorporation of imagination and creativity in our offense, in effort to keep our opponents unbalanced. It is baffling to me how despite having guys like Josh Smith, Jerry Johnson at our disposal, our coaches keep looking at guys like Taylor Embree as our primary option. That just doesn't seem right.
It is baffling to guys like Malcolm Jones standing around on sideline without getting a whiff of playing time, while rest of the team is just flailing away. That is not right and it is up to Chow to figure out how to come up with the right mix of the available talent, help his assistants develop them, and start putting together an offense that at least shows some consistent signs of the hype that came along with his resume to Westwood.
The bottom line right now is that it's pretty easy for UCLA opponents to scheme against Chow's revolver offense. He keeps sticking with a QB who can neither pass effectively nor run hard due to physical limitations. He seems too stubborn in sticking with same personnel, who to date haven't shown much success. In the coming weeks UCLA opponents will keep challenging the Bruins to beat them with Chow's ineffective passing offense under Prince. Unless Chow decides to adapt or Rick Neuheisel strongly recommends that he adapts we are going to live through few more nightmarish and frustrating game days rest of this season.
The ugly receiving game
I supposed I could have folded this section under Chow but this deserves to stand on its one. I think we can say safely now that Reggie Moore's tenure as the wide receivers coach at UCLA has been a complete FAIL. Our receivers collectively have been a colossal disappointment. These guys look clueless in running routes and don't have any kind of killer instinct. Frankly they often look lazy, disinterested in the game, which brings us to the question exactly what Reggie Moore does during weekdays to prepare these guys for Saturdays.
Moreover, the rotation of these receivers have been mindboggling as halfway into this season Taylor Embree, the slowest guy on the team (who isn't even a sure handed receiver) is apparently the go to guy in this unit. It is time Moore answers questions why he hasn't been able to develop and bring along guys like Carroll, Johnson by this point of the season.
Looking forward, we will need to see genuine improvement from this bunch, not just in terms of hard numbers but also in the kind of effort they put in every Saturday. We will need to see more effective rotations from Reggie Moore so that it doesn't become obvious to everyone and their mother that our QBs will keep locking on to Taylor Embree. If there is no tangible improvement in this unit - which has been the most disappointing bunch among this year's UCLA football team - it will be up to Rick Neuheisel to hold his WR coach accountable. We are not going to care much about excuses.
Chuck Bullough's hapless schemes
I know, what else is there to say. Let me just revisit what we said earlier this week:
I am guessing the Bears studied the tapes of UCLA's last game very closely when the Cougars specifically targeted Ayers through some doubles and chipping away at him. The question (again) is going to be how Chuck Bullough will anticipate, recognize, and rapidly react to Tedford's moves.
If the Bears decide to give "extra" attention to Akeem when he is lined up towards the outside, it would potentially mean the gaps could be available for our LBers to burst through. It will be up to Bullough to make sure he and his LBer coach and LBers are closely studying film, and look for opportunities to put in their own packages to counter punch and attack by shooting through the other holes.
Just like UCLA's offense, it seems way too easy to scheme against it predictable and vanilla defense. It wasn't very difficult to see what Cal was doing yesterday. Their QB had a pretty awful day (Kevin Princesque I might add). However, it didn't matter much. As Jeff Tedford decided to ram it through the UCLA's front-7 by keeping a close eye on where Ayers was lining up. Time and time again the Bears pounded away from Ayers with seemingly no adjustment from Bullough.
It would have been interesting if Bullough had put in packages that would entail using his other LBs aggressively in shooting through the gaps, but alas we never saw that. I frankly don't care much for Neuehisel's lines about how the defense played better in second half. That sounds pathetic to honest given at that point Cal offense had kind of checked out (kind of like our offense did against Houston).
Bullough's D just looked unprepared and lethargic out of the gate and they never really recovered in the second half. Ayers eventually became frustrated and reverted back to his old form of playing undisciplined football. Sean Westgate had 12 tackles but was mostly ineffective. It is probably time for UCLA's coaches to see what Glenn Love can bring to the table.
By the numbers our secondary had a good game as the Bears had less than 100 yards in passing (83 yards total). However, that is deceptive given the Bears didn't need to pass to beat up on Bullough's pathetic defense, piling up 304 rushing yards in the afternoon. Aaron Hester probably should be benched and the entire secondary should be forced to reach Coach Wooden's book and taught how to behave with class.
Meanwhile, our DL simply got crushed up front. Nate Chandler and David Carter were getting manhandles. Owa had a great first half but that was about it. It didn't matter much because Bullough was incapable of making kind of early adjustments or coming in with a plan that gave the Bears something different to look at. The way it is looking right now Blake Arnet could probably be more effective scheming up UCLA's defensive game plans than the current guy in "charge." It is embarrassing.
Rick Neuehisel's responsibility of bringing a "culture change" in Westwood
You can look through our archives and you will find how Rick Neuheisel repeatedly used the phrase of the need of a "culture change." We heard a lot about the notion UCLA needs to foster competition at Spaulding during daily practices and come out and leave everything on the field on game days. Well we are at 2.5 year mark of his tenure. His overall record is now 14-17. To his credit in terms of W-L record he has moved the needle slowly in his first two years. We knew full well the challenges he was facing this year given the issues at both OL and DL due to attrition during off-season. That said, we expected from him to put together a UCLA team that would come out fighting every single Saturday and then keep improving through a solid Pac-10 season with hopefully a winning record.
Now there is still good chance that RN will get it done. As the leader of this program, he can make the adjustments and changes necessary so that the Bruins can improve on the win totals during the second half of this season by at least one more game from the first half (4). However, it's not just about winning. Truthfully right now we will be ok with 3 wins if the Bruins put together consistent efforts in every single game. On the other 4 wins might not taste as good if it contains 2 more unacceptable performances when the team looks passionless, uninterested like it did against Norcal programs.
It is up to Neuheisel to make the culture change happen. It is up to him foster serious competition day in and day out at Spaulding. It is up to him to make sure players are not feeling entitled to their starting positions and essentially turn this football program into a team of multiple Nikola Dragovics.
I don't really care anymore about the talent and potential of our players. I frankly don't care the awards Akeem Ayers might win. I don't care what a great safety Rahim Moore is. I don't care much about the 4/5 star athletes we brought in during last 2-3 years. I want to have a program in which coaches find a way to develop talent and get them to perform at a level (both on and off the field) that are worthy of those four letters.
While in terms of record, all is not lost for UCLA football. There are still opportunities to keep the program on track for forward progress. What we ultimately need from Neuheisel is to make sure he is fielding a team that striving for competitive greatness, every single game at every facet of the program. Unfortunately we have not seen that from his program on a consistent basis.
We can take losing. However, it's the manner we have lost this season that really hurts. If UCLA coaches and players act like they don't care much about those four letters, we are often left with questions why should we. That feeling needs to go away and it is up to Rick Neuheisel to make it happen. Right now we are getting pretty tired of waiting for that train.