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The "Eye Test": Bruins’ GPA After A "GE" Course Against Washington State

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Writing up the grade post for this game reminded me of certain classes from undergraduate days. Not sure what the fun GE GPA boosting courses are these days on campus but how many of you remember the cool dinosaurs class to fill out the GE requirement? There was also a class on the "History of Italian Cinema" (I don't remember the course number any more but IIRC Toby Bailey was in the class that yours truly took in my very last quarter at UCLA). There were also the old reliable musicology classes ranging from history of rock and roll or music of Latin America.

All fun stuff. The point here is getting an "A" in those classes were different deals in getting As ... uhm any OChem classes in South Campus. Well to be honest, getting "A"s in North Campus classes were different ‘deal' than getting "As" in the South. Suck it gbruin, tasser10, Tydides, Telemachus and rest of you suckers. Can you see where I am going with this? Before getting to the grades for the Washington State, I think it's useful to take a look at the Cougars' schedule again.  

Coming into the UCLA game, Cougars' 3 wins included a victory over a mediocre FCS team (Idaho State), a terrible UNLV team from MWC, which followed up that loss with a 25-point home loss to Southern Utah (0-2 in the Great West conference!), and the worst or second worst team in our conference. So I think that should give anyone pause if they want to make a big deal out of a desperate come from behind victory against this team in the Rose Bowl.  So I appreciate the relative improvement Paul Wulff's team had made compared to last two horrific seasons, but from our perspective it was more than reasonable for the Bruin community to expect a comfortable win at the Rose Bowl.

So the Bruins eeked out a victory against this Wazzu team. It's nice that the Bruins are 2-1 in the Pac-12 South and still "alive" for a bid to make the conference championship game. It is also clear to us that Bruins have more than enough talent to make a run through the lesser part of the conference this year. Yet as freesia and gbruin pointed out yesterday, UCLA fans would be wise not to make too much out of a "win" in a "no win situation." Once again, let's look at the latest game through the prism of our "eye test" and get a sense of where the program is halfway through 2011 season.

The grades (if you have the stomach for them) after the jump.

1) Is our defense prepared for each and every team we play?

So the defense is feeling pretty good about the win against Washington State. After all, a clutch pick from Andrew Abbott stopped the Cougars when they were attempting to put together their last drive in the game. For the first time this year Datone Jones made appearances in the opposing backfield as our front-4 finally showed some signs of life. From Peter Yoon at ESPNLA:

And the UCLA defense, the scapegoat for the Bruins' lackluster start this season because of its inability to stop opponents to anyone's satisfaction came up with a couple of key stops, including Andrew Abbott's interception that sealed the victory when a loss would have sent the season spiraling down the drain.

"It's huge," Abbott said. "We've been a little down and out, but this is the kind of thing that could springboard our whole season and it could springboard our whole program. We're not there yet. We still have some work to do and we need to learn from this and keep getting better."

Still UCLA's defense had been looking for a sign that things were turning, and the Bruins may have gotten just that Saturday night. They got eight tackles for a loss after getting just 17 in the first five games this season and had two sacks after getting only three in the first five games.

And Abbott's interception with 2:01 left came on a third and five. UCLA has had trouble all season on third down, entering the game No. 119 out of 120 in third-down conversion defense. The Bruins allowed Washington State to convert 11 of 20, but got the stop when it counted most.

Well guy, don't celebrate too much yet. Even after this "redemptive" performance UCLA is now ranked 118 out of 120 in third-down conversion defense. More troubling issue here is despite some bright spots here and there, the defense remains a huge concern a massive liability in fourth year of Neuheisel's program.

Let me add some more positive points from yesterday's game before getting to the ugly issues. Eric Kendricks was awesome. I think at this point he is easily the best LB in this team. He finished the night with 8 total tackles, 5 of which were solo. He was all over the field making an emphatic case for why he should be getting more playing time over certain veterans (more on that topic later). Similarly Seali Epenesa, Iuta Tepa, and Owa Odighizuwa continued to shine whenever they were given the opportunities to get action in the DL rotation. 

Besides Andrew Abbott, I thought Tevin McDonald had a solid game as a redshirt freshman. I think we can all be excited about his future in Westwood, if continues to develop in next couple of years. So those were the few bright spots.

Unfortunately the positives were mostly outweighed by the negatives thanks to another disconcerting performance against a bad conference opponent.  From what I saw with my own eyes, I saw a Bruin defense getting man handled from the opening drive. I saw recurrence of poor fundamentals and bad tackling. I continued to see no pressure from the starting front four on the QB (until the rotation was finally shaken up later in the game). Just in the first drive, the defense hurt itself with 2 personal fouls. Plus we continued to see the dreaded 7-10 yard cushion from our DBs.

I guess another positive from Saturday night was that our defense stiffened up in the red zone. That's fine because in the red zone the safeties had no choice but to play tight. The question I have is why couldn't our safeties play tight during rest of the game when the Cougars were marching up and down the field?

I have mentioned this before and I will say it again. Our blitzes look slow and predictable. It seems like everyone else can tell when we are sending in our safeties or DBs for a blitz because they get picked up effortlessly. There seems to be no effort on the coaches' part to bring pressure from different angles and from different positions. It's vanilla stuff that doesn't seem very difficult to scout.

As for personnel use, it continues to be befuddling how Sean Westgate even with just one good arm keep getting playing times over guys like Kendricks. From what I have seen in 6 games, guys like Epenesa and Tepa are more effective than guys like Nate Chandler. If game performances are any indication we should see serious shake up in our D Line.

As for numbers, it is hard for me to give a solid grade to an unit that let Washington State dominate the time of possession and convert 11 of their 20 3rd down conversions (notwithstanding the Abbott pick). Our defense is so porous right now that almost the entire field feels like comfortable 4 down territory for our opponent. It's not a pretty picture. So despite a victory, the grade for this unit for the week is a C-: 1.7.

2) Do we call offensive plays to catch our opponents off guard?

Number wise, it was another meh performance against the Cougars. I guess our offense this year has been somewhat meh at the halfway juncture of this season. Those with glass half full can thus claim it to be an improvement because our offense has been mostly atrocious last few seasons in Westwood.

I think I am increasingly leaning towards the camp, who is concerned with our offense's sole reliance on the pistol formation. I don't have anything against it but I am not comfortable about our offense using it as its prime and what often appears to be only set. I wish we used it along with other formations because at the very least it would not expose our QBs to so much punishment.

There were actually some decent play calls yesterday. I liked the use of Josh Smith from the F-Back slot which resulted in a nifty TD. I liked the fact that we actually had Jet Ski run outside instead of slamming up the middle. Yet while I found those aspects encouraging, I have to note how the coaches didn't bother looking for Joe Fauria till third quarter as one of the most dangerous weapons in our offensive arsenal didn't have a single catch against over-matched opponent.

I like the fact that coaches are trying to get Jordon James some touches. The problem is they keep calling the same end around play for him near the goal line that has already become too predictable after 3 games. It worked against Oregon State the first time. It has looked slow developing and predictable since then. They need to come up with something new.

Jet Ski had a decent game, running for 110 yards in 12 carries. However, I don't really understand our running back rotation. It seems coaches forget that they have Derrick Coleman available in obvious situations when they need to grind it and pound it a bit. You'd think with guys like Jet Ski, Coleman, James and Malcolm Jones, they would often mix them in the same drive to keep the defense off balance. I haven't seen much of that. Jones didn't get any action against the Cougars.

Frankly, I am scared to imagine where we would be last night if we didn't get to great catches from Nelson Rosario (more on him below as well). I don't think we saw an offense that was dynamic and exciting. I think we saw a unit that was ... well ... meh. The grade for this category is a C:2.0.

3) Do our players look like they know what they should be doing at all times?

Unfortunately the answer for this category is not very comforting. I mentioned the two personal fouls in our very first defensive possession that extended a long Cougar drive. That kind of mistake was killing us all night.  Someone (didn't get the info from announcers), committed a bonehead personal foul right after a PAT in second half, setting up a huge return for Washington State in their first kickoff return in second half.

There was also the usual getting play calls in time that hurt us throughout our game. We actually had to burn a time out after Prince got a first down in the first series of second half, as players looked clueless in the huddle. I guess the excuse here is that Prince has been rusty but unfortunately it has been a pattern for us in every game this season.

Our quarterback(s) also missed wide open receivers throughout the game. Joe Fauria was open multiple times but both Richard Brehaut and Prince missed him. On the other hand, when Brehaut through a perfect deep strike in first half, it just fell right through Randall Carroll's arms.

I guess the team deserves some credit for rallying on offense and the defense stiffening in the red zone. However, there wasn't much I saw on Saturday night that gave me confidence that our team is on its way of turning into a well oiled machine. There are still too many mistakes, bad fundamentals, costing the team over and over again. The grade for this category is also a C:2.0, but I think I could have been  harsher here.

4) Do our players play for 60 G-D minutes every game?

The answer depressingly continues to be negative. Again the players deserve credit for being resilient and not quitting, despite the sense of general malaise that seemed to pervade through most of the first half and parts of the second. However, the question remains - why do our players look they are often just going through the motions?

Nelson Rosario is a very good example here. Rosario seemed to have woken up from a long nap in the second half. He did make a great catch setting up our first touchdown in the first half. Otherwise thought, he seemed be cruising through the game. Even the announcers (who usually don't go out of their way to criticize players) called him out for not putting in his best effort in going after the ball or attempting to pick up YACs. 

While Prince threw an underthrown ball that got picked off towards the end of first half, the replays showed how Rosario didn't make much of an effort to bat the ball down or play the role of an aggressive DB. Reportedly he was chewed out by an assistant coach during half time for not playing hard enough and he seemed to respond in the second. The question for us though is why do we have to go through all this at half way point of the season in Rosario's senior year in Westwood?

Rosario wasn't the only one who seemed to be going through the motion at times. Let's focus on another player with a lot of physical talent on the other side of the field. Late in the second half, after the Bruins got SPTRed following a missed FG by the Cougars, Datone Jones finally got a "sack" in a huge goal line situation.  However, if folks saw the replay of the "sack" near our goal line, they would have sees that Jones had given up on the play at first after getting blocked. It's not the first time I have seen it from Datone this year. That was certainly not the example of one of the so called best players in this defense playing hard for the entire game. I hope coaches note stuff like and then figure it into PT, because to me I see guys like Owa playing harder, coming off the bench.

Anyway, if our team had played hard from the get go, Saturday night's game wouldn't be a nail biter. The grade for this category is also a C-:1.7.

5) Do our players execute?

There are some positive notes in this category. I think it is worth mentioning how Prince got it done in certain key situations (not all of them) on Saturday night. I loved the moment he connected on the bomb, minutes after he was classlessly booed by some idiots in the Rose Bowl.

The TD passes to Josh Smith, Shaq Evans, and extra point conversion to Rosario were great. I enjoyed Prince's 11 yard pass completion to Smith for the game clinching conversion on 3rd and 7 towards the end of 4th.  Speaking of enjoyment, yes it was really cool to see the joy in the face of Tyler Gonzalez after his extra point conversions. The kid got it done.

Still the penalties, the dropped passes (Randal Carroll), the missing of wide open receivers (both Brehaut and Prince), the botched slow developing blitzes and silly personal fouls continue to kill our team through proverbial death by thousands cuts.  BTW our special teams coverage is just awful and embarrassing. These factors dint end up costing us with a season ending loss last night but they can catch up again with us sooner or later, if we don't clean it up or as Neuheisel continue to say "fix" them. The grade for this category is C+:2.3.

Although, not related to this category I should mention the penalty call against Fauria for leaping that gave Wazzu new life after missing their third FG attempt late in the first half.  As KSBruin noted, the only possible infraction, if the rule is applied completely literally, is that Fauria had the gall to come down on a player who got pushed under him while he was in the air. He clearly didn't The SPTRS were in classic form on Saturday night and made a mockery of Larry Scott's effort to clean up officiating issues that have made this conference a laughing stock for years. Just horrible.

6) Do we have leaders on the field?

On the offensive side, it's tough to tell who the leaders are. I'd like to think the game against Washington State will be huge moment for Prince. However, it is tough to tell what to expect from the much maligned and injured junior QB after what he has been through in last three years. Jet Ski and Derrick Coleman did our part but I still don't get the sense that they have completely established themselves this season.

On the defensive side, I think Erick Kendricks is the revelation of this season. He potentially is a leadership material but he is too young. I am hoping players like him get more and more PT during the coming weeks at the expense of veterans, who while offer experience, have not gotten it done.

Still at half way mark of this season, I think this team still is in search of definitive leaders on the field, who can help this program take much needed next step of emerging as more than some average 6 win team (again a 6 win regular season out of this horrible "South" division in the Pac-12 will be considered a failure on BN). The grade for this category is a C:2.0.

Final Grade Card for Washington State Cougars

Based on the discussion here is how it shapes up:

1) Is our defense prepared for each and every team we play? [C- : 1.7]
2) Do we call offensive plays to catch our opponents off guard? [C: 2.0]
3) Do our players look like they know what they should be doing at all times? [C: 2.0]
4) Do our players play for 60 G-D minutes every game? [C- : 1.7]
5) Do our players execute? [C+: 2.3]
6) Do we have leaders on the field? [C: 2.0]

Washington State GPA: 1.95

The grade card for Stanford was 1.97, grade card for Oregon State was 2.12, grade card for Texas was 0.22, the grade card for San Jose State was 0.67, and the grade card for Houston was 2.05. So the cumulative GPA after 4 games according to our "Eye Test" is now at 1.50. Hey, we are just .2 away from a C-!

There is not much commentary to offer at this point. This community has already made the baseline expectations for rest of this season clear. As gbruin noted the Coach Neuheisel bought another 11 days following victory against Washington State. It is up to him to build on it FWIW, and get it done against Arizona. Based on the current set of expectations, Bruins will need to win at least one of the two remaining road games outside Los Angeles. The bruised and battered 1-5 Wildcats (0-4 in the Pac-12) present a golden opportunity for Neuheisel and our Bruins to boost this season GPA. I hope they will seize it.

After all can you imagine explaining getting Bs and Cs classes like the History of Italian Cinema?