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The "Eye Test": The Homecoming Aberration Against California

Derrick Coleman unlike the big picture title of this post, is NOT AN ABERRATION.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Derrick Coleman unlike the big picture title of this post, is NOT AN ABERRATION. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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After Arizona, I mentioned that the "Eye Test" for that game might have been for the last one this season. I wasn't sure I was going to do one for the Cal game heading into Saturday. I am totally ambivalent about the results on game day at this point and the win against the Bears didn't do much to change my mindset. Don't get me wrong. Saturday was cool. Saturday is always cool when it involves a Bruin victory and a loss by the team over there. Yet, we all have been around so long now, that we know better to get all worked up over one win, lose sight of the big picture.

Saturday's game wasn't much of a corner turner. That was turned in Arizona and number of other games this season that gave us a clear picture of the big picture. If anything as B mentioned Saturday's game brought up further questions about the state of the UCLA football program. The game was a coming out party for number of our talented youngsters whom we had been clamoring for week after week. So what took so long for our coaches to get them on the field? What took so long for coaches to change up the defensive schemes, the need for which was apparent to all of us in first quarter of the season.

I am not going to get into hypothetical scenarios at this point on how this season will end. I do know for sure that no matter what , I want to see a brand new coaching staff in charge of this program next season. I really appreciate how Coach Rick Neuheisel was able to hold the team together amidst all the "hoopla" (the phrase he used during the post-game press conference). As A noted so eloquently, we will always remember him as the QB who won us a Rose Bowl. But I have moved on emotionally. While I will be happy if this team can finish on a decent note, we will need change. On that note let's get to the eye test after the jump.

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

For the first time this season, I am not cringing when I am filling out the answer to this question. By all accounts Bruin defense put together their best game of the season against a Cal team, which although average has had our number last three years. Let's point out some numerical highlights here:

  • As AHMB noted in his Cal preview, the Bears came into this game with perhaps the best wide receiver combination in the conference in Keenan Allen (6-3, 205, So.) and Marvin Jones (6-3, 202, Sr.) Coming into Saturday night's game Allen and Jones had combined for 100 receptions, 1505 receiving yards and 8 touchdowns. What looked to be a complete mismatch against our hapless but talented defensive backfield, turned out to be a mismatch in favor of our Bruins. Anchored by Andrew Abbott, Aaron Hester, Stan McKay, Tevin McDonald, and Dietrich Riley (before he left the game), the Bruin secondary held these two to 8 receptions, 94 yards and 0 touchdowns. Jones was limited to 1 catch for 11 yards. That is nothing short of outstanding.
  • Coming into the game Cal QB Zach Maynard completed 54.2% of his passes for 262.9 ypg and had a 2 to 1 TD to Int. ratio (12/6). Well we saw what happened as Maynard gave the Cal faithful a taste of what we experience against Texas gift-wrapping us with 4 ugly picks. He looked out of sync and reminded us of the Law Firm nightmares against Notre Dame in Karl Dorrell's last season in Westwood. Now to be fair it was more of Maynard just badly overthrowing the ball and missing receivers, but since I am in a charitable mood, I will give our D credit, especially a youngster like Tevin McDonald taking advantage of the opportunities presented to them.
  • The front seven for the first time this year exerted some legit pressure against a decent pass blocking OL. Cal OL had given up only 13 sacks/35 TFLs coming into Saturday night. Led by a rejuvenated Datone Jones our guys racked up 6 TFLs/2 sacks (more on this below).
  • Cal offense was only 2 of 12 in third down conversion situations against arguably (if not statistically) the worst defense in the country in that specific category.

Now why was the defense able to generate legit pressure against a decent pass blocking team? Peter Yoon has some answers:

What we saw this week was a different defense--literally. Tresey made major changes by shifting players around and introducing some new schemes.

Defensive end Datone Jones shifted inside to tackle and redshirt freshman Aramide Olaniyan got his first significant action outside of special teams. Keenan Graham got a lot more playing time at defensive end and linebackers Eric Kendricks and Jordan Zumwalt and safety Stan McKay were on the field for more snaps than in past games.

The moves paid off. Jones and McKay shared the team lead with six tackles. Kendricks was next with five. Graham had a sack and Jones had two. Olaniyan made a tackle for a four-yard loss.

The Bruins also introduced a quarter package with six defensive backs on the field at the same time and three down linemen.

"We knew we needed to change some things up, but mostly we needed to change our attitude," said Jones, who shared the team lead with six tackles and led the team with two sacks. "We needed to play with our heads on fire, everyone. We fed off each other. We were like piranhas. One guy gets the first bite and then 10 others swarm."

Now all this is good and I was happy for the players to finally see some life on our D. It was clear from last night that the Bruins had not quit like they did against Arizona. I appreciate DC Joe Tresey's decision to make these much needed changes and adjustments. The disturbing question we all need to ask is why did it take Tresey (and head coach Rick Neuheisel) until Game 8 and some disastrous performances along the way to make these dramatic changes? Why did changes such as moving Jones to defensive tackle (which we had discussed here before) or playing more of talent like Graham, Eric Kendricks, had to be forced due to suspensions? The answers to these questions provide clear cut hint to why we are going to need wholesale changes in Westwood.

There is another thing I need to mention regarding our defense. I don't really care for our guys woofing and hollering after every stop like they have won the super bowl. It was kind of cringing to watch it in the first few series - coming from a team that has underachieved all season. May be I am being too old school here but I just don't think this unit has earned the right to talk. Perhaps they can run the table and get to a bowl game held on or after January 1, then they can talk. Until then it looks silly. Speaking of kind of goofy (or is it tacky?), I didn't care much about those gimmicky BTB t-shirts either. I am glad that it's firing up the players. Yet that the players have to wear special t-shirts to get fired up in the eighth game of a coach's fourth season is kind of glaring indictment against the program.

For now though for one game at least, I will give this defense a grade of B+: 3.3.

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

The answer to this question is simplistic terms is "yes." However, the reason why the UCLA offense caught the Cal defense, which is coached up by a pretty good defensive coordinator - Clancy Pendergast - is surprising to all of us. As AHMB mentioned Pendergast's D ate up UCLA's pistol offense last year up in Strawberry Canyon as the Bruins were limited to 26 yards rushing and 118 yards passing and throttled with 5 sacks. But here is the catch. Last year the Bruins for inexplicable reasons decided to throw out a rusty, one legged Kevin Prince against the Bears.

Last year the Bears were destroyed by Nevada's pistol attack in Reno, the Wolfpacks scored 52 points, running up 316 yards on the ground in 49 carries. It was Collin Kaepernick rushing for 148 yards in 17 carries, who befuddled the Bears with effective zone-read all night long. Give Rick Neuheisel and Mike Johnson credit for drawing up a game plan that built on that tape. They used Kevin Prince effectively in making the Bear D (with some pretty good talent) as bad  ... well as the Bruins had looked coming into Saturday night. It's amazing to me that the Bears were caught so off guard by Prince's running and stunningly had no adjustments after that half.

Bruins had a total of 70 plays against the Bears, keeping it on the ground 52 times for 292 yards. Prince got it done, rushing for 163 yards in 19 carries, causing the announcers to bring up the name of a Bruin QB, even yours truly had never heard of before. That's right. Prince is the first UCLA quarterback to gain more than 100 yards in a game since Jeff Dankworth in 1976.

Derrick Coleman shined with 80 yards in 16 carries, barreling up front for 3 sweet touchdowns. Bruin rushing attack was effective enough that the suspended WRs were not really missed. Then again our WR rotations are so atrocious that not sure having them available would have hurt or helped the team.

Since we are talking about catching off-guard, I did like Neuheisel's decision to go with Coleman on 4th and 1 instead of doing a predictable QB sneak with Prince, that kind of helped us grab hold of the momentum for rest of the game.

So the answer to the question is yes the caught the Bears off-guard. But the context here is that it's the Bears' surprising defensive ineptness and inability to adjust that caught all of us off-guard. I'd give our offense an A, if the dominating ground game was complemented  with an above average passing attack and if it came against a D that showed any ability to adjust. Since our passing game was so pedestrian and Cal defense was so shockingly inept (at least for one game), I will go with a grade of B: 3.0.

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

Generally yes. For one game at least the Bruin team put together a decent overall performance. The unit, I'd really like to single out here is the Bruin offensive line. They were outstanding as they dominated a pretty good Bear defensive front. Coach Bob Palcic's guys physically dominated the trenches, racking up 294 yards in 52 carries. Wade Yandall - due to suspension of Albert Cid - got some major playing time and just dominated. He opened up huge holes all night which Coleman was blasting through for TDs.

On offense while our regular WRs were out, guys like Jerry Rice Jr. stepped up in a big way. Rice had only 2 catches for 17 yards. However, if you watched him closely you would have seen him out there blocking for Prince. From Yoon:

Still, downfield blocking was key in allowing quarterback Kevin prince to rush for 156 yards and the Bruins to tally a season-best 294 yards rushing.

"You know, we didn't pass that much but when I was out there I was just trying to chase down who every was trying to catch KP," Rice said. "I had a lot of fun out there. It was the first time I had played a game in a long time and it was one of the best times I had in a long time."

We can only imagine what was felt by Flash 80 and the entire Rice family at the Rose Bowl. While I am ambivalent about UCLA games at this point, it felt good as a Niner fan to see McDonald and Rice getting it done all evening. Now I hope those guys will stay in the rotation.

Since we are on this topic, I think it is worth mentioning how McDonald had struggled earlier in the season when he was put in due to injuries to Dye. However, it was clear how the kid has been learning through getting PT. This goes back to one of the central arguments on BN that it's the coaches' responsibility to ensure that our talented youngsters are getting credible playing time (and not getting buried in depth chart due to lack of seniority) so that eventually they can play up to a level when they appear to know what they should be doing all the time. Last night was a nice glimmer. Let's hope it's not a flash in the pan due to coaches going to back to same old, stale rotations at various positions.

The grade for this category is A-:3.7.

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

The answer to this question is satisfyingly easy at least for the Cal game. I will sound like a broken record and ask where the effort has been and whether it will continue for rest of the season. But at least for Saturday night, the answer to this question warrants what I think is the first clean A of 2011 season: A: 4.0. [and that is pathetic.].

5) Do our players execute?

Our team generally had a decent performance on Saturday night but there were some glitches:

  • Kevin Prince had a costly fumble in the second drive, when he gave up the ball after running for a huge gain of 21 yards. Prince was just careless in how he was holding the ball and coughed it after getting hit. I understand that Price was listening to Neuheisel, but still he needs to show a little more caution in that kind of situation.
  • Now back to Prince again. As good as Prince was with his feet, he made some awful throws. His throw to Rice in first half, which 88 hauled in for his first career completion was awful. It was behind him and too high. Had Prince thrown a nice clean pass, Rice may have had a shot at first down. Prince also threw a pretty ugly pass towards Jerry Johnson later in the game, when Jerry appeared to have done a good job of getting open.
  • Our special teams continue to be horrible. Jordon James muffed a punt giving Cal a key TO making the game close in second half. We also got penalized for an "illegal wedge" on a kickoff return. It's mindboggling how badly coached our special teams is and leads to more disturbing question about the way the program is managed.
  • Speaking of bad management, what else can you really say for how the Bruins bungled the opportunity to take total control of the game in the closing mins of first half. Bruins got the ball on their 31 yards line with 1:00 min left on the clock, and shockingly had all 3 of their TOs. Instead of trying to put together an aggressive drive, setting up at least for a FG, Bruins wasted the opportunity punting away to Cal. The series was essentially botched when the Bruins ran it on the first down burning up valuable time. Prince then never got it going and the team led by the staff showed zero sense of urgency. It was a total fail.

So you can see, despite the score, there were plenty of issues from the game that remains a concern. We still have not played a clean game to date. The grade for this category is a C+: 2.7:

6) Do we have leaders on the field?

Johnathan Franklin is one of the captains of our team. I love Jet Ski and appreciate what he brings to our team, but to me it's Derrick Coleman, who may be emerging as the heart and soul of this Bruin team. I am not sure how many of you noticed during the Debacle in the Desert. While the team was imploding  during the all out melee right before the half, Coleman was one of the guys who was trying to contain his team-mates. I am not sure of the exact categories for which those hard hats are awarded, but if that was given out in last 4 years, Coleman's helmet would no longer look gold. It'd be covered in those blue hats. I appreciate the effort this guy brings game after game. It's a testament to his character who he hasn't quit despite having all kinds of reasons to be disheartened and give up. It's for kids like him, I hope the Bruins can finish out on a strong note because a senior like him deserves better.

I should also add some words for Prince.  While I have always preferred Richard Brehaut over Prince, I can't help but admire Prince's dedication and willingness to sacrifice his body for the four letters. Still Kevin, come-on man. Slide man, slide! We can't afford to lose you from injuries.

As for leadership on the defensive side, let's hope the coaches have learned their lessons and stick with the one game trend of giving preference to talent over experience. It will not only help the team, it will help the coaches to burnish their resumes when they are out on the market this off-season. The grade for this category is B: 3.0 (since I still can't identify any leaders on defense just yet).

Final Grade Card for California Golden Bears

Based on the discussion here is how it shapes up:

1) Is our defense prepared for each and every team we play? [B: 3.3]
2) Do we call offensive plays to catch our opponents off guard? [B: 3.0]
3) Do our players look like they know what they should be doing at all times? [A-: 3.7]
4) Do our players play for 60 G-D minutes every game? [A: 4.0]
5) Do our players execute? [C+: 2.3]
6) Do we have leaders on the field? [B: 3.0]

California GPA: 3.22

The grade card for Arizona was 0.13, Washington State was 1.95, 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 8 games according to our "Eye Test" is now at 1.55.

[UPDATE: Note the GPA above is not accurate since I mistakenly counted C+ as 2.7 instead of 2.3. I updated the post to reflect accurate GPA for Cal, but the overall one is not accurate. It has been updated here. 11/21/11 - N]

So after that the Bruins cumulative GPA is nowhere close to even a C average. You see the problem here?

The numbers above is a good reason why so many of us are feeling ambivalent about a nice win over an average California during home-coming week. Now don't get us wrong. We think Jeff Tedford is a solid coach who has done a great job with Cal. However, he is having a down season with a new QB. The win against the Bears was nice but it does nothing to change the big picture dynamics in Westwood.

If anything the win against California further refocuses disturbing coach about roster management and player development, which we think has had a negative impact on the results of this season to date. We are rooting for this team to finish out on a strong note. That said the frontpagers remain resolute in their position for the need of a wholesale change in Westwood, so that the game we had on Saturday is not an aberration (out of 8 games), and is a regular occurrence for UCLA football every game day.